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Catalog Archive / Fall 2022

Insults in Classical Athens

Wisconsin Studies in Classics
Laura McClure, Mark Stansbury-O'Donnell, and Matthew Roller, Series Editors

“Inherently interesting, entertaining, and timely. Kamen strikes a good balance between details and the big picture. In analyzing material intelligently and considering insults and abuse across a wide variety of sources, this volume seeks to understand this significant and sometimes problematic feature of citizen experience under the Athenian democracy.”
—Matthew Christ, Indiana University-Bloomington

Scholarly investigations of the rich field of verbal and extraverbal Athenian insults have typically been undertaken piecemeal. Deborah Kamen provides an overview of this vast terrain and synthesizes the rules, content, functions, and consequences of insulting fellow Athenians. The result is the first volume to map out the full spectrum of insults, from obscene banter at festivals, to invective in the courtroom, to slander and even hubristic assaults on another's honor.

While the classical city celebrated the democratic equality of "autochthonous" citizens, it counted a large population of noncitizens as inhabitants, so that ancient Athenians developed a preoccupation with negotiating, affirming, and restricting citizenship. Kamen raises key questions about what it meant to be a citizen in democratic Athens and demonstrates how insults were deployed to police the boundaries of acceptable behavior. In doing so, she illuminates surprising differences between antiquity and today and sheds light on the ways a democratic society valuing "free speech" can nonetheless curb language considered damaging to the community as a whole.


Deborah Kamen. Deborah Kamen is a professor of classics at the University of Washington and the author of Status in Classical Athens.





Insults in Classical Athens examines a decidedly understudied subject that is vast and multifaceted, successfully introducing the reader to the complexities and reasons why further study is necessary and important. Overall, this is a thoughtful and learned volume by an experienced scholar.”
—Konstantinos Kapparis, University of Florida

“[A] fresh, concise book. . . . K. opens up a huge number of avenues of interest and further research in this rich book, and I am glad to have it on my bookshelves.”
The Classical Review

“Throughout, Kamen provides good overviews of existing debates, making the book a useful primer on how scholarship has approached various questions relating to this vast topic before; furthermore, she succeeds in her aim to provide a starting point for further research.”
Polis: The Journal for Ancient Greek and Roman Political Thought



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Of Related Interest


Tragic Rites
Narrative and Ritual in Sophoclean Drama
Adriana E. Brook


Silenced Voices
The Poetics of Speech in Ovid
Bartolo A. Natoli

Insults in Classical Athens: cover art of the painting 'The Death of Socrates' zoomed in on Socrates, sitting on his bed, his left arm extended into the air. His fingers are blurred, to give it the appearance that he is making a vulgar hand signal that must be censored.

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New in Paperback!
December 2022
LC: 2019044534 D
272 pp. 6 x 9

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Paper $26.95 S
ISBN 9780299328047
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Cloth $99.95 S
ISBN 9780299328009
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