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I am Hellene
May 4, 2012 2:01 AM   Subscribe

A little while ago a video by a young Greek actress appeared on the web, attempting to hit back at the blame and recriminations her country has suffered in the debt crisis. The video (which follows the style of a beer commercial) created all sorts of reactions in Greece, with some people responding with their own videos. Here is one, and here is another. There are more, but these have become quite popular. Enjoy!
posted by acrobat (53 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Inspiring and really confusing.
posted by nickrussell at 2:14 AM on May 4, 2012


I'm confused as to why these are all in English. I'm guessing that despite a good deal of Greeks speaking English the primary language of most would actually be Greek.
posted by Defenestrator at 2:15 AM on May 4, 2012


nickrussell nailed it! Inspiring and really confusing.

The responses, though, are priceless.
posted by acrobat at 2:30 AM on May 4, 2012


Defenestrator: "I'm confused as to why these are all in English."
Perhaps their target audience isn't all Greeks? Crazy thought, I know.

It seems to me these videos are also meant to address the fairly widespread opinion in the EU that the woes of Greece are all the Greeks' own fault and they're all lazy public workers who retire at 47.
posted by brokkr at 2:31 AM on May 4, 2012


@brokkr: obviously, that was the idea but maybe not the best way to do it. Or, to be more precise, it's a rather nationalistic, right wing approach. Personally, I think Spyros/malakas and Manos/Eileen are much more honest. In short, if anyone owes anything to those ancient Greeks, it's modern Greeks themselves and it remains to be seen whether they will ever own up. (I am Greek, by the way; Greek AND Hellene, as it is the same thing, according to Aristotle)
posted by acrobat at 2:48 AM on May 4, 2012


Trying to parse out the use of Alexander the Great in the speaker support to represent Hellenism, there, given that Alexander inherited a Greece which had been conquered and placed under the control of a king, and then spread Hellenic culture at the tip of a spear.

(Well, strictly speaking a sarissa - so, like a spear but longer. And thus... worse? Although I guess that means the tip would be further away from the guy holding it, so ... better?)
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:04 AM on May 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


I was disappointed in her video. I thought it would be more hard hitting and address the current issues. Seems kind of fluffy.
posted by Tulipdog at 3:06 AM on May 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


I only have a moment, because I'm running and won't be online, but it's important to know that her thing was a parody, fashioned after the beer commercial. (I don't know her, but husband does.)
posted by taz at 3:12 AM on May 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also scratching my head over the use of Alexander (of Macedon!), also not the biggest proponent of ελευθερία (freedom).

But if you glance at the "Related Videos" (this, or this) you can see she's a professional spokes-model. So this is kind of like Vanna White making a video about the U.S. presence in Afghanistan.
posted by benito.strauss at 3:15 AM on May 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also scratching my head over the use of Alexander (of Macedon!)

Careless comments of this kind could get you lynched in some parts of south-east Europe and/or the internet (cf The Great Macedonian Naming Dispute).
posted by dhoe at 3:42 AM on May 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


An Athenian lady explained to me once that Greece has three languages: Katharevousa, Dimotiki, and Commercial Greek. Commercial Greek is identical with English.
posted by Segundus at 3:46 AM on May 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


Also scratching my head over the use of Alexander (of Macedon!),

O hello, are you here for the flamewars? Enjoy our complementary can of worms!
posted by Dr Dracator at 3:54 AM on May 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


I liked her better when she was Joe Canada.
posted by NoMich at 4:05 AM on May 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Aaaaand that's the second link. Ugh. Sorry. I'm a real zed. No...wait...that's for the letter zee, not the number zero. Shit.
posted by NoMich at 4:09 AM on May 4, 2012


Hmmmm. I think the Romans would take issue with the idea that "the Greeks created the West," since the Romans saw the Greeks as the East (well, an East, before they conquered the Greeks and needed a new East further East, full of Mithridates and then Parthians to occupy their attentiion).

