Main content

The Owl's Legacy: Democracy, or City of Dreams

The Owl's Legacy: Democracy, or City of Dreams

“Modern and ancient democracy have no genetic relationship” -- Mihalis Sakellariou

An in-depth—but not overly dense—exploration of how Athenian democracy worked, and the key ways it differs from modern states using the word. Ancient Greek democracy emphasized the polisnot as a city-state the way we understand it, but as a collection of individuals. Those able to participate (free men—a small minority of the total population) were passionate about politics and had access to numerous checks and balances. It was a world without parties, written policies, or an independent judiciary—one in which today’s decisions could constantly be revisited and refined tomorrow.

Book-ended by the 1968 pro-democracy protests in Athens against the ruling fascist junta, this episode paints a vivid picture of life in the first democracy. It also chronicles the unraveling of Athenian democracy during the three decades of the Peloponnesian War when, as Cornelius Castoriadis puts it, “The Athenian Demos degenerated. There was an oligarchic revolution... What the Demos lost was the art of making decisions. Even language was being corrupted.”

Athenian and contemporary Western democracies may be vastly different, but, as this episode clearly shows, they certainly do have parallels.

“We should raze the Sorbonne and put Chris Marker in its place.” —Henri Michaux

The primary pleasure of the series, which is incredibly inspiring, is linked to this great banquet of participants, the sum of knowledge they invoke, but above all to the playful flows the editing establishes between their ideas, constructing a formidable network of meanings, historical and cultural perspectives -  a veritable encyclopedia of development." —Le Monde

“Why did we have to wait so long for this electrifyingly intelligent film?” —Le Point

“Thirteen words to uncover an entire civilization and reestablish its considerable influence on our modern societies.” —Les Inrockuptibles

“With erudition, Chris Marker questions in each episode what remains Greek within us.” —Philosophie Magazine


Main credits

Marker, Chris (film director)
Peck, Bob (narrator)

Other credits

Music, Eleni Karaindrou [and 3 others]; camerapersons, Andreas Sinanos [and 5 others]; editing team, Khadicha Bariha, Nedjma Scialom.

Docuseek2 subjects

Distributor subjects

Historical Anthropology
Ancient Greece
Chris Marker


"The Owl's Legacy"; Icarus Films; France; Chris Marker; Ancient Greece; culture; ,doc,art; history; shod

Related Films

The Owl's Legacy: Philosophy, or the Triumph of the Owl

Episode 13 of renowned filmmaker Chris Marker's mythical masterpiece about…