Skip to comments.Victor Davis Hanson: The Ancient Greeks – Were they like us at all?
Posted on 05/04/2004 8:33:07 PM PDT by quidnunc
The classical Greeks were really nothing like us at least that now seems the prevailing dogma of classical scholars of the last half-century. Perhaps due to the rise of cultural anthropology or, more recently, to a variety of postmodern schools of social construction, it is now often accepted that the lives of Socrates, Euripides, and Pericles were not similar to our own, but so far different as to be almost unfathomable. Shelleys truism that We are all Greeks has now become, as we say, inoperative.
M. I. Finley, the great historian of the ancient economy, spent a lifetime to prove his questionable thesis that the Greeks who imported grain from southern Russia, calibrated the cost of the Parthenon to the drachma, and left us a plethora of mortgage stones, financial inventories, and complicated estate exchanges were to be understood as economically unsophisticated and irrational, more as tribal barterers than calculating capitalists without much abstract appreciation of interest, supply, demand, or any of the other practices associated with the complex market. Historians of gender more recently have sought to show that the Greeks were without real sexual identity, their sexual mores not understandable through innate natural proclivities, much less fathomable by analogy to common social customs across time and space. With whom and how one had sex was instead constructed and thus explicable only through understanding of Foucauldian power relationships of submission and dominance.
By the same manner, ancient Hellenic childhood is supposedly equally enigmatic to us. Art historians have pointed out that Greek kids were not customarily sculpted and painted as real children, but most often portrayed through convention (or is it due to artistic incapacity?) as veritable shrunken adults mature frowns and puzzled expressions slapped on tiny faces. The proverbially rich Greek language, we are often reminded further, lacks the variety of Englishs clearly defined and evolving hierarchy of childhood nomenclature: baby, toddler, kid, teenager, adolescent, young adult. The chronological inexactness of Greeks numerous generic terms for youth pais, kouros, neanias is offered as further proof of the great divide that separates attitudes toward coming of age in both ancient Greece and modern America.
(Excerpt) Read more at newcriterion.com ...
As for the comparison between the US and ancient Greece, I'd personally say a better allusion would be with the Roman empire. Far closer than with the Greeks.
Funny, I was just now reading about the ancient Greek hero Theseus. I have also just finished reading The King Must Die today. So I guess there's at least two of us interested in Greek history tonight.
Perhaps it only seems that way because we know the Greeks better than we know ourselves.
Although, I'm not so much interested in the history, I am reading all the Plato dialogues right now.
While I read several in my early 20s, I'm finding them much more interesting in my mid-30s.
Interesting and applicable.
It's fascinating how many more argumentative devices I'm recognizing...and how much more frequently I'm finding myself thinking "How'd I ever get worked up about that? They were arguing about the same stupid sh!t in Plato's day."
"Same sh!t, different time"
Excellent post, NM.
August 2204 GGG bump.
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"Historians of gender more recently have sought to show that the Greeks were without real sexual identity, their sexual mores not understandable through innate natural proclivities, much less fathomable by analogy to common social customs across time and space."
would this mean that Socates was possibly a woman then? howcome we never heard of woman scholars in Greece? if they werent sexualy defined, then their society should have more women scholars, yes?
Pericles' lady friend was something of an intellectual but she was an exception.
The Discovery of the Mind
by Bruno Snell
Dover Publications Price: $12.95
German classicists monumental study of the origins of European thought in Greek literature and philosophy. Brilliant, widely influential
. Table of Contents for The Discovery of the Mind
TABLE OF CONTENTS
I Homer's View of Man
2 The Olympian Gods
3 The Rise of the Individual in the Early Greek Lyric
4 Pindar's Hymn to Zeus
5 Myth and Reality in Greek Tragedy
6 Aristophanes and Aesthetic Criticism
7 Human Knowledge and Divine Knowledge Amoung the Early Greeks 8 The Call to Virtue: A Brief Chapter from Greek Ethics
9 From Myth to Logic: The Role of the Comparison
10 The Origin of Scientific Thought
11 "The Discovery of Humanitas, and Our Attitude Toward the Greeks" 12 Art and Play in Callimachus
13 Arcadia: The Discovery of a Spiritual Landscape
INTRODUCTION EUROPEAN thinking begins with the Greeks. They have made it what it is: our only way of thinking; its authority, in the Western world, is undisputed. When we concern ourselves with the sciences and philosophy, we use this thought quite independently of its historical ties, to focus upon that which is constant and unconditioned: upon truth; and with its help we hope to grasp the unchanging principles of this life. On the other hand, this type of thinking was a historical growth, perhaps more so than is ordinarily implied by that term. Because we are accustomed to regard the Greek way of thinking as obligatory, we instinctively --or should we say naively?--project it also into thought processes of another order. Since the turn of the eighteenth century our growing awareness of evolutionary patterns may have contributed to the elimination of such rationalist concepts as the ageless, unchanging 'spirit'. Yet a proper understanding of the origins of Greek thought remains difficult because all too frequently we measure the products of early Greece by the fixed standards of our own age. The Iliad and the Odyssey, which stand at the source of the Greek tradition, speak to us with a strong emotional appeal; and as a result we are quick to forget how radically the experience of Homer differs from our own.