Also, it's a little weird to hear a woman talk about how the Greeks invented freedom, since, you know, under the ancient Greeks, she wouldn't have had much....
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:16 AM on May 4, 2012


Careless comments of this kind could get you lynched in some parts of south-east Europe and/or the internet (cf The Great Macedonian Naming Dispute)

Objections to Alexander III of Macedonia being called Alexander of Macedon at all would require citation, I think - he was, after all, the king of the historical kingdom of Macedonia. The problem comes when the (Former Yugoslav) Republic of Macedonia brings Alexander III into their national branding, whereupon the Greeks complain that he's not that kind of Macedonian - that Pella, his birthplace and capital, is within Greece and the kingdom he ruled was the Greek area of Macedonia, not the area being called Macedonia by the (FY)RoM. Both sides agree that Alexander was Macedonian - the issue is whether the (FY)RoM can be described as Macedonia, and subsequently the implied claim to the existence of a "greater Macedonia", which includes parts of Northern Greece. However, any number of people, starting with taz, could probably provide a clearer picture on the Macedonia controversy in re: Alexander.

In the context of the video, Alexander is an interesting figure. On the one hand, he was a king - and, of course, at the time he and before him Philip II were considered representatives of a Macedonian culture which threatened the enlightened values of central Greece. In particular, Philip undid the brief hegemony of Thebes, under the military genius of Epaminondas, which had among opther things led to the emancipation of the Messenians from their vassal status to the Spartans.

On the other hand, Alexander also exported a version of western civilisation across huge swathes of the east and south, which is what you are supposed to do. That is, if you see western values (for whatever value of western holds at the time) as things so worth propagating that the means by which they are propagated are pretty much always justified.

So, yeah - if you're putting "the West" and "democracy" in the same box of "things you should be thanking Greece for", you probably just go with the idea that sometimes the situation calls for a little more West and a little less democracy.

I think the problem here on a presentational level is that the beer advert's joke hangs on the understanding that a) Canadians are stereotypically polite and self-effacing and b) Canada is often rolled into the US when people think about North America, and the differences between the US and Canada are only really considered by Americans for comic purposes - including the stereotype that Canadians tend to be polite and self-effacing. So, the joke is not just the medium but also the message (a shouting Canadian! Do you see?).

Without the same meta qualities, Caterina Moutsatsou's video is merely saying that behind one set of representations about modern Greece (lazing through publicly-paid synecures, tax-evading, constantly on the take, shouting "opa!" and smashing plates) there is another set of representations about ancient Greece (cradle of western civilization, invented democracy).

The role perceptions of Ancient Greece have in the treatment of Greece by the West is a fascinating thing, though: there is a definite strain of argumentation, which grows stronger or weaker depending on how strong classicizing sentiment is, that Greece deserves some sort of special weighting because of its contribution to western culture - in the same way that charter members of a club might be allowed to use the facilities even if they fall on hard times and can't keep up with the fees. At the time of the rise of the Greek liberation movement, there was definitely a theme among British sympathizers that it was awful that the people whose ancestors created all that stuff 19th-century British private schools and men of letters were so into were subject to government from the East.

(Of couse, when the Ottoman Empire withdrew from Greece, the first thing the Great Powers did was appoint their choice for king - the second son of King Ludwig of Bavaria. So, for the first decade of its statehood, Greece was run first by three Bavarian regents and then by an absolute monarch, and had to revolt again, although bloodlessly, to get a constitution, and again again to get a constitutional monarch they actually chose. So, yeah.)
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:20 AM on May 4, 2012 [14 favorites]


I'm really tired of people claiming they invented something when the only thing they share with the actual inventors is a geographic region, ethnicity or some such.
posted by DarkForest at 4:23 AM on May 4, 2012 [13 favorites]


I think the Romans would take issue with the idea that "the Greeks created the West," since the Romans saw the Greeks as the East

No, upper-crust Romans studied and spoke greek, and considered their empire a continuation of Hellenic culture, in much the same way Latin was studied and spoken by European nobility and clergy up until recently. They went so far to tie in their origin myth to the Iliad - refugees from Troy.
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:56 AM on May 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


As a Mefite, I think it's fair to say that I invented the Internet.
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:57 AM on May 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


...address the fairly widespread opinion in the EU that the woes of Greece are all the Greeks' own fault and they're all lazy public workers who retire at 47.

That's how I took it and I didn't even know those widespread opinions existed.

That said, it would seem more fruitful in the long term to argue against widespread opinion that working more and more hours and retiring only when you are almost dead are good things. What exactly is wrong with working, say, 20 hours a week and retiring at 45? (Tip: "Slightly less rich CEOs" is not an absolute evil.)
posted by DU at 5:01 AM on May 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


No, upper-crust Romans studied and spoke greek, and considered their empire a continuation of Hellenic culture, in much the same way Latin was studied and spoken by European nobility and clergy up until recently. They went so far to tie in their origin myth to the Iliad - refugees from Troy.

