Unformatted text preview: 2/7/12 transcript03.html Introduction to Ancient Greek Histor : Lec
S 13, 2007<< D H B , , , : A ?W H P , poli ? T ' A ?I B , A A P ofe o Donald Kagan: O : M e 3 T an c ip
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1/12 . ,H , "T G poli , I .T ' , .T . H ?W , B.C.," -H ' I ' .N .I , I ?A C:/Users/JIMMIN~1/AppData/Local/Temp/Rar$EX13.509/ 2/7/12 transcript03.html later sources and they are available to us to use as sources. A great question is, should we use them at all, and if we do how carefully should we use them and so on? This is a good time for me to make a confession, so that you'll know how to judge what I say all through the course. Well, prior to the late eighteenth century when German scholars began to look at the Homeric poems specifically, very, very carefully, and then really very, very skeptically, they made all sorts of suggestions that the poems we have are really not to be thought of as the work of a single poet, Homer, who had--wrote them both out together. But who began to divide them up into early and late elements, which I thought drove the field of classics insane for about 100 years, while folks argued about the unity of Homer, the unity or not the unity of one of the poems and so on. But it began a critical study of the poems for the first time and critical methods were applied to history for the first time ever, really, in the early nineteenth century and thereafter. And it became common to reject any ancient story that wasn't really nailed down very, very firmly by some device. To take a skeptical view--and a very interesting example of how things changed, if you look at people, say an Englishman writing about Ancient Greece in the late eighteenth century, they tell the story of the early days based upon the legends as though the legends were reliable information to some degree. When you get to say the middle of the nineteenth century and the work of the great English historian of Ancient Greece, George Grote, he begins his story in 776 with the Olympic Games. He does tell you all about the legends first, but he puts them aside and says they're just legends--now let's talk history, and he doesn't begin that until the eight century B.C. And so there is this critical school that says, "I won't believe anything unless it is proven to me." At the other extreme, there's me, the most gullible historian imaginable. My principle is this. I believe anything written in ancient Latin or Greek unless I can't. Now, things that prevent me from believing what I read are that they are internally contradictory, or what they say is impossible, or different ones contradict each other and they can't both be right. So, in those cases I abandon the ancient evidence. Otherwise, you've got to convince me that they're not true. Now, you might think of this as, indeed, gullible. A former colleague of mine put the thing very, very well. He spoke about, and I like to claim this approach, the position of scholarship to which we call the higher naivet. The way this works is, you start out, you don't know anything, and you're na ve. You believe everything. Next, you get a college education and you don't believe anything, and then you reach the level of wisdom, the higher naivet, and you know what to believe even though you can't prove it. Okay, be warned; I'm a practitioner of the higher naivet. So, I think the way to deal with legends is to regard them as different from essentially sophisticated historical statements, but as possibly deriving from facts, which have obviously been distorted and misunderstood, misused and so on. But it would be reckless, it seems to me, to just put them aside and not ask yourself the question, "Can there be something believable at the roof of this?" And just to give you some small defense of that approach, I always like to ask students, "Suppose we didn't have a single historical record, no newspaper, no diaries. You know nothing totally reliable for what happened in the latter part of the eighteenth century in America." Would we know anything about what happened? Of course, we would. We would know that there was a revolution; it was against Great Britain. I'm sure we would know that the French assisted in that. I am certain we would know that George Washington was the commander of our forces in our battle. Those are easy. There's no getting around reading those things, and then it gets to be more interesting as we speculate. We would know as a fact that George Washington threw a silver dollar across the Rappahannock River, except that it's impossible. So, we would dismiss that one. We would be told that he was very honest and told his father he chopped down a cherry tree, which would be baloney, but we would be told that too. But I think we would be told also very many true things, which came down to us. So, the hard job
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10/12 C:/Users/JIMMIN~1/AppData/Local/Temp/Rar$EX13.509/ 2/7/12 transcript03.html earth, than to be a king in Hades." Now, that's as bad as it can possibl be. The great Achilles, respected still in the afterworld would immediatel turn it in to be a complete nobod on earth. So, it's ver important. The faced without an real retreat the realit and the negative character of death, even as the refused to reject the significance of life or of mankind. That is what I mean when I speak of the tragic view, and it's ver important. Now, it seems to me we can eliminate that a little bit b comparing it with various modern approaches to the same sorts of problems. We haven't gotten rid of those problems et, in spite of modern medicine. We live, still, I think in what might be called the Age of the Enlightenment. That is the dominant sort of paradigm of what life is all about, at least in the Western world and a good deal more of it where the West has had an influence. At the core of it is a belief in progress, something that was essentiall not present among the Greeks. Progress in the e es of the philosophers of the eighteenth centur , though the would have been ver angr to hear me sa this, was something like the equivalent of the Christian hope for immortalit . The hope of the Voltaires of this world was that the could make the world better constantl b their efforts, and this would be rewarded in a kind of a wa , because progress in the future after the were gone would redound to their credit for having brought it about. And that in some sense the would live on in this societ which the had improved and made a better thing. Another aspect that is ver important in this sort of enlightenment approach is individualism, that the core of ever thing is the single individual person. As we shall see, this is ver different from the Greeks. Now, the Greeks were ver much concerned individuals and this is especiall true of the democrats in Athens. But even their most potent spokesman and leader placed the goals, and achievements, and ever thing else of an individual behind something that the thought was more important, which was the communit at large, which, in historical times was the poli . Well, that's not the wa it is with the modern world and that's not the wa it comes out of the enlightenment, the individual is the ultimate. The enlightenment, if ou go back to its routes in the seventeenth centur with the likes of Hobbes and Locke--what is the ultimate place ou go to? It is the rights of individuals. You ma not stamp out the rights of individuals. The are inherent in ever thing. Either ou believe, as our founding father said that we were endowed with them b our creator. The didn't sa God because, of course, the Enlightenment thinkers were not so sure the believed in God, but the still seemed to believe in something the wanted to call a creator. Or if ou didn't believe in God, this was just a natural right. Nature gave each individual the right to life, libert , propert , and nobod could take these awa legitimatel . Well, the Greeks had no concept of natural rights, or of rights that human beings were given b the gods. That is a ver important difference that was, ou had to act in such a wa as to make life possible and decent, and for the Greeks that alwa s meant being part of a decent communit , the poli . But the modern world, to get back to that, to this Enlightenment world, individualism and a ke aspect to that is hedonism. That is to sa , it is legitimate and proper to search for pleasure, for each individual to attempt to please himself however he can. And it turns out that if ou could take it to our own da , there are no limits prett much to what he can do to gain pleasure. I would argue that there is a direct line from the Enlightenment philosoph to nihilism, that is to sa a philosoph that sa s there are no limits to what human beings ma do. What turns out to be the practical fact is that he who has the power and the will to do what he wants will be able to do so, and he who has not will be forced to suffer whatever the powerful impose on him. And this is seen b the original nihilists as a good thing. What's his name, Niet sche, of course, said, "Some of us are better than others. Some of us are supermen, and it is quite wrong and wicked for us to be treated as though we were ordinar fellows, and therefore do not tie us down with these ridiculous codes of ethics, and morals, and other things which are simpl the weapons b which the weak hold down the strong." This was an interesting idea, but it wasn't new. There's a Greek in the fifth centur who sa s the same thing.
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This note was uploaded on 02/07/2012 for the course ECON 159 taught by Professor Benjaminpolak during the Fall '08 term at Yale.
- Fall '08
- The Iliad