Defining a Tyrant

The definition of a Tyrant has, for the vast majority of recorded history, has been a term of negative connotation, and this is due to the initial defining that took place from Ancient Greece.  From modern day articles posted on the internet, to the Athenian Constitution written over 3 thousand years ago, we see a seemingly universal approach and understanding of what a tyrant is, and what negative side effect come with this type of leadership.  However, by the original use of the term, it was used to just describe a ruler who gained a position of absolute authority without the say of the people.  So how did we get to the current situation regarding the term tyrant?

Looking back to some of the earliest writing available for study, we can see the term tyrant used in the Athenian Constitution.  In the very first few section we get a description of this man, Solon, who accomplished a ton of work for Athens.  At the end of his hard work, they make this very peculiar comment, “A man who was so moderate and public-spirited in all his other actions, that when it was within his power to put his fellow-citizens beneath his feet and establish himself as tyrant…”1.  What is most fascinating is the clear and intentional painting of just how negative it would have been for this person, Solon, to assume power and become a Tyrant.

Moreover, by this time Solon would have been of at least some measurable favor by the people around him, but still walked away from power.  This implies that even with a population that supports a tyrant’s rising, it would be a negative event.  That point of view, so strictly against a ruler of such power, completely shaped the entire definition from that point forward.  There is not good Tyrant, only bad and this has been made clear by the democratic peoples who lived in Athens at this time.

Looking at issues today, we can see that the lasting impact from those conclusions thousands of years ago still hold true today.  Pierre Lemieux, an online blogger, posted a recent argument that he had online with another person who had opposing political opinions with.  It was in this aftermath posting that Lemieux echoed the concepts of old regarding a tyrant, “a tyrant can be adored by some part of the population and even a large part is illustrated by tyrants of ancient Greece.”2.  As we have already discovered, this means that it is still an extreme insult to be considered a tyrant.   

            In summary, from a modern day blogger to the authors of Athens’ constitution, we all have collectively accepted the dark connotations associated with the term.  This is not an easily definitive idea that is a simple as people might think initially, and we in the modern age simply take in lots of assumptions on the matter.  Remembering the original context and intentions behind a word can help us determine a better understanding of the modern day, and ancient, implications associated with it.

Work cited:



(word count 519) **56 from quotes**

Trump the (almost) tyrant

            In his April 2019 article, “Psychoanalyzing History’s Most Merciless Tyrants”, The Washington Post’s Herbert Wray discusses several “Tyrannical Minds” throughout recent history, delving into their childhood and financial upbringing, mental evaluation, and political decisions. While his use of the word “tyrant” is correct in modern context, it is equally as fitting to definition prior to the rise of democracy.

Wray’s argument begins by listing well-known political influencers that have been profiled as tyrants, such as Stalin, Hitler, Kim Jung Un, and Saddam Hussein, noting the vast differences in their childhoods- removing this factor from contributing to the tyrannical profiling. Wray argues that personality and psychological profiling are the most contributing factors in tyrannical analyzation.

            Delving into personality, Wray quotes Machiavellianism as the “consistent use of deception, lying, manipulation and exploitation of others in order to achieve a goal or maintain power” (Haycock). This, along with moral disengagement and a malignant personality, are common themes among modern-day tyrants. Wray transitions to discuss President Trump and the qualities he encompasses which may align with the aforementioned political tyrants. Among the most notable are Trump’s “narcissistic personality profile,” egotism, and manipulative behavior.

  Although these qualities closely align with (and in Wray’s opinion, overshadow) those we consider to by tyrants, Wray concludes that President Trump is not diagnosed as mentally ill, psychotic, legally insane, or encompassing of a mental disorder of any kind, and therefore cannot be considered a tyrant.

Tyrant is defined as “A cruel and oppressive ruler” (Oxford English Dictionary- online); a definition I believe to closely resemble modern-day context of the word. I would therefore agree with Wray’s usage of the word “tyrant” throughout his article, understood in a democratic society. I argue, however, that these modern political tyrants also fit the definition of a tyrant in a pre-democratic era. As discussed in class, tyrants were defined in two ways before the rise of democracy: leaders who came to power by an alternate means, and individuals who attempted to solve civic strife. Each of the classified tyrants discussed in this article had a similar motivation to fix a problem they identified in society. While their means were unarguably insane and their ideal societies clearly flawed, they inherently believed they were a necessary and positive solution to a problem.