The Romans had a much more ambivalent relation with Greece than you depict. They were quite happy to cherry-pick elements of Greek culture that suited them, but the Romans were extremely dubious about non-practical things, and there were various backlashes against all sorts of "Greek" things at various times (too much study of philosophy was suspect, for example, along with growing beards). In the Empire, the Greeks seemed to have had the reputation for being shifty merchants who were useful but not to be trusted. Heck, if you had called a 5th C Byzantine "a Greek," those would have been fighting words. The Greeks were a bunch of yokels living out in the country; the elite of the Eastern Empire were "Romans."

The Romans were pretty skilled at taking what they considered useful from other people; that doesn't mean that they respected those people....
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:16 AM on May 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's really labored.

One, if you pay homage to a commercial, particularly a beer commercial, in order to make a point that is ultimately serious, you've already lost.

Two, she wasn't under obligation to stick nearly point-by-point to the ad. It would have been much better if she didn't. The "flag on my backpack" line was fairly specific to Canadians, who have a global reputation for being well-mannered and non-confrontational; that is certainly not the general opinion of Greeks. The part about languages was just self-congratulatory. If she had to use the ad as a template, she should have been much looser with it. We still would have gotten the reference.

Three, the stuff about inventing democracy and creating the West, which she appeared to state earnestly, embody one of the most pervasive stereotypes about Greece-- that the country's golden age was 2000 years ago and the place has been in decline ever since, but the residents feel superior and entitled. She should have left that grandstanding out because it very quickly erodes the viewer's empathy.

The Greek debt crisis is a horrible situation. I can't imagine what it must be like to live with such a feeling of hopelessness and the constant suggestion that there's no future. I hope it's resolved in a manner that allows the Greek people to preserve their dignity and way of life. But if I were introduced to the situation by that video, my gut reaction would be "Oh, SHUT UP."
posted by Mayor Curley at 5:28 AM on May 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


No, upper-crust Romans studied and spoke greek, and considered their empire a continuation of Hellenic culture, in much the same way Latin was studied and spoken by European nobility and clergy up until recently. They went so far to tie in their origin myth to the Iliad - refugees from Troy.

Yes - but Trojan refugees, not Greek refugees. The Aeneid brought scrappy myths connecting Aeneas and Rome, and family myths connecting the Julian family to the ancient house of Dardanus - and thus, ultimately, to divine descent - together and recreated them for political purposes, along with an absolute boatload of other material. However, the Aeneid, and its particular attitude to Greek culture, is not "the Roman relationship to Greek culture" - in fact, both Lucius Aemilius Paullus (conqueror of Macedonia) and Lucius Mummius (whose victory over Corinth and the Achaean League in 146BC effectively ended the era of Greek self-determination) get shout-outs in the Aeneid, re: how many Greeks they killed.

Which is to say, there is a point where simplification becomes misleading. Roman attitudes to Greece are complex, and change significantly over the centuries. However, a serious discussion about either is probably going to rot this thread...
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:29 AM on May 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Both sides agree that Alexander was Macedonian - the issue is whether the (FY)RoM can be described as Macedonia

A handfull of greeks that I've discussed this with also claim that the people of RoM are not really related to / of the same ethnicity as AoM due to mass migration later. That there was lots of migration in greece doesn't seem to bother them.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 5:29 AM on May 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Romans were pretty skilled at taking what they considered useful from other people; that doesn't mean that they respected those people....

Yup. I was referring to classical Greece and Hellenic culture - it was a very useful golden age. Byzantium spoke Greek, not Latin - but the Romans never thought of themselves as anything but Romans.

The Romans really didn't like actual, contemporary Greeks that much, no, beginning with their issues with the rival cities further south that were Greek colonies, and Pyrrhus of Epos. It was fashionable to have an actual Greek philosopher hanging around the villa at times, tho. Some of them weren't even slaves.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:32 AM on May 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


DU: "... widespread opinion that working more and more hours and retiring only when you are almost dead are good things."
I've yet to meet a European that thinks that.
posted by brokkr at 5:36 AM on May 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I agree the video is misleading. I watched nearly the whole video, and there wasn't a crowbar in sight.
posted by Fritz Langwedge at 5:36 AM on May 4, 2012


I saw these today with my Hellenic boss. The real story, I think, is that with elections a few days away, the centralist parties have hunkered down and refused to campaign. They feel they are hated so much that sticking up their heads will make them further targets of hate.
But you have the far left and far right both out in force.
What happens when the only government that can be formed is a coalition including extremists who repudiate the austerity measures and want the country to default?
posted by bystander at 5:48 AM on May 4, 2012


Young? That lady is like, 40.
posted by nzero at 5:55 AM on May 4, 2012


The rule of law is meaningless when the banks write the law. A greek default is meaningless because the laws are a joke written by those that are now owed all the money, and the laws themselves are little more than elaborate ways of saying "give us taxpayer money, more than you have, now you owe us".

