Greeks on Greekness Colloquium

Greeks on Greekness Colloquium 



The abstracts that follow summarize the papers distributed and discussed at the colloquium, “Greeks on Greekness: The Construction and Uses of the Greek Past among Greeks under the Roman Empire,” held at the Center for Hellenic Studies on 25-28 August 2001. The eleven participants who presented the papers were joined by David Konstan, one of the co-organizers (along with Suzanne Saïd), and Massimo Fusillo as commentators.

Participants in the colloquium were invited to examine how Greeks imagined Greekness in relation to the past during the first two centuries of the Roman Empire, addressing the question on the basis of a wide variety of sources, including literary, archaeological, and artistic. Among the topics suggested were: Why the focus on the past? How did Greek ideas of their past reflect Roman images of classical Greece? Did the past serve as a vehicle to express dissatisfaction with the present? Was it a way of resisting Roman rule or Romanization? Did it serve the interests of local Greek elites in their bid for power?

Participants were asked to consider such questions as the construction of a common, usable past; the role of the Greek language as an artificial construct; the idea of a Greek territory: the status of a common Greek religion; values associated with an imagined Greek past; Greek political identity; becoming and remaining Greek; Greekness as a style; the search for a “present” past; and reproducing the past.

In the revised arrangement of the papers (the order was different at the colloquium itself), Greg Woolf leads off the series with an examination of how the celebration of Greek games in a Roman city could be a point of controversy on many levels, both in regard to local politics and the careers of figures such as Pliny the Younger. In the second paper, Susan Alcock assembles evidence for the decline of rural sites of veneration, and suggests that “ritual activity in the Achaian countryside very much danced to the city’s tune.”

The third paper, by Ineke Sluiter, examines ways in which the Greek writers of the Second Sophistic were themselves conscious of their narrative strategies in constructing a usable past. Francesca Mestre next investigates the construction of the hero, showing both how the classical model of the hero was reinterpreted to suit ideals of self-representation in the Second Sophistic, and also how a new idea of the hero emerged in genres such as the novel, Plutarch’s lives, and Philosotratus. Tim Whitmarsh explores the instability in the idea of friendship and its relation to flattery that emerged in the hierarchical societies of the Hellenistic and Roman worlds, and indicates how the classical conception of philia served as a point of reference in a world where values had become ontologically insecure. In the sixth paper, Ruth Webb shows how the mimesis involved in Greek declamation was of contemporary rather than classical models, and, when the models were from the past, it was a creative, combinatory kind of mimesis rather than slavish imitation.

Simon Goldhill investigates how Artemis is conceptualized under the Roman empire, and shows that she eludes traditional systematizations of Greek myth and worship. Suzanne Saïd contrasts Aelius Aristides’ emphasis on paradeigmata in his Panathenaicus with Isocrates’ confidence in erga in his Panegyricus, thereby exhibiting how the ideal of Athens was adapted to the circumstances of Roman rule. Ewen Bowie examines the evidence for choral performances under the Roman Empire, and their significance in the construction of a continuous Greek identity. Tony Spawforth surveys references to Macedon and Macedonians with a view to determining degrees of identification with the Macedonian past and its relation to Romanization. Finally, Giusto Traina shows that how the Greek language and Greek cultural traditions were exploited in Persia and Armenia, and formed part of the construction of a complex ethnic identity.

Taken together, the papers offer a kaleidoscopic view of the Greek past as perceived under the Roman Empire, indicating the multiple ways in which the classical tradition was problematized, adapted, transformed, and, at times, rejected. The papers provide a vivid image of a lived relation to tradition, one that was inventive rather than conservative and self-conscious rather than passive. The prismatic refraction of the Greek past to which they testify reflects the multi-colored reality of Greek life under Roman rule.

Click on the author’s name below to read the abstract.

Session 1

Susan E. Alcock, “Blocks of Memory: The Uses of Archaeology on the Uses of the Past”

Suzanne Saïd, “The Rewriting of the Athenian Past: From Isocrates to Aelius Aristides”

Ineke Sluiter, “Truth or Construction? Working with the Past in the Second Sophistic”

Session 2

Ewen Bowie, “Choral Performances” (Coming soon)

Simon Goldhill, “Polytheism and Identity in the Late Antique and the Case of Artemis”

Francesca Mestre, “Heroes And Heroism As Patterns Of Greek Identity In The Roman Empire”

Session 3

Tony Spawforth, “Pellan twilight? Greek identities and the Hellenistic past under the Roman principate”

Giusto Traina, “Looking for Greekness in Ancient Iran and Armenia”

Greg Woolf, “Playing Games with Greeks”

Session 4

Ruth Webb, “Fiction, Mimesis, and the Performance of the Greek Past in the Second Sophistic”

Tim Whitmarsh, “The sincerest form of imitation: flattery and constancy”