Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.
The Roman Republic is one of the most popular topics of historical study and is built on the basis of Western Civilization foundations laid by the Greeks and Ancient Near Eastern empires. While synthesizing important elements from their predecessor, the Romans imposed their distinct outlook and attitude onto the Mediterranean basin during the empire building and maintenance of the Imperial era. Many political institutions derive great inspiration from the constitutional republican form of government that was advanced prior the emperors, most notably our country’s own constitution takes great inspiration with an Enlightenment attitude in crafting the framework of a federal republic. Besides being a more stable form of government than the democracy of Athens, a single city-state that need to only worry over the governing of a city, the republic was a more encompassing and forceful way of supporting a city that seeked to conquer and incorporate its neighbors and grow as a state with multiple large regions. The Republic that the Romans devised provides centuries worth of case studies in how power can be balanced between different parties, and many examples of how the concentration and immoral use of power could have disastrous effects of not only a few deaths of rivals, but on the suffering of the population at large if power was not held in the purpose to serve the public well. In order to understand how a system was set up address the nuances of power, and those who sought honor to advance themselves within the system, we will be looking at how Romans differed in their conceptualizing of time, space, and class distinctions, and how those differences and similarities still remain with us today.
Analyzing the way that Romans thought of and organized space and time is imperative to understanding how those aspects influenced how they operated in and defined their culture. The Romans had a much different view of time than what we do now, and held a much more utilitarian view of history. One of the points that Dupont makes is that the Romans’ year is divided into two seasons, winter and summer, instead of the four that we think of in the more northerly latitudes. This is partly to do with the Italian peninsula and the Mediterranean being closer to the equator than the rest of Europe and North America, where the closer you get to the poles the more the angle of the earth affects the degree of light the latitude is afforded. The months of October through March made up winter, which was was the resting season, in which the Romans stayed close to home and where political contests were duked out in the city for all to witness. The months of November and December were when the annual elections were held for magistracies and the politicians are zealously canvassing the city for votes. Much of modern day canvassing that exists in the present day has its roots in the Republic. Graffiti on who to vote for covers the alleyways much like that of bumper stickers on the back of cars, and ceramics filed with treats (water, wine, oatmeal) have messages urging who to vote for etched in the curvature of the bowls. In contrast, the summer was a time for exertion, when the season was synonymous with military campaigns and tending plots of land out in the countryside in preparation for planting and cultivation. April through September offered the best weather which was dry enough for armies to march through, dig ditches and set up camp, and to rely on towns along the campaign trail for extra nourishment, which would have not been wise to do so during the winter months. Dupont notes that it was strange for a summer to go by without the undertaking of a military campaign, and was seen as an extended winter due to the feeling of retirement. This made a great many men of prime military age quite antsy the rare instances in which the summer was not used for expanding the empire. When not engaging in battle and tending to the farm, the rustic life was viewed as pretty relaxed compared to life as a soldier, even though farming is very much considered work. This dualistic view of a time for work and a time for relaxation is also seen in the division of the day. Romans rose early and had just enough of a breakfast to work the land in the morning and early afternoon, breaking for a noon meal of bread to keep the work going until late afternoon and the lowering of the sun in the sky was achieved. The latter half of the day was dedicated towards relaxing and enjoying rest. It is considered unseemly to continue rest since it is expected that that you exert all your energy in the beginning of the day and can not properly resume work until you have recreated, reconnected with fellow human beings, and gotten some sleep. One of the rituals most happily engaged in were Romans inviting over guests and friends to share dinner at home, and the post providing entertainment and sumptuous food as much as he could afford. The mark of a good Roman was showering friends and colleagues with wealth, so as to spread goodwill throughout the social network. Nothing was more disgraceful than a Roman citizen (especially of means) holing up in their home eating dinner alone. Not having a dinner invitation to accept or night of hosting was seen as very hermit-like. The Roman citizen was first and foremost a social being, and being civilized meant being a part of the fabric of city life, associating with various kinds of groups - at the very least the family you’re born into - and the religious cult or neighborhood you are a part of. The prioritization of rest was so deeply regarded in the Roman culture that days were designated feast days (dies festus) and work days (dies profestus). The public could expect theater and the circus to be made available by the government and organized by the aediles.
Not only were the Romans concerned with how their years and days were structured, but they had a great apprehension for the beginning of new undertakings. They placed great importance on how the beginning sets the tone for the rest of the journey, and they regarded signs that appear in the moment but are not recognized for what they really are until later were also greatly analyzed.