What is significant is that the wealthy have robbed us of the rule of law, for the most viscerally rotten motives. And for that, they should die.

Debt is a thing from before the city was in ruins, y'know.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 5:57 AM on May 4, 2012


The Romans really didn't like actual, contemporary Greeks that much, no, beginning with their issues with the rival cities further south that were Greek colonies, and Pyrrhus of Epos

It's Pyrrhus of Epirus. Although that's a relatively minor issue against the complexities of the historiography you're using - you're bouncing between Greece at the end of the 6th Century BC and the recreation of the Eastern Roman Empire with its capital at Nova Roma 800 years later.

I don't think this is a good thread to have the whole discussion in (although I could be wrong), but I feel like trying to prove your original generalization right with more generalizations is going to end up down a series of offtopic rabbit holes...
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:00 AM on May 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm really tired of people claiming they invented something when the only thing they share with the actual inventors is a geographic region, ethnicity or some such.

How dare you call me lazy and selfish? My dad was a selfless and hard-working man!
posted by straight at 6:07 AM on May 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


She doesn't seem to understand the timing of the ad and so her video is shouty for longer than it should be.

Anyway, if only most Greeks who invoke the achievements of Ancient Greece had a better understanding of it, things would be better.
posted by ersatz at 6:13 AM on May 4, 2012


you're bouncing between Greece at the end of the 6th Century BC and the recreation of the Eastern Roman Empire with its capital at Nova Roma 800 years later

You're right, the early Republic didn't consider themselves part of the Hellenic tradition at all, and they didn't speak greek in the Eastern Empire. Oh, no, wait, they did.

800 years? 800 years is nothing. We are hashing out what it means to be Western (in other words, heirs to the civilization of ancient Greece) today, 2500 years later, on youtube, as in the link, which means this is a fair topic to cover.

I have no idea what you're trying to communicate, apart from idle pedantry on a pet topic. (Tho the second I hit "post" after realizing I typed "Epos" instead of "Epirus" I really longed for an edit button.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:18 AM on May 4, 2012


That Joe Canada rant is a little cringeworthy twenty years on but I've still got a soft spot for it. This commercial from the same ad campaign, on the other hand, is absolutely timeless.

Don't drink Molson Canadian though. It's a terrible terrible beer.
posted by 256 at 6:26 AM on May 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have no idea what you're trying to communicate, apart from idle pedantry on a pet topic.

Let me try again: I am trying to communicate, politely, that you don't know very much about ancient history or culture - and indeed don't know enough to know how little you know. That your confident assertions are ill-informed to the point of being misleading. To which I am now adding the communication that you do not appear to understand polite attempts to explain why confidently asserting wrong things is not a great thing to do.

It is OK for you not to know much about something - we are all but mortal, with one life to learn things. It is OK for you to think that knowing more than you do constitutes "pedantry about a pet topic" (assuming you are not a neurosurgeon, at least). However, it would be good if you didn't try confidently to share wrong information and elementary-school oversimplifications as valid information.

It would also be good if you didn't start getting pissy when gentle attempts to point these fairly basic things out were made - shrilly crying "Oh no, wait they did" in defence of elementary-level propositions nobody has actually questioned, for exampe - but we appear to be past that hope.
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:43 AM on May 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Meanwhile, in modern Greece, the couple of Greeks I know both left their country because they wanted to do something ambitious in the world of computer science and Internet startups. They left Greece because they were tired of all the corruption and laziness. Admittedly a self-selected sample but it's certainly reinforced my stereotypes. There's a lot to be proud of in Modern Greece, not every country has to create ambitious tech startups. But saying "2500 years ago we did some cool stuff" is a pretty weak position.

