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Global Studies
Dr. Matthews
Fall 2010
HW # 5: The Advent of Agriculture
Read the below.
Answer the following questions.
1. ―The Agricultural Revolutions – plant cultivation and the domestication of animals –
made human civilization possible.‖ Do you agree with this statement? Explain your
2. In what areas did agriculture first take root? Why?
3. What do scholars think was the cause of the transition from hunter-gatherer
societies to agricultural and pastoral societies?
4. How is the relationship of humans to animals different today from that in the period
of hunter-gatherer societies and early agriculture?
5. How do pastoral peoples differ from hunter-gatherers on the one hand and farmers
on the other hand?
6. What do the early ecological crises tell us about the relationship of man to the rest of
7. How did the religious beliefs of early agricultural peoples reflect their way of life?
For most of history people ate only wild plants and animals. But around 10,000 years
ago global climate changes seem to have induced some societies to enhance their food
supplies with domesticated plants and animals. More and more people became food
producers over the next millennium. Although hunting and gathering did not disappear,
this transition from foraging to food production was one of the great turning points in
history because it fostered a rapid increase in population and greatly altered humans'
relationship to nature.
What should this historic transformation be called? Because agriculture arose in
combination with new kinds of stone tools, archaeologists called the period the
"Neolithic" and the rise of agriculture the "Neolithic Revolution." But that name can be
misleading: first, stone tools were not its essential component, and second, it was not a
single event but a series of separate transformations in different parts of the world. A
better term is Agricultural Revolutions, which emphasizes that the central change was
in food production and indicates that agriculture arose independently in many different
places. In most cases agriculture included the domestication of animals for food as well
as the cultivation of new food crops.
The Transition to Plant Cultivation
Food gathering gave way to food production in stages spread over hundreds of
generations. The process may have begun when forager hands returning year after
year to the same seasonal camps took measures to encourage the nearby growth of the
foods they liked. They deliberately scattered the seeds of desirable plants in locations
where they would thrive, and they discouraged the growth of competing plants by
clearing them away. Such techniques of semicultivation could have supplemented food
gathering for many generations. Families choosing to concentrate their energies on food
production, however, would have had to settle permanently near their fields.
Settled agriculture required new, specialized tools. Indeed, it was the presence of new
tools that first alerted archaeologists to the beginning of a food production revolution.
Many specialized stone tools were developed or improved for agricultural use, including
polished or ground stone heads to work the soil, sharp stone chips embedded in bone
or wooden handles to cut grain, and stone mortars to pulverize grain. However, stone
axes were not very efficient for clearing away shrubs and trees. To do that, farmers
used a much older technology: fire. Fires got rid of unwanted undergrowth, and the
ashes were a natural fertilizer. After the burn-off farmers could use blades and axes to
cut away new growth.
Also fundamental to the success of agriculture was selecting the highest-yielding strains
of wild plants, which led to the development of valuable new domesticated varieties over
time. As the principal gatherers of wild plant foods, women probably played a major role
in this transition to plant cultivation, but the heavy work of clearing the fields would have
fallen to the men.
The transition to agriculture occurred first in the Middle East. By 8000 B.C.E. human
intervention had transformed certain wild grasses into higher-yielding domesticated
grains, now known as emmer wheat and barley. Farmers there also discovered that
alternating the cultivation of grains and pulses (plants yielding edible seeds such as
lentils and peas) helped maintain soil fertility.
Plants domesticated in the Middle East spread to adjacent lands. Farmers in Greece
were cultivating wheat and barley as earls' as 6000 B.C.E. Shortly after 4000 B.C.E.
farming developed in the light-soiled plains of central Europe and along the Danube
River. As forests receded because of climate changes and human clearing efforts,
agriculture spread to other parts of Europe over the next millennium.
Early farmers in Europe and elsewhere practiced shifting cultivation, also known as
swidden agriculture. After a few growing seasons, the fields were left fallow (abandoned
to natural vegetation), and new fields were cleared nearby In the Danube Valley of
central Europe between 4000 and 3000 B.C.E., for example, communities of from forty
to sixty people supported themselves on about 500 acres (200 hectares) of farmland,
cultivating a third or less each year while leaving the rest fallow to re store its fertility.
From around 2600 B.C.E. people in central Europe began using ox-drawn wooden
plows to till heavier and richer soils.
Although the lands around the Mediterranean seem to have shared a complex of crops
and farming techniques, wheat and barley could not spread farther south because the
rainfall patterns in most of the rest of Africa were unsuited to the growth of these grains,
Instead, separate Agricultural Revolutions took place in Saharan and sub-Saharan
Africa, beginning almost as early as in the Middle East. During a particularly wet period
after 8000 B.C.E. people in what is now the eastern Sahara began to cultivate sorghum,
a grain they derived from wild grasses they had previously gathered. Over the next
three thousand years the Saharan farmers domesticated pearl millet, blackeyed peas, a
kind of peanut, sesame, and gourds. In the Ethiopian highlands farmers domesticated
finger millet and a grain called tef. The return of drier conditions about 5000 B.C.E. led
many Saharan farmers to move to the Nile Valley, where the annual flooding of the Nile
River provided moisture for cereal farming. In the rain forests of equatorial West Africa
there is early evidence of indigenous domestication of yams and rice.
Eastern and southern Asia were also major centers of plant domestication, although the
details are not as clearly documented as in the Middle East. Rice was first domesticated
in southern China, the northern half of Southeast Asia, or northern India, possibly as
early as 10,000 B.C.E. but more likely closer to 5000 B.C.E. Rice cultivation thrived in
the warm and wet conditions of southern China. In India several pulses (including
hyacinth beans, green grams, and black grams) domesticated about 2000 B.C.E. were
cultivated along with rice.
While food production was spreading in Eurasia and Africa, the inhabitants of the
isolated American continents were creating other major centers of crop domestication.
Recent evidence dates the cultivation of several important food crops to about 5000
B.C.E.: maize (corn) in the Tabasco area of eastern Mexico, manioc in Panama, and
beans and squash in Mesoamerica. It seems likely that the domestication of maize
occurred earlier in western Mexico and that manioc originated from Brazil. By 4000
B.C.E., the inhabitants of Peru were developing a food production system based on
potatoes and quinoa, a protein-rich seed grain. lnsofar as their climates and soils
permitted, other farming communities throughout the Americas adopted such crops as
these, along with tomatoes and peppers.
The fact that people in Asia, the Americas, and Africa developed their own
domesticated plants in isolation from outside influences added to the variety of
cultivated plants. After 1500 C.E. many of these crops became important foods
throughout the world.
Domesticated Animals and Pastoralism
The domestication of animals also expanded rapidly during these same millennia. The
first domesticated animal was probably the dog, tamed to help early hunters
game. Later animals were domesticated to provide meat, milk, and energy. Like the
domestication of plants, this process is best known in the Middle East.
Refuse heaps outside some Middle East villages show fewer and fewer wild gazelle
bones during the centuries after 7000 B.C.E. This probably reflects the depletion of
such wild animals through overhunting by the local farming communities, but meat
eating did not decline. The deposits show that sheep and goat bones gradually replaced
gazelle bones. It seems likely that as wild sheep goats scavenged for food scraps
around agricultural villages, the tamer animals accepted human control and protection
in exchange for a ready supply of food. Differences between the bones of wild and
newly tamed species are too slight to date domestication precisely. However, selective
breeding for desirable characteristics such as high milk production and long wooly coat
eventually led to clearly distinct breeds of sheep and goats.
Elsewhere, other animal species were domesticated during the centuries before 3000
B.C.E. Wild cattle were domesticated in northern Africa or the Middle East; donkeys in
northern Africa: water buffalo in China; and humped-back Zebu cattle in India. As in the
case of food plants, varieties of domesticated animals spread from one region to
another. Zebu cattle, for example, grew important in sub-Saharan Africa after about two
thousand years ago.
Once cattle became tame enough to be yoked to plows, they became essential to
successful grain production. In addition, animal droppings provided valuable fertilizer.
These developments and the widespread use of wool and milk from domesticated
animals occurred much later than initial domestication. However, there were two notable
deviations from the pattern of mixed agriculture and animal husbandry. One variation
was in the Americas. There, comparatively few species of wild animals were suitable for
domestication, and domesticated animals could not be borrowed from elsewhere
because the land bridge to Asia had submerged as melting glaciers raised sea levels.
Domesticated llamas provided transport and wool, while guinea pigs and turkeys
furnished meat. Hunting remained the most important source of meat for Amerindians.
The other notable variation from mixed farming occurred in the more arid parts of Africa
and Central Asia. There, pastoralism, a way of life dependent on large herds of small
and large stock, predominated. As the Sahara approached its maximum dryness around
2500 B.C.E., pastoralists replaced farmers, who migrated southward. Moving their
herds to new pastures and watering places throughout the year made pastoralists
almost as mobile as foragers and discouraged accumulation of bulky possessions and
construction of substantial dwellings. Like modern pastoralists, early cattle-keeping
people probably relied more heavily on milk than on meat, since killing animals
diminished the size of their herds. During wet seasons, they may also have done some
hasty crop cultivation or bartered meat and skins for plant foods with nearby farming
Agriculture and Ecological Crisis
Why did the Agricultural Revolutions occur? Some theories assume that people were
drawn to food production by its obvious advantages. For example, it has recently been
suggested that people in the Middle East might have settled down so they could grow
enough grains to ensure themselves a ready supply of beer. Beer drinking is frequently
depicted in ancient Middle Eastern art and can be dated to as early as 3500 B.C.E.
However, most researchers today believe that climate change drove people to abandon
hunting and gathering in favor of agriculture or pastoralism. Temperatures warmed so
much at the end of the Great Ice Age that geologists give the era since about 9000
B.C.E. a new name: the Holocene. There is evidence that temperate lands were
exceptionally warm between 6000 and 2000 B.C.E., the era when people in many parts
of the world adopted agriculture. The precise nature of the crisis probably varied.
Shortages of wild food in the Middle East caused by a dry spell or population growth
may have prodded people to take up food production. Elsewhere, a warmer, wetter
climate could turn grasslands into forest, thereby reducing supplies of game and wild
Additional support for an ecological explanation comes from the fact that in many drier
parts of the world, where wild food remained abundant, people did not take up
agriculture. The inhabitants of Australia continued to rely exclusively on foraging until
recent centuries, as did some peoples on all the other continents. Many Amerindians in
the arid grasslands from Alaska to the Gulf of Mexico hunted bison, while in the Pacific
Northwest others took up salmon-fishing. Abundant supplies of fish, shellfish, and
aquatic animals permitted food gatherers east of the Mississippi River to become
increasingly sedentary. In Africa conditions favored retention of the older ways in the
equatorial rain forest and in the southern part of the continent. The reindeer-based
societies of northern Eurasia were also unaffected by the spread of farming. Whatever
the causes, the gradual adoption of food production transformed most parts of the
world. A hundred thousand years ago there were fewer than 2 million people, and their
range was largely confined to the temperate and tropical regions of Africa and Eurasia.
The population may have fallen even lower during the last glacial epoch, between
32,000 and 13,000 years ago. Then, as the glaciers retreated and people took up
agriculture, their numbers rose. World population may have reached 10 million by 5000
B.C.E. and then mush roomed to between 50 million and 100 million by 1000 B.C.E.
This increase led to important changes to social and cultural life.
Evidence that an ecological crisis may have driven people to food production has
prompted a reexamination of the assumption that farmers enjoyed better lives than
foragers. Modern studies demonstrate that food producers have to work much harder
and for much longer periods than do food gatherers. This fact suggests that long days
spent clearing and cultivating the land no doubt yielded meager harvests. Guarding
herds from wild predators, guiding them to fresh pastures, and tending to their many
needs imposed similar burdens.
Early farmers were less likely to starve because they could store food between harvests
to tide people over seasonal changes and short-term droughts, but their diet was less
varied and nutritious than that of foragers. Skeletal remains show that Neolithic farmers
were shorter on average than earlier food-gathering peoples. Farmers were also more
likely to die at an earlier age because people in permanent settlements were more
exposed to diseases. Their water was contaminated by human waste; disease-hearing
vermin and insects infested their bodies and homes; and they could catch new diseases
from their domesticated animals (especially pigs and cattle).
So how did farmers displace foragers? Some researchers have envisioned a violent
struggle between practitioners of the two ways of life; others have argued for a more
peaceful transition. Some violence was likely, especially as the amount of cleared land
reduced the wild foods available to foragers. Conflicts among farmers for control of the
best land must also have occurred. In most cases, however, farmers seem to have
displaced foragers by gradual infiltration rather than by conquest.
The key to the food producers' expansion may have been the simple fact that their small
surpluses gave them a long-term advantage in population growth by ensuring slightly
higher survival rates during times of drought or other crisis. The respected archaeologist
Colin Renfrew argues, for example, that over a few centuries farming-population
densities in Europe could have increased by a factor of fifty to one hundred. In his view,
as population densities rose, individuals who had to farm at a great distance from their
native village would have formed a new farming settlement on the outskirts. A steady,
nonviolent expansion of only 12 to 19 miles (20 to 30 kilometers) a generation could
have repopulated the whole of Europe from Greece to Britain between 6500 and 3500
B.C.E. The process would have been so gradual that it need not have provoked any
sharp conflicts with existing foragers, who simply could have stayed clear of the
agricultural frontier or gradually adopted agriculture themselves. New studies that map
genetic changes also support the hypothesis of a gradual spread of agricultural people
across Europe from southeast to northwest.
Like forager bands, the expanding farming communities were organized around kinship
and marriage. Nuclear families (parents and their children) probably lived in separate
households but felt great solidarity with all those who were related to them by descent
from common ancestors several generations back. These kinship units, known as
lineages or clans, acted together to defend their common interests and land.
Even if one assumes stable marriage patterns, tracing descent is a complex matter.
Because each person has two parents four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, and
so on, each individual has a bewildering number of ancestors. Some societies trace
descent equally through both parents, but most give greater importance to descent
through either the mother (matrilineal societies) or the father (patrilineal societies).
Some scholars have argued that very ancient peoples traced descent through women
and may have been ruled by women. For example, the traditions of Kikuyu farmers on
Mount Kenya in East Africa relate that women ruled until the Kikuyu men conspired to
get all the women pregnant at once and then overthrew them while the women were
unable to fight back. No evidence exists to prove or disprove legends such as this, but it
is important not to confuse tracing descent through women (matrilineality) with the rule
of women (matriarchy).
Cultural Expressions
Kinship systems influenced early agricultural people's out look on the world. When old
persons died, their burials might be occasions for elaborate ceremonies that expressed
their descendants' group solidarity. Plastered skulls found in the ancient city of Jericho
may be evidence of such early ancestor reverence or worship. A society's religious
beliefs tend to reflect relations to nature. The religions of food gatherers tended to
center on sacred groves, springs, and wild animals. Pastoralists tended to worship the
Sky God who controlled the rains and guided their migrations. In contrast, the religious
activities of many farming communities centered on the Earth Mother, a female deity
believed to be the source of all new life, and on other gods and goddesses representing
fire, wind, and rain.
The story in an ancient Hindu text about the burn lug of a large forest near modern
India's capital, New Delhi, may preserve a memory of the conflict between old and new
beliefs. In the story the gods Krishna and Arjuna are picnicking in the forest when Agni,
the fire god, appears in disguise and asks them to satisfy his hunger by burning the
forest and every creature in it. As interpreted by some scholars, this story portrays both
the clearing of the land for cultivation and the destruction of the wildlife on which food
gatherers depended.
The worship of ancestors, gods of the heavens, and earthly nature and fertility deities
varied from place to place, and many societies combined the different elements in their
religious practices. A recently discovered complex of stone structures in the Egyptian
desert that was in use by 5000 B.C.E. includes burial chambers presumably for
ancestors, a calendar circle, and pairs of upright stones that frame the rising sun on the
summer solstice. The calendar and the structure aligned with the solstice reflect a
strong devotion to the cycle of the seasons and knowledge of how they were linked to
the movement of heavenly bodies. Other megaliths (meaning "big stones") were erected
elsewhere. Observation and worship of the sun are evident at the famous Stonehenge
monolithic site in England, which was constructed about 2000 B.C.E. Megalithic burial
chambers dating from 4000 B.C.E. are evidence of ancestor rituals in western and
southern Europe. The early ones appear to have been communal burial chambers,
which descent groups may have erected to mark their claims to farmland. In the Middle
East, the Americas, and other parts of the world, giant earth burial mounds may have
served similar functions.
Another fundamental cultural contribution of the Neolithic period was the dissemination
of the large language families that form the basis of most languages spoken today. The
root language of the giant Endo-European language family (from which the Germanic,
Romance, and Celtic languages are derived) arose around 5000 B.C.E. Its westward
spread across Europe may have been the work of pioneering agriculturalists. In the
course of this very gradual expansion, Celtic, Germanic, Slavic, and Romance
languages developed. Similarly, the Afro-Asiatic language family of the Middle East and
northern Africa may have been the result of the food producers' expansion, as might the
spread of the Sino-Tibetan family in East and Southeast Asia.
Early Towns and Specialists
Most early farmers lived in small villages, but in some geographically favored parts of
the world a few villages grew into towns, which were centers of trade and specialized
crafts. These towns had elaborate dwellings and ceremonial buildings, as well as many
large structures for storing surplus food until the next harvest. Baskets and other woven
containers held dry foods; pottery jugs, jars, and pots stored liquids. Residents could
make most of these structures and objects in their spare time, but in large communities
some craft specialists devoted their full time to making products of unusual complexity
or beauty.
Two towns in the Middle East that have been extensively excavated are Jericho on the
west bank of the Jordan River and Çatal Hüyük in central Anatolia (modern Turkey).
