But the range of research, and the depth of thought, are extraordinary.
Gruen has taken on a massive and extremely important subject, and he has brought a genuinely new perspective to the scholarly conversation. Even those like myself who are not entirely convinced by his account will find themselves constantly challenged and enlightened along the way.
The book is structured in two parts. In the first, Gruen looks at a series of cases where Greek and Roman authors might seem to demonstrate prejudice against a barbarian cultural or ethnic group. The Persians demonstrates an ability on the part of the Athenians to imagine how their victory felt for the other side—for the losers—and to do so with deep imaginative sympathy.
The play is not at least primarily a piece of propaganda against Middle Easterners. This is a point worth emphasizing, since recent interpretations have often gone too far the other way. Gruen discusses the memorable scene in which Atossa, the Persian Queen, reports a dream she had just before the battle of Salamis. She dreamed that she saw two amazingly beautiful sisters, one in Persian dress and one in Greek Doric clothes. One of the women, presumably the Persian, takes her place readily and submits to the yoke, but the Greek resists, tears at the harness, and ends up overturning the whole vehicle, tossing Xerxes himself from his seat.
The Greeks will, as in the dream, resist the Persian emperor, and thereby destroy his power. Such hubris will lead to a fall. On the contrary. These are not incompatible alternatives. For a human to submit willingly to a yoke—a position designed for a cow or a horse—is surely undignified and unnatural: the Eastern sister is behaving oddly, whereas the Western one is more truthful to her humanity in fighting for her freedom. If tragedy teaches us anything, it is that family members do not always get along particularly well.
Greek and Roman authors often present their own cultures as related by kinship to other nations or ethnic groups.
by Gruen, Erich S
The ancients were well aware that much of their culture was imported from elsewhere. It is all too easy to see how, in Aeschylus and elsewhere, legends of kinship can be used to justify domination and oppression. It is a family, but some siblings are more equal than others. Gruen is able to offer his rosy picture of the happy coexistence of different ethnic groups in the ancient world largely because he confines himself to the world of the imagination, and also confines his imagination to the picturing of far-away foreigners.
There is no systematic discussion of how ethnic stereotypes might relate to elite male visions of other subordinate, minority, or under-valued social groups such as women or slaves or the poor. There is also no systematic discussion of how the imagination of different ethnic groups by the ruling power might relate to material, economic, and military realities.
In other words, Gruen never investigates whether the Greeks and the Romans might have talked and written in particularly friendly ways about their metaphorical brothers or sisters whom they were destroying or enslaving or both, in order to salve their consciences or to increase the grandeur of their achievement. But even within the world of the imagination, it is puzzling to assume, without discussion, that othering means casting a negative light upon a foreigner qua foreigner.
Othering involves imagining a center and its peripheries; it is not the same as hostility, although the two may go together. Gruen seems to assume so, but without discussion. And the awareness of otherness is not something to mourn, criticize, or even tolerate: it is the foundation of our morality, or all our being-in-the-world. As Levinas knew, against a background of totalitarianism, it is not self-evidently good for a society to value others if, and only if, they are actually sames.
This is the case, he suggests, in the depiction of the Carthaginians in Roman literature, and also in the depiction of the Gauls by Caesar. Egyptians laid claim to legendary figures associated with Babylon, Palestine, Colchis, and Macedon. Romans traced their descent to the Trojans and Arcadia. Chapters 10 and 11 explore fictitious kinships linking Greeks and Jews to a variety of other peoples.
Chapter 12 considers a range of cultural connections. Gruen shows that Jews and Greeks appropriated common philosophical traditions. He discusses imaginative representations of gentiles by Jewish intellectuals. Finally, he documents mutual perceptions of Phoenicians and Greeks, as well as Roman adaptations of a range of alien cultures.
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My major complaint about this book is the poverty of its theoretical engagement with the discourse of alterity. Edward Said whose groundbreaking study Orientalism Gruen does acknowledge popularized the notion of othering as an instrument of imperialism, while De Beauvoir theorized othering as a tool of gender oppression.
Gruen, however, does not discuss any of these influential ideas about alterity, nor does he discuss the treatment of marginalized groups within a given society.
Rather, he discusses the attitudes of ancient Mediterranean societies toward other societies. In effect, he reduces the complex and variable notion of alterity to the mere positing of unflattering ethnic, racial, or national stereotypes. This leads Gruen repeatedly to minimize instances of othering that operate in more subtle ways.
The fact that Greeks traced their lineage to non-Greeks, however, does not rule out these foundation myths as meaningful examples of alterity. The fact that the image is comic, however, certainly does not diminish its potential significance as an example of othering.
Rethinking the Other in Antiquity (Martin Classical Lectures, New Series) - PDF Free Download
Bryn Mawr Classical Review Gruen, Rethinking the Other in Antiquity. Martin Classical Lectures. ISBN