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An Opportunity for Non-Existence: The Foreigner in the Hellenic World

Samuel G. H. Powell

Columbia University

The city-states of ancient Greece during the time approximately spanning the beginning of the Persian Wars in the 6thcentury B.C.E. to the rise and fall of Alexander the Great in the late 4thcentury created many of the largest building blocks of what we now recognize as Western Civilization. Within this window of history, the image of the poleisthat immediately comes to mind when many hear the term “Greece” was formed and its now-famous form of politics, philosophy, theatre, warfare, and more were cultivated by names such as Euripides, Aristotle, and many others. Just as significant as these contributions themselves, though, is exactly how we now perceive them and the people by whom they were developed. For the citizens of the modern world to best guide society into the future, they must understand exactly what led them to their present position, something that entails both acknowledging the accomplishments made by the citizens of the past and their mistakes.

One of the most complicated issues where ancient Greece’s successes and failures become far from clear-cut is the very concept of a citizen and how such identity was perceived in this era that has influenced so much of our present existence. The examples of Hellenic art and thought which we have received have passed on many valuable forms of knowledge which exceed this issue; however, this does not preclude their ability to carry subtle, yet potent fragments of relevant ideologies left by their authors, be it conscious or otherwise. To the end of fully unearthing and understanding such ideas, this piece will analyze the definition and connotations of domestic and foreign identity in Classical Greece. The perception of outsiders as viewed through Hellenic art and philosophy, as well as modern scholarship on such matters, will be examined as clues or commentaries regarding the cultural atmosphere surrounding social identity during the era, as well as how these ideas may have been retained today.

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The Next Generation: Papers by Undergraduate Classics Students

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