The excavations at Jericho revealed an unusually large and elaborate early agricultural
settlement. The round, mud-brick dwellings characteristic of Jericho around 8000 B.C.E.
may have been modeled on the tents of hunters who once had camped near Jericho's
natural spring. A millennium later, rectangular rooms with finely plastered walls and
floors and wide doorways opened onto central courtyards. A massive stone wall
surrounding the 10-acre (4-hectare) settlement helped defend it against attacks.
The ruins of Çatal Hüyük, an even larger Neolithic town, date to between 7000 and
5000 B.C.E. and cover 32 acres (13 hectares). Its residents also occupied plastered
mud-brick rooms with elaborate decorations, but Çatal Hüyük had no defensive wall.
Instead, the outer walls of the town‘s houses formed a continuous barrier without doors
or large windows, so invaders would have found it difficult to break in. Residents
entered their house by means of ladders through holes in the roof.
Çatal Hüyük prospered from long-distance trade in obsidian, a hard volcanic rock that
craftspeople skillfully chipped, ground, and polished into tools, weapons, mirrors, and
ornaments. Other residents made fine pottery, wove baskets and woolen cloth, made
stone and shell beads, and worked leather and wood. House sizes varied, but there is
no evidence that Çatal Hüyük had a dominant class or a centralized political structure.
Agriculture was the basis of Çatal Hüyük‘s existence. Fields around the town produced
crops of barley and emmer wheat, as well as legumes and other vegetables. Pigs were
kept along with goats and sheep. Yet wild foods still featured prominently in the diet of
the towns residents. Archaeologists have dug up remains of acorns, wild grains, and
wild game animals.
Representational art at Çatal Hüyük makes it clear that hunting retained a powerful hold
on people's minds. Elaborate wall paintings of hunting scenes are remarkably similar to
earlier cave paintings. Scenes depict men or women adorned with the skins of wild
leopards. Also, men were buried with weapons of war and hunting, not with the tools of
Perhaps the most striking finds at Çatal Hüyük are those that reveal religious practices.
There is a religious shrine for every two houses. At least forty rooms contain shrines
with depictions of horned wild bulls, female breasts, goddesses, leopards, and
handprints. Rituals involved burning grains, legumes, and meat as offerings, but there is
no evidence of live animal sacrifice. Statues of plump female deities far outnumber
statues of male deities, suggesting that the inhabitants venerated a goddess as their
principal deity. The site's principal excavator believed that, although male priests
existed, "it seems extremely likely that the cult of the goddess was administered mainly
by women."
Metalworking became an important specialized occupation in the late Neolithic period.
At Çatal Hüyük objects of copper and lead – metals that occur naturally in a fairly pure
form – can be dated to about 6400 B.C.E. In many parts of the world silver and gold
were also worked at an early date. Because of their rarity and their softness, those
metals did not replace stone tools and weapons but instead were used primarily to
make decorative or ceremonial objects. The discovery of many such objects in graves
suggests they were symbols of status and power.
Towns, specialized crafts, and elaborate religious shrines added to the workload of
agriculturalists. Extra food had to be produced for nonfarmers such as priests and
artisans. Added labor was needed to build permanent houses, town walls, and towers,
not to mention megalithic monuments. Stonehenge, for example, may have taken
30,000 person-hours to build. It is not known whether these tasks were performed freely
or coerced.
HW # 6: Migration and Language
Read the below.
1. What are the different vehicles for the spread of language among human cultures?
2. How have advances in genetics aided in the study of the historical development of
3. What are some of the most important languages in the modern day Indo-European
language family? According to historical linguists, how did the Indo-European family
of languages develop?
4. How did the Bantu language family develop? Why do scientists think that the Bantu
languages never reached down to the southern most part of Africa?
5. What is cultural diffusion? Why are scientists now concluding that cultural diffusion,
rather than independent invention, may have played a greater role in the
development of written language than previously thought?
6. The South African writer Nadine Gordimer has said ―Conservative, liberal and left
wing thinkers in contemporary schools of linguistics agree about one thing: man
became man not by the tool but by the Word. It is not walking upright and using a
stick to dig for food or strike a blow that makes a human being; it is speech. And
neither intelligent apes nor dolphins whispering in the ocean share with us the ability
to transform this direct communication and commune between peoples and
generations who will never meet.‖ Do you think Gordimer is right that it is language
which distinguishes homo sapiens from other species? To what extent is our sense
of human community and history dependent upon language?
World's Farmers Sowed Languages as Well as Seeds
By Nicholas Wade
New York Times: May 6, 2003
The homelands of the Indo-European languages stretch from Dublin to Delhi. But
Hadza, a tongue that is one of a kind, is spoken by just 1,000 people near Lake Eyasi in
Tanzania. Why do the world's languages have so uneven a distribution pattern?
Two researchers theorize that much of the answer has to do with events that began
10,000 years ago, as crop plants were domesticated in different regions.
The invention of agriculture has long been invoked to explain the spread of the IndoEuropean languages. Now, Dr. Jared Diamond of the University of California at Los
Angeles and Dr. Peter Bellwood of the Australian National University in Canberra have
applied the concept to 15 major language families. Their article appeared in the April 25
issue of Science.
The premise is that when humans lived as hunters and gatherers, their populations
were small, because wild game and berries can support only so many people. But after
an agriculture system was devised, populations expanded, displacing the huntergatherers around them and taking their language with them.
On this theory, whatever language happened to be spoken in a region where a crop
plant was domesticated expanded along with the farmers who spoke it.
Even if the farmers interbred with the hunter-gatherers whose land they took over,
genes can mix, but languages cannot. So the hunter-gatherers would in many cases
have adopted the farmers' language. That is why languages ''record these processes of
demographic expansion more clearly than the genes,'' Dr. Bellwood said.
One of the clearest expansions, perhaps because it occurred most recently, can be
found in the 1,436 languages in the Niger-Congo or Bantu family, the world's largest.
About 5,000 years ago, Bantu speakers in western Africa who cultivated the yam
started spreading out from their homeland. One group traveled south, the other first east
to the Great Lakes and then south. The two migrations spread the Bantu languages
through a third of the continent, displacing the Khoisan, or click-language speakers, who
were hunter-gatherers.
The agricultural regions of China made up the homelands of three major families, Dr.
Diamond and Dr. Bellwood wrote. One was Austro-Asiatic, which includes a swath of
languages now spoken in Cambodia, southern China, India, Malaya and Thailand.
Another was the Tai group, which includes Lao and Thai. A third was the Sino-Tibetan
In the New World, the farmers who domesticated maize and beans in Mexico expanded
northward to the area that became the southwestern United States, spreading the UtoAztecan family of languages.
Austronesian, a group of 1,236 languages, is the second largest, after the Niger-Congo.
The founder language was spoken by rice growers in southern China who colonized
Taiwan before 3000 B.C. and spread through Polynesia, reaching New Zealand by A.D.
The Science article endorses a bold suggestion for the origin of Japanese. The writers
say it is derived from the language of rice farmers who arrived from Korea around 400
B.C. and spread their agriculture northward from a southern island, Kyushu. Modern
Japanese is not at all like Korean. But Korea had three ancient kingdoms, each with its
own language. Modern Korean derived from the ancient Sillan. Japanese may have
evolved from another ancient Korean language, Koguryo, the article says. Just as China
was a powerhouse of new language families in the East, the Fertile Crescent, the arc
running through Lebanon and through Iraq, was the source of at least three major
language families in the West, the authors say.
One was Dravidian, a language family now centered on southern India. A second was
the Indo-European family, which includes English, French and German in its Western
branch and Iranian and Hindi in its Eastern branches. A third may have been AfroAsiatic, a family that includes ancient Egyptian and Semitic languages like Arabic and
The best-known movements of people are those of conquering armies like the
Mongols, who overran much of Eurasia. But soldiers are often too few in number to
impress their language on a population. The Mongols, because of their rulers' harems,
left behind many more genes than conquering armies usually do, but their language
vanished from their conquered territories.
―These early language spreads were essentially driven by demographic processes, or
colonization, to use another word,‖ Dr. Bellwood said.
Dr. Diamond said that agriculture did not drive all language expansions – the Inuit's
spread across the Arctic is an example of that – but that ―for most of the widespread
language families the driving force for the spread has been agricultural.‖
Dr. Diamond said the new theory also predicted that expansions would occur more
easily on an east-west axis than a north-south axis because the crop plants on which an
agriculture depends tend to be able to grow only at particular latitudes.
As to one obvious exception, the Bantu expansion southward from West Africa, Dr.
Diamond said the Bantu speakers had remained in tropical Africa and had indeed failed
to penetrate the temperate zones of southern Africa, meaning that they were not
present at the Cape of Good Hope when the Europeans arrived.
Dr. Diamond is a physiologist with an interest in human origins, and Dr. Bellwood is an
archaeologist who specializes in southeastern Asia. Their synthesis spans the fields of
many specialists who are unlikely to agree with every detail.
Dr. Christopher Ehret of U.C.L.A., an expert in the history of African languages, said the
authors had overstated the role of agriculture in explaining the pattern of language
―In reality, the spread of language families has come about for different reasons in
different times and places, but one of the causes has sometimes been the development
of agriculture,‖ Dr. Ehret said.
He said he did not agree with Dr. Bellwood that the Indo-European languages had
been spread by farming. Linguistic evidence shows the speakers of the ancestral IndoEuropean tongue knew of wheels and kept horses in years around 4,500-3,500 B.C.E.,
but agriculture had spread to Europe at least 2,500 years previously, Dr. Ehret said.
He also disagreed that the Afro-Asiatic languages were spread by farmers from the
Fertile Crescent. Afro-Asiatic arose in northeastern Africa 13,000 years ago. The
Semitic branch spread to southwestern Asia 5,000 years ago, Dr. Ehret has written, with
two much more recent back migrations, giving rise to the Amharic language of Ethiopia
and the Arab languages of North Africa.
But Dr. Colin Renfrew, an archaeologist at Cambridge University, said although he
disagreed with Dr. Diamond on some aspects of Indo-European, ―I expect that his
synthesis will be useful.‖
And Dr. Merritt Ruhlen of Stanford, an expert on language families, said the two authors
had put together a ―very useful overview.‖
The Origin of the Europeans: Combining Genetics and Archaeology, Scientists
Rough Out Continent's 50,000-Year-Old Story
By Nicholas Wade
November 14, 2000 New York Times
From what had seemed like irreversible oblivion, archaeologists and population
geneticists believe they are on the verge of retrieving a record of human history
stretching back almost 50,000 years.
The record, built on a synthesis of archaeological and genetic data, would be a bare
bones kind of history without individual names or deeds. But it could create a chronicle
of events, however sketchy, between the dawn of the human species at least 50,000
years ago and the beginning of recorded history in 3,500 B.C. The events would be the
dated migrations of people from one region to another, linked with the archaeological
cultures and perhaps with development of the world's major language groups.
The new element in this synthesis is the increasing power of geneticists to look back in
time and trace the history of past populations from analysis of the DNA of people alive
―It is astonishing how much archaeology is beginning to learn from genetics,‖ Dr. Colin
Renfrew, a leading archaeologist at the University of Cambridge in England, said at a
conference on human origins held last month at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on
Long Island.
In one of the most detailed genetic reconstructions of population history so far, Dr.
Martin Richards of the University of Huddersfield in England and many colleagues have
traced the remarkably ancient ancestry of the present-day population of Europe.
Some 6 percent of Europeans are descended from the continent's first founders, who
entered Europe from the Near East in the Upper Paleolithic era 45,000 years ago, Dr.
Richards calculates. The descendants of these earliest arrivals are still more numerous
in certain regions of Europe that may have provided them with refuge from subsequent
waves of immigration. One is the mountainous Basque country, where people still speak
a language completely different from all other European languages. Another is in the
European extreme of Scandinavia. Another 80 percent arrived 30,000 to 20,000 years
ago, before the peak of the last glaciation, and 10 percent came in the Neolithic 10,000
years ago, when the ice age ended and agriculture was first introduced to Europe from
the Near East.
It used to be thought that the most important human dispersals occurred in the
Neolithic, prompted by the population increases made possible by the invention of
agriculture. But it now seems that the world filled up early and the first inhabitants were
quite resistant to displacement by later arrivals.
Dr. Richards's estimates, reported in the current issue of The American Journal of
Human Genetics, are based on analysis of mitochondrial DNA, a genetic element that
occurs in both men and women but that is transmitted only through the mother; thus,
they reflect only the movement of women.
The movement of men can be followed through analysis of the Y chromosome, but the
Y chromosome is harder to work with and data are only just now becoming available. In
an article in the current issue of Science, Dr. Peter A. Underhill of Stanford University
and colleagues reported the first analysis of the European population in terms of the Y
chromosome. Although this agrees with the mitochondrial DNA findings in major outline,
suggesting that Europe was populated mostly in the Paleolithic period with additions in
the Neolithic, there are some points of difference.
The earliest migration into Europe according to mitochondrial DNA took place from the
Near East 45,000 years ago, but Dr. Underhill and his colleagues said they could see
no corresponding migration in the Y chromosome data.
They have found a very ancient Y chromosome mutation that occurs in Siberia as well
as Europe. They boldly link this mutation with the bearers of the Aurignacian culture
who entered Europe 40,000 years ago. The culture appears in Siberia at about the
same time, as if these early people had spread both east and west.
Dr. Underhill and his colleagues associate another mutation, which is common in India,
Pakistan and Central Asia as well as Europe, with the people of the Kurgan culture who,
according to one theory, expanded from southern Ukraine and spread the IndoEuropean languages.
Dr. Underhill's report tries to make the grand synthesis between archaeological and
genetic data, but it will probably be some time before the specialists in each area agree
on how the two types of data should be associated.
―It is very exciting that the geneticists now have internal dating procedures, but really I
think the dates are very loose indeed,‖ Dr. Renfrew said in an interview.
Geneticists believe that the world outside Africa was populated by the migration of a
very small number of people who left east Africa about 50,000 years ago. These
modern humans, with their more advanced and inventive culture, are thought to have
displaced the archaic hominids like the Neanderthals, which had emigrated from Africa
many thousands of years earlier.
These Paleolithic populations created sophisticated stone tools and left evidence of
their advanced culture in the cave paintings of southern France, dating to at least
30,000 years ago. Although anatomically modern humans first appear in Africa about
150,000 years ago, their archaeological remains show little sign of modern human
Dr. Richard Klein, an archaeologist at Stanford University, has suggested that some
genetic change, perhaps as profound as the invention of language, occurred in Africa
around 50,000 years ago, and that it was these behaviorally modern humans who both
spread within Africa and populated the rest of the globe.
This thesis was challenged at the Cold Spring Harbor conference by two archaeologists,
Dr. Sally McBrearty of the University of Connecticut and Dr. Alison Brooks of George
Washington University. They argued that each of the components said to characterize
the Paleolithic revolution in human behavior, like stone blades, long distance trade and
art, can be found in Africa at earlier dates.
―So all the behaviors of the Upper Paleolithic have an African pedigree,‖ Dr. McBrearty
said. The behaviors were gradually assembled as a package and exported, ―which is
why it appears suddenly in Europe 40,000 years ago,‖ she said.
Dr. Klein said in an interview that he doubted some of the early dates proposed by Dr.
McBrearty and Dr. Brooks, and that even if the dates were correct, modern behaviors
conferred such an advantage that they should appear in a broad pattern, not just at the
handful of places cited by his critics. To understand what happened in the past, it is
necessary to look for patterns and ignore the ―noise,‖ he said.
The synthesis of archaeology with population genetics may provide a basis into which a
third discipline can join, that of historical linguistics. Most linguists insist that languages
change so rapidly that their roots cannot reliably be traced further back than 5,000
years. Only a few, like Dr. Joseph Greenberg of Stanford, believe that some elements of
language remain constant, enough to reconstruct all the world's languages into just 14
superfamilies of a much great antiquity.
The signature of these ancient superfamilies can be seen in the geographic distribution
of languages, Dr. Renfrew said. In some areas of the world, like the Caucasus, New
Guinea and South America, there are many language families packed into a small area,
which he called a mosaic zone. In other areas, a single language family covers a broad
area or spread zone. The Indo-European languages, which stretch from Europe to
India, are one such example. Another is Afro-Asiatic, the superfamily that includes the
languages of Ethiopia and Somalia and Semitic languages like Arabic and Hebrew.
The spread zones, Dr. Renfrew said, are mostly the result of recent dispersals caused
by agricultural inventions. The mosaic zones ―may be those of the first humans to
occupy those areas, at least in Australia and America,‖ he said.
The language spoken by the ancestral human population may never be known, though
Dr. Greenberg has tried to reconstruct a few words of it. But some linguists who study
the click languages of southern Africa feel they are very ancient. This belief is supported
by genetic evidence showing that the Khoisan peoples, the principal speakers of click
languages, belong to the most ancient of all the human lineages, based on
mitochondrial DNA.
Dr. Anthony Traill, a click language expert at the University of the Witwatersrand in
Johannesburg, said that linguistically the languages fell into three separate groups
whose relationship, aside from the clicks, was hard to establish. The clicks must be
ancient, he said, because ―the chances of clicks being invented after being lost is zero.‖
The only use of clicks outside of Africa is in an Australian aboriginal initiation languages
in which the clicks are used as meaningless sounds.
―The idea that clicks were lost from all languages other than Khoisan,‖ Dr. Traill said, ―is
stimulating, but I don't know what to make of it.‖
Of the three disciplines that bear on human origins – historical linguistics, population
genetics and archaeology – only archaeology has a rock-solid method of dating, based
on radiocarbon and other kinds of radioactive decay.