Similarly, I would include President Trump in this categorization, as he has taken relatively drastic measures to address, and attempt to fix, issues that have been identified in American society. In fact, I include a majority of Presidents, politicians, and world leaders in this category- especially those considered to be activists.

Pre-democratic tyrants also were noted as leaders that came to power by an alternate means. In ancient context, this can often constitute overtaking a throne or acting in violence. While less dramatic, I further argue that President Trump (and other current politicians) came to power by through a relatively unorthodox method. A current trend is to elect leaders that break the trend of “career politicians” in America. Trump managed to rally a population of America that hardly votes, and took an aggressive approach in his campaign against those that have been stagnant in offices prior. Just a few years ago, this would have been unheard of. For these reasons, I believe “tyrant” as it is used in Wray’s article does in fact agree with in modern context, as well as its definition prior to the rise of democracy.

John Curley

-Word Count: 566

Wray, Herbert. “Psychoanalyzing History’s most Merciless Tyrants.” The Washington Post, Apr 28, 2019, (accessed August 28, 2019).

Haycock, Dean A. Tyrannical Minds: Psychological Profiling, Narcissism, and Dictatorship. Pegasus Books, 2019.

Justice System: Not Blind

Throughout mankind, various societies have had many different beliefs and ways of conducting themselves. Obviously, to the present society, their rules and sets of laws seem to be the norm and almost all others that differ, seem completely foreign and hard to understand. In present day America, we experience this every day because the United States is such a melting pot of cultures and diverse communities. However, it is not only the clashing of present societies and cultures that seem peculiar. When one takes a look back into history, some of the more odd norms come into play. But are we really that different? The answer is no. Moreover, as we learn about the Code of Hammurabi, it seems ethically wrong to hand out different punishments to differing social classes for the same crime, or even more harsh punishments for lesser crimes because of a lower socioeconomic class or race. It has become more and more apparent in recent years and events that this kind of atrocities are happening. A recent example of these types of occurrences appeared during Hilary Clinton’s term as Secretary of State.

Hilary Clinton was trusted with extremely sensitive information on which she was supposed to use a given server to communicate through. Clinton knowingly used a private email server to communicate with other members of the United States government and others. This ultimately was an illegal act and should have been held accountable legally. It is easy to come to the conclusion that because of her economic status and position of power, Hilary Clinton got off easy. If this was a person of lesser status or maybe even a nonwhite race, there would be more of an active investigations to the allegations. For example, if this were a person in the armed forces that used an insecure network with classified and sensitive information, they would be court martialed, dishonorably discharged and ultimately criminally prosecuted, but because of her position of authority, the consequences were much less.

The question of “How do we fix this flawed system?” comes into play. With events like this it is easy to sit there and call our justice system flawed. In order to fix this our justice system needs to have a blind eye to socioeconomic class. With all these special privileges granted to higher ups, it becomes apparent that our complicated justice system is not much more different than the Code of Hammurabi with the exception of the severity of punishments.

Modern Law and The Code of Hammurabi

The marginalization of those who have less due to factors such as wealth or race has been a common and ugly theme throughout history. Here in America, we like to think this problem has been eradicated. However, when the issue is further investigated, it is clear that we still struggle and may live closer to the ancient Code of Hammurabi than previously thought.