The way Romans conceptualized space is also worth comparing to our contemporary modern society. The Romans were a highly social people and thought of privacy differently than we do today. This is reflected in their open floor plans of the the home, in which the atrium was only partially roofed, and the front door was open to most everyone so that the head of household could receive as many guests as would show up. The atrium was where the “family tree” was displayed, however it was not the all encompassing family tree that we imagine today. Ancestors who brought honor and dignitas to the family by accomplishing extraordinary deed or by holding the same or higher office as those ancestors who came before him were enshrined on the wall. It was common for an ancestor to be added after the omittance of two generations in a row, thereby a grandfather followed by a great grandson. The most prominent example of this is Marcus Cato the Elder, and his great grandson Cato the Younger. The atrium was the most public part of the house, and as you moved past the atrium the rooms became smaller and more enclosed, where privacy was bestowed on the women and children. Men spend a minimal amount of time in their sleeping quarters since it was unseemly to not spend your time being social and in public during the prime years. The socialness and primac of the city was central to Rome being regarded as the center of the world and where all roads led to. In the center, at the top of Capitoline Hill, resides the temple dedicated to Jupiter Optimus Maximus, the deity that the Romans held the highest regard for, since he was the master the sky domain and wielder of lightning and thunderbolts. Rome was the continual home base in which war plunder was brought back to, and within the city limits where every soldier was required to dismantle their military gear and return to civilian life. Rome, like many other cosmopolitan areas, was susceptible to cultural synthesis of peoples who migrated from foreign lands (whether voluntarily and through the slave trade) as well as ideas. The gods and belief systems of those who had been defeated in combat frequently made their way into the city and acquired their own followings as new cults. Most notably the Bacchus cult, which can be interpreted as a version of Dionysus, where many women were attracted to drinking alcohol (since it was seen as respectable to do so for a woman during this time) and dance and partake in sexual liberties that were usually seen as taboo. Like all other societies, the Romans had distinct ideas of how to conceptualize boundaries and the frontiers. The “first” month of our year, January, is named after the Roman god Janus, keeper of boundaries, which may or may not include gateways. Another closely related figure was that of Terminus, who was the god of “Every Roman space . . . defined by a boundary that took the form not of an abstract line clearly marking off different territories, but rather an intermediate zone at which people had to perform rites of passage,” (Dupont, 83). This is deeply embodied in the boundary stone market and the accompanying ritual that neighbors participated in. At the edge of properties, a boundary marker etched with the owner’s name is placed, and during the 23rd of February neighbors of touching properties would meet each other not in dispute, but to lay out laurels on each other’s boundary stones and offer cake. Both would co-host a banquet in honor of their being neighbors, which highlighted the positive bond of a relationship that could have easily been contentious and full of rivalry instead. As is noted frequently in the study of history, the most bitterest of enemies are not those that live far from you, but those that you can’t get along with that live in close proximity to you. The Romans observed the duality of neighboring parties and the precarious relationship that is defined by the bond of any two people or groups, and being repeating this ritual annually, recognized that in every relationship there needs to be a mutual effort of respect and overtures of friendliness made on a continual basis, at least formally every year. This ideology extended to non-citizens visiting Rome, and were recognized as either guests or enemies. The Latin words for both, hospes and hostis respectively, share the same root. Whenever a boundary was violated by an enemy, the only way the transgression can be rectified is by making war. The Romans were indefatigable in their quest for victory in all wars they undertook, no matter no how many battles they lost. The idea of boundaries being protected by warmaking is thus extended to estates being “ritually enclosed” by “Mars, the god of war, and of the sacred circle,” (Dupont, 84). The head of the estate would make an appeal to the god, requesting the protection of his “family, slaves, herds, fields, and himself,” (Dupont, 84). In order to cross the boundaries safely and not to jinx the day, journey, or ritual undertaking beginning at the crossing of one space into the the next, the Romans put great weight on speaking the right words at the right time, to dispelling the hostility an individual might still harbor. If there were any signs that portended ominous signs are supposedly signaled a bad start, it was important to delay the start until a more suitable time.
The differences in wealth were marked by many things, not the least which were space. People with little means who moved to the great city of Rome usually rented a small room in one of the many insulae, which were famously decrepit, poorly ventilated, and prone to fire and collapse. Insulae were predecessors to our modern apartment complexes, since they were constructed to take as much advantage of the physical space as possible so as to cram in more people. Rome growing outward as a city only had so much it could go before core groups of citizens, namely the rich and elite, would complain that the outer reaches of Rome would no longer be Rome, thus the need to make more use of vertical space that a single or two story building simply does not accomplish on its own. Prior to Julius Caesar’s beautification of the city, it had grown considerably, maniacally, and haphazardly, with little planning outside of the the Forum. This contributed to an all around chaotic feeling that permeated throughout the city, and gives foundation to the Roman dream of reaching old age and retiring on a plot of land to farm and tend way out in the countryside and away from the ever buzzing cityscape of Rome. The Roman dream of a citizen being fully independent was contingent upon being a property owner. If you were leasing land or renting an apartment, you were at the mercy of a landlord who could easily find ways to mistreat and drain of you of what little money you had. Even worse was to get caught up in debts, which could easily wind an individual up in slavery in an effort to pay the creditors back. Rome being an ancient society fully accepted slavery as an inevitable aspect of life, and built its institutions around relying on slave labor for a significant amount of the work to be done and to purposely keep the economy reliant on man power instead of the potential ill effects of technology creating work shortage and unemployment for free folk, or depreciation of prices crippling critical sectors of livelihood (agriculture has been susceptible numerous times throughout history, a comparatively recent example being the milk industry during the Great Depression). However, the way slavery was done in practice differs from that of American slavery substantially. It was not race based, since the the way we understand race is largely formulated in the early 17th century and onwards. Slaves were often people who sold themselves to make up for debts they had accumulated against their creditors, were abandoned children of those who could not or did not want to take on a child for financial, physical deformities. Being born female was considered a severe disadvantage since they could not hold a job that brought in income like a male, and needed to have a dowry provided for in the event of them being married off to a different family. Hence, prostitution rarely had want for a work force and slaves kept the brothels full and staffed. However, many slaves were employed essentially as personal assistant/secretaries, keeping the important documents and accounting in order while attending to other personal matters as the master saw fit. Slaves could even apprentice at a useful trade with their master’s permission, and they were frequently contracted out to others upon completion of the apprenticeship. Depending upon the master, slaves could complete side projects for his own personal profit, a share of which was due to the master. Slaves were frequently able to save up earnings this way to buy their freedom. Once the master agreed to buy the slave’s freedom, the freedman was still obligated to act as a client their former master, now turned patron. This is strange to us as Americans, since slaves who achieved freedom and were able to be self sufficient frequently cut ties with former owners and moved far way to be away from former oppressors. Slaves who achieved freed status in American society, which frequently exports that liberty is one of it’s core values, buttressed by a rugged individualism, saw whatever had been owed to their formed masters as now wiped clean. The continued relationship between the master and slave to that of a patron and client speaks to the strong social ties that Romans simply could sever. Social ties were life, and cutting out any one of them spelled out suicide.