But geneticists are now improving their dating methods, even though the dates are still
very approximate, to the point that they can begin to correlate their findings with the
archaeologists'. The geneticists' first foray into human prehistory was the famous
―mitochondrial Eve‖ article of 1987 by the late Allan Wilson, showing that when people
around the world were placed on a family tree constructed from their mitochondrial
DNA, the tree was rooted in African populations, in an individual who lived about
200,000 years ago.
Though the methodology of the paper was imperfect, its result was unchanged after the
method had been corrected, and geneticists have developed a growing confidence in
mitochondrial DNA dates. The mitochondrial DNA trees trace back to a single individual,
not because there was only one Eve – the ancestral human population is thought to
have contained about 10,000 people – but because the lineages of all the other Eves
have gone extinct. The process is easy to visualize by thinking of an island population
with 10 surnames. In each generation, some men will have no children or only
daughters and their surnames will disappear until only one is left; the Y chromosome
and mitochondrial DNA follow the same pattern.
The first major branch points in the mitochondrial Eve tree have been called the
daughters of Eve and they fall in a geographic pattern with some daughters of Eve
being characteristic of Africa, some of Asia and the Americas and some of Europe and
the Near East.
Dr. Richards and his colleagues have analyzed the ancestry of the present European
population by looking within the major daughter of Eve branches for subbranches that
occur both in Europe and the Near East, from western Iran through Turkey and Arabia
to Egypt, because the Near East is the probable source of most of the ancestral
populations that entered Europe.
The subbranches from each region were then dated by counting the number of
mutations that had occurred in the mitochondrial DNA sequence from the beginning of
the subbranch until today. If the subbranch was older in the Near East than Europe, it
indicated a migration into Europe. By this method Dr. Richards's team was able to date
the migrations into Europe. They also picked up a sizable back-migration from Europe
to the Near East.
The geneticists working on the Y chromosome may eventually be able to date
migrations with similar precision. The major class of mutation on the Y is so rare that the
ticks of the mutation clock are too many thousands of years apart to be reliably
averaged. But a second kind of mutation occurs more rapidly and the combination of the
two may make a reasonable clock.
Analysis of the Y chromosome has already yielded interesting results. Dr. Ariella
Oppenheim of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem said she had found considerable
similarity between Jews and Israeli and Palestinian Arabs, as if the Y chromosomes of
both groups had been drawn from a common population that began to expand 7,800
years ago.
In the middle ages, the Vikings settled in Greenland but contact with their colonies was
lost at the beginning of the 15th century. In 1720, by which time the Danes had long
become Protestants, there arose considerable concern that the missing colonists, if they
still existed, would be Roman Catholics and in need of conversion. An expedition was
sent to Greenland but found only ruined houses and Eskimos. Did the Vikings perish or
intermarry? An analysis of Greenlanders' mitochondrial DNA shows only genetic
signatures typical of the New World, and it indicates their unalloyed descent from
Eskimos of Alaska. ―It looks bad for the Vikings,‖ said Dr. Peter Forster of the University
of Cambridge, a co-author of the study.
Dr. Douglas Wallace of Emory University, who pioneered the use of mitochondrial DNA
to analyze human origins, said of the emerging type of analysis: ―The Y chromosome
has a great future. But it is a very new technology.‖
Mummies, Textiles Offer Evidence Of Europeans in Far East
By John Noble Wilford
New York Times: May 7, 1996
In the first millennium C.E., people living at oases along the legendary Silk Road in what
is now northwest China wrote in a language quite unlike any other in that part of the
world. They used one form of the language in formal Buddhist writings, another for
everyday religious and commercial affairs, including caravan passes.
Little was known of these desert people, and nothing of their language, until French and
German explorers arrived on the scene at the start of this century. They discovered
manuscripts in the now-extinct language, which scholars called Tocharian and later
were astonished to learn bore striking similarities to Celtic and Germanic tongues. How
did a branch of the Indo-European family of languages come to be in use so long ago in
such a distant and seemingly isolated enclave of the Eurasian land mass?
More surprises were in store. In the last two decades, Chinese archeologists digging in
the same region, the Tarim Basin in Xinjiang Province, have uncovered more than 100
naturally mummified corpses of people who lived there 4,000 to 2,400 years ago. The
bodies were amazingly well preserved by the arid climate, and archeologists could
hardly believe what they saw. The long noses and skulls, blond or brown hair, thin lips
and deep-set eyes of most of the corpses were all unmistakably Caucasian features –
more specifically, European.
Who were these people? Could they be ancestors of the later inhabitants who had an
Indo-European language? Where did these ancient people come from, and when? By
reconstructing some of their history, could scholars finally identify the homeland of the
original Indo-European speakers?
Linguists, archeologists, historians, molecular biologists and other scholars have joined
forces in search of answers to these questions. They hope that the answers will yield a
better understanding of the dynamics of Eurasian prehistory, the early interactions of
distant cultures and the spread of kindred tongues that make up Indo-European, the
family of languages spoken in nearly all of Europe, much of India and Pakistan and
some other parts of Asia – and elsewhere in the world, as a result of Western
At a three-day international conference here last month, scholars shared their
preliminary findings and hypotheses about how the Tocharian language and the Tarim
Basin mummies might contribute to a solution to the Indo-European mysteries. The
meeting, held at the University of Pennsylvania Museum, was organized by Dr. Victor H.
Mair, a specialist in ancient Asian languages and cultures at the university. Some of the
most recent research has been described in the current issue of The Journal of IndoEuropean Studies.
Dr. Mair, who has spent several seasons in Xinjiang with groups studying the mummies
and artifacts, said there was growing optimism that some important revelations might be
at hand through genetic studies, a reinterpretation of ancient Chinese texts and art, and
a closer examination of textiles, pottery and bronze pieces.
―Because the Tarim Basin Caucasoid corpses are almost certainly the most easterly
representatives of the Indo-European family and because they date from a time period
that is early enough to have a bearing on the expansion of the Indo-European people
from their homeland,‖ Dr. Mair said, ―it is thought they will play a crucial role in
determining just where that might have been.‖
The tenor of discussions at the conference also reflected a critical philosophical shift
that could affect attitudes toward other research problems in archeology and prehistory.
Most participants invoked without apology the concept of cultural diffusion to explain
many discoveries in the Tarim Basin.
For several decades, beginning in the 1960's, cultural diffusion was out of fashion as an
explanation for affinities among widely scattered societies. The emphasis, instead, was
on independent invention, and archeologists were often rebuked if they strayed from
this new orthodoxy, which arose in part as a reaction to the political imperialism that
often ignored or belittled the histories and accomplishments of subject lands. The
Chinese, moreover, had long discouraged research on outside cultural influences,
believing that the origins of their civilization had been entirely internal and independent.
But Dr. Michael Puett, a historian of East Asian civilizations at Harvard University, said
the research on the Tocharians, the mummies and related artifacts revealed clear
processes of diffusion. ―Diffusionism needs to be taken seriously again,‖ he said. Dr.
Colin Renfrew, an influential archeologist at Cambridge University in England, made a
point of endorsing this view.
Almost a century of studying the Tocharian manuscripts, dated between the sixth and
eighth centuries A.D., has convinced linguists that the language represents an
extremely early branching off the original, or proto-Indo-European, language. ―That's the
working hypothesis, at least for the moment,‖ said Dr. Donald Ringe, a linguist at the
University of Pennsylvania.
In that case, the people who came to speak Tocharian might have stemmed from one of
the first groups to venture away from the Indo-European homeland, developing a
daughter language in isolation. The fact that Tocharian in some respects resembles
Celtic and Germanic languages does not necessarily mean that they split off together,
scholars said, or that Tocharian speakers originated in northern or western Europe.
Tocharian also shares features with Hittite, an extinct Indo-European language that was
spoken in what is now Turkey.
One hypothesis gaining favor is that this scattering of Indo-European speakers began
with the introduction of wheeled wagons, which gave these herders greater mobility.
Working with Russian archeologists, Dr. David W. Anthony, an anthropologist at
Hartwick College in Oneonta, N.Y., has discovered traces of wagon wheels in 5,000year-old burial mounds on the steppes of southern Russia and Kazakhstan. Many
scholars suspect that this region is the most likely candidate for the Indo-European
homeland, though others argue for places considerably to the east or west or on the
Anatolian plain of Turkey.
The possible importance of the wheel in Indo-European diffusion has been supported by
evidence that wagons and chariots were introduced into China from the West. Wheels
similar to those in use in western Asia and Europe in the third and second millenniums
B.C. have been found in graves in the Gobi Desert, northeast of the Tarim Basin, and
dated to the late second millennium B.C. Ritual horse burials similar to those in ancient
Ukraine have been excavated in the Tarim Basin.
Linguists concede that their analyses of the ancient language will not produce answers
to many of the questions about the Tocharians and their ancestors. Archeologists are
more hopeful, with the mummy discoveries reviving their interest in the quest.
Early in this century, explorers and archeologists turned up a few mummies in the sands
of China's western desert. One reminded them of a Welsh or Irish woman, and another
reminded them of a Bohemian burgher. But these mummies, not much more than 2,000
years old, were dismissed as the bodies of isolated Europeans who had happened to
stray into the territory and so were of no cultural or historical significance.
But no one could ignore the more recent mummy excavations, from cemeteries ranging
over a distance of 500 miles. Not only were they well preserved and from an earlier
time, but the mummies were also splendidly attired in colorful robes, trousers, boots,
stockings, coats and hats. Some of the hats were conical, like a witch's hat. The grave
goods included few weapons and little evidence of social stratification. Could this have
been a relatively peaceful and egalitarian society?
One of the most successful excavators of mummies is Dr. Dolkun Kamberi, a visiting
scholar at the University of Pennsylvania. He is a member of the dominant Turkicspeaking Muslim ethnic group in the Tarim Basin today, the Uighurs (pronounced WEgurs). They moved to the area in the eighth century, supplanting the Tocharians, though
Dr. Kamberi's fair skin and light brown hair suggests a mixing of Tocharian and Uighur
His most unforgettable discovery, Dr. Kamberi said, came in 1985 at Cherchen on the
southern edge of the Taklamakan Desert, an especially forbidding part of the Tarim
Basin. The site included several hundred tombs in the salty, sandy terrain. In one tomb,
he found the mummified corpse of an infant, probably no more than three months old at
death, wrapped in brown wool and with its eyes covered with small flat stones. Next to
the head was a drinking cup made from a bovine horn and an ancient ―baby bottle,‖
made from a sheep's teat that had been cut and sewn so it could hold milk.
In a larger tomb, Dr. Kamberi came upon the corpses of three women and one man.
The man, about 55 years old at death, was about six feet tall and had yellowish brown
hair that was turning white. One of the better-preserved women was close to six feet
tall, with yellowish-brown hair dressed in braids. Both were decorated with traces of
ocher facial makeup.
Among the other sites of mummy discoveries are cemeteries at Loulan, near the
seasonal lake of Lop Nor and outside the modern city of Hami. Dr. Han Kangxin, a
physical anthropologist at the Institute of Archeology in Beijing, has examined nearly all
the mummies and many other skulls. At the Lop Nor site, he determined that the skulls
were definitely of a European type and that some had what appeared to be Nordic
features. At Loulan, he observed that the skulls and mummies were primarily
Caucasian, though more closely related to Indo-Afghan types.
In nearly all cases, Dr. Han concluded, the earliest inhabitants of the region were almost
exclusively Caucasian; only later do mummies and skulls with Mongoloid features begin
to show up. At Hami, Caucasian and Mongoloid individuals shared the same burial
ground and, judging by their dress and grave goods, many of the same customs.
Scientists have so far been permitted to conduct genetic studies on only one sample,
from a 3,200-year-old Hami mummy. Although the recovered DNA samples were badly
degraded, Dr. Paolo Francalacci of the University of Sassari in Italy said that he had
been able to determine that the individual had belonged to an ancient European genetic
group. He emphasized that the findings were preliminary.
―You can look at the mummy and see it's Caucasoid,‖ Dr. Mair said. ―Now we have
genetic evidence. This is an important moment in our research.‖
The graves at Cherchen and Hami also produced the most intriguing textile samples
from the late second millennium B.C.E. One of the Hami fragments was a wool twill
woven with a plaid design, which required looms that had never before been associated
with China or eastern Central Asia at such an early date. Irene Good, a specialist in
textile archeology at the Pennsylvania museum, said that the plaid fabric was ―virtually
identical stylistically and technically to textile fragments‖ found in Austria and Germany
at sites from a somewhat later period, about 700 B.C.
Dr. Elizabeth J. W. Barber, a linguist and archeologist at Occidental College in Los
Angeles and the author of ―Prehistoric Textiles‖ (Princeton University Press, 1991), said
that plaid twills had first been discovered in the ruins of Troy, from about 2600 B.C.E.,
but had not been common in the Bronze Age. ―My impression,‖ she said, ―is that
weavers from the West came into the Tarim Basin in two waves, first from the west in
the early second millennium B.C.E. and then from the north several centuries later.‖
Other evidence also seems to point to multiple ancient migrations into the Tarim Basin.
―While it is clear that the early inhabitants of the Tarim Basin were primarily
Caucasoids,‖ Dr. Mair has written, ―it is equally clear that they did not all belong to a
single homogeneous group. Rather, they represent a variety of peoples who seem to
have connections with many far-flung parts of the Eurasian land mass for more than two
Whoever they were, scholars said, many of the earlier mummified people were probably
ancestors of the Tocharian speakers of the first millennium A.D. But no one knows if
those early people spoke Tocharian. As Dr. James Patrick Mallory, an archeologist at
Queen's University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, remarked, the mummies did not die
―with letters in their pockets.‖
With much arm waving in front of maps, scholars speculated on the routes that IndoEuropean speakers might have followed into the Tarim Basin. Perhaps the earliest
migrants, who looked most like Europeans, arrived from the north and northwest, over
the mountains from Siberia or Russia. Later migrants, Caucasians but with Indo-Iranian
affinities, could have moved in from the west and southwest.
After reviewing the many migration theories, including just about everything short of
prehistoric parachute drops, Dr. Mallory sensed the audience's growing perplexity. ―If
you are not confused now, you have not been paying attention,‖ he said.
One thing seemed clear to the scholars, however. Though East may be East, and West
may be West, the twain met often in early times and in places, like the bleak Tarim
Basin, that would have surprised Kipling. And these meetings did not begin with the Silk
Road, the transcontinental trade route that history books usually describe as opening in
the second century B.C. There never was a time, Dr. Mair said, ―when people were not
traveling back and forth across the whole of Eurasia.‖
Scholars doubt that these early movements usually took the form of mass migrations
over long distances. But after the introduction of wheeled vehicles, pastoral societies
could have begun extending their range over generations, coming into contact with
others and finding more promising niches far from their linguistic origins.
―For people not in a hurry,‖ said Dr. Denis Sinor, a historian at Indiana University in
Bloomington and editor of ―The Cambridge History of Early Inner Asia,‖ ―the Eurasian
continent was a very small world indeed.‖
In an article on the new research in the Indo-European journal, Dr. Mair wrote, ―I do not
contend that there were necessarily direct links stretching all the way from northwest
Europe to southeast Asia and from northeast Asia to the Mediterranean, but I do believe
that there is a growing mountain of hard evidence which indicates indubitably that the
whole of Eurasia was culturally and technologically interconnected.‖
Lesson 7
HW # 7: Traditional African Societies
Read WH, pp. 215-219 and the below.
1. How do the lgbo understand the relationship between the human and spiritual
2. How is animism different from the polytheism of the Igbo religion?
3. Why would traditional societies develop animist religions? What is the role of the
supreme god in their polytheistic theology?
4. What was the function of griots in traditional African societies? Are there any
equivalents of the griots in modern society?
The Worldview of the Igbo
Victor C. Uchendu, The Igbo of Southeast Nigeria. (New York: Holt, Rinehart and
Winston, 1965. pp. 11-13, 15-16, 94-95.)
Few primary sources survive for the ancient period in sub-Saharan Africa. Although it is
difficult to extrapolate the distant cast from contemporary oral traditions, we can get
some in sight into ancient understandings of the natural and spiritual realms from such
accounts. This excerpt on the world view of lgbo people in southeastern Nigeria was
compiled by an Igbo anthropologist, who summarized lgbo thought. Many Igbo
perspectives may well derive from the Nok and Bantu cultures, whose ancestral
homelands are near the region where the lgbo live today.
There is the world of man peopled by all created beings and things, both animate and
inanimate. The spirit world is the abode of the creator, the deities, the disembodied and
malignant spirits, and the ancestral spirits. It is the future abode of the living after their
death... Existence for the Igbo is a dual but interrelated phenomenon involving the
interaction between the material and the spiritual, the visible and the invisible, the good
and the bad, the living and the dead... The world of the "dead" is a world full of
activities... The principle of seniority makes the ancestors [in the world of the "dead" the
head of the extended kinship system in the world of man].
The world as a natural order which inexorably goes on its ordained way according to a
"master plan" is foreign to Igbo conceptions. Rather, their world is a dynamic one – a
world of moving equilibrium. It is an equilibrium that, is constantly threatened, and
sometimes actually disturbed by natural and social calamities... But the Igbo believe that
these social calamities and cosmic forces which disturb their world are controllable and
should be "manipulated" by them for their own purpose.
The maintenance of social and cosmological balance in the world becomes . . . a
dominant and pervasive theme in Igbo life. They achieve this balance... through
divination, sacrifice, and appeal to the countervailing forces of their ancestors... against
the powers of the malignant spirits... The Igbo world is not only a world in which people
strive for equality; it is one in which change is constantly expected... Life on earth is a
link in the chain of status hierarchy which culminates in the achievement of ancestral
honor in the world of the dead...