Personally, I believe that in America today, our justice system is reasonably well constructed compared to other societies worldwide. However, they certainly make mistakes. In the Code of Hammurabi, the wealthy or well represented often got lesser punishments than their poor, low class counterparts would. An example of this in recent American history would be the prosecution of former Stanford swimmer Brock Turner. Brock is a white upper-class male, and was a member of the prestigious varsity swim team at Stanford. After a fraternity party one night, he left with a girl who had spurned his advances throughout the night, and after her passing out in an alley, proceeded to sexually assault her unconscious body. When confronted by passerby, he tried to run but was caught and held until police could arrive. He was eventually found guilty of several felonies including assault with intent to rape an intoxicated woman, sexually penetrating an intoxicated person with a foreign object, and sexually penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object. The maximum sentence allowed was 14 years in federal prison and the prosecution pushed for at least 6. Instead, the judge decided to listen to his probation officer and gave Turner a sentence of 6 months in the county jail, of which he served 3.

This miniscule sentence regarding an absolutely heinous crime prompted outrage from many including calls for the removal of the Judge. This further brings several American laws into question regarding wrongly weighted punishments. Why did a convicted rapist serve only 3 months in a county jail when simply possessing 1 gram of LSD carries a mandatory 5 year mandatory prison sentence? Two instances of nonviolent petty theft totaling under 10$ can mark a victim as a “Habitual Offender” and land them up to 70 years in prison as was the case of a poor Texas man Willie James Sauls. In this way it seems that some (though not all) of our laws carry semblance to the ancient Code of Hammurabi. Those who have the money to buy top notch representation or are possibly looked on favorably due to race or class are sometimes given more favorable sentences.

Realistically, improving the system seems to be a tall task, especially when I believe much of our judicial system works well. However, glaring issues must be addressed and some provisions must be made to allow the underprivileged better access to good representation. Laws that seem to target certain races or those of a particular socioeconomic standing should be reviewed and altered. Though there may not be a concrete fix, we can certainly do better in the writing and enforcement of our laws in order to refrain from creating a system reminiscent of ancient Babylon.


Code of Hammurabi

Debt “Relief”

Although over two millennia apart, the political tactics of democratic presidential candidate front-runners Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders mirror those of Solon in ancient Greece. In both instances, however, the seemingly beneficial act of debt forgiveness among their people could end up hindering its recipients more than it helps. 

In the case of Solon’s rise to power, his appointment to office ended a longstanding monopoly of aristocratic Greek rulers. When ruling in Athens, Solon introduced many unique programs, one of which canceled all public and private debts of the people. While this may have seemed an innovative idea to help the poor, it unintentionally created widespread strife between various social classes. Furthermore, Solon’s deposition also outlawed debt slavery as a form of payment. Rich and poor alike suffered from this declaration because of a decrease in wealthy individuals’ willingness to lend money and help the poor with no form of guarantee for their payments. Where previously the poor were able to bargain their lives to pay off debts, many now found themselves without a way to earn the money they needed. Ancient Greek culture was embedded with the ideas of debt slavery, as Hammurabi stated “If a man has contracted a debt… three years they shall serve in the house of their purchaser or bondmaster” (Hammurabi Code, 117). While the principle of outlawing debt slavery seems empowering, it consequently lead to an inability of the poor to find work. What seemed liberating ended up hurting the people of Greece regardless of their socioeconomic status.

Similarly to Solon’s quick climb to his position of authority, both Warren and Sanders hope to overturn a powerful entity that currently holds the presidency in the United States. While the support from his patrons can be split at times, President Trump represents a stark contrast to the ideas of his opposition. In the same way, Solon was a fresh start for the people of Greece from the previous incumbents. Warren and Sanders both present the idea of student loan debt forgiveness, similar to the debt forgiveness of Solon. In these ways the democratic candidates mirror the ideas present in 600 BC. Both initially sound positive by redistributing wealth and helping the poor, but in the long-run could cause problems with disgruntled patrons on both the wealthy and underprivileged sides of the discussion. Debt forgiveness could cause a lack of efficiency in the economy, as seen in a drop in productivity after Solon’s seisachtheia. Entitled students may become disincentivized to work hard at receiving a quality education and get hired into a substantial job if they know their debt will be forgiven without consequence. Similarly, top universities have less motivation to provide a world-class education to students if they know they may not receive all their money back. This will create a lack of resources and a decreased quality of schooling.  

While Solon and the democratic candidates are active in politics at completely different times in history, the lessons learned from Solon can help predict the impact of debt forgiveness. Although the idea of alleviating student debt may seem like a short-term solution to burdened students, the long-lasting effects may cause more damage than help.