It’s difficult to remember that everything we experience in life is not something to be taken for granted as normal, but to realize that what we see and think is dependent upon our own previous thinking, training, education, and experiences coloring and informing what we are currently processing, the positionality that we occupy when surveying scene. All of this varies from one individual to the next, but what we are able to see in the greater context as a society can still be significantly different from a society that is only the next neighbor over. Therefore, one of the greatest insights that we can learn from a group of people who lived in an era much different than ours, is to learn how they themselves thought of and structured concepts that we all experience. That is the greatest endeavor of history, anthropology, and many other fields of the liberal arts: to become enlightened to how differences may illuminate truths that our own realities may inherently keep us in the dark, purposefully or unintentionally. The Romans were a weary minded group, and took fortune and the potential for dishonor seriously. Any percieved signs of bad omens were grounds for delaying important journies and postponing senate debates (which became effective and abusive political tactics to undermine opponents). The Romans were a people who didn’t invest in private selves, or see a need for such a thing. They lived vicariously through the public forum and were defined in relation to the people they associated with, as evidenced by the openness of their homes, the centrality of the Forum and the Senate, and Rome being conceived as the center of the world. The analysis of Roman organization of space and time reveals that class distinctions were made prevalent in who was allowed to wield power and who had to submit to that power, as is still a struggle today of removing the distinction of property ownership as the younger generations are struggling to come into their own as homeowners and more often than not rely on renting to meet their housing needs. The recent changes in our society reflect that we are still going through growing pains of recognizing that those who can’t afford to keep any real estate of their own still want their voices heard in the political process and still contribute to the economy as a significant block.
Greek culture is the foundation of Western civilization, and truly distinguished itself from its Near Eastern counterparts. The Western view is commonly referred to as being the Greco-Roman tradition, the Greek contribution being noted first since the Romans heavily appropriated many aspects of the Greek culture because they wanted to emulate the artistry the Roman themselves felt they were lacking. The Greeks prided themselves on their self described high culture, and did not hesitate to classify themselves as civilized and those who could not speak Greek as not. In this essay, we will be discussing the key social aspects that shaped the Greek worldview, and how they still influence Western societies today. Among these that we will be examining religion and mythology, and how they contributed to the psyche of the average Greek.
Greek mythology had seared itself onto the interface of Western Civilization, and has continued its own spirit to this day, long since the last of heroes of the Homeric Age have retired to Elysium. This is evident in the proliferation of select parts of today’s media which are inspired by the ancient stories. For example, the release of Patty Jenkins’ 2017 film Wonder Woman, based on the comic book character developed in the 1940s of an Amazonian princess, opening with a retelling of the struggles between the Olympians and the Titans; the modern day Greek demigod Percy Jackson and subsequent Heroes of Olympus book series by Rick Riordan, etc. The stories we hear when we are young from our parents are the very beginnings of the development of our worldviews. They also maintain social cohesion for groups of people by providing a means for a widespread people to have some sort of substantial commonality, even if that small aspect is mostly fiction. By exploring the abstract and fictional narratives that binded many Greeks all over the city-states together, we can study how an influential society was able to develop from mere villages eventually into a confederacy that was able win a victory against the superpower of the day. One of the points to be discussed is the deviations of the myths themselves take, and how the retellings may reflect different city-states interpretations and the differences in underlying logic that may have contributed to these differences in myth. The mythology was so impregnated in the minds of the Greeks that they were frequently the subjects of statues, depictions on vases and other pottery, frescoes and the cause for large building projects in the form of temples.
This rise of the Greek polis after the Greek Dark Age saw a profound change in the way that religion is expressed. Throughout the eighth century, we see a substantial increase in burial goods (earthernware and bronze), where before there had been little evidence of burial goods. This indicates that there is a belief in society that the dead must be honored with useful and valuable items for their afterlife. This coupled with the development of sanctuaries indicates “A new generation of cult sites appear, archaeologically speaking, toward the end of the ninth century: Delphi, Delos, the acropolis of Athens, the Heraion of Argos, and possibly Perachora” (Polignac, 12). The increase in wealth as shown by a proliferation of goods, made up in significant part as dedication as offerings, and the newly designated spaces for religious function point to a new way of how the people in these societies were seeing and thinking of their communities. As the eighth century continues, more of material culture we first saw as burial offerings tombs began to shift toward collection in sanctuaries and the number of sites that can be counted as sanctuaries increase. For material culture, bronze ware makes up an ever growing material type percentage of the assemblage, which had become so universally valued as the go-to metal and namesake of its age. Many objects that previously could still serve a practical purpose as well as signify religious connotations became purely religiously oriented as they were more elaborately decorated and their size substantially increased to make practical use impossible (Polignac, 15). We also see an artform develop as motifs and themes proliferate many of these works, and even figurines are made of the handles and more intense care is brought to increasingly differentiated and developed.
These changes in religious behaviors communicates that the Greeks were increasingly mindful of the connection of material wealth and how its relation to the gods show reverence. This mindfulness translates into how the ancient Greeks perceive space and community differently. Originally, rituals were performed anywhere, as long as it was within a natural domain of the deity i.e. close to the sea for Poseidon, or in the marshes or woods (places of generally perceived elevated spirituality). We see a change in the number of sites in which public buildings are constructed with the purpose of serving as sacred places for the deities to officially reside and where the containments of the profane are not permitted. One of the first distinguished aspects of the sanctuary to proliferate the record is the altar. During the Dark Age, we see no indicators of animal sacrifice, like hearths with accompanying buildup of carbon from burnt offerings. As we enter the Geometric period, the altar is one of the first remnants of religious activity we see in the archaeological record, and it’s need to be situated in an open air loci gives weight as an early component of piety in the ancient Greek world as religion develops into a more central part of society (Polignac).
It’s notable that temples and sanctuaries don’t occupy only a single kind of space, but exist on a continuum of possible locations as the possible placements throughout the territory of a polis depends on the deity being honored and is in turned informed by the culture of the people of a specific polis. Athena, representing civic engagement and appreciation for craftsmanship, holds the title of an urban deity, her temples located at the acropolis of the city. This association of Athena’s temples residing in the acropolis may have less to do with her position in the Olympian hierarchy (although she is considering highly in the mythologies and in practice, as evidenced by being one of the four major deities in which sanctuaries were build for during this period (Polignac, 25)), and more to do with the strong association between her, wisdom, and the head, where logic resides, and is the top of the body, closest to the sky where the pantheon of olympians reside. Another goddess who dwelled in urban locales is Artemis, who is traditionally associated with forest, animals, and leader of the Hunt. In mythology, the Hunt was group of young women who were virgins that served and accompanied Artemis while traveling through the wilds of Greece and engaging in activities such as hunting, racing, and other outdoor activities typically associated with men. An explanation for Artemis’ close proximity to the urban zone could be due to how highly venerated she was by the towns that honored her (Sparta especially), and placed high value on the expression of piety in that particular society. Another explanation is simply the continued use of the sanctuary that had been established by the prior Mycenaean civilization for a more archaic manifestation of Artemis (Polignac, 26). Poseidon’s temples, not as ubiquitous as Athena, occupied locations on the edge of the agora, among the crossflows of civic life, private quarters, and burial grounds.