The idea of a creator of all things is focal to Igbo theology. They believe in a supreme
god, a high god, who is all good. The Igbo high god is a withdrawn god. He is a god who
has finished all active works of creation and keeps watch over his creatures from a
distance... Although the Igbo feel psychologically separated from their high god, he is
not too far away, he can be reached, but not as quickly as can other deities who must
render their services to man to justify their demand for sacrifices... Minor gods [can] be
controlled, manipulated, and used to further human interests... Given effective
protection, the Igbo are very faithful to their gods.
Lesson 8
What can proverbs tell us about traditional African cultures?
A proverb is a horse which can carry one swiftly to the discovery of ideas. [Yoruba]
African Proverb
Meaning of Proverb
Follow the customs of your father. What he did
not do, avoid doing, or you will harm yourself.
We call the dead – they answer. We call the
living – they do not answer. [Yoruba]
Cultural Value:
The young can not teach tradition to the old.
An old man is put into a boat not to row, but to
give advice. [Luganda]
If you refuse the elder‘s advice, you will walk the
whole day. [Ngoreme]
Cultural Value:
One tree does not make a forest. [Ewe, Kpelle,
One finger can not kill a louse. [Zinza]
Go the way that many people go; if you go
alone, you will have reason to lament. [Lozi]
Cultural Value:
The one who hates is a murderer. [Yoruba]
Not to aid one in distress is to kill him in your
heart. [Yoruba]
Wherever a man goes to dwell, his character
goes with him. [Yoruba]
Cultural Value:
Mountains never meet, but people do. [Gusii]
Cultural Value:
Distant firewood is good firewood. [Ewe]
He who has not traveled think his mother‘s soup
is the best. [Igbo]
Cultural Value:
A slow sailing canoe arrives. [Zinza]
The hen that never stays in the nest never
hatches chicks. [Gusii]
If you take the time to skin an ant, you will find
its liver. [Akan]
Cultural Value:
Covetousness is the father of disease. [Yoruba]
Cultural Value:
If you play with a dog, you must expect it to lick
your mouth. [Ashanti]
Cultural Value:
If there is a continual going to the well, one day
there will be a smashing of the pitcher. [Hausa]
Cultural Value:
They forbid ram and eat sheep. [Yoruba]
Cultural Value:
When a dog is hungry, it eats mud. [Zulu]
Cultural Value:
Until you have crossed the river, don‘t insult the
alligator‘s mouth. [Ewe]
Cultural Value:
1. What is the meaning of this proverb?
2. What value in African cultures is expressed in this proverb?
3. Do you know of any other proverbs used in your community which also express this
4. In your view, is this value a positive tradition which should be preserved, or is it a
negative force which should be overcome?
5. Could this value have both positive and negative aspects?
6. Which of these values are, in your view, most important in African cultures? Be
prepared to defend your position.
7. Are there important values of African cultures which are not expressed in the above
HW # 8: The Cradle of Human Civilization: Mesopotamia
Read WH, pp. 26-32 and The Epic of Gilgamesh below.
1. How did the Sumerian culture address the challenges of the environment in
2. What parts of the Epic of Gilgamesh foreshadow the Book of Genesis, which is
written later?
3. One way to read the Epic of Gilgamesh is as a story of the civilizing process: Enkidu
initially represents the wilderness, the savage man, and he is tamed and civilized in
the Epic. In this reading, what qualities must a person possess to be civilized?
4. If the civilizing process begins with the seduction of Enkidu by the harlot, what does
the narrative suggest about the role of women in the civilizing process? Is there any
basis for the idea that women are more civilized than men, or is this a cultural
prejudice based on different gender roles?
5. Based on a reading of the Epic of Gilgamesh, do you think it is possible to develop a
social scientific and historical concept of civilization which would be culturally neutral
and universally applicable, or do you think that ideas of civilization are necessarily
culturally bound?
The Epic of Gilgamesh
From The Epic of Gilgamesh, N. K. Sandars, editor. (New York: Penguin Books, 1972.
pp. 61-65. 67-69. 85-86, 89, 108-111. 116-17.)
Gilgamesh, the semi-legendary Sumerian king who ruled the city of Uruk around 2700
B.C., is the subject of the world's first great epic poem. Gilgamesh was a roguish king
whose lusty appetites were resented by his subjects, who prayed for a deliverer. To
punish Gilgamesh for his sins, the gods created the uncivilized Enkidu and sent him to
chastise Gilgamesh and spare Uruk further harm. But instead of becoming mortal
enemies, Gilgamesh and Enkidu became fast friends and set off together on a series of
adventures, detailed in the first half of this epic.
Their first adventure is to secure timber from the distant Cedar Forest, which is guarded
by the ogre Humbaba, whom they must kill. Upon their return to Uruk, the fierce lshtar,
goddess of love, tries to entice Gilgamesh into marriage; however, because Gilgarnesh
and Enkidu spurn lshtar, she sends down the Bull of Heaven to punish them. Gilgamesh
and Enkidu kill this creature, thereby angering the powerful Enlil, king of the gods, who
takes his revenge by killing Enkidu. King Gilgamesh is devastated by his friend's death
and laments humanity's fate.
The second half of the epic is devoted to Gilgamesh's quest for the secret of life. He
descends into the Netherworld in search of Utnapishtim, to whom the gods had granted
immortality and from whom he hopes to learn the key to life. When the two meet,
Utnapishtim introduces Gilgamesh to the story of the Great Flood, which had killed all
life save for Utnapishtim, his family, and the animals he had placed in his great ship. At
the end of the Flood tale, Utnapishtim tells Gilgamesh of a certain Plant of Life that can
give immortality. Gilgamesh is able to retrieve this plant and bring it back to the living;
yet his hopes are dashed when it is eaten by a snake. At the end of the poem,
Gilgamesh can only lament the human fate, old age and death.
I will proclaim to the world the deeds of Gilgamesh. This was the man to whom all things
were known; this was the king who knew the countries of the world, he was wise, he
saw mysteries and knew secret things, he brought us a tale of the days before the flood.
He went on a long journey, was weary, worn out with labor, returning he rested, he
engraved on a stone the whole story.
When the gods created Gilgamesh they gave him a perfect body. Shamash the glorious
sun endowed him with beauty. Adad the god of the storm endowed him with courage,
the great gods made his beauty perfect, surpassing all others, terrifying like a great wild
bull. Two thirds they made him god and one third man.
In Uruk he built walls, a great rampart, and the temple of blessed Eanna for the god of
the firmament Anu, and for Ishtar the goddess of love...
The Coming of Enkidu
Gilgarnesh went abroad in the world, but he met with none who could withstand his
arms till he came to Uruk. But the men of Uruk muttered in their houses, "Gilgamesh
sounds the tocsin for his amusement, his arrogance has no bounds by day or night. No
son is left with his father, for Gilgamesh takes them all, even the children; yet the king
should be a shepherd to his people. His lust leaves no virgin to her lover, neither the
warrior's daughter nor the wife of the noble; vet this is the shepherd of the city, wise,
comely, and resolute."
The gods heard their lament, the gods of heaven cried to the Lord of Uruk, to Anu the
god of Uruk... When Anti had heard their lamentation the gods cried to Aruru, the
goddess of creation, "You made him, () Aruru, now create his equal: let it be as like him
as his own reflection, his second self, stormv heart for stormy heart. Let them contend
together and leave Uruk in quiet."
So the goddess conceived an image in her mind, and it was of the stuff of Anu of the
firmament. She dipped her hands in water and pinched off clay, she let it fall in the
wilderness, and noble Enkidu was created. There was virtue in him of the god of war, of
Ninurta himself. His body was rough, he had long hair like a woman's; it waved like the
hair of Nisaba, the goddess of corn. His body was covered with matted hair like
Samuqan‘s the god of cattle. He was innocent of mankind; he knew nothing of the
cultivated land.
Enkidu ate grass in the hills with the gazelle and lurked with wild beasts at the waterholes; he had joy of the water with the herds of wild game. But there was a trapper who
met him one day face to face at the drinking-hole, for the wild game had entered his
territory. On three days he met him face to face, and the trapper was frozen with fear.
He went back to his house with the game that he had caught, and he was dumb,
benumbed with terror. His face was altered like that of one who has made a long
So the trapper set out on his journey to Uruk and addressed himself to Gilgamesh
saving, "A man unlike any other is roaming now in the pastures: he is as strong as a
star from heaven and I am afraid to approach him. He helps the wild game to escape;
he fills in my pits and pulls up my traps." Gilgamesh said, "Trapper, go back, take with
you a harlot, a child of pleasure. At the drinking-hole she will strip, and when he sees
her beckoning he will embrace her and the game of the wilderness will surely reject
Now the trapper returned, taking the harlot with him. After a three days journey they
came to the drinking-hole, and there they sat down; the harlot and the trapper sat facing
one another and waited for the game to come. For the first day and for the second day
the two sat waiting, but on the third day the herds came; they came down to drink and
Enkidu was with them. The small wild creatures of the plains were glad of the water,
and Enkidu with them, who ate grass with the gazelle and was born in the hills: and she
saw him, the savage man, come from far-off in the hills. The trapper spoke to her:
"There he is. Now, woman, make your breasts bare, have no shame, do not delay but
welcome his love. Let him see you naked, let him possess your body. When he comes
near uncover yourself and lie with him: teach him, the savage man, your woman's art,
for when he murmurs love to you the wild beasts that shared his life in the hills will reject
She was not ashamed to take him, she made herself naked and welcomed his
eagerness: as he lay on her murmuring love she taught him the woman's art. For six
days and seven nights they lay together, for Enkidu had forgotten his home in the hills;
but when he was satisfied he went back to the wild beasts. Then, when the gazelle saw
him, they bolted away; when the wild creatures saw him they fled. Enkidu would have
followed, but his body was bound as though with a cord, his knees gave way when he
started to run, his swiftness was gone. And now the wild creatures had all fled away;
Enkidu was grown weak, for wisdom was in him, and the thoughts of a man were in his
heart. So he returned and sat down at the woman‘s feet, and listened intently to what
she said, "You are wise, Enkidu, and now you have become like a god. Why do you
want to run wild with the beasts in the hills? Come with me. I will take you to strong
walled Uruk, to the blessed temple of Ishtar and of Ann, of love and heaven; there
Gilgamesh lives, who is very strong, and like a wild bull he lords it over men."
And now she said to Enkidu ―When I look at you you have become like a god. Why do
you yearn to run wild again with the beasts in the hills? Get up from the ground, the bed
of a shepherd." He listened to her words with care. It was good advice that she gave.
She divided her clothing in two and with the one half she clothed him and with the other
herself: and holding his hand she led him like a child to the sheepfolds, into the
shepherds' tents. There all the shepherds crowded round to see him, they put down
bread in front of him, but Enkidu could only suck the milk of wild animals. He fumbled
and gaped, at a loss what to do or how he should eat the bread and drink the strong
wine. Then the woman said, "Enkidu eat bread, it is the staff of life; drink the wine, it is
the custom of the land." So he ate till he was full and drank strong wine, seven goblets.
He became merry, his heart exulted and his face shone. He rubbed down the matted
hair of his body and anointed himself with oil. Enkidu had become a man: but when lie
had put on man's clothing he appeared like a bridegroom.
Now Enkidu strode in front and the woman followed behind. He entered Uruk that great
market, and all the folk thronged round him where he stood in the street in strong-walled
Uruk. The people jostled; speaking of him they said, "He is the spit of Gilgamesh." "He
is shorter." "He is bigger of bone." "This is the one who was reared on the milk of wild
beasts. His is the greatest strength." The men rejoiced: ―Now Gilgamesh has met his
match. This great one, this hero whose beauty is like a god, he is a match even for
In Uruk the bridal bed was made, fit for the goddess of love. The bride waited for the
bridegroom, but in the night Gilgamesh got up and came to the house. Then Enkidu
stepped out, he stood in the street and blocked the way. Mighty Gilgamesh came on
and Enkidu met him at the gate. He put out his foot and prevented Gilgamesh from
entering the house, so they grappled, holding each other like bulls. They broke the
doorposts and the walls shook. Gilgamesh bent his knee with his foot planted on the
ground and with a turn Enkidu was thrown. Then immediately his fury died. When
Eukidu was thrown he said to Gilgamesh, "There is not another like you in the world.
Ninsun, who is as strong as a wild ox in the byre, she was the mother who bore you,
and now you are raised above all men, and Enlil has given you the kingship, for your
strength surpasses the strength of men." So Enkidu and Gilgamesh embraced and their
friendship was sealed.
[After they had become good friends, Gilgamesh and Enkidu set out for the Cedar
Forest (possibly southern Turkey or Phoenicia) in order to secure wood for the city.
Before they got to the wood, however, they had to kill a fire-breathing ogre called
Humbaba. Succeeding in this mission, they returned to Uruk, where Gilgamesh was
offered marriage by the goddess of love, Ishtar (or Inanna).]
Gilgamesh opened his mouth and answered glorious Ishtar, ―If I take you in marriage,
what gifts can I give in return? What ointments and clothing for your body? I would
gladly give you bread and all sorts of food fit for a god. I would give you wine to drink fit
for a queen. I would pour out barley to stuff our granary: bitt as for making you my wife –
that I will not. How would it go with me? Your lovers have found you like a brazier which
srnoulders in the cold, a backdoor which keeps out neither squall of wind nor storm, a
castle which crushes the garrison, pitch that blackens the bearer, a water-skin that
chains the carrier, a stone which falls front the parapet, a battering ram turned back
from the enemy, a sandal that trips the wearer. Which of your lovers did you ever love
for ever? What shepherd of yours has pleased you for all time?"
[Gravely insulted by the king's words, Ishtar asked her father, Anu, to punish Gilgamesh
by sending the Bull of Heaven to ravage the land. Gilgamesh and Enkidu managed to
kill the bull, whose hind leg Enkidu tore off and flung at the goddess. Such a serious
offense against the gods demanded immediate punishment; thus did Enkidu fall ill and
So Enkidu lay stretched out before Gilgamesh: his tears ran down in streams and he
said to Gilgamesh, "O my brother so dear as you are to me, brother, yet they will take
me from you," Again he said, "I must sit down on the threshold of the dead and never
again will I see my dear brother with my eyes."
[Gilgarnesh was unreconciled to the death of his beloved friend Enkidu. He decided to
make a long and difficult journey to the Netherworld in order to search for the secret of
immortality. There he encountered the Sumerian Akkadian Noah called Utnapishtim (or
Ziusudra). Utnapishtim tells Gilgamesh of a Flood that had been sent by the gods to
destroy all life except for Utnapishtim and his family.]
"In those days the world teemed, the people multiplied, the world bellowed like a wild
bull, and the great god was aroused by the clamor. Enlil heard the clamor and he said to
the gods in council, ―The uproar of mankind is intolerable and sleep is no longer
possible by reason of the babel.‖ So the gods agreed to exterminate mankind. Enlil did
this, but Ea because of his oath warned me in a dream. He whispered their words to my
house of reeds, ―Reed-house, reed-house! Wall, O wall, hearken reed-house, wall
reflect; O man of Shurrupak, son of Ubara-Tutu; tear down your house and build a boat,
abandon possessions and look for life, despise worldly goods and save your soul alive.
Tear down your house, I say, and build a boat. These are the measurements of the
barque as you shall build her: let her beam equal her length, let her deck be roofed like
the vault that covers the abyss: then take up into the boat the seed of all living
"In the first light of dawn all my household gathered round me, the children brought pitch
and the men whatever was necessary. On the fifth day I laid the keel and the ribs, then I
made fast the planking. The ground-space was one acre, each side of the deck
measured one hundred and twenty cubits, making a square. I built six decks below,
seven in all. I divided them into nine sections with bulkheads between. I drove in
wedges where needed, I saw to the punt-poles, and laid in supplies. The carriers
brought oil in baskets, I poured pitch into the furnace and asphalt and oil; more oil was
consumed in caulking, and more again the master of the boat took into his stores. I
slaughtered bullocks for the people and every day I killed sheep. I gave the shipwrights
wine to drink as though it were river water, raw wine and red wine and oil and white
wine. There was feasting then as there is at the time of the New Year's festival I myself
anointed my head. On the seventh clay the boat was complete.
"Then was the launching full of difficulty: there was shifting of ballast above and below
till two thirds was submerged. I loaded into her all that I had of gold and of living things,
my family, my kin, the beast of the field both wild and tame, and all the craftsmen. I sent
them on board, for the time that Shamash had ordained was already fulfilled when he
said, ‗In the evening, when the rider of the storm sends down the destroying rain, enter
the boat and batten her down.‘ The time was fulfilled, the evening came, the rider of the
storm sent down the rain. I looked out at the weather and it was terrible, so I too
boarded the boat and battened her down. All was now complete, the battening and the
caulking; so I handed the tiller to Puzur-Amurri the steersman, with the navigation and
the care of the whole boat...‖
"For six days and six nights the winds blew, torrent and tempest and flood overwhelmed
the world, tempest and flood raged together like warring hosts. When the seventh day
dawned the storm from the south subsided, the sea grew calm, the flood was stilled; I
looked at the face of the world there was silence, all mankind was turned to clay. The
surface of the sea stretched as flat as a roof-top: I opened a hatch and the light fell on
my face. Then I bowed low, I sat down and I wept, the tears streamed down my face, for
on every side was the waste of water. I looked for land in vain, but fourteen leagues
distant there appeared a mountain, and there the boat grounded; on the mountain of
Nisir the boat held fast, she held fast and did not budge. One day she held, and a
second day on the mountain of Nisir she held fast and did not budge. A third day, and a
fourth day she held fast on the mountain and did not budge; a fifth day and a sixth day
she held fast on the mountain. When the seventh day dawned I loosed a dove and let
her go. She flew away, but finding no resting place she returned. Then I loosed a
swallow, and she flew away but finding no resting place she returned. I loosed a raven,
she saw that the waters had retreated, she ate, she flew around, she cawed, and she
did not come back. Then I threw everything open to the four winds, I made a sacrifice
and poured out a libation on the mountain top. Seven and again seven cauldrons I set
up on their stands, I heaped up wood cane and cedar and myrtle. When the gods
smelled the sweet savor, they gathered like flies over the sacrifice."