As to CautionToTheWind's comments about the banks being evil and causing the problem. It's all fine and good to ignore banks, debt, etc and write your own rules as long as you don't want to borrow any money in the future. Bailing out of the Euro and setting its own financial policy is a perfectly reasonable option for Greece to take. It's just going to be expensive. Defaulting on debt is a legitimate option, too. It's worked out pretty well for Argentina, it's just they can't borrow money internationally now. Athens will get to keep the airport, though.
posted by Nelson at 6:56 AM on May 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am Greek. The economy, society, the country itself is collapsing. I could care less about others' stereotypes at this point, much less how they affect my own image/self-image/marketing.

Did we screw up our economy? absolutely. Why did that happen? because of a mismanaged, misguided project that we have been part of since the very beginning. OK, done, that happened. What happens next? should an entire country including 1-2 future generations of people that had nothing to do with the corruption and mismanagement of the past 30 years be forced into poverty, into hopelessness to prove that the project has failed and needs to be fixed?

Unemployment for under 35s is at 30%. I put up an ad for an office manager last year and had 100 people apply in the first 2 hours, some with PhDs.

Punitive measures do not apply at the aggregate level.
posted by costas at 7:02 AM on May 4, 2012 [8 favorites]


I'm sure it's been FPPed before, but (getting back to the present day) this Greek Debt Crisis Choose Your Own Adventure seems relevant.

(The example of Iceland is also interesting, on the questions Nelson raises - previously on MetaFilter).
posted by running order squabble fest at 7:05 AM on May 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


I loved the malakas one, hilarious and right on. All southern European countries should replace their political classes, but Greece especially.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:17 AM on May 4, 2012


What's up with the idea that ancient Greek invented democracy? As if there would be no democracy if there is no Greek civilization.
posted by Carius at 7:35 AM on May 4, 2012


i'm broke, it's on you
posted by pyramid termite at 7:56 AM on May 4, 2012


The "flag on my backpack" line was fairly specific to Canadians, who have a global reputation for being well-mannered and non-confrontational.

Living here I can say that I have run into many Canadians who are not well mannered and are very confrontational (of course this is true of people the world over). There are many who are very well mannered and non-confrontational. Hopefully they're the one's who travel the most. I remember a friend in Japan asking some Japanese what their impression of Canadians was and the response was that we were polite and we ate donuts.

We usually put the Canadian flag somewhere on our person when traveling so that we are not mistaken for Americans and to take advantage of the stereotype.

Also, I invented sex since my ancestors engaged in sex too.
posted by juiceCake at 8:00 AM on May 4, 2012


Let me try again: I am trying to communicate, politely, that you don't know very much about ancient history or culture - and indeed don't know enough to know how little you know.

And I still don't, as you're not engaging, just kind of standing over there sniffing noisily. I'm interested in this stuff. Other people reading the thread are interested in this stuff. You know something I don't, or have a perspective I don't? Share!

Calling someone out for not knowing as much as you do on the internet is a bit like ordering the tide not to come in.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:15 AM on May 4, 2012


We usually put the Canadian flag somewhere on our person when traveling so that we are not mistaken for Americans and to take advantage of the stereotype.

Yeah, but there's a bit more story to it than that. It's actually a bit of a call out as, at the time, there had been a couple of papers running filler stories about American travelers sewing Canadian flags on their backpacks in order to get warmer international receptions.
posted by 256 at 9:44 AM on May 4, 2012


Calling someone out for not knowing as much as you do on the internet is a bit like ordering the tide not to come in.

Forgive my miscommunication. I was not intending to call you out for not knowing as much as I do. I was intending to warn people that the statements you were making were not a good basis for drawing conclusions about the relationship of Rome and Greece.

If you're actually interested in this stuff, that's awesome, though - I was not getting much sense of that from the lack of questions and the delicious Falernian whine in which it was described as a "pet topic". I have to move now, but if interest remains hopefully we can talk about it later.
posted by running order squabble fest at 10:22 AM on May 4, 2012


Come on guys, stop flaming because you happened to read a couple more books out of the millions of books with conflicting views about who first did what 2000+ years ago. This was supposed to be a "fun post", especially after viewing Manos/Eileen's video. The situation in Greece is no fun though, whoever you think is to blame. As to who is to be blamed, just wait until the problem knocks on your door. Then you might have to watch Spyros/malakas' video again to understand. Seriously though, don't take things too seriously.
posted by acrobat at 3:37 PM on May 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


The last link is the funniest. He says he's a TV host, so I guess there's the reason.