Zeus’ temples were typically located in sparsely populated locales and usually served as the center of worship for multiple towns in the vicinity, which defies the assumption that the king of the Olympians and occupier of the apex of the hierarchy among the gods and goddesses would occupy the acropolis of the polis. However, the presence of these large temples in rural areas means they were constructed with the purpose to serve the function of carrying out rituals and other religious activities. The people who participated in this worship did so with the kind of intention and thoughtfulness reserved for the highest of the pantheon members. This concept is further strengthened by the wealth of offerings left behind in “large collections of bronze and ivory objects and figurines” (Polignac, 24). It’s worth noting that while most of Zeus’ temples were located in rural areas that served regional populations like Olympia, Dodona, and Mount Ida (Polignac, 25), there are also many sanctuaries dedicated to him located on mountaintops.
So what of the temples and sanctuaries that occupy the middle of the spectrum? Apollo and Hera’s temples usually occupied the extra urban, the outer parts of the polis that overlap with the wilds of untamed nature and general rural areas. This may initially appear confusing since both these deities represent concepts that are highly civilization oriented. Apollo represented a well ordered society and a great many other institutions made possible by the development of the polis and a systematic civilization. Hera stood for the institution of marriage and was regarded highly as a figure of domesticity, both of which seem juxtaposed to the seemingly highly socially disordered view of nature the Greeks had. Since most sanctuaries occupied the outskirts of city life and proliferated the countryside, this can be seen as sanctuaries serving as reference points for where civilization extended and natural chaos continued. This reinforces the concept of boundaries inherent in the design of temples themselves, reminding the visitor of the temple that the sacred is separate from the ordinary, and that the power contained in the sacred being separate is very real.
The layout of the actual tempe building is perhaps just as important as it’s location and the deity being worshiped. It’s difficult to isolate the impact of a building from the place in occupies relative toward everything else in its environment, especially if it’s of the urban variety surrounded by other types of buildings with their own concerns, anxieties, and secular meanings. We can see that temples were designed in such a way to mitigate this as much as possible by following the same principle discussed earlier, that the temple is meant to be a boundary that serves to remind all those who encounter it that separation is explicit, and that the sacred must be kept away while simultaneously being of power it the environment it’s creating separation. The entrance of the temple, called the propylon, created a distinct atmosphere designed to elicit feelings that would bend an individual passing through toward piety. The use of darkness in the chamber to submerge the visitor into the world of the temple, further created division between the sacred place from the rest of the world. The following intermediate space after the entrance was bathed in light, to accentuate the stark difference between the realities of the mundane and of the gods (Holscher).
We are now seeing the beginnings of the construction of pillars of the Panhellenic world. As the cementation of a common mythology augmented the development of religion, as well as eventually giving rise to secular thought. As Humphreys notes while analyzing Gernet’s work in “Anthropology and the Greeks”, “mythical images belong to a ‘semantic field,’ and must originally have been related to precise patterns of behavior.” (91) The conclusions reached in many myths caution that humans must accept the fate we have been served, and to submit to the greater forces the gods may wreak (or bless) upon them. These initial views certainly are supportive of a people developing reliance on a religion that seeks to appeal to the gods and to accept their lot in the world, and parallels in the mortal power structure established by someone who can divine the gods will and allows for the submission of a people under a powerful ruler. When we look deeper in these myths, and tease out what they’re trying to convey to the listener on how to live a life, avoiding the contempt of the gods and maybe the respect of peers and the rest of the community. The myths frequently caution to not be boastful, especially in front of those who have the power to take away what they have or to wrought punishment. The myths warn to tread cautiously, while simultaneously remaining solid in knowledge of oneself and how the gods often mirror finicky human behaviors. In Greek mythology, the heroic figure, typically a demigod who inherits a dualistic nature between a god/goddess and mortal parents, takes on a distinctive form not seen anywhere else before this time, and has informed the basis of how the idealized and actual protagonists of literature has developed throughout Western civilization’s history. While our modern understanding of what typifies a hero necessitates a moral compass and someone who fights to the end of justice, truth, morality, etc., this is absent as a necessary component of the hero legend. The figure in question, as Gernet writes in “The Anthropology of Ancient Greeks”, simply has to represent “a ‘sign’ (such as a disappearance), revealing for the space of a moment a sudden break in the barrier that separates men from gods” (7). Figures who were initially the subjects of cult worship were based in the archaic period, and typically were founders of poleis, or, from Hesiod’s view, represented the warrior class. As Gernet surmises, the hero’s eventual role is defender of the polis. Throughout the Greek myths, we see heros, once they obey the call for the quest issued, leave home to commit great deeds, extraordinary and terrifying, and upon completion, retreat back into the fold of where the story began. The hero’s focus of home and their inability to reside in it until the quest is complete is most epicly portrayed with Odysseus on his 20 year journey away from home, the first half being spent fighting in the Trojan War, and the second half taking a whirlwind trip throughout the Mediterranean as Poseidon's promise to derail Odysseus as much as is possible after he and his crew inflicted pain and blindness onto Poseidon’s cyclops son Polyphemus. While Odysseus as a hero achieves his status through a combination of great skill honed over many years training his mind for wit and planning, and as a leader of Ithaca, we have heroes like Heracles, who are born with and rely heavily on divine powers. The most famous and mightiest of all heroes is one of the greatest perpetrators of crime when he falls into an uncontrollable rage and murders his own family. The greater the capability and the more unique a hero is, the greater burden they carry to keep a check on their vices. To put it as Peter Parker’s uncle Ben astutely observes, “With great power, comes great responsibility.” This maxim ties in well with the inscriptions at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, which roughly translate to mean “know thyself” and “nothing in excess.” Taking these two meanings together, we can synthesize that the greatest wisdom the Greeks wanted to impart was to know your limits, or the gods would see that you do. When heroes and other mortals in mythology dared to reach beyond their capabilities and range into the gods’ realm of capability, or failed to attribute the right deity their due honor, the gods did not hold back punishments for these encroachments.