[Utnapishtim then revealed to Gilgarnesh the secret of immortality. With the aid of his
ferryman, Urshanabi, King Gilgamesh secured this mysterious prickly plant, but his
hopes for future rejuvenation were not to be.]
"Gilgamesh, I shall reveal a secret thing, it is a mystery of the gods that I am telling you.
There is a plant that grows under the water, it has a prickle like a thorn, like a rose; it will
wound your hands, but if you succeed in taking it, then your hands will hold that which
restores his lost youth to a man."
When Gilgamesh heard this he opened the sluices so that a sweet-water current might
carry him out to the deepest channel; he tied heavy stones to his feet and they dragged
him down to the water-bed. There he saw the plant growing; although it pricked him he
took it in his hands; then he cut the heavy stones from his feet, and the sea carried him
and threw him on to the shore. Gilgamesh said to Urshanabi the ferryman, "Come here,
and see this marvelous plant. By its virtue a man may win back all his former strength. I
will take it to Uruk of the strong walls: there I will give it to time old men to eat. Its name
shall be 'The Old Men Are Young Again'; and at last I shall eat it myself and have back
all my lost youth." So Gilgamesh returned by the gate through which he had come,
Gilgamesh and Urshanabi went together. They traveled their twenty leagues and then
they broke their fast; after thirty leagues they stopped for the night.
Gilgamesh saw a well of cool water and lie went down and bathed but deep in the pool
there was lying a serpent, and the serpent sensed the sweetness of the flower. It rose
out of the water and snatched it away and immediately it sloughed its skin and returned
to the well. Then Gilgamesh sat down and wept, the tears ran down his face, and he
took the hand of Urshanabi: "O Urshanabi, was it for this that I toiled with my hands, is it
for this I have wrung out my heart's blood? For myself I have gained nothing; not I, but
the beast of the earth has joy of it now. Already the stream has carried it twenty leagues
back to the channels where I found it. I found a sign and now I have lost it. Let us leave
the boat on the bank and go."
After twenty leagues they broke their fast, after thirty leagues they stopped for the night;
in three days they had walked as much as a journey of a month and fifteen days. When
the journey was accomplished they arrived at Uruk, the strong-walled city. Gilgamesh
spoke to him, to Urshanabi the ferrvman, "Urshanabi, climb up on to the wall of Uruk,
inspect its foundation terrace, and examine well the brickwork; see if it is not of burnt
bricks; and did not the seven wise men lay these foundations? One third of the whole is
city, one third is garden, and one third is field, with the precinct of the goddess Ishtar.
These parts and the precinct are all Uruk."
This too was the work of Gilgamesh, the king, who knew the countries of the world. He
was wise, he saw mysteries and knew secret things, he brought us a tale of the days
before the flood. He went on a long journey, was weary, worn out with labour, and
returning engraved on a stone the whole story.
HW # 9: The Birth of Writing
Read the below.
1. What are the first things a society would want to record in writing?
2. For most of human history, literacy has been limited to a small elite within society.
Why do you think this might be the case?
3. Do you agree with the claim that literate persons have more power than non-literate
persons? Explain your reasoning.
4. Often in modern history, one sees movements which target the most literate people in
society, the intellectuals. Why do you think this might happen?
5. Based on the school boy text, which groups in Sumerian society were most likely to
be literate?
6. How does Sumerian school compare to school today? How do you explain the
7. What are the different theories on the origin of cuneiform? Which do you find more
When No One Read, Who Started to Write?
From New York Times: April 6, 1999
The Sumerians had a story to explain their invention of writing more than 5,000 years
ago. It seems a messenger of the king of Uruk arrived at the court of a distant ruler so
exhausted from the journey that he was unable to deliver the oral message. So the king,
being clever, came up with a solution. He patted some clay and set down the words of
his next messages on a tablet.
A Sumerian epic celebrates the achievement:
Before that time writing on clay had not yet existed,
But now, as the sun rose, so it was!
The king of Kullaba [Uruk] had set words on a tablet, so it was!
A charming just-so, or so-it-was, story, its retelling at a recent symposium on the origins
or writing, held here at the University of Pennsylvania, both amused and frustrated
scholars. It reminded them that they could expect little help – only a myth – from the
Sumerians themselves, presumably the first writing people, in understanding how and
why the invention responsible for the great divide in human culture between prehistory
and history had come about.
The archeologists, historians and other scholars at the meeting smiled at the absurdity
of a king's writing a letter that its recipient could not read. They also doubted that the
earliest writing was a direct rendering of speech. Writing more than likely began as a
separate and distinct symbolic system of communication, like painting, sculpture and
oral storytelling, and only later merged with spoken language.
Yet in the story, the Sumerians, who lived in Mesopotamia, the lower valley of the Tigris
and Euphrates Rivers in what is now southern Iraq, seemed to understand writing's
transforming function. As Dr. Holly Pittman, director of the university's Center for
Ancient Studies and organizer of the symposium, observed, writing ―arose out of the
need to store information and transmit information outside of human memory and over
time and over space.‖
In exchanging interpretations and new information, the scholars acknowledged that they
still had no fully satisfying answers to the most important questions of exactly how and
why writing was developed. Many of them favored a broad explanation of writing's
origins in the visual arts, pictograms of things being transformed into increasingly
abstract symbols for things, names and eventually words in speech. Their views
clashed with a widely held theory among archeologists that writing grew out of the
pieces of clay in assorted sizes and shapes that Sumerian accountants had used as
tokens to keep track of livestock and stores of grain.
The scholars at the meeting also conceded that they had no definitive answer to the
question of whether writing was invented only once and spread elsewhere or arose
independently several times in several places, like Egypt, the Indus Valley, China and
among the Olmecs and Maya of Mexico and Central America. But they criticized recent
findings suggesting that writing might have developed earlier in Egypt than in
In December, Dr. Gunter Dreyer, director of the German Archeological Institute in
Egypt, announced new radiocarbon dates for tombs at Abydos, on the Nile about 250
miles south of Cairo. The dates indicated that some hieroglyphic inscriptions on pots,
bone and ivory in the tombs were made at least as early as 3200 B.C., possibly 3400. It
was now an ―open question,‖ Dr. Dreyer said, whether writing appeared first in Egypt or
At the symposium, Dr. John Baines, an Oxford University Egyptologist who had just
visited Dr. Dreyer, expressed skepticism in polite terms. ―I'm suspicious of the dates,‖ he
said in an interview. ―I think he's being very bold in his readings of these things.‖
The preponderance of archeological evidence has shown that the urbanizing Sumerians
were the first to develop writing, in 3200 or 3300 B.C. These are the dates for many clay
tablets with a proto-cuneiform script found at the site of the ancient city of Uruk. The
tablets bore pictorial symbols for the names of people, places and things for governing
and commerce. The Sumerian script gradually evolved from the pictorial to the abstract,
but it was probably at least five centuries before the writing came to represent recorded
spoken language.
Egyptian hieroglyphics are so different from Sumerian cuneiform, Dr. Baines said, that
they were probably invented independently not long after Sumerian writing. If anything,
the Egyptians may have gotten the idea of writing from the Sumerians, with whom they
had contacts in Syria, but nothing more.
In any event, the writing idea became more widespread at the beginning of the third
millennium B.C. The Elamites of southern Iran developed a proto-writing system then,
perhaps influenced by the proto-cuneiform of their Sumerian neighbors, and before the
millennium was out, writing appeared in the Indus River Valley of what is now Pakistan
and western India, then in Syria and Crete and parts of Turkey. Writing in China dates
back to the Shang period toward the end of the second millennium B.C., and it dates to
the first millennium B.C. in Mesoamerica.
Archeologists have thought that the undeciphered Indus script, which seemed to appear
first around 2500 B.C., may have been inspired in part from trade contacts with
Mesopotamia. But new excavations in the ruins of the ancient city of Harappa suggest
an earlier and presumably independent origin of Indus writing.
In a report from the field, distributed on the Internet, Dr. Jonathan Mark Kenoyer of the
University of Wisconsin and Dr. Richard H. Meadow of Harvard University showed
pictures of marks incised on potshards that they interpreted as evidence for the use of
writing signs by Indus people as early as 3300 B.C. If these are indeed proto-writing
examples, the discovery indicates an independent origin of Indus writing contemporary
with the Sumerian and Egyptian inventions.
Dr. Meadow, using E-mail, the electronic age's version of the king of Uruk's clay tablet,
confirmed that the inscribed marks were ―similar in some respects to those later used in
the Indus script.‖ The current excavations, he added, were uncovering ―very significant
findings at Harappa with respect to the Indus script.‖
At the symposium, though, Dr. Gregory L. Possehl, a Pennsylvania archeologist who
specializes in the Indus civilization and had examined the pictures, cautioned against
jumping to such conclusions. One had to be careful, he said, not to confuse potter's
marks, graffiti and fingernail marks with symbols of nascent writing.
Of the earliest writing systems, scholars said, only the Sumerian, Chinese and
Mesoamerican ones seemed clearly to be independent inventions. Reviewing the
relationship between early Chinese bronze art, ―oracle bones‖ and writing, Dr. Louisa
Huber, a researcher at Harvard's Fairbanks Center for East Asian Research, concluded,
―Chinese writing looks to be pristine.‖
But few pronouncements about early writing go undisputed. Dr. Victor Mair, a professor
of Chinese language at Penn, offered evidence indicating, he said, that ―the Chinese
writing system may well have received vital inputs from West Asian and European
systems of writing and proto-writing.‖
Dr. Mair cited an intriguing correspondence between the Chinese script and 22
Phoenician letters and also Western-like symbols on pottery and the bodies of
mummies found in the western desert of China. The recent discoveries of the mummies,
wearing garments of Western weaves and having Caucasoid facial features, have
prompted theories of foreign influences on Chinese culture in the first and second
millennia B.C. It had already been established that the chariot and bronze metallurgy
reached China from the West.
Though no one seemed ready to endorse his thesis, Dr. Mair said, ―We simply do not
know for certain whether the Chinese script was or was not independently created.‖
Dr. Peter Damerow, a specialist in Sumerian cuneiform at the Max Planck Institute for
the History of Science in Berlin, said, ―Whatever the mutual influences of writing
systems of different cultures may be, their great variety shows, at least, that the
development of writing, once it is initiated, attains a considerable degree of
independence and flexibility to adapt a coding system to specific characteristics of the
language to be represented.‖
Not that he accepted the conventional view that writing necessarily started as some kind
of representation of words by pictures. New studies of Sumerian proto-cuneiform, he
said, challenge this intepretation. The structures of this earliest writing, for example, did
not match the syntax of a language. Proto-cuneiform seemed severely restricted,
compared with spoken language, dealing mainly in lists and categories, not in
sentences and narrative.
This presumably reflects writing's origins and first applications in economic
administration in a growing, increasingly complex society, scholars said. Most of the
Uruk tablets were documents about property, inventory and, even then, taxes. The only
texts that do not concern administrative activities, Dr. Damerow said, were cuneiform
lexicons that were apparently written as school exercises by scribes in training.
For at least two decades, in fact, Dr. Denise Schmandt-Besserat, a University of Texas
archeologist, has argued that the first writing grew directly out of a counting system
practiced by Sumerian accountants. They used molded clay ―tokens,‖ each one
specially shaped to represent a jar of oil, a large or small container of grain, or a
particular kind of livestock. When the tokens were placed inside hollow clay spheres,
the number and type of tokens inside were recorded on the ball with impressions
resembling the tokens. Finally, simplifying matters, the token impressions were replaced
with inscribed signs, and writing was invented.
Though Dr. Schmandt-Besserat has won wide support, some linguists question her
thesis and other scholars, like Dr. Pittman of Penn, think it too narrow an interpretation.
They emphasized that pictorial representation and writing evolved together, part of the
same cultural context that fostered experimentation in communication through symbols.
―There's no question that the token system is a forerunner of writing, and really
important,‖ Dr. Pittman said in an interview. ―But I have an argument with her evidence
for a link between tokens and signs, and she doesn't open up the process to include
picture-making and all other kinds of information-storage practices that are as important
as the tokens.‖
Dr. Schmandt-Besserat, who did not attend the symposium, vigorously defended herself
in a telephone interview. ―My colleagues say the signs on seals were a beginning of
writing, but show me a single sign on a seal that becomes a sign in writing,‖ she said.
―They say that designs on pottery were a beginning of writing, but show me a single
sign of writing you can trace back to a pot -- it doesn't exist.‖
In its first 500 years, she asserted, cuneiform writing was used almost solely for
recording economic information. ―The first information that writing gives you is only the
same information the tokens were dealing with,‖ she said. ―When you start putting more
on the tablets, products plus the name of who has delivered and received them, that is
where art would enter the picture. Then writing is out of the box, in all directions.‖
Dr. Damerow agreed that cuneiform writing appeared to have developed in two stages,
first as a new but limited means of recording economic information, later as a broader
encoding of spoken language for stories, arguments, descriptions or messages from
one ruler to another.
Even so, it was a long way from the origin of writing to truly literate societies. At the
symposium, scholars noted that the early rulers could not write or read; they relied on
scribes for their messages, record keeping and storytelling. In Egypt, most early
hieroglyphics were inscribed in places beyond the public eye, high on monuments or
deep in tombs.
In this case, said Dr. Pascal Vernus of the University of Paris, early writing was less
administrative than sacred and ideological, ―a way of creating and describing the world
as a dominating elite wants it to be.‖
Dr. Piotr Michalowski, professor of Near East civilizations at the University of Michigan,
said the Uruk proto-cuneiform writing, whatever its antecedents, was ―so radically
different as to be a complete break with the past, a system different from anything else.‖
It no doubt served to store, preserve and communicate information, but also was a new
instrument of power.
―Perhaps it's because I grew up in Stalinist Poland,‖ Dr. Michalowski said, ―but I say
coercion and control were early writing's first important purpose, a new way to control
how people live.‖
A Sumerian Schoolboy Text
From Samuel Kramer, The Sumerians [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963. pp.
The ancient peoples of Mesopotamia, Egypt and China all devised writing systems. The
artwork of the New Stone Age had often featured stick figures drawn with less realism
than were animals in Old Stone Age cave drawings. People who drew these stick
figures could well have sacrificed naturalistic detail, we may suppose, in designing them
for communication in the way that simple figures on our own signs for "Reserved for
Handicapped" or "Deer Crossing" convey a message. In Egypt, such pictographs
evolved into hieroglyphics, which satisfied the Egyptians well enough as a means for
recording their language that they were slow to change them. Meanwhile, at the other
end of the Eurasian continent the earliest Chinese pictographs developed into
ideographs conveying more abstract concepts. In the Sumerian part of Mesopotamia,
the people developed a different style of writing, called cuneiform. Wet clay was shaped
into tablets; then a reed was cut into a wedge shape and impressed into the clay to
make the hundreds of signs used in writing.
What follows is a schoolboy writing text from Sumer. Sumer was an area of
Mesopotamia composed of 12 major city-states which lay along and between the Tigris
and Euphrates rivers, in modern-day Iraq. The fertility of the area was in creased by
careful irrigation, which enabled the Sumerians to produce excess grain, which they
traded for wood, stone, and metal ore. Each city was filled with many great temples
called "Ziggurats," which served as the homes of the many gods. The cities were
controlled from about 2700 B.C.E. by chief executives called lugals or kings, who were
advised on the running of government by a council of elders.
Sumerian cuneiform tablets reveal much information about the economic life of the
Sumerians as they have left us thousands of lists of sheep, goats, and other material
possessions. Our first great epic myth about King Gilgamesh was created by the
Sumerians and became so popular that almost all future Mesopotamian peoples would
reproduce versions of this tale in addition, we have medical texts, proverbs, fragments
of legal codes, and the first mention of a schoolhouse or "edubba." The following
selection, composed around 2000 B.C.E., is thought to be by an "ummia" or
experienced (teacher) who is asked what he did when he was a boy in school.
I recited my tablet, ate my lunch, prepared my [new] tablet, wrote it, finished it, then my
model tablets were brought to me; and in the afternoon my exercise tablets were
brought to me. When school was dismissed, I went home, entered the house, and found
my father sitting there. I explained my exercise-tablets to my father, recited my tablet to
him, and he was delighted, [so much so] that I attended him [with joy].
[The author now has the schoolboy turn to the house servants (it was evidently quite a
well-to-do home) with these words:]
I am thirsty, give me water to drink; I am hungry, give me bread to eat; wash my feet,
set up [my] bed, I want to go to sleep. Wake me early in the morning, I must not be late
lest my teacher cane [me].
When I arose early in the morning, I faced my mother and said to her: "Give me my
lunch, I want to go to school!" My mother gave me two rolls, and I set out [for] school. In
school the fellow in charge of punctuality said: "Why are you late?" Afraid and with
pounding heart, I entered before my teacher and made a respectful curtsy.
My headmaster read my tablet and said: "There is something missing," [and] he caned
me. (There follow two unintelligible lines)
The fellow in charge of neatness said "You loitered in the street and did not straighten
up your clothes," [and] caned me. (There follow five unintelligible lines)
The fellow in charge of silence said: "Why did you talk without permission?" [and] caned
The fellow in charge of the assembly said: "Why did you 'stand at ease' without
permission?" [and] caned me.
The fellow in charge of good behavior said: "Why did you go out from [the gate] without
permission?" [and] caned me.
