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The Birth of Nomos

Thanos Zartaloudis

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Delves into the history of the ancient Greek word nomos (and related words) to reveal the interdisciplinary depth of this term beyond its later meaning of 'law' or 'law-making'

This is a highly original, interdisciplinary study of the archaic Greek word nomos and its family of words. Thanos Zartaloudis draws out the richness of this fundamental term by exploring its many uses over the centuries.

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List of Abbreviations

Preface: Anthroponomikos

Part I: Homeric Nomos

1. The Nomos of Feasts and ‘Sacrifices’

2. Nomos Moirēgenēs

3. The Nomos of the Land

4. Pastoral Nomos

5. Nemesis

Part II: Post-Homeric Nomos

6. The Nomos of the Post-Homeric Poets

7. The Nomos of Heraclitus

8. Nomos Basileus

9. The Nomos of the Tragedians

10. Nomos Mousikos


About the Author

Thanos Zartaloudis is a Reader in Legal Theory and History at Kent Law School, University of Kent, Kent Law School and Lecturer in History and Theory Studies at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London.


Writing in the grand tradition of humanistic legal research, The Birth of Nomos proffers an extraordinarily sophisticated and extremely precise tracking of the European roots of the legal tradition. Contemporary legal theory defines nomos and norm as law and rule. In a meticulously erudite work of philological and philosophical investigation, The Birth of Nomos patiently and decisively evidences the paucity and inaccuracy of such designations. Zartaloudis in this scintillatingly original study traces the plural roots and multiple forms of nomos and in doing so redraws the boundaries of jurisprudence.

- Peter Goodrich, Cardozo Law School

Generosity is not a word Zartaloudis explicitly deploys in this remarkable investigation – a veritable cosmonomy, to invoke the author’s erudite terminology. And yet, what better way to describe what he does in The Birth of Nomos, as he genially apportions and distributes, scrupulously gives and grants, deftly dispensing and setting apart the multiple sources and resources that have nourished, or been fed by, the word nomos (differentially accented) and its ‘family of words’? Throughout, Zartaloudis reads and roams, disposes, arranges and orders anew centuries of use, fields of practice and thought (poetry and prophecy, tragedy and philosophy, shepherding and mousikē, to name just a few), engrossing traditions of reading, of performance and conduct, as well as persistent issues and concepts of manifest currency — and intense urgency. The outer edges of law (that most common translation of nomos from which Zartaloudis knowingly seeks to guard us, ‘the danger’, he says, ‘is, as ever, to miss the point’) are traversed and carefully circumvented, revealed for their still unchartered expanses, the multifarious forms of life and worlds they are and have been. A masterful and exemplary, truly creative and generous work.

- Gil Anidjar, Columbia University

Thanos Zartaloudis’ The Birth of Nomos renovates entirely our understanding of a fundamental term in the history of Western culture. From this unprecedented book, it becomes clear that we will need to rethink all of the themes that our ethical and political tradition has gathered around the word ‘Law’.

- Giorgio Agamben

Like no one else before, Thanos Zartaloudis has broken through the complexities of the concept of nomos with a tour de force. As incisive and imaginative as one wants intellectual work to be, The Birth of Nomos bursts even more with stunning philological prowess, poetic invention, and philosophical ingenuity – a real gem to behold and a treasure to mine over and over.

- Stathis Gourgouris, Columbia University


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