Another important aspect to consider alongside the cult of hero worship was the Greek respect for the oracle. Before a new war is declared, or the setting out of an expedition for the colonizing of a new polis, the oracle was always consulted. While the vagueness of the Oracle’s translated prophecy left it open to interpretation, if it ever said no to the request offered or to stop whatever activity advice had been asked for, the Greeks heeded.
The world of the Greeks was dynamic, complex, and still provides many avenues for exploration of the human condition. While the societies of the Ancient Greeks generated lots of material in a variety of fields to study, the focus of religion as a social aspect of the Greeks provides a substantial starting point for the overview of the Greek worldview, and shed light on how individuals in these societies made sense of, lived in, and changed their world. The sudden burst of religious activity on the on set of the Geometric period arising from the comparatively low activity Dark Ages suggests that a belief in otherworldly beings and realities during and after this time in life can stoke the fires of imagination and possibly encourage (or are a result of) the development of cities. These structures group people together in an concentrically dense way that creates a need for differentiated complexity and dependence on other groups that share close proximity. The differences in temple locations depending on the deity and how these buildings were constructed show us that the development of religion was far reaching in the Greek world. However, they did not happen at a constant rate through all zones of habitation, but took shape in different ways honoring different deities in ways we initially would not to organize them. The mythologies developed that had roots in the Mycenaean societies, and were continually shaped by the development of poleis in the Geometric period, enlighten us of the values the Greeks focused on the and the enlightenment needed to operate in the way their world changed once the polis became the centers of the Greek world. By examining the Greeks through aspects of religion and mythology, we see a people who appreciated and valued the systematic ordering the polis brought to life, and that these people flourished when they bounded together in these social groups to exemplify what they depicted in their religious views.
Gernet, Louis. The Anthropology of Ancient Greece. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981.
Humphreys, S. C. Anthropology and the Greeks. International Library of Anthropology. London ; Boston: Routledge & K. Paul, 1978.
Hölscher, Tonio. Visual Power in Ancient Greece and Rome : Between Art and Social Reality. Joan Palevsky Imprint in Classical Literature. Oakland, California: University of California Press, 2018.
Polignac, François De. Cults, Territory, and the Origins of the Greek City-state. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995.
The role and status of women in the Roman Empire is notable for its lasting impacts on Western civilization, and the way women are regarded and treated in society today still has the shadow of the ancient Roman past informing the present. The Roman Empire transformed the base of Western Civilization by acquiring and reinterpreting the culture of the Greek city-states, readymade by what Alexander the Great had already done with his quest for acquiring territory (and the societies present within them) to build an empire that would transmit the Hellenistic culture. The Greco-Roman heritage our civilization is based on includes the culture, institutions, and traditions promulgated by and during the empire which laid the sturdy foundations that subsequent and current societies refer to (and also attempt to emulate).
The study of women in the Roman Empire is an important undertaking because by examining the treatment of women in a hypermasculine, highly militaristic world, we can understand the roots of our culture, and look to history for answers on what does and doesn’t work when enacting social, legal, and political change. If we intend to say that we are society that has progressed from a male dominated worldview to a more egalitarian one, then we must be aware of the legal, familial, and cultural processes that set historical precedents for the lower status of women that has persisted throughout the centuries.
What must be kept in mind is that all institutions require reinforcement of their ideologies, or else they disintegrate of become ineffective due to convoluted oppositions within the confines of the organization. This is especially true for the justice system and legal code, since neither have meaning if what is written down and administered are not carried out in tandem by the multiple agents employed. The effects of the Roman legal system defining how domestic units are to be judged and who to pay respect to so that power can be consolidated. Caratella summarizes on page 109: “Since it’s earliest manifestation, Roman law was characterized by absolute power of the head of the family group, to which the women were subordinate (as were sons and slaves) in forms that guaranteed not even the elementary right to survival.” The organization and ideology behind the Roman family structure takes on a different meaning than the one that is typically depicted in America and other Western societies. Instead of a nuclear family of a set of parents and direct children (and even grandchildren), the Roman petrai is made up of the oldest male as the head of household, and includes his wife and all living descendants, as well as the servants and slaves and their families being subordinate. All these people lived in a large familial dwelling that was partially open air (Bradley 8-9), which reinforced the Roman notion that all life is public, and there not really being a concept of private life. The ideal Roman woman’s goal was to be a dutiful wife and mother, and was subservient to her father, which transitioned to her husband when she was later married. Both the father and husband acted as a guardian legally speaking since women were thought to be too frivolous in spirit (INCLUDE CITATION), and therefore incapable of complete free will and understanding. While Roman women were regarded as actual possessions of their male guardians throughout the run of the republic, as the centuries progressed during the Imperial Age, they acquired more legal rights in some sectors while in other sectors there was change, but not to the benefit of women. Women in Rome from the start were expected to participate in public life, unlike their Greek counterparts, who were sequestered away from the public domain and be tied perpetually to private domesticity. The Romans held the expectation that women were supposed to be a part of public life as much as men were, for things like shopping and socializing in the marketplace, but to always be in the background and not meant to contribute meaningfully in any sort of dialog or significant transaction. Their place is a comparatively subservient role than what was expected of men who came of age. As the Empire continued, the changes made in the definition and practice of guardianship gradually improved for women, though not as substantially as having their own true autonomy. Initially female widows were not allowed to have sole guardianship over their children, and the closest living male relative usually exercised guardianship over children, no matter how distantly related of young.