There was a spat of Canadian parodies over a decade ago when the commercial first came out, so seeing it crop up again is a weird mix of nostalgia and uncanniness. ( Like the Married With Children remakes. )

Wikipedia even has an entry on the commercial. I had no idea it would have such long legs outside of Canada.
posted by RobotHero at 3:47 PM on May 4, 2012


I didn't know what 'malakas' meant. If you didn't either, Wikipedia's got it covered.
posted by benito.strauss at 3:57 PM on May 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was disappointed in her video. I thought it would be more hard hitting and address the current issues. Seems kind of fluffy.

Considering it's an actress trying to drum up some publicity for herself, mainly, I wasn't terribly surprised.
posted by zardoz at 5:02 PM on May 4, 2012


Interactive map of the Greek election results.

A big vote for Syriza, the radical coalition of the Left - which is to say, a big vote against austerity and the current deal on the debt.
posted by running order squabble fest at 8:50 AM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


(So, wandering back along the tangent, since the thread seems to be pretty much winding down

In terms of the Hellenic tradition and the early Republic - the early Roman Republic is folk-dated to 509 BC, which is to say the beginning of the Classical age in Greece. At that point, there isn't really much of a sense of a Hellenic tradition, and there certainly isn't much of a sense of Panhellenism. You have a couple of shared holy places in Greece, and you have trade routes and colonies, but Rome doesn't see itself as part of the Hellenic tradition. There is already trade between Greece and Rome - primarily of pottery - but that drops off around 450, when the Roman economy tanks.

The Latins speak an Indo-European language related to but not Greek (specifically, it's in the Latino-Faliscis group), and have their own culture. Over the next 200 years or so, Roman influence extends mainly through conquest of other basically Italic communities (like the Samnites, whose language is Osco-Umbrian Indo-European) and the Etruscans in the North. Roman culture is heavily influenced by Estruscan culture initially (qv the Etruscan kings of Rome), but Etruscan influence wanes over time. In fact, early exposure to Greek culture probably came through Greek currents in Etruscan culture as much as directly. All of which gets you basically to the late 4th- early 3rd century, which is really where Rome's area of influence starts bumping up against the influence of the post-Alexandrian Greek city states, or more precisely Macedonia and the successor leagues of Greek city states. So the Early Republic encounters Greek culture through trade with Greek-founded city states in Italy (although this is largely undocumented) and then through its sphere of influence extending to the southern cities of Magna Graeca - and in particular Tarentum, the revolt of which leads Pyrrhus of Epirus. There is no sense of continuing a Hellenic tradition - it would be incoherent to think in those terms, since the Hellenes weren't a tradition: they were doing their thing at the same time.

So, in terms of pop culture representations of early Roman history, that basically runs from Coriolanus through to Pyrrhic victories. The following period - what we tend to call the Middle Republic - is basically centred around Rome's struggles with the other two great powers of the Mediterranean - the various successor states of Greece and Macedonia, and the North African kingdom of Carthage - both of which had investments in Sicily. So, the relationship between Rome and Greece over a century and a quarter is one of intermittent warfare, culminating in the defeat of Macedonia (in the two battles of Pydna) and the end of the free Greek city states after the fall of Corinth in 146BC.

It's during this period - roughly 280 to 140 - that you get real cross-cultural communication between Rome and Greece, and you start seeing writers like Ennius, Livius Andronicus, Terentius and Plautus producing Roman literature, which is influenced by Greek literature. You also get Greek art being brought back to Rome as spoils of war. And, in particular after Greece is settled, you also see an influx of Greek ideas into education, architecture and, to an extent, ideas of civic management. The first uses of Greek marble in the Roman forum come around 146BC, and Greek-styled buildings start cropping up, starting with the Basilica Porcia in 184BC. This is also the period where slavery is important - you get far more domestic slaves in Roman homes, and specifically, as SH mentioned, Greek slaves around the house.

