- Angelos Chaniotis
Although generated by neurobiological processes, emotions (pathe, affectus) also consist in a process of appraisal and individual judgement, which depends on social and cultural norms and individual proclivities. As they heavily influence social relations and the behaviour of individuals and groups, emotions are socially relevant and, consequently, subject to scrutiny, judgement, and normative intervention. They fulfil social functions and follow social rules. Hence, they are potentially subject to change and are shaped by the society in which they operate. Although it can be argued that emotions are a universal phenomenon, they do have a history and are a very important subject of historical research. This applies both to emotions closely connected with socio-cultural norms (e.g. friendship, pity, honour, shame, pride) and to ‘basic emotions’ (e.g. fear, hope, joy, grief, disgust, despair, love, lust, envy).
In Classics, the study of emotions is a multidisciplinary task that profits from the findings of the neurosciences, exploits the evidence in a large variety of sources, and takes into consideration diverse parameters (aesthetic, social, and cultural). Classicists and ancient historians can study filtered representations of and reflections on emotions as well as the parameters which explain why a feeling is represented in a particular manner in ancient texts and images. A variety of factors influence the manifestation of emotions: the display of emotions as a persuasion strategy (e.g. in oratory, petitions, prayers); dramatizations and aesthetics; the influence of norms, especially of norms that aimed at restraining emotional display; gender roles; the character of the audience; linguistic usage. Although Greek and Latin terms designating emotions usually correspond to modern categories, the overlap varies, and there are nuances which can be understood only if the cultural context and the language of emotion is taken into consideration.