The treatment of names in the Roman world is also a different system than ours. There were typically three names a person could get, the praeonomen, the first name being the individual name of the person, the middle was the gens (a generation subset of the family clan), and lastly the family name, cognomen. However, most women weren’t even assigned an individual name like their male counterparts and were instead referred to as by their gen name. If there were multiple women born to that subset, than one could be referred to as “Maior and Minor (elder and younger), or Prima, Seconda, and Tertia were added” (Cantarella 124). As can be inferred from funerary inscriptions left behind, the ideal woman that garnered the most admiration for her legacy was the woman who spoke the least, and was spoke of as little as possible, whether it was positive or negative. The most notable way of achieving such admiration was when nobody knew the woman’s name, “for the Romans the glory of women required that their names never be pronounced” (Caratella 126). While it is tempting to find roots of this practice from the Etruscans, it is likely a very Roman development. The Etruscans commonly referred to women by individual names and were freely spoken of like their male counterparts. What can be gleaned from this is that the misogyny that had taken root in the beginnings of Roman society, combined with reverence for the sacred power that names held, is that women are meant to be controlled and not duly recognized like men are.
The reproductive and marital rights of women evolved over time throughout Roman history. Initially, adultery was a crime that women were heavily punshed for, but men initially didn’t endure the same consequences to the same degree. Augustus decreed in 18 B.C. the lex Iulia de maritandis ordinibus and in 9 B.C. lex Papia Poppaea nuptialis, later synthesized into lex Iulia et Papia (Cantarella 122) that adultery was to be punished on an equal basis, so if a husband were to be convicted, their punishment would be on par to that of a wife who had committed adultery, a major step forward creating egalitarianism between the sexes. Death was a common retribution, if not beating, humiliation and various other degradation. The monetary value associated with women (and reinforcing the ideology of women as possessions) can be best studied through the lens of their accompanying dowries. Since the beginnings of Rome, it has been a common practice for when a woman is of age and marries into the family of her husband, that her father supply her with a way of financing her since she’s is no longer eligible for her original family inheritance, as well as being a way to maintain her upkeep within her new family since a new person to the group incurs the cost of another person consuming goods and taking up space in the household. The questions of who was the rightful owner of the dowry when the bride passed away had come into dispute throughout the centuries, with it initially being her father (if he was still alive) or her brother. However, the growing inclination to mind the justice of children had led later legal settlements to establish that the children of the mother were the first rightly heirs to the dowry, with the brother and father considered afterwards if there were no children to inherit the dowry.
The practice of child abandonment, which figured one male to every fifty females abandoned or left to starve. This contributed to a rather lopsided population in which males were able to effectively maintain more power and exert control over their female counterparts, as well as a significant population decline that would eventually bring negative economic impacts of labor shortage and be one of many factors for the shift from a polytheistic Roman worldview to the rise of Christianity. It was also regarded as the right of the male head of household to sell children into slavery or prostitution (which girls were more often than not turned to according to Dixon in “The Roman Family”), with a limit of up to three times before losing total custody of the child. This system left a fraught with abuse since these guardians would often sell the children in unofficial transactions, effectively disparaging the set limits with no accountability of the guardians or justice for the children. Mothers had to accept whatever choice these heads of the households made, regardless of their own disposition, which was often contrary to these common practices that male heads of households continued and maintained.
A unique role in the family that could only be fulfilled by women in the household was the nutrix, or what we call a wet nurse (insert citation). The wet nurse acted as a nanny for whichever child she was attending to, and was usually still involved in the child’s life past the time of weaning. She could be a freeborn woman, with freedwomen and slave women being just as common, if not more so. The wet nurse was even more integral to the child’s welfare and development if the mother had died during child birth, which was frequently the case given the largely still unsanitary conditions and medical practices the Romans were acclimated to and employed during childbirth.
The female slaves of the household were subject to do domestic and agricultural field work required of them, in addition to being sexually available to their masters for affairs not with wife (Cantarella 114). It was regarded in Roman society for men to typically partake in illicit affairs with either the slave women in the home or with prostitutes in the street, which speaks to the sexual license that society afforded to men, while threatening women with death, if not actually imposing it, for the same behavior. The Romans justified this behavior through their concern with the legitimately of heirs, which would be problematic if the wife were having sexual relations with men that were not her husband. However, there isn’t a good rationalization for the severe discrepancy between the harsh punishment inflicted on women and the leniency granted to men if a moral argument were to be made, since the crime committed is of the same severity regardless of whether it was a husband or wife. Augustus was finally able to bring some balance to the lopsided issue of adultery, and imposed harsher retribution on males to bring some accountability to the whole family for legalizing a moral code.
Women in the Roman era were regarded as either supporting the peaceful, harmonious role of homemaker who dutifully attends to the household and her husband above all else, or was seen a flagrant opposer of order if she dared to create conflict (especially as perceived in her own interests) and flouted prioritization of male power (usually having to do with property rights/inheritance). The first role was remembered fondly, if at all, with little actual legacy to speak of besides sweetness. The second archetype was dangerous, a viciously put down with any real, perceived, or contrived criticism available. The silence or character assassination of women in Roman society speaks volumes on the control that Roman men wished to exert over their female counterparts. This is most clearly illustrated with Antony’s wife Fulvia, with the height of vitriolic criticisms reaching its height when she tried to defend their property from seizure, after he had been absent for four year and eventually declared a public enemy to the state (Pomeroy 206). Cicero, in his efforts to vilify Antony, was quick to the same to Fulvia, so as to exaggerate Antony ineptness and villness that emphasizing a purportedly undesirably relations with Fulvia in which she dominnered him, making him appear all the more weak. Cicero later painted her as literally taking up the sword and shield in defense of her and Antony’s homestead, exacting a type of female androgynous stereotype that intrigued and frightened Roman men of the era. This is seen in the Romanification of the greek goddess Athena, who had originally a lot to do with war and battle strategy, but those aspects were tempered down when she was Romanized as Minerva.
Another prominent figure the Romans thought of as embodying the dangerous female archetype was Cleopatra, the last ruling Egyptian pharaoh of the Greek Ptolemaic dynasty. Her affairs with Julius Caesar and Antony, in addition to being in control of a significant political power in the Mediterranean basin with a legitimate rule stretching long before the Roman and Greek states, made her one of the biggest adversaries the Roman Empire had yet to face, and her being a strong willed queen with the ability to seduce her Roman counterparts made the character assassination all the more imperative to (typically male) Roman commentators. Her being an Eastern woman in power allowed Roman writers to more firmly ground the masculine, disciplined Western society against the sensual, hedonistic Eastern society as a dichotomy in play during the civil wars of Augustus and Antony. Cleopatra’s seduction of a highly respected, top general, changing him into an Eastern convert who revelled in shirking his duty and lounging around with a mistress instead of leading troops and putting the Empire’s interests first confirmed, in the minds of Roman men, confirmed the degenerative effects of the proximity of feminine ideology running unchecked with women who acted on their own agency.