The fellow in charge of the whip said: "Why did you take... without permission?" [and]
caned me.
The fellow in charge of Sumerian said: "Why didn't you speak Sumerian?" [and] caned
My teacher ("ummia") said: "Your hand is unsatisfactory," [and] caned me, [and so] I
[began to] hate the scribal art, and began to neglect the scribal art.
My teacher took no delight in me; even stopped teaching me his skill in the scribal art; in
no way prepared me in the matters [essential to the art of being] a young scribe, [or the
art of being] a "big brother."
(He turns to his father for advice and help with his teacher.) Give him a bit extra salary
let him become more kindly; let him be free [for a time] from arithmetic; [when] he shall
count up all the school affairs of the students, let him count me, [too, among them; that
is, perhaps, let him not neglect me any longer].
To that which the schoolboy said, his father gave heed. The teacher was brought from
school, and after entering the house, he was seated... The schoolboy attended and
served him, and, whatever he learned of the scribal art, he unfolded to his father. Then
did the father in the joy of his heart say joyfully to the headmaster of the school: "My
little fellow has opened [wide] his hand, [and] you made wisdom enter there; you
showed him all the fine points of the scribal art; you made him see the solutions of
mathematical and arithmetical [problems], you [taught him how] to make deep the
cuneiform script.
Pour for him oil; bring it to the table for him. Make fragrant oil flow like water on his
stomach [and] back; I want to dress him in a garment; give him some extra salary; put a
ring on his hand.
The servants do this, and then the teacher says to the boy: Young fellow, [because] you
hated not my words, neglected them not, [may you] complete the scribal art from
beginning to end. Because you gave me everything without stint, paid me a salary
larger than my efforts [deserve], [and] have honored me, may Nidaba, the queen of
guardian angels, be your guardian angel; may your pointed stylus write well for you;
may your exercises contain no faults. Of your brothers, may you be their leader; of your
friends ma you be their chief; may you rank the highest among the school graduates,
satisfy all who walk to and from in the palaces. Little fellow, you "know" (your) father, I
am second to him; that homage be paid to you, that you be blessed - may the god of
your father bring this about with firm hand; he will bring prayer and supplication to
Nidaba, your queen, as if it were a matter for your god. Thus, when you put a kindly
hand on the...
HW # 10: The Code of Hammurabi
Read the below.
1. According to the code, what is the source of Hammurabi‘s authority to issue these
2. There were three social classes in Hammurabi‘s Babylon – noble, commoner, slave.
How were they treated differently by the law?
3. Using evidence found in the laws, what can we conclude about the status of women
in Hammurabi‘s Babylon?
4. Using evidence found in the laws, what can we conclude about the status of children
in Hammurabi‘s Babylon?
5. Why do you think that Hammurabi would have all of his laws written on a monument,
to be displayed in public?
6. Hammurabi‘s code is based on principles of retributive justice – made famous by the
formula ―an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth‖ [found in laws 196-200] which
was later taken up in Exodus 21:23-24 [―But if any harm follow, then thou shalt give
life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.‖]. Do you think
that this is an appropriate standard for legal justice? In your opinion, should a
civilized society demand such retribution?
7. When there is conflicting testimony in the court, how is the truth established? Can
you think of any purpose such a method might serve?
8. In modern democracies, the rule of law is understood to require that the ruler, as
well as the ruled, abide by the law and that all citizens are treated equally by the law.
To what extent does Hammurabi‘s code meet that standard, and to what extent does
it fall short of it?
Hammurabi (1792-1750 B.C.E.) was the sixth Amoritic king of Babylon. The people of
Babylon were a western Semitic-speaking group who had drifted into Mesopotamia
during the third Sumerian dynasty of Ur. As these Amorites invaded the area, the region
had deteriorated into several petty city-states, each trying through either diplomacy or
attack to maintain its precarious existence. Inheriting a rather small area (fifty by thirty
miles) from his father, King Hammurabi began to enlarge his domain in his twenty-ninth
year. He moved against one Sumerian city after another until he had conquered the
entire southern region. Then from his thirty-second through his thirty-eighth years, he
was able to consolidate his hold upon Assyria and Syria. In the second year of his reign
Hammurabi had the Babylonian code of law carved on an eight-foot block of black
basalt known as a stele. The text consists of a prologue, epilogue, and 282 laws. The
cases deal with court procedures, thefts, slaves, crafts, land tenure, farming, domestic
life, trade, and consumer protection. The copy we possess comes from late in the reign
and was discovered in the Elamite city of Susa [in the southeastern Khuzestan province
of modern-day Iran] in 1901, where it had been taken by invaders.
The Code of Hammurabi
From ―The Code of Hammurabi‖ in The Origin and History of Hebrew Laws. J. M. Powis
Smith, editor. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960. pp. 183-218.)
At that time Anu1 and Enlil2 named me, Hammurabi, the exalted prince, the worshiper of
the gods, to cause righteousness to prevail in the land, to destroy the wicked and the
evil, to prevent the strong from plundering the weak; to go forth like the sun over the
Anu was the father and king of all Babylonian gods.
Enlil was the collective name for gods of the earth.
black-headed people like Shamash, to enlighten the land, to further the welfare of the
When Marduk3 sent me to rule the people and to bring help to the land, I established
law and justice in the language of the land and promoted the welfare of the people.
1. If a man accuse a man, and charge him with murder, but cannot convict him, the
accuser shall be put to death.
2. If a man charge a man with sorcery, but cannot convict him, he who is charged with
sorcery shall go to the sacred river, and he shall throw himself into the river; if the
river overcome him, his prosecutor shall take to himself his house. If the river show
that man to be innocent and he come forth unharmed, he that charged him with
sorcery shall be put to death. He who threw himself into the river shall take to
himself the house of his accuser.
3. If a man, in a case (before the court), offer testimony concerning deeds of violence,
and do not establish the testimony that he has given—if that case be a case
involving life, that man shall be put to death.
14. If a man steal a man's son who is a minor, he shall be put to death…
16. If a man harbor in his house a runaway male or female slave of the palace or of a
common man and do not bring him forth at the call of the commandant, the owner
of the house shall be put to death.
17. If a man catch a runaway male or female slave, in the country, and bring him back to
the owner, the owner of the slave shall pay him two shekels of silver.
21. If a man make a breach in a house, they shall put him to death in front of that
breach, and they shall bury him there.
22. If a man practice brigandage [robbery on roads] and be captured, that man shall be
put to death.
23. If the brigand be not captured, the man who has been robbed shall establish the
amount of his loss before the god, and the city and the governor, in whose land or
border the robbery was committed, shall compensate him for whatsoever was lost.
24. If there were loss of life, the city and governor shall pay one mana of silver to his
Marduk was the patron god of Babylon.
42. If a man rent a field for cultivation and do not produce any grain in the field, because
he has not performed the necessary work on the field they shall convict him, and he
shall give to the owner of the field grain on the basis of the adjacent (fields)....
55. If a man open his canal for irrigation and neglect it and he let the water carry away
an adjacent field, he shall measure out grain on the basis of the adjacent fields....
98. If a man give silver to a man for a partnership, they shall divide equally before God
the profit and the loss, whatever there is (of either).
100. If he (the peddler) made money (a profit) where he went, he shall write down the
interest on all the money he received, and he shall count up his days, and make
his return to the merchant.
101. If he made no money where he went, the agent shall double the amount of money
obtained and he shall pay it to the merchant...
103. If, when he goes on a journey, an enemy rob him of anything he was carrying, the
agent shall take an oath in the name of God and go free....
108. If a barmaid do not take grain in payment of drink, but if she take money by the
great stone, or make the measure of drink smaller than the measure of grain, they
shall prosecute that barmaid, and they shall throw her into the water.
109. If outlaws hatch a conspiracy in the house of a wine-seller, and she do not arrest
these outlaws and bring them to the palace, that wine-seller shall be put to death.
110. If a priestess or a nun who is not resident in a convent open a wineshop or enter a
wineshop for a drink, they shall burn that woman.
129. If the wife of a man be taken in lying with another man, they shall bind them and
throw them into the water. If the husband of the woman spare the life of his wife,
the king shall spare the life of his servant (i.e., subject)....
131. If a man accuse his wife and she have not been taken in lying with another man,
she shall take an oath in the name of God and she shall return to her house....
137. If a man set his face to put away a concubine who has borne him children or a wife
who has presented him with children, they shall return to that woman her dowry
and shall give to her part of field, garden, and goods, and she shall bring up her
children; from the time that her children are grown up, from whatever is given to
her children they shall give to her a portion corresponding to that of a son and the
man of her choice may marry her.
138. If a man put away his wife who has not borne him children, he shall give her
money to the amount of her marriage settlement and he shall make good to her the
dowry which she brought from her father's house and then he may put her away....
142. If a woman hate her husband and say, "Thou shalt not have me," her past shall be
inquired into for any deficiency of hers; and if she have been careful and be without
past sin and her husband have been going out and greatly belittling her, that
woman has no blame. She shall take her dowry and go to her father's house.
143. If she have not been careful, have been going out, ruining her house and belittling
her husband, they shall throw that woman into the water....
145. If a man take a wife and she do not present him with children, and he set his face
to take a concubine, that man may take a concubine and bring her into his house.
That concubine shall not take precedence of his wife....
153. If the wife of a man bring about the death of her husband because of another man,
they shall impale that woman.
162. If a man take a wife and she bear him children and that woman die, her father may
not lay claim to her dowry. Her dowry belongs to her children....
169. If he have committed a crime against his father sufficiently grave to cut him off from
sonship [inheritance], they shall condone his first (offense). If he commit a grave
crime a second time, the father may cut off his son from sonship.
195. If a man strike his father, they shall cut off his hand.
196. If a man destroy the eye of another man, they shall destroy his eye.
197. If he break a man's bone, they shall break his bone.
198. If he destroy the eye of a common man or break a bone of a common man, he
shall pay one mana of silver.
199. If he destroy the eye of a man's slave or break a bone of a man's slave, he shall
pay one-half his price.
200. If he knock out a tooth of a man of his own rank, they shall knock out his tooth.
201. If he knock out a tooth of a common man, he shall pay one-third mana of silver.
202. If a man smite on the cheek a man who is his superior, he shall receive sixty
strokes with an oxtail whip in public.
215. If a physician make a deep incision upon a man (i.e., perform a major operation)
with his bronze lancet and save the man's life; or if he operate on the eye socket of
a man with his bronze lancet and save that man's eye, he shall receive ten shekels
of silver....
218. If a physician make a deep incision upon a man with his bronze lancet and cause
the man's death, or operate on the eye socket of a man with his bronze lancet and
destroy the man's eye, they shall cut off his hand....
226. If a barber without (the consent of) the owner of the slave cut the hair of the
forehead of a slave (making him) unrecognizable, they shall cut off the hand of that
229. If a builder erect a house for a man and do not make its construction firm, and the
house which he built collapse and cause the death of the owner of the house, that
builder shall be put to death.
230. If it cause the death of a son of the owner of the house, they shall put to death a
son of that builder.
231. If it cause the death of a slave of the owner of the house, he shall give to the owner
of the house slave for slave....
278. If a man buy a male or female slave, and the slave have not completed his month
when epilepsy attacks him, the buyer shall return him to the seller and shall receive
the money which he paid.
279. If a man buy a male or female slave of a man in a foreign country and there be a
claim against him, the seller shall be responsible for the claim.
280. If a man buy a male or female slave of a man in a foreign country and if when he
comes back to his own land the (former) owner of the male or female slave
recognize his male or female slave, if the male or female slave be natives of the
land, their freedom shall be granted without money.
281. If they be natives of another land, the buyer shall declare before God the money
which he paid (for them), and the owner of the male or female slave shall give to
the merchant the money which he paid out, and shall (thus) redeem his male or
female slave.
282. If a male slave say to his master, "Thou art not my master," his master shall prove
him to be his slave and shall cut off his ear.
The righteous laws of justice which Hammurabi the wise king established and by which
he gave the land a firm support and a gracious rule. Hammurabi the perfect king am I. I
was not careless nor was I neglectful of the black-headed people, whom Bel4 presented
to me and whose care Marduk gave to me... That the strong might not injure the weak,
and that they should give justice to the widows and orphans, in Babylon, the city where
Anu and Bel raised aloft, in Esagila5, the temple whose foundations stand firm as
Bel was the Babylonian god of earth.
Esaglia was the temple of the patron god of Babylon, Marduk.
heaven and earth, to pronounce judgements for the land, render decisions for the land,
to give justice for the oppressed, my weight words I have written upon my monument,
and in the presence of the image of me, king of righteousness, have I set it up.
The king who is preeminent among kings am I. My words are precious; my wisdom is
unrivaled. By the command of Shamash6, the great judge of heaven and earth, may I
make righteousness to shine forth on the land: by the word of Marduk, my lord, may
there be none to set aside my statutes; in Esagila which I love may my name be
remembered with favor forever. Let any oppressed man who has a cause come before
the image of me, the king of righteousness! Let him have read to him the writing on this
monument! And may my monument enlighten him as to his cause and may he
understand his case! May it set his heart at ease.
Hammurabi indeed is a ruler, who is like a real father to his people; he has given
reverence to the word of Marduk, his lord; he has obtained Marduk‘s victory, north and
south; he has made glad the heart of Marduk, his lord; he has established prosperity for
all time and has led the land aright.
HW # 11: Civilizations of the Nile: Egypt and Nubia
Read WH, pp. 33-39, 83-87.
1. The ancient Greek historian Herodotus said that ―Egypt was the gift of the Nile.‖
What did he mean by this statement?
2. How did the deserts surrounding the Nile both aid and hinder in the development of
Egyptian civilization?
3. Why was Egypt a civilization of cultural and ethnic
4. Compare and contrast the attitudes of Egyptians
and modern day Americans to our physical
5. What evidence is there that women fared better in
Egypt and Nubia than in other ancient patriarchal
6. What was the source of the wealth of the Kush
HW: 12:
From John Noble Wilford, ―A Mystery, Locked in
Timeless Embrace.‖
December 20, 2005: New York Times
Shamash was the Babylonian god of justice.
When Egyptologists entered the tomb for the first time more than four decades ago,
they expected to be surprised. Explorers of newly exposed tombs always expect that,
and this time they were not disappointed – they were confounded.
Since the 4,300-year-old tomb was discovered outside Cairo in 1964, Egyptologists
have known the names of the two men buried there – Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep –
and their occupation, manicurists to the king. But why were they embracing?
It was back in 1964, outside Cairo, near the famous Step Pyramid in the necropolis of
Saqqara and a short drive from the Sphinx and the breathtaking pyramids at Giza. The
newfound tomb yielded no royal mummies or dazzling jewels. But the explorers stopped
in their tracks when the light of their kerosene lamp shined on the wall art in the most
sacred chamber.
There, carved in stone, were the images of two men embracing. Their names were
inscribed above: Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep. Though not of the nobility, they were
highly esteemed in the palace as the chief manicurists of the king, sometime from 2380
to 2320 B.C., in the time known as the fifth dynasty of the Old Kingdom. Grooming the
king was an honored occupation.
1. Why do you think the Egyptologists were confounded?
2. What possible interpretations could be given to the image in this stone carving?
3. Is there a danger in reading our own cultural assumptions back into cultural artifacts
from a different time and
Religion and State in Egyptian Civilization
1. What reasons might there be for the development of the idea in ancient Egyptian
civilization that Pharaohs were god-like?
2. Why was Ikhnaton‘s rule so disturbing to the priestly elite of Egyptian civilization?
3. Some scholars have suggested that Sun god worship of Ikhnaton was one source of
the inspiration for the development of Judaic monotheism, pointing to parallels
between the and Psalm 104. Do you think this is a plausible interpretation of the
emergence of monotheism, that it started from the worship of a chief god in a
polytheistic religion?
4. Do you think that there might be a connection between a more realistic and human
portrayal of the ruling royalty, on the one hand, and the development of monotheism,
on the other hand?
5. How did a religious belief in the after-life impact ancient Egyptian culture?
6. How would a text like the Book of the Dead comfort and console Egyptians in the
face of death?
7. What purpose does the ―declaration of innocence‖ in the Book of Dead serve?
8. In what ways do the ancient Egyptians share our modern view of death? In what
ways do the depart from it?
Making a God More Human
By Annette Grant
New York Times: November 14, 1999
LOUIS XIV was a mere parvenu in the Sun King business. The first Sun King was the
Egyptian pharaoh Ikhnaton, who lived some 30 centuries before Louis and built on this
spot an opulent royal city that was the Versailles of its day. He called the city Ikhtaton,
Horizon of the Sun, in honor of the sun god Aton, whose name was incorporated in his
own, meaning Servant of the Sun. From his new capital on the Nile, roughly midway
between Memphis and Thebes, Ikhnaton and his celebrated wife, Nefertiti, governed
Egypt for 12 of the 17 years of his rule, from 1353 to 1336 B.C., and established a onegod (Aton) religion to supplant the polytheistic system that had obtained for centuries.
Today, little remains at Ikhtaton, long called Amarna, but the foundations of mud-brick
temples, palaces and houses, and millions of potsherds. The royal tombs, in the hills
east of the 10-mile-long, 4-mile-wide city, were robbed and defaced long ago, leaving
only wall murals incised in plaster that is endangered now not by vandals but by salt
from Egypt's rising water table.
Yet enough first-class material survived (some of it by chance when subsequent
pharaohs co-opted it for their own building projects) here and at Karnak in Thebes to
provide a tantalizing picture of a monarch who wrought changes in religion and art so
heretical that after his death he was declared a nonperson, his face and name deleted
from monuments and his fabulous city razed.
