Reciprocity is a modern concept used in classical scholarship to denote the principle and practice of voluntary requital, both of benefit-for-benefit (positive reciprocity) and of harm-for-harm (negative reciprocity). The concept originated in the discipline of economic anthropology, but has been fruitful in the analysis of social, erotic, financial, political, and religious life in the Greek world. As a principle, reciprocity structures the plot of Homeric epics and Attic tragedy. It is also a phenomenon reflected on in diverse genres: its political meaning is explored in Homeric depictions of leadership crises and in Xenophon’s leadership theory. Presocratic cosmologies and early Greek historiography experiment with reciprocity as an explanatory principle. Attic tragedy and moral philosophy expose the implications and shortcomings of the ethical norm of reciprocity.
Reciprocity is a modern concept used in classical scholarship to denote the principle and practice of voluntary requital.1 Although the principle applies to both the requital of benefit-for-benefit (positive reciprocity) and of harm-for-harm (negative reciprocity, for instance revenge or retaliation), most debate has focused on positive reciprocity as an economic and interpersonal principle. The underlying intuition, that giving goods or rendering services imposes upon the recipient a moral obligation to respond, appears to be a universal.