Greeks on Greekness: Suzanne Saïd

Greeks on Greekness Colloquium Abstract

Suzanne Saïd, Columbia University

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

This paper examines the refashioning of the Athenian past in the Panathenaicus of Aristides. At first glance the Panathenaicus looks like a mere rehash of Isocrates’ Panegyricus. Like the Panegyricus, it is a demonstration of Athens’ many virtues by means of a catalogue of her benefactions both in mythical and historical times. But this narrative can no longer serve to demonstrate Athens’ just claim to political hegemony over the Hellenes, at a time when political hegemony unquestionably belongs to the Romans. Thus, Athenian hegemony has to be redefined and transformed into a merely spiritual leadership. Accordingly, Athenian history has to be rewritten in accordance with contemporary – that is at least in part, Roman – moral and social values. This “Romanization” of the Athenian past includes

1. a picture of Athenian rule which transforms it into a forerunner of Rome, since it is beneficial not only to the Hellenes, but to the human race in general;

2. a rewriting of some episodes such as colonization in a typically Roman manner;

3. more generally, a transformation of Athenian erga into mere paradeigmata and cultural accomplishments in order to validate the existing status of the Athenians as a “teachers” and “foster fathers” of anyone who could somehow be classified as a Greek,” since they provided “the education which is truly pure and particularly proper to man, that is the education of study and oratory.”