3/C Matt Benedettini

Racial Disparity in America

In modern America minorities face profiling and singling out almost every single day based simply on their race or appearance. While many consider our government and police force to be institutions for good and equality the majority of the time, there are also many instances where this is not the case. In many different cases of crimes, African-Americans are arrested and convicted at a much more extreme rate than their caucasian counterparts, and especially in cases of drug use and overall sentencing of crimes. 

In drug use convictions and sentencing, African American conviction rates have risen exponentially  from 1980 to 2000, from 6.5 percent to 29.1 percent, compared to the change from 3.5 to 4.6 percent in caucasians (The Sentencing Project). While these statistics were incredibly disportionate, the disparity in actual drug use was relatively similar between the two races. Another instance of this is the disproportionate sentencing in crack cocaine cases. In a study conducted in 1993 in Los Angeles, roughly 95 percent of crack cocaine defendants that were charged in California were African American, and 100 percent of the defendants charged in federal court were African American (The Sentencing Project). These numbers show definite signs of racial profiling and discrimination in not only the police force with the arrest numbers, but also in the court systems which claim to not see race. By simply looking at these statistics, you can see the clear disparity in the judicial process, and it is evident that this is a racial problem. 

In general, our laws are much different than Hammurabi’s, and while there are very real and serious problems that have consistencies with the problems in Hammurabi’s code, we have come a long way since this form of laws. Hammurabi focused on the equality of punishment to the severity of the crime. For example, if you took the eye of another man, your eye was taken. If you broke the bone of another man, your bone was broken(Hammurabi’s Code). In our judicial system, we claim and in many instances practice more of a rehabilitation process through incarceration, rather than inflicting pain or death on the person being prosecuted. However, in Hammurabi’s code, there are differing punishments for when you commit a crime against someone of a lower standing than yourself (Hammurabi’s Code). Comparably, while we preach fairness, there is also a much more severe punishment for minorities as well as those of lower socioeconomic status in a similar manner to Hammurabi’s code. For example, African Americans with incomes of less than $5000 dollars were given much harsher and longer sentences than other defendants, especially Caucasians. (The Sentencing Project). Overall, our law system has come a long way since Hammurabi, but we still have a long way to go. 

To fix this problem, I think there needs to be an overhaul in our way of thinking as a country. There are too many people who still have racist opinions and beliefs, which is the main problem behind these statistics. However, to change the thinking of such a vast amount of people is inherently unrealistic. We must hold the people in charge accountable, and if these problems continue, then rules and regulations must be changed. If we ever want to see change, we have to start with the people who control our police force and judicial system. We must work our way up to fight this systemic racism that is plaguing our country.

-Chris Gregoire

Word Count: 575

Tyrant or Leader?

In Chapter 5, “Dawn of the Empires”, the author defines tyrant as a “ruler with absolute power, sometimes granted through election in times of crisis, sometimes seized through force of arms”. The author also refers to a tyrant as a “single autocratic ruler” (Spodek 141). However, the modern day definition of “tyrant” is a cruel and harsh ruler who obtained power through force. Many common stereotypes associated with tyrants include dynasties, prophecies, sexual deviancy, and greed. As stated in “Herodotus on the Athenian Tyrants”, Pisistratus “became a tyrant again” because he did not have sex with his wife “in the usual way” (26). Sexual deviancy appears in the ancient definition of tyrant but has disappeared as the definition has evolved over time. In addition, many tyrants started out as fair and effective leaders. However, as their power grew and descended their sons, they became corrupt over time. Although “tyrant” has a negative connotation in modern English, tyrants could be either effective leaders or unfair leaders during the time in Ancient Greece. The term “tyrant” that appears in a news article about President Trump does not represent the definition from Ancient Greece because it only associates Trump with cruelness and does not include the possibility of a good tyrant.  

