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the self in Greek literature  

Christopher Gill

The notion of “self” is a non-technical one, bridging the areas of psychology and ethics or social relations. Criteria for selfhood include psychological unity or cohesion, agency, responsibility, self-consciousness, reflexivity, and capacity for relationships with others. “Self” is a modern concept with no obvious lexical equivalent in Greek (or Latin); the question therefore arises of the relationship between the modern concept and ancient thinking, as embodied in Greek literature. Three approaches to this question can be identified. One focuses on the idea that there is development within Greek literature towards an understanding of the self or person as a cohesive unit and bearer of agency and responsibility. Another approach sees certain aspects of Greek literature and philosophy as prefiguring some features of the modern concept of self. A third approach underlines the difference between the Greek and modern thought worlds in the formulation of concepts in this area, while also suggesting that Greek ideas and modes of presenting people can be illuminating to moderns, in part because of the challenge posed by their difference. These approaches draw on a range of evidence, including psychological vocabulary, characterization in Greek literature, and Greek philosophical analyses of ethical psychology. There are grounds for maintaining the credibility of all three approaches, and also valid criticisms that can be made of each of them.



Emma Dench

The English term “barbarian” is derived from the Greek barbaros, Latinized as barbarus. Barbarians are most familiar as the antithesis of Hellenes, but the terms do different work in different cultural contexts throughout and beyond classical antiquity. In some contexts, a single “barbarian race” is envisaged in distinction from “us,” while in others plural “barbarian” groups are differentiated. In the latter case, the societal structures, customs, and behaviour of these “barbarian” groups are often patterned both geographically and temporally, with “us” typically in the middle, peoples to the north and west imagined to be more primitive, and those to the east and south imagined to be more ancient and/or further along than us in their hyper-civilization. Barbarian groups are frequently “tagged” with epithets, ascribing for example typical appearance or behaviour, or typical products, or may be subject to more comprehensive ethnographical scrutiny. In still other contexts, groups and individuals may invoke barbarian identity in their self-fashioning. To call other people barbarians”is inevitably ethnocentric, even when positive characteristics are assigned to barbarians. However, in individual ancient contexts, power dynamics may be quite different, resulting in a more or less charged exploration and characterization of the relative placement of “us” and other peoples. The term was a social designation rather than a legal status, but could inform institutions and actions and, within certain contexts, the differential treatment of groups, in which case it can be appropriately described as racial thinking.


Martial, Latin poet  

Luke Roman

Martial (Marcus Valerius Martialis, born c. 38–41 ce in Bilbilis, Spain, died c. 101–104) was a Latin poet who came to Rome around 64 ce. His early works were linked to specific occasions: the De Spectaculis, written for the inaugural games of the Colosseum in 80 ce, and the Xenia and Apophoreta (published c. 83–85 ce), associated with the celebration of the Saturnalia. Over the course of his subsequent career, Martial published twelve numbered books of epigrams. His version of epigram, which became canonical in later centuries, was the result of a highly distinctive series of interventions. Drawing on a range of Greek and Latin literary models, he imprinted onto epigram a constellation of recognizable traits: the set-up and punchline structure of epigrammatic wit, a materialist focus on quotidian realities, the forthright use of obscene language, and a relaxed mood of carnivalesque festivity. The genre of epigram, thus inflected and reconfigured, allowed Martial to position himself in relation to the canonical Augustan poets and define his poetic role under authoritarian emperors.