A glimpse into the mysteries of Ikhnaton's world can be had in a 1999 museum
exhibition titled ''Pharaohs of the Sun: Ikhnaton, Nefertiti, Tutankhamen,'' with more than
250 pieces of sculpture, relief, ceramics, jewelry, tools and furniture. (Ancient Egyptian
names are transliterated many different ways; Ikhnaton is often rendered Akhenaten or
Akhnaten.) Dr. Rita E. Freed, the museum's Norma-Jean Calderwood curator of ancient
Egyptian, Nubian and Near Eastern art and the exhibition's organizer, spent four years
negotiating the loans necessary to flesh out the Amarna period of the New Kingdom
dynasties, which are reckoned from 1539 to 1075 B.C.
Dr. Freed pulled off a considerable coup in getting for the show two colossal heads of
Ikhnaton never seen outside Egypt. These sandstone heads, each weighing more than
a ton, were among about 30 statues of the pharaoh found at Karnak by Henri Chevrier
in 1925. They have been in storage at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, which has lent 28
objects to the exhibition.
The style of these statues marks a startling departure from the standard depiction of
pharaohs. The status symbols – the uraeus (cobra) on the crown, the crook and flail
crossed on the chest, the clip-on beard – are all in place. But the face has taken on a
pronounced V shape, with heavily lidded eyes, a very long nose and full, pouting lips.
Age lines frame the mouth.
Whether Ikhnaton (or Nefertiti) actually looked like their statues or drawings may never
be known, for idealization rather than likeness was the general rule for royalty, and the
queen was often given the features of the king. Their mummies might provide a clue,
but they have disappeared. Still, Ikhnaton certainly approved the depiction, for his chief
sculptor, Bak, testifies in an inscription that the pharaoh closely supervised his work.
The stylistic shift seen in these colossuses started before Ikhnaton was pharaoh –
before he was even Ikhnaton but still Amenhotep IV. His father, Amenhotep III, was a
powerful king who had made Egypt rich and secure enough to welcome innovation.
Though the Amenhoteps, whose name incorporates the god Amon, built the usual
temples for themselves, the traditional portraits show some eccentricities. In the Boston
exhibition, a life-size torso of the aging and portly Amenhotep III is a sign of changing
Early in his reign, Amenhotep IV underwent a conversion, breaking completely with his
forebears. By Year 5, he had changed his name, declared Aton, until then a minor deity
favored by his father, the one true god and set out with his family, court, artists and
craftsmen to build his sun city, where he would live as Aton's sole high priest.
The development caused consternation among the long-established priesthood of
Amon, especially when Ikhnaton ordered all mention of Amon erased and statues of him
destroyed throughout the land. In Ikhnaton's own city, which was rising at a dazzling
rate and soon had a population of 20,000, Aton was rendered not as a man but as a
radiant disk whose beneficent rays, bearing ankhs, the symbol of life, beamed down on
the royal family.
With Amon gone, along with the legions of gods who ritually guided the dead through
eternity, the principal subject left to artists was royal and daily life. They embraced their
task with apparent zeal. One of the greatest of these artists, Thutmose, ran a studio
compound in the capital city that produced numerous statues, including the famous
unfinished bust of Nefertiti discovered in 1912 by German archaeologists and given to
the Egyptian Museum in Berlin. This sculpture never travels, but others from
Thutmose's workshop are in Boston and amply illustrate the lifelike candor the master
carver coaxed from stone, clay and plaster.
The new style also evolved in painting and bas-reliefs, though age-old conventions were
still observed. The largest person in a scene continued to be the most important, the
smallest the least. People strode forward in profile with the shoulders and chest seen
frontally, and the king still usually faced right, the power direction.
But rigidity was giving way to informality in scenes that look more like real-time
snapshots than stage sets. For the first time the royal couple was shown eating, and the
Cairo museum has lent the show a charming sculptor's model of a princess nibbling on
a roasted duck. Emotions were expressed. The king and queen kissed, played with their
children, wept when one of their six daughters died.
There were portrayals of age, and in place of the wasp waist, a strange corpulence
caused stomachs to sag over low-slung waistbands. Buttocks and thighs swelled
voluptuously under skinny chests while calves and arms became thin, and hands looked
effete and boneless. Suddenly there were five articulated toes on the outer foot, with
And there was a distinct slouch, accentuated by deep carving that produced a dramatic
chiaroscuro in open-to-the-sun temples. If bodies looked elongated, even deformed,
they were. The strict proportion of the canonical figure was based on 18 units the size of
its fist; at Amarna the number increases to 20, the extra two added above the knee.
Many scholars think the deliberate distortion in Amarnan art indicates that the king
suffered from some physical affliction; others suggest it was the declaration of a cultural
revolution: a new god served by new rituals demanded new art.
From the evidence of some of that art, Ikhnaton didn't wage extensive wars (which is
historically true) and didn't care for hunting, the usual sport of kings. Yet he enjoyed
ceremonies like riding along the Royal Road in his chariot plated in electrum (a goldsilver alloy) to his midtown palace, where from the Window of Appearance he and
Nefertiti distributed rewards, often necklaces and rings, to favored courtiers.
Nefertiti wielded more power in the empire than most previous queens, which might
qualify Ikhnaton as the first feminist. At Amarna, Nefertiti is often shown the same size
as the king, and she also stands with him as an equal at political events and in tributes
to Aton. She even drives her own chariot. In Boston, one unusual fragment shows
Nefertiti in what is called a ''smiting'' position, a traditional saber-rattling pose in which
the king threatens an enemy, whom he holds by the hair. She was the first queen to be
represented in this attitude.
Some experts think Nefertiti took over as pharaoh when Ikhnaton died, but the evidence
is mixed on that point. What certainly did happen under the next major ruler, the boyking Tutankhamen, is that Ikhnaton's world and philosophy came tumbling down. It is
worth noting that Tutankhamen was born Tutankhaton and married one of Ikhnaton's
daughters, who may have been his half or even full sister. Probably under pressure
from advisers, he moved the capital back to traditional centers, changed his name and
restored the old priesthood of Amon.
As the citizens left the capital, so did the artists. Some headed south to Thebes, where
their work is visible at Karnak and in the Valley of the Kings in Tut's tomb and others;
some went north to Memphis to work at Saqqara, the city's necropolis. At these sites,
the Amarnan look, often mixed with the resurgent older style, survives: here is a distinct
pot belly; there is a high-waisted figure with five articulated toes.
These remnants surely don't represent the kind of eternity the pharaoh had in mind for
himself. But if after Ikhnaton was the deluge, the sun is out again and, 3,300 years later,
giving new life to its most ardent subject.
From the Chapter 125, ―The Declaration of Innocence‖ in the Ancient Egyptian Book
of the Dead [Raymond Faulkner and James Allen, translators. New York: Barnes and
Noble, 2005.]
"As for him who knows this book, nothing evil shall have power over him, he shall not be
turned away at the gates of the West; he shall go in and out, and bread and beer and all
good things shall be given to him in the presence of those who are in the Netherworld."
—Spell 181, Book of the Dead of Ani
Written between four thousand and twenty-five hundred years ago, the funerary texts
today referred to as the Book of the Dead are among the earliest religious or
philosophical writings in existence. The Book of the Dead was known to the ancient
Egyptians as the "Spells of Emerging in Daytime," for according to their beliefs the spirit
lives on after death, emerging each morning from the tomb to walk among the living in
the world it once new but on a higher plane of existence. In this sense, the Book of the
Dead is more aptly called the Book of Life. It includes magical spells, prayers, and
incantations to help the deceased transition from death to eternal life as a spirit and to
protect the spirit from the dangerous forces that inhabited the Netherworld, through
which it would pass each night.
The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead describes a strange world where goddesses
inhabit trees, where baboons worship the sun, and where the spirit of the deceased can
magically transform itself into a falcon, crocodile, or lotus blossom. Illuminating the
sacred writings are nearly two hundred magnificent works of ancient Egyptian art,
featuring richly colored vignettes from the Papyrus of Ani and other ancient papyri as
well as stunning examples of jewelry and other symbolic funerary objects and artworks.
What should be said when arriving at the Hall of Justice, of Two Truths, purging N [the
deceased] of all the forbidden things he has done, and seeing the faces of all the Gods.
Spell for descending to the broad hall of Two Truths:
N shall say:
Hail to you, great God, Lord of Justice! I have come to you, my lord, that you may bring
me so that I may see your beauty, for I know you and I know your name, and I know the
names of the forty-two gods of those who are with you in this Hall of Justice, who live on
those who cherish evil and who gulp down their blood on that day of the reckoning of
characters in the presence of Wennefer. Behold the double son of the Songstresses;
Lord of Truth is your name. Behold I have come to you, I have brought you truth, I have
repelled falsehood for you.
I have not done falsehood against men, I have not impoverished my associates, I have
done no wrong in the Place of Truth, I have not learnt that which is not, I have done no
evil, I have not daily made labor in excess of what was to be done for me, my name has
not reached the offices of those who control slaves, I have not deprived the orphan of
his property, I have not done what the gods detest, I have not slandered a servant to his
master, I have not caused pain, I have not made hungry, I have not made to weep, I
have not killed, I have not turned anyone over to a killer, I have not caused anyone‘s
suffering, I have not diminished the food-offerings in the temples, I have not debased
the offering cakes of the gods.
I have not taken the cakes of the blessed, I have not copulated illicitly, I have not been
unchaste, I have not increased nor diminished the measure, I have not diminished the
palm, I have not encroached upon fields, I have not added to the balance weights, I
have not tempered with the plumb bob of the balance. I have not taken milk from a
child‘s mouth, I have not driven small cattle from their herbage, I have not snared birds
for the gods‘ harpoon barbs, I have not caught fish of their lagoons, I have not stopped
the flow f water in its seasons. I have not built a dam against flowing water, I have not
quenched a fire in its time. I have not failed to observe the days for haunches of meat. I
have not kept cattle away from the God‘s property, I have not blocked the God at his
I am Pure. I am pure. I am pure. I am pure. My purity is the purity of this great Phoenix
that is in Heracleopolis, because I am indeed the nose of the Lord of Wind who made all
men live on that day of completing the Sacred Eye in Heliopolis in the 2nd month of
winter last day, in the presence of the lord of this land. I am he who saw the completion
of the Sacred Eye in Heliopolis, and nothing evil shall come into being against me in this
land in this Hall of Justice, because I know the names of these gods who are in it.
Declaration of Innocence Before the Gods of the Tribunal
Hail Far-strider who came forth from Heliopolis, I have done no falsehood.
Hail Fire-embracer who came forth from Kheraha, I have not robbed.
Hail Nosey who came forth from Hermopolis, I have not been rapacious.
Hail Swallower of shades who came forth from the cavern, I have not stolen.
Hail Dangerous One who came forth from Rosetjau, I have not killed men.
Hail Double Lion who came forth from the sky, I have not destroyed food-supplies.
Hail Fiery Eyes who came forth from Letopolis, I have done no crookedness.
Hail Flame which came forth backwards, I have not stolen the god‘s offerings.
Hail Bone-breaker who came forth from Heracleopolis, I have not told lies.
Hail Green of Flame who came forth from Memphis, I have no taken food.
Hail You of the cavern who came forth from the West, I have not been sullen.
Hail White of teeth who came forth from the Faiyum, I have not transgressed.
Hail Blood-eater who came forth from the shambles, I have not killed a sacred bull.
Hail Eater of entrails who came forth from the House of Thirty, I have not committed
Hail Lord of Truth who came forth from Maaty, I have not stolen bread.
Hail Wanderer who came forth from Bubastis, I have not eavesdropped.
Hail Pale One who came forth from Heliopolis, I have not babbled.
Hail Doubly evil who came forth from Andjet, I have not disputed except concerning my
own property.
Hail Wememty-snake who came forth from the place of execution, I have not fornicated
with a child.
Hail You who see whom you bring who came forth from the House of Min, I have not
Hail You who are over the Old One who came forth from Imau, I have not made terror.
Hail Demolisher who came forth from Xois, I have not transgressed.
Hail Disturber who came forth from Weryt, I have not been hot-tempered.
Hail Youth who came forth from the Heliopolitan nome, I have not been deaf to words of
Hail Foreteller who came forth from Wenes, I have not made disturbance.
Hail You of the altar who came forth from the secret place, I have not hoodwinked.
Hail You whose face is behind him who came forth from the Cavern of Wrong, I have
neither misconducted myself nor copulated with a boy.
Hail Hot-foot who came forth from the dusk, I have not been neglectful.
Hail You of the darkness who came forth from the darkness, I have not been
Hail Bringer of your offering who came forth from Sais, I have not been unduly active.
Hail Owner of faces who came forth from Nedjefet, I have not been impatient.
Hail Accuser who came forth from Wetjenet, I have not transgressed my nature, I have
not washed out the picture of a god.
Hail Owner of horns who came forth from Asyut, I have not been voluble in speech.
Hail Nefertum who came forth from Memphis, I have done no wrong, I have seen no
Hail Tempsep who came forth from Busiris, I have not made conjuration against the
Hail You who acted according to your will, who came forth from Tjebu, I have not waded
in water.
Hail Water-smiter who came forth from the Abyss, I have not been loud-voiced.
Hail Prosperer of the common folk who came forth from your house, I have not reviled
Hail Bestower of good who came forth from the Harpoon nome, I have not been puffed
Hail Bestower of powers who came forth from the City, I have not made distinctions for
Hail Serpent with raised head, who came forth from the cavern, I am not wealthy except
with my own property.
Hail Carrier-off of His Portion who came forth from the Silent Land, I have not
blasphemed God in my city.
HW # 13: Hinduism
Read WH, pp. 62-64 and the below.
1. How is the Hindu idea of karma, how well one acts in life, connected to the notion of
dharma, or the duties of one‘s position in society?
2. What is a caste? What are the four major castes, or varna, of Indian society and
Hindu thought?
3. How is the Hindu idea of reincarnation, or samsara, and release from incarnation, or
moksha, connected to the ideas of varna [castes], dharma [duties] and karma
[virtuous action]?
4. In Hindu thought, what are the rewards for moral behavior and the punishments for
immoral behavior?
5. What is the argument that Krishna, the god, makes to Arjuna, the warrior, to justify his
taking the lives of his grandson and teacher in battle? Do you find that argument
6. Do you think that the existence of a soul, or spirit, means that one can kill a person in
good conscience, if he does done some wrong or joined some dangerous cause,
since the spirit lives on regardless?
"Hinduism" is the term Westerners have used for the religion of most people living on
the Indian subcontinent. Many other religions have originated and flourished in India,
however, including Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism. Islam has also played a large role
in Indian life since around 1000 C.E. Hinduism itself encompasses more than a religion;
it includes an entire way of life.
When the Aryan invaders conquered and settled among the native Dravidians in India,
the fusion of cultures developed into early Hinduism between approximately 700 B.C.E.
and 400 C.E. In spite of portraying individual divinities in versions much at a variance
with one another, Hinduism promoted a comprehensive view of life. It focused on four
legitimate goals for which all men and women should strive.
The first and most basic goal was pleasure (kama). Wealthy people and the less
affluent alike could derive pleasure from elaborate craft traditions in art, music, drama,
and many varieties of story-telling. Hindus developed the joys of fine living into highly
sophisticated forms. The second goal was the acquisition of wealth (artha), illustrated in
the following section on Hindu ideas of the proper use of ruling power. The third goal
was abiding by law or duty (dharma). Hindu law was believed to be eternal and
unchanging, revealed to human seers or prophets at the beginning of time (for example,
Manu was the recipient of the Laws of Manu). The essential structure of the law was the
fourfold division of social classes – from priests and warriors at the top to the
commoners and servile class (the conquered, darker-skinned people) at the bottom.
This structure was the basis of the ―caste system," where by one's occupation and
social status were completely determined at birth. Hindu law also postulated that after
death each person would enter a new life form based on the good or evil done in the
previous life. This process is called transmigration or reincarnation (samsara).
A final goal of the Hindus was the quest for liberation (moksha) from the process of
transmigration. This goal involved a quest for transcending the normal human condition
of trying to do good and avoid evil, only to be reborn in another life where the struggle
would continue indefinitely. Some Hindus sought, and believed that they could attain, a
condition of godlike perfection that would be an end to such a cycle.
The Hindu tradition described three valid paths to end transmigration. The first was the
path of action (karma), which meant properly performing religious rituals as well as
doing one's prescribed duty. Most Hindu thinkers, however, believed that following such
a path could only partially lead a person to the ultimate goal. Therefore a second, and
more favored, path was that of knowledge (jhana), first described in the Upanishads,
beginning around 700 B.C.E. This path involved calm contemplation of the universe and
the self until one realized that God was present everywhere – including within the self.
Only a small percent age of all Hindus would ever reach, or even attempt to reach, this
mystical experience of oneness with God and the universe. The journey was a long and
difficult one that required sacrificing all usual ways of living and thinking for long hours
of private meditation.
The final path to liberation involved devotion (hhakti) to God. After the time of the Rig
Veda, the Hindus gradually developed the concept that only one God existed. But
Hindus did not all agree on the identity of this God; some believed Vishnu was supreme
(as did the writer of the Bhagavad Gita), whereas others favored Shiva. They did
agree, however, that a person totally devoted to God, in thinking and love, would be
saved by God and granted liberation from transmigration. The worship of the supreme
deity, the outpouring of love toward God, and the prayerful hope for divine compassion
became the major driving forces of Hinduism.
The following text selections can give only a small sample of the great variety of writing
produced by Hindu India.
The Laws of Manu
From The Laws of Manu. G. Buhler, translator. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1886.
In the Hindu tradition, Manu was the grandson of the Supreme Being, who set down
laws for all to follow. The most influential parts of this sacred law book over the ages
have been the assignment of duties to the castes, an explanation of cause and effect in
the reincarnation [or transmigration] process, and rules to follow for achieving liberation
from it.
