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.
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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.
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