Classical Greeks often articulated a worldview that divided the world between Greeks and all other ethnic groups. This fundamental distinction served to justify war and slavery. The tragedian Aeschylus portrays non-Greeks as slavish and decadent in his Persians. Aristotle thought enslaving non-Greeks was a just cause for waging war (Politics 7.15.21). The Greeks called non-Greeks barbaroi, or “barbarians,” because of the unintelligible sounds of their foreign languages (they said bar bar). The historian Herodotus has long been a central figure in scholarly discourse about the creation and articulation of the boundary between Greeks and others.
A conspicuous theme in Aristophanic comedy is the civic motivation of Athenian citizens, which is presented as highly problematic. Judges and Assembly-goers are portrayed consistently as motivated not by any sense of civic duty but by monetary incentives — the misthos dikastikos and the misthos ekklēsiastikos, respectively. Some scholars have considered this portrayal of everyday citizens as narrowly profit-driven and utterly selfish to be proof of Aristophanes’ elitist and anti-democratic views.
The history of emotion studies
As I strolled one day in the old center of Tel Aviv, I entered the house of Haim Nachman Bialik, the Hebrew national poet. An imposing building, it constitutes a manifesto of Jewish art in the early 20th century: the architectural style reprises oriental shapes, alternating arches and square forms; the decoration aims to express a quintessentially Jewish art. As I daydreamed about the poet holding private meetings and public receptions with the foremost representatives of culture and politics of his day, my eye was caught by two decorative tiles. These tiles, located at opposite ends of an arch that leads into the salon, represent two opposite moments of Jewish history: on one hand, a tile reproduces the Judaea capta coin minted by Vespasian after the First Jewish War; on the other, another tile mirrors Vespasian’s coin, proclaiming, in Hebrew letters, “Judaea liberated.”
The Seleucid empire has long stood on the fringes of Classical scholarship. Following the conquest of the east by Alexander, the vast, multicultural construction lasted from 312–64 BCE, stretching from modern Turkey south to the Levantine coast and east into Afghanistan. Interdisciplinary by its very nature, Seleucid history straddles the boundaries of academic disciplines, languages, and methodologies, further fragmenting the study of an already fractured power. Recent holistic studies are rare, making the 2014 publication of Paul Kosmin’s comprehensive The Land of the Elephant Kings something of a groundbreaking study.
One of the fascinations occupying Classical Studies in North America and Western Europe during the 1980s and 1990s was the way images refract the particularities of societies that produce them. One look at the imaginary of sixth- or fifth-century Athens would provide you a blistering array of human forms: doughty warriors, mourning women, drunken gods; the young and the old, Greek and barbarian. This last pair seemed especially interesting at the twilight of the Cold War.
This month, we spotlight the graduate research of Dr. Yoandy Cabrera Ortega, who recently defended his dissertation on the portrayal of human emotions in ancient Greek myths and in modern literature from Spain and Latin America.
My dissertation was an interdisciplinary one, intertwining different approaches and fields such as classical reception, queer studies, affect theory, and Hispanic studies.