In “America Takes the Next Step Toward Tyranny”, Andrew Sullivan examines the definition of “tyrant” and makes a case that President Trump is a modern day tyrant. However, Sullivan fails to acknowledge the positive side of the word in relation to its origin in Ancient Greece. Sullivan accurately describes how tyranny rises after the fall of democracy; “a late-stage democracy… with elites dedicated primarily to enriching themselves…morphs so easily into tyranny” (Sullivan). Sullivan accurately describes the rise of tyranny which is not included in a modern definition of the term. This proves true in Ancient Greece when Peisistratus took control of the government as a tyrant after the fall of Solon’s reforms. 

After recognizing that tyranny proceeds democracy, Sullivan makes the case that Trump goes into a period of free giving. After the calm period of ruling, Trump “just gives away stuff: at first he promises much ‘in private and public, and grant[s] freedom from debts and distribute[s] land to the people and those around himself’” (Sullivan). The idea of freeing people from debts connects directly to Solon’s reform known as seisachtheia. Seisachtheia cancelled all debts and outlawed debt slavery which is exactly what Trump did. Solon advocated for democracy so this connection supports Trump as a democratic ruler rather than a tyrant. Sullivan, gives into the other side of his argument without even realizing it.

Sullivan claims that “our president is a man who revels in his own cruelty”. The depiction of a tyrant as cruel is a modern day stereotype but does not hold true when looking at tyrants from the Bronze Age in Ancient Greece. As mentioned before, there were tyrants who were fair and effective rulers in addition to the obvious, cruel rulers. The author describes those that helped the tyrant rise to power eventually fall apart leaving the single ruler with all the power. After the tyrant settles into his rule, he removes all constraints to his power. The tyrant casts out anyone who gives advice that goes against the tyrant’s agenda. The author makes the case that Trump emulates this aspect of tyrant because he fired Rex Tillerson and Andrew McCabe due to a conflict of interests (Sullivan). Sullivan claims that “no one with these instincts for total domination over others is likely to moderate the longer he is in power…It only gets worse” (Sullivan). This claim aligns with the fact that as tyranny progresses from the first tyrant to the next, the leaders become corrupt. Here, Sullivan’s argument matches the modern day definition of “tyrant” as well as half of the ancient definition. 

Plato describes a tyrant as someone who is “always setting a war in motion, so that people will be in need of a leader…it’s necessary for a tyrant always to be stirring up war” (Sullivan). John Bolton, an advocate for war, replaced McMaster causing people to wonder about Plato’s definition of a tyrant. Sullivan goes on to say that Trump has to dominate other countries in the same way he likes to dominate people. Trump’s desire for power and control are prime examples of the motives that tyrants value. 

Sullivan concludes the article stating, “part of me, of course, has long worried and hoped that my assessment of Trump as truly the tyrant of Plato’s imagination is melodramatic overkill” (Sullivan). Sullivan assumes that “tyrant” has a negative denotation, but in reality, it could have a positive meaning. Although the vast majority of readers associate the word “tyrant” with a cruel, greedy, and unjust ruler, scholars that have studied ancient Greece recognize that the word has two sides. Now it is up to the reader to determine which side President Trump falls on.


Chapter Five, “Dawn of the Empires” by Spodek

“Herodotus on the Athenian Tyrants”

The Non-Existent Laws for Sexual Assault Survivors

Larry Nasser is the perfect example of privilege winning for so long in the justice system. He had the perfect formula: He was a well-respected doctor in esteemed programs like USA Gymnastics and the Olympics. He also had the privilege of being a male. This case is a classic example of injustice; many girls spoke out about Nasser’s behavior, which resulted in no legal action for nearly twenty years. He got away with assault for so long because people did not believe the victims. The laws taking sexual assault survivors seriously simply are not there. They have never been there. In fact, dating as far back as to the Code of Hammurabi, there are no concrete laws protecting sexual assault survivors from their attackers. Ultimately, our legal system reflects the Code of Hammurabi by failing to establish laws that protect and encourage women to seek justice for their sexual assault experiences.