To trace the course along which, in the unfolding of early Greek culture, European thought comes into its own, we must first of all understand that the rise of thinking among the Greeks was nothing less than a revolution. They did not, by means of a mental equipment already at their disposal, merely map out new subjects for discussion, such as the sciences and philosophy. They discovered the human mind. This drama, man's gradual understanding of himself, is revealed to us in the career of Greek poetry and philosophy. The stages of the journey which saw a rational view of the nature of man establish itself are to be traced in the creations of epic and lyric poetry, and in the plays.
The discovery of the intellect cannot be compared with the discovery of, let us say, a new continent. America had existed long before Columbus discovered the New World,
Make that 25,000, or even 250,000 years, and you see why archeology and anthropology are so unsatisfactory.
There is no good explanation why people who are genetically modern do not behave as we do.
"Historians of gender more recently have sought to show that the Greeks were without real sexual identity..."
"...sex was instead constructed and thus explicable only through understanding of Foucauldian power relationships of submission and dominance."
What a bunch of tripe. Wishing and hoping, the Foucauldians attempt to confine human nature into power relationships contrived by the power structure of the society...
Much as conservatives today, Greeks believed that logic and reason must control the irrational. Subjection to passion and appetite was a form of slavery.
The Greeks understood that women possess a power that provoked the irrational in men. Ultimately that which men saw as a failing in women was their reflected selves. Women were not powerless victims of a male patriarchy but female erotic power was dangerous.
I heard this guy on art bell a couple of nights ago i found it interesting till he tried replacing God with greek pictorial painting and carvings or should i say portraying God as greek mythology ?!
The Vanished Library
by Luciano Canfora
tr by Martin Ryle
The King must Die, great read, I saw it while wndering in the stacks at my college library, had to pick it up, finished it in one sitting.
Homosexualityand paedophiliaawere pretty common in ancient Greece at least if you go by the paintings on their jars etc
NAMBLA will have a hissiefit
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Classicists UASED to say thatr the value of studying the old Greeks and Romans was that we got to study them in the round, since their story is done and already told in their literature. So much has been loss, of course, that the picture is incomplete, a magnificant ruin rather than a living organism but at least we know how the story ended.
From what I have read the last thirty years I gather the Greeks were Celtic on down to Alexander and later. The bunch that are there now came from Babylonia and Calderia and brought there customs with them. They also drove the older group into north west Euroupe and beyond. If Scriptural writers are correct, the early Greeks were from Hebrew tribes and lost most of their early ways but were fine builders and good politicians. Democracy was one person one vote. Bleeding hearts did not stand a chance.
From what I have read the last thirty years I gather the Greeks were Celtic on down to Alexander and later. The bunch that are there now came from Babylonia and Calderia and brought there customs with them. They also drove the older group into north west Euroupe and beyond.The Greeks were not Celtic. The Celts entered Europe down the steppe from Central Asia. By "Calderia" I'll guess you mean Chaldea, but the Greeks didn't come from Babylonia and Chaldea either. The Achaean Greeks (Trojan War era) are referenced in the Boghazkoy archive, and the place name Achaia persists in Greece today. Somewhat later, the Celts crossed over from Europe into Anatolia, giving their name to Galatia.
"Somehow I suspect that human nature has not changed much in 2,500 years."
Just updating the GGG info, not sending a general distribution.
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I’m2/3 through Thucydides and I find nothing in common except politicians. They had a tendency to make overblown speeches.
About a half hour at bed time is all I can take