Episode 1 – Who wishes to speak

The democracy of Ancient Athens was the birthplace of equal and uninhibited speech. Or Isegoria and parrhesia to the Athenians. Jacob Mchangama guides you through how oratory was central to the idea and practice of Athenian democracy. What Athenian style free speech entailed for ordinary citizens, comedians, philosophers, and orators. How oligarchic coup d’etats twice drowned Athenian free speech in blood and repression. The extreme methods used by Demosthenes to become the greatest orator of antiquity. And of course: the trial of Socrates: Was he a martyr for free speech or an impious and seditious enemy of democracy?

So the following episode is an attempt to bring to life a pivotal but often forgotten period i as we embark on the first stop of what I hope will be a long journey together through the history of free speech.

Here is what Cambridge professor of Ancient History Paul Cartledge has to say about the episode:

 Free speech in the ancient Athenian democracy (c. 500-322 BCE) came, as Jacob Mchangama so brilliantly and wittily makes clear, in two forms: isegoria (free political speech for adult male citizens, the privilege of having an equal public say) and parrhesia (unregulated public utterance outside formal political arenas). It was one of the cardinal and fundamental principles of ancient Greek demokratia (people-power), the other being freedom itself. But free speech, as he also makes clear, has its inevitable costs – and one of them was the death (partly self-willed, it has to be said) of Socrates, who was besides no ideological democrat. So important are the issues still today that ‘Free speech in Ancient Athens’ is worth an hour of any concerned citizen’s time.

Paul Cartledge

A.G. Leventis Professor of Greek Culture Emeritus, Cambridge University, author of “Democracy. A Life” and “Ancient Greek Political Thought In Practice”


Literature: Episode 1

(the online versions linked to are not necessarily identical with the versions used or cited from in the podcast).

On the Athenian Democracy          


Isegoria and parrhesia


The trial of Socrates



  • Plutarch: Life of Demosthenes (Dryden, J., Trans.). Accessible at: http://classics.mit.edu/Plutarch/demosthe.html. Accessed 17/01/2018.
  • Worthington, I. (2013): Demosthenes of Athens and the Fall of Classical Greece. Oxford Scholarship Online.
  • Demosthenes (1930): Third Philippic (Vince, J.H., Trans.). Cambridge MA, Harvard University Press. Accessible at

http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0070%3Aspeech%3D9. Accessed 17/01/2018.

  • Demosthenes (1926): On the Crown (Vince, C.A., Vince, M.A. & Vince, J.H.). Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press. Accessible at

http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Dem.%2018. Accessed 17/01/2018.

  • Demosthenes (1949): Funeral Oration (DeWitt, N.W. & DeWitt N.J., Trans.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Accessible at

http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0080%3Aspeech%3D60. Accessed 17/01/2018.

  • Demosthenes: Exordia (DeWitt, N.W. & DeWitt N.J., Trans.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Accessible at

http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0068. Accessed 17/01/2018.