            No laws in the Code of Hammurabi mention any protection for women if they are sexually assaulted, which reinforces their silence. Unfortunately, there are very few laws that protect women in general. One of the only laws in the Code of Hammurabi that mentions the legal action for a woman wanting to leave her husband is rule 141, which states:

If a man’s wife, dwelling in his house, has decided to leave, has been guilty of

dissipation, has wasted her house, and has neglected her husband, then she shall

be prosecuted. If her husband says she is divorced, he shall let her go her way;

he shall give another women, and that [first] woman shall remain a slave in the

house of her husband. (Hammurabi 5)

According to law 141, they were either going to remain a slave in their husband’s home or be prosecuted. Women had no rights outside of their husbands or fathers. Because the consequences for wanting to leave a marriage were extremely repressive, this law forces women to be silent and stay in a relationship that is not working for her. The idea of a women speaking out against a male sexually assault her was a concept that was not even considered in the Code of Hammurabi because of how silenced women already were in society. They were not taken seriously, which is an idea that has transcended into today’s society and can explain why there are still no laws helping sexual assault survivors.  

            While today’s laws allow for women to seek divorces that do not end in enslavement, women still feel like they have no voice when it comes to speaking out about their sexual assault. The only reason Nasser’s case was heard was because a girl came forward to a neutral media outlet, causing a cascade of girls to report Nasser’s behavior. It is powerful, yet sad, to see it took a nation-wide movement and a collective voice of roughly three hundred women to imprison one man. People who self-report their assault have never been taken seriously until recently, and this case supports the idea that change is coming. Unfortunately, while there are no laws that allow one predictor to be indicted because of one account of sexual assault, Nasser’s case made a statement to all that women are establishing their voice amongst the legal system.

Krystyna Bartocci

Word Count: 559

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Do They Punish The Minorities and The Poor More?

First and foremost, justice is obviously blind in the eyes of minorities because of issues dating back to slavery and other’s issues in the present times, i.e., police brutality and racial profiling. Minorities have never been treated fairly, so that is why justice is obviously blind to minorities. To most of the people who are not affected by this problem, they either ignore or they are simply oblivious to this problem by nature and culture. It has been like this for years. Dating back to the Babylonian Dynasty (1792-1750 b.c.),  the culture of these people followed the Code of Hammurabi. These codes/laws were not fair, and the code held punishments that were disproportionate depending on a person’s social status. For example, in our primary source reading of the Code of Hammurabi, it says that if a common man strikes a superior, he will receive 60 lashes. However, if the same common man strikes a “peasant” he would have to simply pay a fine of little worth. As you see, the punishments for crimes varied due to whom the crime was committed against. A crime committed against a peasant was remediated with a less harmful punishment than if it was committed against a “superior” person in society. In comparison, take a look at a modern example of disproportionate punishment, on August 3rd this year, a white man killed 22 people and injured 24 during a mass shooting in El Paso. The police approached the situation and properly arrested him and took him into custody without any aggression. (Everyone reading should have an idea of what is coming next.) We have minorities and people of lower economic status being approach by police very aggressively and punished disproportionately to the point of death for something as simple as selling loose cigarettes, keep in mind that this death from selling loose cigarettes came from being choked out by a police man. This case is very extreme but true. In these two cases, you have a minority selling cigarettes and being killed for it by the police, and you have a person who is not a minority killing innocent people and being handled in a non-aggressive, correct way. All that to say, this way of punishing people whose social status is low or not the majority in a society, has always been the norm in the “superiors eyes.” From b.c. to flat screen TVs, the unjust laws and ways have been ingrained in society. Therefore, the laws and punishments of today’s time are very similar to the Code of Hammurabi. However, the punishments nowadays are less obnoxious and more considerate of people  and take into account human decency and are becoming more aware of the unjust and disproportionate punishments. 

When it comes to addressing justice and injustice, the issue is so obvious, but so hard to take action on because of ignorance. To fix this problem, the problem must be addressed and not ignored. No one can be or act oblivious to unjust/disproportionate punishments.

**disclaimer** By no means am I saying that police should have killed/destroyed this mass murderer on sight. I am simply showing the disproportionate punishment of the two situations due to status and being a minority. Ready for comments though!

-Kevin Spencer

-word count: 504

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