The depiction of women in historical reliefs is of particular note when considering that women make few appearances compared to their appearance on coins and statues, which are far more frequent. Women were frequently used on coins alongside men as symbols of ideas the Roman government wanted to convey and propagate throughout the empire, and the construction of statutes to celebrate women of value in public spaces was a common practice throughout the empire, so why not in the historical reliefs? By deliberately only including women in certain scenes that showed record history (usually by Roman male authors), we can glean that the inclusion of women (with children appearing alongside, who had as little regular appearance in historical reliefs as women did) in scenes of the emperor perpetuating peace by giving away rations, that if domestic spheres are at peace, that a harmonious society can flourish since it’s base rests on the private domesticity peace. In a similar vein, the depiction of women and children in the Ara Pacis Augustae, which is thought to at least partially commemorate, shows the imperial court and “is meant to signal ideal sexual and familial responsibility . . . rather than avoiding their responsibilities and following paths of pleasure and decadence” (Pomeroy 226).
The control of women in Roman history has been demonstrated to be not completely female subservient, but an ever changing mosaic of competing interests. Misogyny has definitely been a large contributing factor in Ancient Roman society, however some degrees of justice have found their way, as evidence by Augustan laws trying to bring punishments of adultery on a more even footing between the sexes, and guardianship laws becoming more lenient later in the Empire, despite the ever present intention to reinforce and maintain male dominance. We have explored the difference in nomenclature for women, female roles and how they contribute to the functioning of the patrea postesta, legal rights and how they have changed over the centuries (at least in the upper classes), the dichotomy of the submissive, ideal wife and the dangerous woman archetypes, the selective usage of their imagery in public history and what it signaled to the viewer, and greater recognitions for their contribution to society. The Ancient Romans viewed their environment harshly, and interacted with it accordingly through strict discipline and grit, and recognized that power existed within and without their society, with women reserving a special kind of influence that needed to be controlled in order to ensure a male proliferation in public life.
Bradley, Keith R. Discovering the Roman Family. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.
Cantarella, Eva. Pandora's Daughters. Translated by Maureen B. Fant, The John Hopkins University Press, 1987.
Dixon, Suzanne, The Roman Family. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 1992.
Pomeroy, Sarah B., editor. Women's History and Ancient History. The University of North Carolina Press, 1991.
Shakespeare frequently uses religious ideas to convey overt and subtle meaning, creating a complexity of possible readings that have richly engaged theater goers and readers for generations. Some readings can be construed to see significant elements that are sympathetic to Catholicism, despite many instances throughout Shakespeare’s wr iting career and personal life that appear solidly Protestant. It’s important to note this because if his writings are reflective of his personal religious views, then it’s highly probable that he was not the only one with this religious intersection of beliefs during his time. It’s worth bearing in mind that while having an artist temperament and creating work that he may have found personally enjoyable, he was a professional in the theater realm and as an astute observer of mankind, the English theater going audience in particular, and definitely would have been putting forth plays palatable to his audience. This would mean that despite the enormous effects of Protestantism in throwing off a long corrupt and overbearing religious institution, tradition and habits are an integral part of the human condition and are not easily swayed (at least on the inside) to the whims of government or popular action in foreign (although not necessarily far off) lands. In this paper, we’ll examine Catholic elements found in Hamlet, the resurrection arc in The Winter’s Tale, and how secular values were highlighted by religious themes in the same context.
Shakespeare espouses views and ideas supporting Catholic ideology with the ghost of Hamlet’s father, having Hamlet put off the murder of Claudius in middle of prayer, and the gravediggers’ discussion of Ophelia’s death. The Hamlet play provides significant instances in the way religious beliefs shapes character motivations and giving the audience a wide field of intersecting and variant viewpoints. While Shakespeare does stick closely to historical accounts, notably with substantial outsourcing from Plutarch for Antony and Cleopatra, it’s interesting that he chooses to allude to purgatory for the King’s soul and use it as the main reason for not following through with the initial murder attempt. It’s a strange choice when even alluding to support of Catholic ideology, and therefore the Catholic Church, might have easily aroused suspicions, and where accusations quickly turned executions took place frequently. One reading of this can be that using the idea of purgatory may have been playing it a little on the nose in terms of weaving Catholic ideology into a play, it was acceptable to the audience since many would have grown up familiar with idea of purgatory due to older family members who lived prior to the change of state sanctioned religion. Shakespeare, knowing the likelihood of the audience’s familiarity with purgatory, and what can be assumed English society at large, briefly but impactfully does this to tug at the viewer/reader’s heartstrings and amplify the experience of suspense in the audience as they continue to observe how the tragedy will ultimately end. Even if the Protestant/Anglican viewers didn’t realize the the allusion to purgatory, the imprint is implicitly made on the psyche when they turn over the concept of there being a passage to heaven and what it would mean for the King’s soul, as opposed to a direct entrance into heaven upon death.
We run into a similar exploration of death with Ophelia. The means of her death gives the clowns, the doctor, and audience a lot to speculate about. Whichever stance is taken within the dichotomy inherent in the division of Christianity in England pertaining to suicide and death is decisive of the what can be gleaned from an interpretation for this play. While suicide is considered abhorrent in both traditions, and the repulsiveness of such a final act during this time period isn’t lost on the viewer regardless of whether they were Catholic, Anglican, or Protestant.
Shakespeare’s use of Hamlet’s father a ghost throughout the play is deliberate in creating multifaceted meanings and an apprehension in the audience. The vacillation between believing the ghost actually being the spirit of Hamlet’s father and believing that the apparition is some other worldly being meant to wrought harm leaves the audience torn between whether Hamlet is wholly mad or if he is in fact facing a harsh epiphany that his father’s death was brought about by franticide. Taking these Catholic ideas from Hamlet and bearing in mind the various characters that appear throughout Shakespeare’s plays, Allison Shell in Shakespeare and Religion on page 82 best surmised how Catholicism is portrayed Shakespeare’s choice genre: “Though all these characterizations betray an intense awareness of the very differing Catholic matter can be read, they are also generic to the kinds of story being dramaticized; it would be hard to carry them beyond their dramatic occasion, or to see them in aggregate as presenting a coherent view of the Catholic church” (Shell, 82). Ideology, no matter how much it’s legally enforced, is fluid, and societies thought of strictly as one things are often more pluralistic in origin than may be realized.
