Week 8 – Ancient liberty & Plutarch’s “great man”

1. What is the difference between the liberty of the ancients and the liberty of the moderns? What would moderns find lacking in ancient liberty?

Modern liberty is based on the freedom of speech, private property rights, freedom to think what we want; it is overall about the freedom of an individual. The ancients judged liberty by community. You had liberty if you were able to have a voice in the making of the laws, if you were able to get into politics or if you got to take part in the law courts etc. There were some individual rights, too, but they were not the most important. They put community rights before individual rights, which can be seen on the fact that if 2,000 people signed that someone should be exiled, he would be exiled even if he did not do anything (this was a law in Athens).

Knowing this, moderns would obviously find the individual freedom lacking in the ancient world.

The ancient liberty could be prosperous if you lived in a small city/village, but it would not work in today’s world.

2. What, in Plutarch’s opinion, makes a “great man”? Is Alexander great?

Plutarch did not believe that a great man is only good. He could be either good or evil. He thought a great man is someone that had an impact on their society, someone who changed the history. For example, Hitler would be a great man – he most certainly was not good, but he was someone who changed the history. Alexander is therefore a great man, at least by Plutarch’s opinion.

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