Did the Ancient Greeks Know They Were Greek

Post Reply
Lukas
Textkit Neophyte
Posts: 83
Joined: Sat Mar 23, 2019 4:04 pm

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
Textkit Enthusiast
Posts: 368
Joined: Sat Mar 30, 2013 9:10 pm

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.

User avatar
Scribo
Global Moderator
Posts: 883
Joined: Fri Feb 22, 2008 2:28 pm
Location: Between Ilias and Odysseia (ok sometimes Athens).

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.
(Occasionally) Working on the following tutorials:

(P)Aristotle, Theophrastus and Peripatetic Greek
Intro Greek Poetry
Latin Historical Prose

User avatar
Cathexis
Textkit Member
Posts: 124
Joined: Tue Mar 17, 2009 8:04 pm

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.

Cathexis
Romani ite Domum

User avatar
Barry Hofstetter
Textkit Zealot
Posts: 996
Joined: Thu Aug 15, 2013 12:22 pm

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.
N.E. Barry Hofstetter
The Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy
καὶ σὺ τὸ σὸν ποιήσεις κἀγὼ τὸ ἐμόν. ἆρον τὸ σὸν καὶ ὕπαγε.

User avatar
jeidsath
Administrator
Posts: 3115
Joined: Mon Dec 30, 2013 2:42 pm
Location: Γαλεήπολις, Οὐισκόνσιν

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.
Joel Eidsath -- jeidsath@gmail.com

User avatar
Scribo
Global Moderator
Posts: 883
Joined: Fri Feb 22, 2008 2:28 pm
Location: Between Ilias and Odysseia (ok sometimes Athens).

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.
(Occasionally) Working on the following tutorials:

(P)Aristotle, Theophrastus and Peripatetic Greek
Intro Greek Poetry
Latin Historical Prose

RandyGibbons
Textkit Enthusiast
Posts: 368
Joined: Sat Mar 30, 2013 9:10 pm

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).

User avatar
ἑκηβόλος
Textkit Zealot
Posts: 964
Joined: Wed Aug 07, 2013 10:19 am
Location: Nanchang, PRC
Contact:

Re: Did the Ancient Greeks Know They Were Greek

Post by ἑκηβόλος » Wed May 22, 2019 2:10 pm

The evidence from Hebrew יְוָנִי (Yĕvaniy) and Sanskrit यवन (Yavana)suggest that the Ionians at least self identified by their tribal grouping.

Within the “Greek” speaking area - as we call it, the term Ἴωνες only meant “Greeks” from a particular (Eastern) tribal grouping.

Assuming that the name for Greeks was borrowed at first contact from the east. At that time, at least, the “Greek” tribes that were encountered self-identified as Ionians, rather than using a name that referred to all tribes. Coming from the East, of course, they would have been the first encountered.
τί δὲ ἀγαθὸν τῇ πομφόλυγι συνεστώσῃ ἢ κακὸν διαλυθείσῃ;

User avatar
Scribo
Global Moderator
Posts: 883
Joined: Fri Feb 22, 2008 2:28 pm
Location: Between Ilias and Odysseia (ok sometimes Athens).

Re: Did the Ancient Greeks Know They Were Greek

Post by Scribo » Wed May 22, 2019 7:59 pm

ἑκηβόλος wrote:
Wed May 22, 2019 2:10 pm
The evidence from Hebrew יְוָנִי (Yĕvaniy) and Sanskrit यवन (Yavana)suggest that the Ionians at least self identified by their tribal grouping.

Within the “Greek” speaking area - as we call it, the term Ἴωνες only meant “Greeks” from a particular (Eastern) tribal grouping.

Assuming that the name for Greeks was borrowed at first contact from the east. At that time, at least, the “Greek” tribes that were encountered self-identified as Ionians, rather than using a name that referred to all tribes. Coming from the East, of course, they would have been the first encountered.
I think that's a safe and sensible assumption, it's also what happened in the West (hence 'Greeks'). Broader tribal affiliation makes sense, given that many of these colonial settlements (whether apoikia or emporia) were either a) built when the polis was really establishing itself and these broader ethnic markers made sense and/or b) were actually founded by people from multiple states, so "Ionian" would be a sensible compromise.

Don't forget these terms also had religious and cultic significance, as well as the more obvious political connotations. Athens, after all, was quick to exploit her alleged Ionian connections when she needed to.

You can add the Achaemenid Persians to your list too. Greek settled lands = Yunan. Greeks = Yauna (note dipthong in the middle). Macedonians = Yauna takabara ("Greeks with hats").
(Occasionally) Working on the following tutorials:

(P)Aristotle, Theophrastus and Peripatetic Greek
Intro Greek Poetry
Latin Historical Prose

Post Reply