How can we write Graeco-Roman history from the point of view of the poor?


Essay, 2018
6 Pages, Grade: 1.0

Excerpt

How can we write Graeco-Roman history from the point of view of the poor?

The history of Graeco-Roman societies is a history of division and class struggle. Every city, every country and every empire has always been divided between the plebeians and the patricians, between the aristocrats and the peasants: between the rich and the poor. However, if we speak about antiquity, we consider almost exclusively the upper-class perspective, the perspective of the wealthy and of the nobles – even though the majority of the world was poor or enslaved. This essay aims to prove that we can see Graeco-Roman History from the point of view of the poor only as the view of a whole class. Although it does not discuss the problem of slavery, only the issue of poor, unfree and otherwise fettered peoples. Exploring primary and secondary accounts: two Greek authors, the theory of Marx and the arguments of de Ste. Croix will demonstrate that we are only able to see their point of view of the poor based on generalisation, always with another aim than writing the history from the point of view of the poor. We can only explain societal movements but cannot explore personal and individual motivations.

Solon, a statesman who discussed political matters in his poetry, states in one of his remaining accounts: “ἶσόν τοι πλουτέουσιν, ὅτῳ πολὺς ἄργυρός ἐστι καὶ χρυσὸς καὶ γῆς πυροφόρου πεδία ἵπποι θ᾿ ἡμίονοί τε, καὶ ᾧ μόνα ταῦτα πάρεστι, γαστρί τε καὶ πλευραῖς καὶ ποσὶν ἁβρὰ παθεῖν.” He discusses society here in terms of a strong contrast. On one side the poor, on the other side the rich. This demonstrates the dependence of social status on material ability yet argues that social position should be independent of material and financial status. A second fragment says: “πολλοὶ γὰρ πλουτεῦσι κακοί, ἀγαθοὶ δὲ πένονται.” This reveals the general Ancient cliché of ´the richer the person, the better´ and clearly states the ability of poor people to behave like the ideal rich person. Solon gives through his poems valuable information and outlines the situation of the poor quite clearly. It describes their awareness of being on the lowest level of the social hierarchy and mirrors the poor people´s opinions on being both subordinate labourers and equal members of the state and democracy. Moreover, it gives an overview of their general situation: the poor did not possess any material goods and were without any financial insurance; standing in need of both of them. Solon aims to give a very objective view on Athens’ poor and their problems. However, he relies too much on general assumption and contrasts both classes to an exaggerated extreme. Hence, Solon´s view of poverty (of those who are free citizens, not those who are enslaved or working as unfree labourers) is “not one from experience, but one from an outsider looking in,” as a contemporary scholar states. Even though Solon was born into a wealthy family, he apparently cared about the poor. In the 6th century BC, he reformed the Athenian democracy.

Solon, a statesman who discussed political matters in his poetry, states in one of his remaining accounts: “ἶσόν τοι πλουτέουσιν, ὅτῳ πολὺς ἄργυρός ἐστι καὶ χρυσὸς καὶ γῆς πυροφόρου πεδία ἵπποι θ᾿ ἡμίονοί τε, καὶ ᾧ μόνα ταῦτα πάρεστι, γαστρί τε καὶ πλευραῖς καὶ ποσὶν ἁβρὰ παθεῖν.”[1] He discusses the society here in strong contrast. On one side the poor, on the other side the rich. It displays the social status´ dependence on material ability yet argues that the social position should be independent of material and financial status. A second fragment says: “πολλοὶ γὰρ πλουτεῦσι κακοί, ἀγαθοὶ δὲ πένονται.“[2] Thereby, it reveals the general Ancient cliché of ´the richer the person, the better´ and clearly states the ability of poor people to behave like the ideal rich person. Solon gives through his poems valuable information and outlines the situation of the poor quite clearly. It describes their awareness being on the lowest level of the social hierarchy and mirrors the poor people´s opinion, namely not only being subordinate labourers yet equal members of the state and democracy. Moreover, it gives an overview of their general situation: the poor did not possess any material goods, were without any financial insurance; standing in need of both of them. Solon aims to give a very objective view on Athens’ poor and their problems, however, he relies too much on general assumptions and contrasts both classes to an exaggerated extremum. Hence, Solon´s view of poverty (of those who are free citizens, not those who are enslaved or working as unfree labourers) is “not one from experience, but one from an outsider looking in,”[3] as a contemporary scholar states. Even though Solon was born into a wealthy family, apparently cared about the poor. In the 6th century BC, he reformed the Athenian democracy.

