Presenting the past: authenticity and authority in Athens: The Truth about Democracy (Lion TV, 2007)

Hobden, Fiona (2013). Presenting the past: authenticity and authority in Athens: The Truth about Democracy (Lion TV, 2007). Classical Receptions Journal, 5(1) pp. 1–37.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/crj/cls006

Abstract

This article examines receptions of antiquity in television documentary, focusing particularly on the use of archaeological sites and artefacts to generate authenticity and authority in Athens: The Truth about Democracy (Lion TV, 2007). In this programme, the ‘archaeological aesthetic’ affords distinctive opportunities to imagine and recreate past events and experiences through the present-day remains, and present-day reconstructions, of ancient Athens. It facilitates the programme’s titular truth-claim by collapsing the distance between the modern and ancient city of Athens, utilising excavated sites to launch emotive engagements with the past, and supporting its historical narratives through monuments and artefacts. Such warranting draws ancient Athens into the present to produce an archaeologically authorized depiction of its democratic culture that is visually and emotionally authentic. Other recent programmes reveal some broader operations of the archaeological aesthetic in the generation of authority. However, through its particular engagements with Athens’ archaeological heritage Athens meets popular expectations for history that is personally relevant, as well as television’s emotional demands. My study thus demonstrates the centrality of the archaeological aesthetic to documentary representations of antiquity, as a stylistic device and creative rhetorical strategy, and highlights the place of ancient world documentary within popular history, especially history on television.

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