1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
How different from them,
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Greeks: A Portrait of Self and Others (Opus) (Paperback)
Given the authors basic contention (supported by evidence it must be said) that the ancient Greek world-view was built around polar opposites (man/woman, slave/free citizen) etc, it's tempting to say that the book will provoke two kinds of reactions - positive and negative!
Yet that would not really be fair to the book, and indeed the book itself, whilst maintaining this simple scheme of polar opposites throughout, is obliged to admit that it did not actually apply all the time in practice. There were different classifications of men and women, foreigners could become citizens, slaves could have all sorts of different positions. In effect, therefore, what Mr Cartledge is describing is something like the official ideology of Greece (or Athens, he never seems sure), rather than the practice. And indeed neither, on the evidence presented, actually seems very special: most societies have divided themselves into "us" and "everybody else" (the Chinese, for example), most societies had slaves (one thinks of the Arab world, obviously), and virtually every society in the world had special treatment for men and women (even ours, though recently things have become somewhat reversed).
This illustrates a larger problem with the book. It is certainly a valuable idea to demonstrate that the Greeks, for all their fundamental impact on our culture, and their invention of various key western concepts, were not "like us". The book does this very well, and makes it clear that the Greeks were a civilization different from us in almost every respect - not surprising, in fact, for a culture two and a half thousand years distant.
But there's a bit of straw-man bashing going on here. No-one has ever really supposed the Greeks (even the Athenians) were exactly like us. And moreover the book never defines who "we" are for this purpose. It's worth emphasizing that many of the Greek ideas about social organisation and gender roles described in the book (in the tones of a lecturer telling off a bad student it must be said) are very widely found in the world today, and indeed still have traces in our own society. The "us" from whom the Greeks are "different" turns out on examination to be educated, liberal western people of above average intelligence of the early 21st century, much like Mr Cartledge and his students in fact. This leads to the uncomfortable thought that perhaps it is we who are different, not them.