Shakespeare doesn’t shy away from the Christ resurrection. The Winter’s Tale is structured around Hermione’s Christ-like figure, shouldering the charges of adultery and treason, of which she is entirely blameless, and serving a literal death sentence. Her and the play’s arc is finalized in the happy ending that the comedic genre requires by rising from the dead to walk among the living once more. While Shakespeare is not unique in making resurrection analogies, it still is certainly is a bold move given his historical context, and highlights important ideas that taken into conjunction with religious themes, symbols, and imagery he employs, makes for a multi layered, complex addition to the commentary of the human condition. Shakespeare doesn’t hold back when unleashing upsetting and heart wrenching moments in his tragedies, but he shows his optimism for humankind when he depicts Hermione, someone who might be guilty of the small transgression for being overly friendly, is done an injustice when irrationality and runaway emotion take hold of Leontes. Shakespeare champions the return to reason and understanding, and upholds that while humans are capable of great evil, it is possible for the wicked to be redeemed and autonomy returned to the oppressed.
While these ideas are decidedly non-religious, the way they affect the audience when taking care to keep the contextualization of religious themes from Shakespeare's plays makes these ideas bolder. Shakespeare explores ideas with an incredibly progressive lens for his age, subverting traditional norms reinforced by society’s religious molding dictated from higher ups and bringing values back to their basics when promoting the egalitarianism espoused by the Protestant movement. (think being able to choose your own spouse and marry for romantic love independently from and possibly in spite of your family like in Romeo and Juliet).
The variance and proliferation of religious ideas, symbols, imagery, and themes taken together produce a multitude of readings that bring their own unique impacts on individuals and societies that have encountered these plays throughout time. Shakespeare is able to capture many nuanced perspectives and work them in deftly and skillfully, while tapping away at our own preconceived notions of matters of the heart, mind, and spirit. His integration of religion into entertainment has provided many avenues for exploration, and the way in which is paper were to be expanded would be to analyze more closely the balance of Protestant and Catholic influences to gain a better understanding of whatever secret Catholic beliefs Shakespeare was likely to have had.
Shell, Alison. Shakespeare and Religion, Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, 2014. ProQuest Ebook Central, <https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/osu/detail.action?docID=1779024>.
Release: May 13, 2014
A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
We Were Liars is a modern, sophisticated suspense novel from National Book Award finalist and Printz Award honoree E. Lockhart.
And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE.
E. Lockhart has delivered her wonderfully insightful storytelling once again, reminiscent of one of her previous works, The Disreputable History for Frankie Landau-Banks. She weaved together intrigue, romance, and family dynamics into an unforgettable summer reprieve.
I am struck by her honest and straightforward depiction of how the this privileged, beautiful family lives and their own struggles that are universally human and hit very close to home. I applaud the author's approach of distorted perception and how fact and fiction blurs to showcase the very real complexity of memory and suppression in the face of guilt. The plot twist is redolent of A Beautiful Mind, and while though heart shattering, I was overwhelmingly pleased with how Lockhart choreographed the plot.
By the novel's end, I was left with my heart ripped out, my eyes guzzling a constant drip-drop of tears, and my nose running with endless snot. Maybe the fact that I was already emotional the day I read it and needed a good crying session helped the waterworks, but I'm pretty sure my reaction would've been the same regardless of how I was on any given day.
I wholeheartedly recommend that everybody read We Were Liars. The exploration of family issues, memory, and romance delivered in a brisk package will leave you searching for more of E. Lockhart's work.
Release: January 7, 2014
Source: ARC from librarian
For the past five years, Hayley Kincain and her father, Andy, have been on the road, never staying long in one place as he struggles to escape the demons that have tortured him since his return from Iraq. Now they are back in the town where he grew up so Hayley can attend school. Perhaps, for the first time, Hayley can have a normal life, put aside her own painful memories, even have a relationship with Finn, the hot guy who obviously likes her but is hiding secrets of his own.
Will being back home help Andy’s PTSD, or will his terrible memories drag him to the edge of hell, and drugs push him over? The Impossible Knife of Memory is Laurie Halse Anderson at her finest: compelling, surprising, and impossible to put down.
Anderson has penned a poignant and thoughtful novel, dealing with topics such as post traumatic stress disorder, family discord, and veterans who come home from war with no transitive period. The use of the word "knife" in the title and inky blue water revealed by a jagged crack in the ice in the title suggested a deep and cutting emotional experience, or a series of such experiences, as indicative by the the word "memory" in the title.
I struck by the sharp brevity of Hayley's narration, and I immediately knew that Hayley's character was tough and street smart. It was rewarding to watch her grow up from a girl who wants to keep her daddy safe and learned to keep her walls up if she didn't want to get hurt, to transform into a young woman who knew that her dad was far from flawless but still loved him and fought for him and learned that it's okay to let people in and be vulnerable.
I particularly enjoyed her new found relationship with Finn. He was funny, sweet, and endearing. He wasn't perfect, as exemplified by his lack of empathy in Hayley's situation with her father, but he grew too. He came to understand Andy, and was there for Hayley when she needed him most. He reminded me of Augustus Waters from The Fault in Our Stars.
As for the plot, it was on point. The pace moved along, which I appreciated, but it never felt life things were moving unrealistically fast. I applaud the author's choice to not make the time span a full year, which reminds me of Ally Carter's choice to keep each book in the Gallagher Girls series a semester long.
By the turn of the last page, I had most certainly cried, and I had grown attached to characters and their world, and wished to stay with them longer. In the end, I was satisfied with how it ended, and it gave me hope for the future, and for the now, as well as a despairing knowing of how some things are in life. I was left with this: some things can not be helped, but we still need to do our best, because it does truly matter.
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