The Ostracism of Aristides The Just

Aristotle said somewhere that a democracy could never be larger than the number of citizens who could fit into one amphitheater and hear a speaker.

Legend has it that the Athenians were meeting, and filling out ostraca (sherds; pieces of broken pottery) with the names of people to be ostracized (sent into exile.) One illiterate man turned to someone in the audience and asked him to write the name Aristides on the sherd. It just so happens that he had asked Aristides himself. Aristides said, “Why do you want to ostracize this Aristides fellow?” The man explained, “I don’t know him but I am just so sick and tired of constantly hearing “Aristides THE JUST.”

Tutor Laurence Berns told us this anecdote in freshman Greek class.

[Oh, and to that short-sighted,self-absorbed person over there who is about to post and ask why I spell things out as if alumni didn’t already know about potsherds and ostracism … you must realize that you are not the only person on the planet or the only person who will read this… there will be a few people who for whom English is NOT the first language and who know nothing of these matters… so it is always nice to try and write in such a fashion as to be entertaining and yet understandable to the widest possible audience.]


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