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Definition: a community governed by magistrates and by law. Politics, economics, literature, art, religion and philosophy are all seen through this communal filter in the polis. It commands almost total dedication from its populace.


Government: Oligarchy, democracy, tyranny.  Councils and Assemblies.


Polis mentality:

  1. City-state citizenship equates with acceptance of custom- a way of life.
  2. Broad participation of individuals in the state.
  3. Blended different religious traditions, especially through communally organized ceremonies, festivals and games.
  4. Individualism subordinated to the interests of the community. (this mentality not evident in Homer, or in early lyric poets)


Limitations of the polis:

  1. No avenue for inward personal experience.
  2. Unable to check permanently tensions within the polis.(rich-poor, families)
  3. Unable to check permanently tendencies towards small or larger political units.
  4. The polis provided no basis for larger scale common action by Greeks.


Tyrtaios: War Songs, c. 650 B.C., No. III

This---this is virtue: This---the noblest meed that can adorn our youth with fadeless rays; While all the perils of the adventurous deed, the new-strung vigor of the state repays. Amid the foremost of the embattled train, Lo, the young hero hails the glowing fight; and, though fall'n troops around him press the plain, still fronts the foe, nor brooks inglorious flight. His life---his fervid soul opposed to death, he dares the terrors of the field defy; kindles each spirit with his panting breath, and bids his comrade-warriors nobly die! See, see, dismayed, the phalanx of the foe turns round, and hurries o'er the plain afar: while doubling, as afresh, the deadly blow, he rules, intrepid chief, the waves of war. Now fallen, the noblest of the van, he dies! His city by the beauteous death renowned; his low-bent father marking, where he lies, the shield, the breastplate, hacked by many a wound.

The young---the old, alike commingling tears, his country's heavy grief bedews the grave; and all his race in verdant luster wears, Fame's richest wreath, transmitted from the brave. Though mixed with earth the perishable clay, his name shall live, while glory loves to tell, "True to his country how he won the day, how firm the hero stood, how calm he fell! But if he escape the doom of death (the doom to long---long dreary slumbers), he returns, while trophies flash, and victor-laurels bloom, and all the splendor of the triumph burns. The old---the young---caress him, and adore; and with the city's love, through life, repaid, he sees each comfort, that endears, in store, till, the last hour, he sinks to Pluto's shade.

Old as he droops, the citizens, overawed (even veterans), to his mellow glories yield; nor would in thought dishonor or defraud the hoary soldiers of the well-fought field. Be yours to reach such eminence of fame; to gain such heights of virtue nobly dare, my youths! and, mid the fervor of acclaim, press, press to glory; nor remit the war!