Did the Ancient Greeks Know They Were Greek

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Lukas
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Did the Ancient Greeks Know They Were Greek

Post by Lukas » Tue May 07, 2019 9:52 pm

Χαίρετε!
Did the Ancient Greeks know they were Greek? I know there were terms such as Hellene and Achaean, but at least in Classical Greece, their first loyalty was to the Polis.
Λουκᾶς

RandyGibbons
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Re: Did the Ancient Greeks Know They Were Greek

Post by RandyGibbons » Wed May 15, 2019 9:27 pm

Hi Lukas.

I don't know that I would venture an answer to your question. But I would suggest Kitto's The Greeks.

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Scribo
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Re: Did the Ancient Greeks Know They Were Greek

Post by Scribo » Thu May 16, 2019 1:04 pm

So, I think this question is in itself a product of two modern pathologies (not in a pejorative sense!).
  • National states. We take these as read, and so its hard for us to imagine national identities that don't quite match up with our modern perceptions.
  • Identity seems to be the be all and end all nowadays, so people are obsessed without doing any of the underlying reading
Lukas wrote:
Tue May 07, 2019 9:52 pm
but at least in Classical Greece, their first loyalty was to the Polis.
So this is a fairly common misconception. First, even if it were the case, that doesn't preclude having other senses of identity. The Polis as we understand it wasn't exactly ubiquitous. There were some genuine monarchies on the periphery (Libya, Cyprus, Macedon) and large areas of the Greek world, including Sparta and Thessaly, were organised in something more akin to a state than the classical polis + hinterland. Even in poleis, there were large varieties in governmental organisations and some (Athens, Megapolis) grew out of what were essential federations.

Then you have to take colonisation into account. Something like Corinth looks like a textbook polis, yet it was involved in an incredibly complicated web of relationships with its colonies.

There were yet other types of identities too (tribal, linguistic) which could be overlaid on the polis.

So, its complicated.

Some literary sources like Herodotus and Isocrates talk in terms of common identities (the former famously on descent, language, custom, cults) and this may have been the case for some elite individuals.

Short answer? No, because our sense of "Greeks" is a modern heuristic. Slightly longer answer? Sort of, its quite complicated due to the diversity of the Greek world on the ground.
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Cathexis
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Re: Did the Ancient Greeks Know They Were Greek

Post by Cathexis » Thu May 16, 2019 1:12 pm

Well,

If they *were* Greek then what are they now? (haha)

FWIW, the Greeks certainly seemed to know who a "Persian," an "Egyptian," or a "Roman" was.
So I tend to think this idea that they never thought of themselves as Greek was a bit of a stretch.
To me, it was kind of a cultural conceit that they flattered themselves with despite what everybody
else thought of them. I think when Philip II and his son more or less overran "Greece" they pretty well
demonstrated the irrelevance of it.

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Re: Did the Ancient Greeks Know They Were Greek

Post by Barry Hofstetter » Thu May 16, 2019 1:54 pm

And of course the Greek speaking Byzantines referred to themselves as Ῥωμαῖοι.
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Re: Did the Ancient Greeks Know They Were Greek

Post by jeidsath » Thu May 16, 2019 2:03 pm

I don’t understand how anyone reading the first section of Herodotus could think that the Greeks had no sense of particular Greek identity.

They were slightly more pluralistic than the Japanese or Jews, perhaps, and perhaps not quite as nationalistic about their city-states as 20th century Europeans about their countries. But neither statement is saying that much.
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Scribo
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Re: Did the Ancient Greeks Know They Were Greek

Post by Scribo » Thu May 16, 2019 4:34 pm

Cathexis wrote:
Thu May 16, 2019 1:12 pm
Well,

If they *were* Greek then what are they now? (haha)
Well, that in itself is quite interesting, no? The whole story of the recreation of a Hellenic identity in the 19th century is really very complicated. For most of the past two thousand years, your average Hellenophone has thought of himself as Roman. This is all covered very well by writers like Kaldellis and Liakos.
jeidsath wrote:
Thu May 16, 2019 2:03 pm
I don’t understand how anyone reading the first section of Herodotus could think that the Greeks had no sense of particular Greek identity.

They were slightly more pluralistic than the Japanese or Jews, perhaps, and perhaps not quite as nationalistic about their city-states as 20th century Europeans about their countries. But neither statement is saying that much.
Sure, which is why I always bring up Herodotus (and Isocrates). On the other hand, highly reified identities do seem to be the products of the elite who would be reading these texts, and even then there was a lot of contesting. There were different identities at play (like I said above) and even an epichoric resurgence (or a creation, if you think it all pseudo-archaism) of highly regional identities as seen in the epigraphic record.

I think also non-Classicists tend to heavily, heavily, misunderstand to what a great degree 'Greek' as a singular entity was a creation of the Romans.

I don't think it all an open and shut case. But I do find many of these differences to be, essentially, academic and therefore uninteresting.
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Re: Did the Ancient Greeks Know They Were Greek

Post by RandyGibbons » Thu May 16, 2019 5:48 pm

To complement Herodotus, read chapters 12-24 of Airs, Waters, Places in the Hippocratic Corpus for a "scientific" explanation of the difference between Europe and the races of Asia (including Thrace, Egypt, and Libya).

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