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Greek Collective Identities Politico-Cultural Constructions of the Barbarian A Greek World View (Second Century BCE ) Xenophanes (Fifth Century BCE )

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greek collective identities

Greek Collective Identities

Politico-Cultural Constructions of the Barbarian

xenophanes fifth century bce

Xenophanes (Fifth Century BCE)

“In winter, on your soft couch by the fire, full of food, drinking sweet wine and cracking nuts, say this to the chance traveler at your door: ‘What is your name, my good friend? Where do you live? How many years can you number? How old were you when the Persians came?’ .”

constantine cavafy waiting for the barbarians

Constantine Cavafy“Waiting for the Barbarians”

“And what will now become of us without barbarians?

Those people were some sort of solution.”

formation of group stereotypes
Formation of Group Stereotypes
  • Walter Lippman, American editorialist and political thinker, first to use the term “stereotype” in the social sciences
  • G.W. Allport, The Nature of Prejudice (1954)
  • Stereotypes and Pragmatism: J.-P. Leyens, V. Yzerbyt, and G. Schadron, Stereotypes and Social Cognition (1994)
development of an ancient greek nation

Development of an Ancient Greek “Nation”

Centripetal and Centrifugal Forces

  • Common Language (with dialectical variations)
  • Common Pantheon of Olympian Deities
  • Panhellenic Oracular Shrines
  • Homeric Poems
  • Panhellenic Athletic and Musical Festivals
athenians to spartans herodotus histories 8 144

Athenians to SpartansHerodotus, Histories, 8.144

“It was natural no doubt that the Spartans should be afraid we might make terms with the barbarians, but nevertheless it was a base fear in men who know of what temper and spirit we are. Not all the gold that the earth contains—not the fairest and most fertile of all lands—would bribe us to take part with the Persians and help them to enslave our countrymen. Even could we have brought ourselves to do such a thing, there are many powerful motives which would now make it impossible. The first and chief of these is the burning and destruction of our temples and the images of our gods, which forces us to make no terms with their destroyers, but rather to pursue them relentlessly. Then there is our common brotherhood with the Greeks: our common language, the altars and sacrifices we all take part in, the common character which we bear.”

  • Local Calendars and Magistracies (Polis)
  • Fictive Consanguinity of Polis-Members
  • Geographical Factors
  • Vernant’s “Universe of the Polis”
inventing the barbarian greek images of barbarians

“Inventing the Barbarian”: Greek Images of Barbarians

Scythians in Combat

Gold Comb Ornament

Sixth-Fourth Centuries BCE

scythian polarity
Scythian Polarity
  • “For the Scythian nation has made the most clever discovery among all the people we know, and of the one thing that is the greatest in human affairs—though for the rest I do not admire them much. This greatest thing that they have discovered is how no invader who comes against them can ever escape and how none can catch them if they do not wish to be caught. For this people has no cities or settled forts; they carry their houses with them and shoot with bows from horseback; they live off herds of cattle, not from tillage, and their dwellings are on their wagons. How then can they fail to be invincible and inaccessible for others?”
    • Herodotus, 4.46
persian wars as watershed in greek collective consciousness
Persian Wars as Watershed in Greek Collective Consciousness
  • Literary Memory
    • Aristophanes’ Marathonomachoi
    • Aeschylus’ Persians (472 BCE) and Epitaph
  • Medizing Poleis
  • Ephemeral Coalition of Greek States (Athens and Sparta)
inventing the barbarian
Inventing the Barbarian
  • Greek Thought and Binary Oppositions
  • Barbarian Characteristics
    • Irrational; Emotion rules over Reason
    • Appetitive; Body dominates Mind
    • Effeminate and Luxury-Loving
    • Dependent; Incapable of Self-Sufficiency/Mastery
    • Slavish; Ruled by Monarchs/Despots
points of departure and contrast for herodotean universalism
Points of Departure and Contrast for Herodotean Universalism?
  • “He said…that he was grateful to fate for three reasons: first, for being a man and not an animal; second, a man and not a woman; and third, a Greek and not a barbarian.”
    • Diogenes Laertius 1.33 (on Thales)

“But to resume--it is in a living creature, as we say, that it is first possible to discern the rule both of master and of statesman the soul rules the body with the sway of a master, the intelligence rules the appetites with that of a statesman or a king and in these examples it is manifest that it is natural and expedient for the body to be governed by the soul and for the emotional part to be governed by the intellect, the part possessing reason, whereas for the two parties to be on an equal footing or in the contrary positions is harmful in all cases. Again, the same holds good between man and the other animals: tame animals are superior in their nature to wild animals, yet for all the former it is advantageous to be ruled by man, since this gives them security. Again, as between the sexes, the male is by nature superior and the female inferior, the male ruler and the female subject. And the same must also necessarily apply in the case of mankind as a whole; therefore all men that differ as widely as the soul does from the body and the human being from the lower animal (and this is the condition of those whose function is the use of the body and from whom this is the best that is forthcoming) these are by nature slaves, for whom to be governed by this kind of authority is advantageous, inasmuch as it is advantageous to the subject things already mentioned. For he is by nature a slave who is capable of belonging to another (and that is why he does so belong), and who participates in reason so far as to apprehend it but not to possess it; for the animals other than man are subservient not to reason, by apprehending it, but to feelings. And also the usefulness of slaves diverges little from that of animals; bodily service for the necessities of life is forthcoming from both, from slaves and from domestic animals alike. The intention of nature therefore is to make the bodies also of freemen and of slaves different--the latter strong for necessary service, the former erect and unserviceable for such occupations, but serviceable for a life of citizenship.”

Aristotle, Politics 1254b

aristotle politics 1256b

Aristotle, Politics 1256b

“If therefore nature makes nothing without purpose or in vain, it follows that nature has made all the animals for the sake of men. Hence even the art of war will by nature be in a manner an art of acquisition (for the art of hunting is a part of it) that is properly employed both against wild animals and against such of mankind as though designed by nature for subjection refuse to submit to it, inasmuch as this warfare is by nature just.”

another look at herodotus

Another Look at Herodotus

Cultural Relativism in Context

herodotean uses of the greek barbarian bipolarity
Herodotean Uses of the Greek/Barbarian Bipolarity
  • Apparent Conformity to Barbarian Stereotype in the Histories:
    • Greeks victorious over barbarian Persians
    • The Stupid Barbarian: “The Euxine Pontus, against which Darius made his campaign, contains—except for the Scythians—the stupidest nations in the world.” (4.46)
    • Egyptian Inversion of Greek Ways (?) (2.35-45)
herodotean inversions of greek barbarian bipolarity
Herodotean Inversions of Greek/Barbarian Bipolarity
  • Ambiguity of Greek Cultural Stereotypes in the Histories:
    • Phrygian bekos and ancient Egyptian authority (2.2)
    • The “Constitutional Debate” (3.80-83)
    • Cultural Relativity (3.38)
    • Golden Age and Decline Topos (Homer and Hesiod) and Histories 1.5
herodotus 1 5 on human prosperity

Herodotus (1.5) on Human Prosperity

“Of the cities that were great in the past, most of them now have become insignificant; and those that are powerful now were weak in the distant past. Therefore I shall make it my business to discuss both, as I am convinced that human happiness never stays in one place for very long.”