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How and why did Greek writers, painters and sculptors compare and contrast the values and virtues of Greeks and Barbarians - Essay Example

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Greek history has uncertain beginnings and varying boundaries because it encompasses eras of expansion over many centuries.In this context Greek authors, artists and sculptors took it for granted that Greek culture was superior to the othercultures …
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How and why did Greek writers, painters and sculptors compare and contrast the values and virtues of Greeks and Barbarians
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How and why did Greek writers, painters and sculptors compare and contrast the values and virtues of Greeks and Barbarians

Download file to see previous pages... Greek history has uncertain beginnings and varying boundaries because it encompasses eras of expansion over many centuries.In this context Greek authors, artists and sculptors took it for granted that Greek culture was superior to the othercultures When the Greek civilization was at the height of its powers in the archaic and classical periods, from around 800 BC until about 300 BC it ruled vast areas of the Eastern Mediterranean and much further inland, exacting tribute from conquered peoples and passing on its illustrious literature and culture to many other tribes and nations. In this context Greek authors, artists and sculptors simply took it for granted that Greek culture was superior to the cultures that could not demonstrate the advanced technologies that the Greeks possessed. Some cultures like the Egyptians, for example, had great cities, stone monuments and works of literature which earned the respect of the Greeks, but those who preferred a nomadic lifestyle were regarded simply as ‘barbarians.’ Very often this label was used in ignorance, and it served to make as big a distance as possible in Greek minds between those who were within its extended territorial reach, and those who were beyond it. In short, all that was culturally good and proper and admirable was Greek, and all that the barbarian cultures represented was depicted in opposite terms. In modern language we would call this a stereotype, and then, as now, there was some truth in this stereotype, but it was by no means the full story. This paper explores the way that Greeks define and depict themselves and the barbarians through various artefacts including literature, painting and sculpture. It covers the values and the virtues of Greek and of barbarian as seen from the Greek point of view, both positive and negative, as demonstrated through actions and outward appearance. Hall points out that there were hundreds of tragedies written for fifth century Athenian theatre and that more than half of them introduce barbarian characters, choruses and locations, even when there is no need for these details in the main plot: “Supernumerary foreign characters or choruses, and the ubiquity of allusions to the other, inferior, world beyond Hellas, therefore provide evidence that barbarians were a particular preoccupation of the Greek tragedians. 1 Hall identifies two main areas of difference between Greeks and barbarians. The first is political, thanks to the Greek commitment to democracy as a form of government for a modern state: “Greeks are democratic and egalitarian; the barbarians are tyrannical and hierarchical”2 although this conveniently overlooks the fact that Greek wealth and leisure to depended upon a large underclass of slaves who were mostly non-Greeks. The second area of difference that Hall observes is harder to define, and lies in the area of psychology and attitude, whereby the barbarian is cast in the role of “other.” This notion permeates Greek thinking and this kind of polarization is a tendency which has been present in European history ever since. It is important to remember that our modern understanding of race and nationhood may not exactly match the way that these ideas were understood in early Greek history. Greece was made up of a collection of small city states, and they had ties with the center of Greek culture in Athens, but they also had ties with the geographical areas surrounding them, some of which differed greatly from the Athenian norms. Different Greek cities had different perspectives. Geary notes that the fifth century Greek historian Herodotus indulges in a certain amount of simplistic “us and them” thinking, but at the same time probes the backgrounds of the peoples such as the Persians whom the Greeks encountered as enemies in long and bitter wars: “Herodotus invented both history and ethnography.” 3 This is not, however ethnography as we would understand it today. Geary explains that for Herodotus it is not biological or political factors that connect a group ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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