Page One

Don’t ostrocize, exercise vote

Wednesday August 15, 2001


Councilmember Kriss Worthington is not necessarily my favorite local politician, but Dennis Kuby (letters, Aug. 9) muddles history and points in a disturbing direction by recommending, however tongue-in-cheek, a form of modern ostracism for Worthington. 

Kuby says the ancient Athenians imposed exile on “politicians who abused their public office.” Not quite so, at least not always. Ostracism was employed against more than one citizen as a result of public envy, not misdeeds by the office holder.  

For instance, consider the Archon, Aristeides the Just, who was sent into exile not because of disreputable actions, but because the Athenians “entertained feelings of dislike toward all of more than common fame and reputation,” according to Plutarch. 

There’s a story (perhaps apocryphal) that when Aristeides asked a friend why he had voted to ostracize him, the reply was, “I got tired of hearing you called ‘the Just’.”  

(That should, however, be a cautionary story for Worthington who, in my experience, misses no occasion to mention how honest and honorable he is.) 

Athenian ostracism involved public gatherings where at least six thousand citizens had to vote to confirm.  

Might I gently suggest that those who wish Mr. Worthington sent into political retirement will have their opportunity by casting ballots in the upcoming Assembly primary and election rather than by throwing symbolic potsherds now? 

Kuby also proposes that Worthington be imprisoned.  

Here, again, history is misunderstood. The ancient Athenians did not impose confinement along with ostracism.  

The ostracized individual had to leave Athens for ten years, but could go pretty much anywhere and kept his property and rights as a citizen. Hardly the same as a cell on Alcratraz! 

Finally, we should ask whether, even here in the long self-styled “Athens of the West,” we would want to too closely follow the political practices of an early democracy that denied citizenship and the vote to all women and all non-native men, vigorously practiced and depended on slavery, and was frequently at war with, and overbearing towards, its neighbors? 



Steven Finacom