This article illustrates the need for a historical anthropology of the longue durée, dealing with pre-modern societies, by analyzing the work of Jean-Pierre Vernant on the development of thought in ancient Greece. Vernant's anthropologies began with Marx and the historical psychologist Ignace Meyerson; he was influenced by the Durkheimian Louis Gernet and later by Lévi-Strauss. His early interest in relating Greek rationality to social organization led him increasingly into work on Greek religion and tragedy. This article builds on his work by studying the social contexts of communication that facilitated the proposal and elaboration of unconventional ideas.
Jean-Pierre Vernant and intellectual innovation in ancient Greece
S. C. Humphreys
Algeria is never far from the center of Albert Camus's life and work—no further, in effect, than Ithaka is from the center of Odysseus's thoughts. In fact, Camus tended to see his native country through his readings of ancient Greek myth and tragedy. This article traces the ways in which Camus, with materials provided by ancient Greece, not only represented his native land, but also elaborated a “Mediterranean” school of thought—la pensée du Midi—that emphasizes the role of moderation or “measure.” There is an undeniable aspect of nostalgia to Camus's rendering of his country and its past, but this does not undermine its validity. By making use of Svetlana Boym's fruitful distinction between reflective and restorative forms of nostalgia, I suggest that the combination of the two categories lies at the heart of Camus's “philosophy of limits.”
Productions of Europe In and Beyond Textbooks
This article discusses the relationship between Europe and ancient Greece as narrated (or ignored) in a range of European history textbooks. It unravels the threads the narrative has followed since the eighteenth century, investigating the choices made in construing the narrative taught today. Which meanings were inherent in the terms “east” and “west” before they acquired the ideological coloring associating “east” with “barbarians” and “west” with the civilized world and “Europe”? The article opens up a new perspective on a complex past that was lost from view when perceptions of the ancient Greeks as guarantors of European values became entwined with the invention of the nation state.
Thomas K. Hubbard
Classical Athens offers a useful comparative test‐case for essentialist assumptions about the necessary harm that emanates from sexual intimacy between adults and adolescent boys. The Athenian model does not fit victimological expectations, but instead suggests that adolescent boys could be credited with considerable powers of discretion and responsibility in sexual matters without harming their future cultural productivity. Contemporary American legislation premised on children’s incapacity to “consent” to sexual relations stems from outmoded gender constructions and ideological preoccupations of the late Victorian and Progressive Era; that it has been extended to “protection” of boys is a matter of historical accident, rather than sound social policy. Rigorous social science and historical comparanda suggest that we should consider a different “age of consent” for boys and girls.
Isaiah Berlin’s famous essay about Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, called ‘The Hedgehog and the Fox’, takes its title from a tag by an ancient Greek poet, who said something like ‘The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing’. Berlin used it to talk more about temperament and preoccupation than about knowledge. That’s how I’d like to use it now, and ‘come out’ to you as an unabashed hedgehog who, in various (and sometimes wildly divergent modes), has had one thing on my mind all my life.
A Possible Model ('The Regina Jonas Memorial Lecture')
Isaiah Berlin's famous essay about Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, called 'The Hedgehog and the Fox' takes its title from a tag by an ancient Greek poet, who said something like 'The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing'. Berlin used it to talk more about temperament and preoccupation than about knowledge. That's how I'd like to use it now, and 'come out' to you as an unabashed hedgehog who, in various (and sometimes wildly divergent modes), has had one thing on my mind all my life.
Violence in Classical Athens
This article explores Steven Pinker’s thesis with regard to fifth-century BCE Athens. Pinker’s view that the political state became the arbiter of violence is important, but for ancient Greeks that meant that wars became more devastating. States coordinated military action more effectively than earlier tribal chiefs. With regard to violence within communities, the absence of civic values, human rights, or robust legal systems meant that violence mediated many relationships between men and women, masters and slaves, and even aristocrats and lower-status citizens. Violence was a prominent aspect of all ancient people’s lives. In short, Pinker’s thesis provides an excellent heuristic device to analyze Greek antiquity if only to discuss how it may or may not apply in real terms.
Enduring Civilisation—A Personal Reflection
Over the past few years I have been fortunate to be part of a team of people working on an exhibition at the British Museum. The curator of the exhibition is Gaye Sculthorpe, Curator of Oceania at the Museum. Lissant Bolton, Keeper of Africa, Oceania and the Americas, came up with the exhibition title, Indigenous Australia: enduring civilisation. The word civilization had been part of our discussions all along and her wording resolved any doubt we might have had. Civilization came to mind because it was the British Museum, because of Ancient Greece and Rome, because of Oriental Civilization, because of Kenneth Clarke, and in my case because of the title of the book A Black Civilization by the anthropologist W. Lloyd Warner.
This essay explores social and political values conveyed by nineteenth century world and universal history textbooks in relation to the antebellum era. These textbooks focused on the histories of ancient Greece and Rome rather than on histories of the United States. I argue that after 1830 these textbooks reinforced both the US land reform and the antislavery movement by creating favorable depictions of Tiberius and Caius Gracchus. Tiberius and Caius Gracchus (known as the “Gracchi”) were two Roman tribunes who sought to restore Rome's land laws, which granted public land to propertyless citizens despite opposition from other Roman aristocrats. The textbook authors' portrayal of the Gracchan reforms reflects a populist element in antebellum American education because these narratives suggest that there is a connection between social inequality and the decline of republicanism.
Kathryn T. Gines
Is Jean-Paul Sartre to be credited for Richard Wright's existentialist leanings? This essay argues that while there have been noteworthy philosophical exchanges between Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and Richard Wright, we can find evidence of Wright's philosophical and existential leanings before his interactions with Sartre and Beauvoir. In particular, Wright's short story "The Man Who Lived Underground" is analyzed as an existential, or Black existential, project that is published before Wright met Sartre and/or read his scholarship. Existentialist themes that emerge from Wright's short story include flight, guilt, life, death, dread, and freedom. Additionally, it is argued that "The Man Who Lived Underground" offers a reversal of the prototypical allegory of the cave that we find in the Western (ancient Greek) philosophical tradition. The essay takes seriously the significance of the intellectual exchanges between Sartre, Beauvoir, and Wright while also highlighting Wright's own philosophical legacy.