This is again, however, not a smooth process, exactly. There are various backlashes against the growth of Greek cultural influence. Cato the Elder, whose floruit is basically the first half of the third century, was already warning against the influx of Greek culture (as well, of course, as militating for the destruction of Carthage). Perversely, he also set up the Basilica Porcia, so lord knows what's up with that. And the role of Greece, and of Greek, is part of an ongoing dialog through the end of the Republic - at which point you have writers like Propertius and Catullus, who are taking Greek verse forms and adapting them to tell Roman stories. So, by the end of the Republic you have, essentially, a significant Greek cultural and architectural influence - and also a large swathe of territory controlled by Rome which uses Greek as its primary diplomatic and bureaucratic language. It's primarily this cultural impact which Quintus Horatius Flaccus means when he says "Graeca capta ferum victorem cepit" - captive Greece captured its rough victor. However, it's worth comparing that with Virgil's outlining of the Roman mission, and how it is distinct from Greekness, as described by Anchises in the Aeneid.

Excudent alii spirantia mollius aera,
credo equidem, vivos ducent de marmore voltus,
orabunt causas melius, caelique meatus
describent radio, et surgentia sidera dicent:
tu regere imperio populos, Romane, memento;
hae tibi erunt artes; pacisque imponere morem,
parcere subiectis, et debellare superbos.'


"Others will beat out the breathing bronze more softly,
Yea, I believe, and draw out living faces from marble.
They will plead cases better, and trace with a tool the motion of the heavens, and speak of the rising stars.
But you, Roman, remember that yours is the rule of nations with power.
These will be your arts: to lay custom on peace,
To spare those cast down, and overthrow the proud."

In short, Romans do this, Greeks do that. The Aeneid does complicate matters, of course, first by punching up the spotty association of Rome with Aeneas (and of the Julian house with Venus, Aeneas' mother) and also by tying in the mythical ancestor of the Fabii, another ancient-as-balls Roman house. So, there is a sort of "little Greece" - Pallentium - on the site of what will become Rome, just as they encounter a "little Troy" in Chaonia, ruled by Priam's pious son Helenus. But these are clearly represented as missing the point, or at least missing the point of Aeneas' mission - Aeneas and his men are in one sense founding Rome (or more accurately Lavinium), but their fate is to be subsumed into the hardy, rustic culture of the Latins. For Virgil (writing at the time of, effectively, the first real Emperor, although nobody was thinking in those terms) Greece had been subjugated for a century, and Troy was memorable only for its role in the Iliad - but, of course, on another level he's drawing from not just Homer but also Hellenistic epic poetry to tell his story of Rome's ascent. So, yeah.

Of course, cultural assimilation continues, and you get outcroppings of philhellenism, in particular among the wealthy and the ruling classes (not least because Greece was a pretty cushy place to go for an Imperial posting if you had already made your money). Hadrian is a good example of an emperor who saw _himself_ as part of a tradition of enlightened popular rulership going back to Greece, and whose patronage saw Athens in particular getting new wealth and new buildings. And by a natural process the oldest parts of the Empire felt progressively more Roman - both culturally and through the extension of the franchise of Roman citizenship, culminating in the universal extension of the franchise through the constitutio Antoniniana in 212AD. Until then those Greeks who were not slaves were largely peregrini - free provincial subjects.

In the centuries following that, you got increasing separation between the Western and Eastern parts of the Roman empire - but the idea that once Constantine set up Nova Roma on the site of Byzantium you suddenly got a Greek-speaking, culturally Greek eastern Empire is a bit of a simplification. In fact, Greek didn't become the official language of the Eastern Empire until it was just the Roman Empire (as distinct from the Holy Roman Empire, which as we know was none of those three things), in the early 7th century AD. That cultural distinctness was accelerated by the loss of Sicily and Southern Italy, but the relationship of Roman-ness and Greekness was complex - and a long way distant from the Classical Era (that is, 510-336BC or 323BC, depending on how you cut it, but basically from the overthrow of the Athenian Tyranny to Alexander the Great).

Which is all very whistlestop and sketchy, I realise. I think there's a tendency, because of the way we Westerners see history (in particular, the sense of the torch of civilization rotating from one holder to another). Which is a historical and structural habit which I think the Victorians have a lot to answer for about, since they were indeed constructing a narrative in which your had the glory that was Greece, then the grandeur that was Rome, and the awesomeness that was the British Empire, and you wanted to be able to draw a straight line basically through these things so the British Empire was the culmination of the progression of Western values from Greece through to Rome and on. Whereas the whole thing is a lot squelchier and messier than that…)
posted by running order squabble fest at 12:17 PM on May 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ooops - that should be "Cato the Elder, whose floruit is basically the first half of the second century, was already warning against the influx of Greek culture (as well, of course, as militating for the destruction of Carthage)."
posted by running order squabble fest at 12:44 PM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


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