Aristophanes, a playwright discussing social issues in a comic manner, argues in his play “Πλοῦτος“ through the character of the farmer Chremlyos: “(ὅ τι) τοὺς χρηστοὺς τὠ̂ν ἀνθρώπων εὐ ̓̂πράττειν ἐστὶ δίκαιον, τοὺς δὲ πονηροὺς καὶ τοὺς ἀθέους τούτων τἀναντία δήπου… ἢν γὰρ ο Πλοὐ̂τος νυνὶ βλέψῃ καὶ μὴ τυφλὸς ὢν περινοστᾐ̂̂ ”[4] He describes wealth as somewhat positive which should be given to the good men, meaning independent from social status. Antithetical, the bad (those who are godless and wicked) shall not reach this wealth. The second part of the quote displays the progress that has been done. The protagonist of Aristophanes´ comedy gives in the further lines an explanation of the discussed wealth and poverty: “οὔκουν εἰναί φημ᾽, εἰ παύσει ταύτην βλέψας ποθ᾽ ο Πλοὐ̂τος, οδὸν ἥντιν᾽ ἰὼν τοἰ̂ς ἀνθρώποις ἀγάθ᾽ ἄν μείζω πορίσειεν.”[5] Both wealth and poverty, are personified and hence of equal importance. Aristophanes stages the poverty (meaning here the poverty under free citizen, not the poverty of slaves or unfree labourers) as something bad which has to be vanquished, so he and the Athenian society must have been highly aware of its problematic nature. Aristophanes introduces the wealth as something which isn’t entirely material and financial – for him, it is partly based on human interaction, i.e. honour. By choosing the two farmers Chremlyos and Blepsidemos as protagonists, the author of this play clearly attempts to give a subjective insight to the daily life of the lower class, which stands complementary to the objective and reflective chorus of the play. Thereby, displaying and discussing current matters and issues, he makes it a “somewhat moralizing work”[6] as a 21st-century scholar states, however, his satire also attacks and questions moral itself. Aristophanes is most-likely influenced by his contemporary Socrates´ approaches which include the questions what person one should be and what person one can be. As he lived during Athens´ most radical form of democracy, he didn´t only experience citizenship without a dependence on the status of birth and property, but also its downside: the extreme form of poverty, one´s inability to feed oneself occurred under the free lower-class citizens.

[...]


[1] Gerber, D. E. 1999. Greek Elegiac Poetry: From the Seventh to the Fifth Centuries BC. Harvard: Fragment 14

[2] Ibid. Fragment 24

[3] Ryan, V. 2015. Poverty Trancending Time: A Case Study of Four Ancient Greek and Latin Texts Discussing Poverty. Indiana: p. 6.

[4] https://www.loebclassics.com/view/aristophanes-wealth/2002/pb_LCL180.417.xml; accessed 22/01/2018, 2.14 pm (Online Version of: Aristophanes. 2002. Frogs. Assemblywomen. Wealth. Harvard: Jeffrey Henderson.)

[5] Ibid.; accessed 22/01/2018, 2.36 pm

[6] https://www.britannica.com/biography/Aristophanes#ref404922; accessed 21/01/2018, 4.30 pm

Excerpt out of 6 pages

Details

Title
How can we write Graeco-Roman history from the point of view of the poor?
Grade
1.0
Author
Year
2018
Pages
6
Catalog Number
V418703
ISBN (eBook)
9783668718432
ISBN (Book)
9783668718449
File size
425 KB
Language
English
Tags
graeco-roman
Quote paper
Carl Robert Giersch (Author), 2018, How can we write Graeco-Roman history from the point of view of the poor?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/418703

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