Jacqueline Arthur-Montagne headshot
Assistant Professor of Classics and Faculty, Democracy Initiative

One of the reasons I find Greece and Rome to be endless sources of fascination is the steady supply of paradoxes these civilizations present to what we think we know about ourselves and our relationship to the ancient past. Classical Athens, for instance, was the birthplace of both a radically direct democracy but also the influential, anti-democratic philosopher Plato. Roman poets versified the erotic and political agency of fictitious female characters at a time when real women’s voices and lived experiences were marginalized in most public venues. In my Engagements course – “Who Should Lead?” – I want to explore with students the urgent question of how we distribute power across a citizen collective. Classical antiquity documents a range of perspectives on what it means to be a leader to one’s community, and about what kinds of people are best equipped for the job. I am especially curious about the alternative models of leader selection that ancient Greece and Rome adopted instead of or in addition to popular elections. At a time when elections and elected officials have garnered growing mistrust, could we improve the health of today’s democracies by experimenting with random sortition or rank-choice voting? What if we empowered dual executives, like the two co-ruling Spartan kings or Roman consuls? As a faculty member in the Department of Classics and the recently founded Democracy Initiative, I can’t think of a better place than the U.Va. to harness the classical past in service of our present and future student leaders.