Duties of the Social Classes
31. For the sake of the prosperity of the worlds, Purusha caused the Brâhmana7, the
Kshatriya8, the Vaisya9, and the Sûdra10 to proceed from his mouth, his arms, his
thighs, and his feet.
88. To Brâhmanas he assigned teaching and studying (the Veda11), sacrificing for their
own benefit and for others, giving and accepting (of alms).
Teachers, scholars and priests
Kings, nobles and warriors
Traders and merchants
Farmers, artisans and service providers. Although the dalits [―the untouchables‖] are sometimes considered to be a
lower part of this caste, they are really outside of the caste system altogether. Traditionally, dalits were landless
laborers and those who performed jobs which were ‗impure‘, such as those who handled night soil and animal
Sacred scriptures
89. The Kshatriya he commanded to protect the people, to bestow gifts, to offer
sacrifices, to study the Veda, and to abstain from attaching himself to sensual
90. The Vaisya to tend cattle, to bestow gifts, to offer sacrifices, to study the Veda, to
trade, to lend money, and to cultivate land.
91. One occupation only the lord prescribed to the Sûdra, to serve meekly even these
other three castes.
92. Man is stated to be purer above the navel than below: hence the Self-existent has
declared the purest part of him to be his mouth.
93. As the Brâhmana sprang from mouth, as he was the first-born, and as he possesses
the Veda, he is by right the lord of this creation.
94. For the Self-existent one, having performed austerities, produced him first from his
own mouth, in order that the offerings might be conveyed to the gods and manes12
and that this universe might be preserved.
95. What created being can surpass him, through whose mouth the gods continually
consume the sacrificial meats and the manes the offerings to the dead?
96. Of created beings the most excellent are said to be those which are animated; of the
animated, those which subsist by intelligence; of the intelligent, mankind: and of
men, Brâhmanas.
97. Of Brâhmanas, those learned in the Veda; of the learned, those who recognize the
necessity and the manner of performing those prescribed duties: of those who
possess this knowledge, those who perform them; of the performers, those who
know the Brahman.
98. The very birth of a Brâhmana is an eternal incarnation of the sacred law: for he is
born to fulfill the sacred law, and becomes one with Brahman.
102. In order to clearly settle his duties and those of the other castes according to their
order, wise Manu, sprung from the Self-existent, composed these Institutes of the
sacred law.
3. Action [karma], which springs from the mind, from speech, and from the body,
produces either good or evil results; by action are caused the various conditions of
men, the highest, the middling, and the lowest.
Venerated spirits of the dead.
4. Know that the mind is the instigator here below, even to that action which is
connected with the body, and which is of three kinds, has three locations, and falls
under ten heads.
5. Coveting the property of others, thinking in one's heart of what is undesirable, and
adherence to false doctrines, are the three kinds of sinful mental action.
6. Abusing others, speaking untruth, detracting from the merits of all men, and talking
idly, shall be the four kinds of evil verbal action.
7. Taking what has not been given, injuring creatures without the sanction of the law,
and holding criminal intercourse with another man's wife, are declared to be the
three kinds of wicked bodily action.
8. A man obtains the result of a good or evil mental act in his mind, that of a verbal act
in his speech, that of a bodily act in his body.
9. In consequence of many sinful acts committed with his body, a man becomes in the
next birth something inanimate, in consequence of sins committed by speech, a bird
or a beast, and in consequence of mental sins he is re-born in a low caste.
10. That man is called a true tridandin13 in whose mind these three, the control over his
speech…, the control over his thoughts..., and the control over his body…, are
firmly fixed.
11. That man who keeps this threefold control over himself with respect to all created
beings and wholly subdues desire and wrath, thereby assuredly gains complete
52. In consequence of attachment to the objects of the senses, and in consequence of
the nonperformance of their duties, fools, the lowest of men, reach the vilest births.
53. What wombs this individual soul enters in this world and in consequence of what
actions, learn the particulars of that at large and in due order.
54. Those who committed mortal sins… having passed during large numbers of years
through dreadful hells, obtain, after the expiration of that term of punishment, the
following births:
55. The slaver of a Brâman enters the womb of a dog, a pig, an ass, a camel, a cow, a
goat, a sheep, a deer, a bird, a Candala, and a Pukkasa14.
An Hindu ascetic who has spiritual control of his thoughts, his words and his actions.
These were very low positions within the caste system, most often considered part of the dalits [untouchables].
56. A Brâman who drinks the spirituous liquor called Sura shall enter the bodies of small
and large insects, of moths, or birds, feeding on ordure, and of destructive beasts.
57. A Brâman who steals the gold of a Brâhman shall pass a thousand times through
the bodies of spiders, snakes and lizards, of aquatic animals and of destructive
58. The violater of a Guru's16 bed enters a hundred times the forms of grasses, shrubs
and creepers, likewise of carnivorous animals and of beasts with fangs and of those
doing cruel deeds.
59. Men who delight in doing hurt become carnivorous animals; those who eat forbidden
food, worms, thieves, creatures consuming their own kind: those who have
intercourse with women of the lower castes, Pretas.17
The Path to Liberation
1. A twice-born householder, who has thus lived according to the law in the order of
householders, may, taking a firm resolution and keeping his organs of sense in
subjection, dwell in the forest, duly observing the rules given below.
2. When a householder sees his skin wrinkled, and his hair white, and the sons of his
sons, then he may resort to the forest.
3. Abandoning all food raised by cultivation, and all his belongings, he may depart into
the forest, either committing his wife to his sons, or accompanied by her.
8. Let him be always industrious in privately reciting the Veda; let him be patient of
hardships, friendly towards all of collected mind, always liberal.
25. Having reposited the three sacred fires in himself, according to prescribed rule, let
him live without a fire, without a house, wholly silent, subsisting on roots and fruit…
33. But having thus passed the third part of a man's natural term of life in the forest, he
may live as an ascetic during the fourth part of his existence, after abandoning all
attachment to worldly objects.
A guru is a spiritual master or teacher.
42. Let him always wander alone, without any companion, in order to attain final
liberation, fully understanding that the solitary man, who neither forsakes nor is
forsaken, gains his end.
87. The student, the householder, the hermit, and the ascetic, these constitute four
separate orders, which all spring from the order of householders.
88. But all or even any of these orders, assumed successively in accordance with the
Institutes of the sacred law, lead the Brâman who acts by the preceding rules to the
highest state.
89. And in accordance with the precepts of the Veda… the householder is declared to
be superior to all of them; for he supports the other three.
From The Song of God. Dhan Gopal Mukerji, translator. London: Penguin Books, 1931.
The Bhagavad-Gita, "The Song of God," is one of the most popular and revered books
in Hindu religious literature. For more than two millennia, it has been the principal
source of religious inspiration for many millions of South Asian people. It consists of
more than seven hundred line verses in the form of a long philosophical dialogue
primarily between Krishna, a manifestation of the Supreme Deity in human form, and
Arjuna, a warrior-prince, dealing with questions regarding the relationship between
man's real self or soul and the body and life and destiny as a whole. In the first of the
following two excerpts from the Bhagavad-Gita, Krishna explains the deathless life and
the indestructibility of the soul and the importance of caste duties, concepts so central to
Hindu religious belief, to Arjuna, who is torn by the feelings of worldly and spiritual
obligations. In the second excerpt, the importance of devotion to God in achieving
salvation in Hindu religion is described.
Deathless Life and Caste Obligation
How can I use my arrows in battle against Bhîshma, my grandsire, and Drona, my
venerable teacher, who are worthy rather to be worshipped, O Destroyer of all
Surely would it be better to eat the bread of beggary in this life than to slay these greatsouled masters!
If I kill them, all enjoyment of wealth, all gratified desire, is stained by their blood!
Indeed, scarcely can I tell which would be better, that they or we should conquer, for to
destroy those sons of Dhritarâstra who oppose us, would be to extinguish for ever the
savor of life.
Overpowered by my helplessness, and with a mind in confusion, I supplicate Thee!
Make clear to me that which is my good; I am Thy disciple. Instruct me, who have
sought my refuge in Thee!
There is naught to dispel this sorrow which overpowereth my senses. Were I to obtain
undisputed and powerful dominion over all the earth, and mastery over the gods, what
then would that avail me?
Arjuna, having thus spoken to Krishna, Lord of the Senses, made end, saving: 'I shall
not fight!' and with these words fell silent.
But as he remained sorrowing thus in the midst of the two armies, Krishna, smiling a
little, spoke to him as follows:
Thou hast grieved for those undeserving of grief, Arjuna! Although thou speakest wisely,
those who are still wiser mourn neither for the living nor for the dead.
For never hath it been that I was not, nor thou, nor these Kings: nor shall we cease to
he, ever.
The self is not interrupted while childhood, youth and old age pass through the flesh;
likewise in death the self dieth not, but is released to assume another shape. By this the
calm soul is not deluded.
The impressions of the senses, quickened to heat and cold, pain and pleasure, are
transitory. Forever on the ebb and flow, they are by their very nature impermanent. Bear
them then patiently, O Descendant of Kings!
For the wise man who is serene in pain and pleasure, whom these disturb not, he alone
is able to attain Immortality, O Great amongst men!
The unreal can never be; the real can never cease to be. Those who know the truth
know that this is so. The Unnamable Principle which pervadeth all things, none bath
power to destroy: know thou certainly that It is indestructible.
By That, immortal, inexhaustible, illimitable, Indweller, is the mortality of this flesh
possessed. Fight therefore O Descendant of brave Kings!
He who conceiveth this Indweller, this Self, as slaver, or who conceiveth It as slain, is
without knowledge. The Self neither slaveth nor is It slain.
It is never born, nor doth It die, nor having once existed, doth It ever cease to be.
Ancient, eternal, changeless, ever Itself, It perisheth not when the body is destroyed.
How can that man who knoweth It to be indestructible, changeless, without birth, and
immutable, how can he, Arjuna, either slay or cause the slaving of another?
As a man casteth off an old garment and putteth on another which is new, so the Self
casteth off its outworn embodiment and entereth into a new form.
This Self, weapons cut not; This, fire burneth not; This, water wetteth not; and This, the
winds dry not up.
This Self cannot be cut, it cannot be burnt, it cannot be wetted, it cannot be dried.
Changeless, all-pervading, unmoving, Eternal, it is the Unalterable Self.
This Self is invisible, inconceivable, and changeless. Knowing that It is such, cease,
therefore, to grieve!
But whether thou believest this Self of eternal duration or subjected constantly to birth
and death, yet Mighty-armed One, hast thou no cause to grieve.
For, to that which is born, death is certain; to that which dieth, birth is certain, and the
unavoidable, giveth not occasion for grief.
Nothing may be perceived in its beginning; in its middle state only is it known, and its
end again is undisclosed. What herein, Arjuna, is cause for grief?
One man perceiveth the Self as a thing of wonder; another speaketh of It as a wonder;
others hear of It as a wonder, but though seeing, speaking, hearing, none
comnprehendeth It at all.
This, which is the Indweller in all beings, is forever beyond harm. Then, for no creature,
Arjuna, hast thou any cause to grieve.
Examine thy duty and falter not, for there is no better thing for a warrior than to wage
righteous war.
Fortunate indeed are the soldiers, Aijuna, who, fighting in such a battle, reach this
unsought, open gate to heaven.
But to refuse this just fight and forgo thine own duty and honour, is to incur sin.
By so doing the world will also hold thee ever in despite. To the honourable, dishonour
is surely worse than death.
The great charioteer warriors will believe that through fear thou hast withdrawn from the
battle. Then shalt thou fall from their esteem, who hast hitherto been highly regarded.
Thine enemies moreover, cavilling at thy great prowess. will say of thee that which is
riot to he uttered. What fate, indeed, could be more unbearable than this?
Dying thou gainest heaven; victorious, thou enjoyest the earth. Therefore, Arjuna, arise,
resolved to do battle.
Look upon pain and pleasure, gain and loss, conquest and defeat, as the same, and
prepare to fight; thus shalt thou incur no evil.
Now hath been declared unto thee the understanding of the Self Hearken thou
moreover to the Way, or Yoga. Following which, O son of Kings, thou shalt break
through the fateful bondage of thine act.18
On this Way nothing that is begun is lost, nor are there any obstacles, and even a very
little progress thereon bringeth security against great fear.
Devotion to God
But those who adore Me, and Me alone, and all beings who are steadfast and
supremely dedicated in their worship, I augment in their fullness and fill them up in their
Even those who devotedly worship other gods because of their love, worship Me; but,
the path they follow is not My path.
For I alone am the Deity of all sacrifices, arid those who worship other gods than Me
reach the end of merit and return to the world, where they must set forth anew upon the
One pursueth the gods arid attaineth the sphere of the gods suitable to the merit of his
works; another worshippeth the Fathers and yet another worshippeth at tributes and
incarnations, each attaining unto his own place: but he who worshippeth Me cometh
unto Me.
Whosoever with devotion offereth Me leaf, flower, fruit, or water, I accept it from him as
the devout gift of the pure-minded.
Whatsoever thou doest, Arjuna, whatsoever thou eatest, whatsoever thou givest away,
whatsoever thou offerest up as sacrifice, and whatsoever austerity thou shalt practice,
do it as an offering unto Me.
Thus shalt thou be released from the fateful bonds of thine acts, and the cage of good
and evil. Thine heart shall renounce itself, and being liberated, shall come unto Me.
To Me none is hateful, none dear; but those who worship Me with devotion dwell in Me,
and I also in them.
Even a very wicked man who worshippeth Me, eschewing all else in his devotion to Me,
shall be regarded as worthy of merit, for great is his faith.
―The bondage of thine act‖ is Karma, the virtuous action.
He shall attain righteousness in a short time, Aijuna, and compel everlasting Peace;
therefore, proclaim it aloud that no one of My devotees is destroyed.
They also who might be considered of inferior birth. women, tradesmen, as well as daylaborers, even they shall master this world and attain Me, Arjuna, if they seek Me with
single mind.
What need, then, to describe priests and kings who have attained holiness? Therefore,
Arjuna, in this transient, joyless world, worship thou Me!
Make thy mind My dwelling place; consecrate thyself to Me: sacrifice unto Me. bow
down unto Me, make thy heart steadfast in Me thy Supreme Destination, and thou too
shalt assuredly come unto Me.
Lesson 14
John Lennon, Instant Karma
Instant Karma's gonna get you
Gonna knock you right on the head
You better get yourself together
Pretty soon you're gonna be dead
What in the world you thinking of
Laughing in the face of love
What on earth you tryin' to do
It's up to you, yeah you
Instant Karma's gonna get you
Gonna look you right in the face
Better get yourself together darlin'
Join the human race
How in the world you gonna see
Laughin' at fools like me
Who in the hell d'you think you are
A super star
Well, right you are
Well we all shine on
Like the moon and the stars and the sun
Well we all shine on
Ev'ryone come on
Instant Karma's gonna get you
Gonna knock you off your feet
Better recognize your brothers
Ev'ryone you meet
Why in the world are we here
Surely not to live in pain and fear
Why on earth are you there
When you're ev'rywhere
Come and get your share
Well we all shine on
Like the moon and the stars and the sun
Yeah we all shine on
Come on and on and on on on
HW # 14: Buddhism
Read WH, pp. 62-64 and the below.
1. What do the Buddhist and Hindu traditions have in common? Where do they differ?
2. According to Buddhism, what is the source of suffering in the world? Do you agree
with this view?
3. Is Buddhism pessimistic about the human condition, or does it offer hope?
4. How important is meditation in achieving enlightenment, or nirvana, in Buddhism?
5. Given the focus in Buddhism on compassion and non-violence, what relationship do
you think it would have with political power?
6. Do you think a religion which focused on selflessness, such as Buddhism does,
could acquire a significant following in the West?
Buddhism represents one of the few truly unifying threads in the diverse cultures of
Asia. From its origins in Northeast India around 500 B.C.E., this religion spread
throughout the subcontinent and beyond, into Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia. The
patronage of missionary activity by the Indian king of the Mauryan dynasty, Ashoka
(269-232 B.C.E.), particularly promoted the dissemination of Buddhism. Around the
beginning of the Christian Era, this religion was introduced into China, and from there it
passed via Korea into Japan by the sixth century B.C.E. By the seventh century,
Buddhism had become the dominant religion of Tibet.
The Buddha's teaching emphasized that life in the endless cycle of reincarnation
(samsara) is inherently fraught with suffering and frustration. The cause of this suffering
is our desire for material things and our ignorance of the fact that there is no "self." Our
false notions prompt us to action in search of satisfaction for our "selves"; and all of
these actions (which the Buddhists and Hindus call karma) produce good or had
consequences, depending on whether they involve good or evil deeds. The results push
us into another life in the cycle of reincarnation, where we will receive our due rewards.
However, the Buddha believed that we are only heaps of skandhas, material
components, which obey natural laws of causation and which eventually disintegrate
like all matter. So, the Buddha reasoned, if people could only abandon the false notion
of self and give up all desire, they would be liberated from the effects of actions and,
therefore, from the cycle of transmigration. Once liberated, people would achieve a
condition of absolute peace and tranquility, which the Buddhists call nirvana. To achieve
this state, the Buddha provided an Eightfold Path for living a disciplined life of calm
Only monks and nuns, who constitute the Sangha [the religious order or community],
completely follow this path to reach nirvana. These rare men – and a few women –
totally give up their worldly possessions and ways, and take vows of poverty, chastity
and non-violence. Historically, most monks lived in monasteries where they spent their
time learning and discussing the Buddha's teaching and meditating in order to achieve a
deep, inner calm. The Buddhist laypersons (that is, those who lived normal lives outside
the monastery) greatly respected the monks and gained merit by providing them food
for their one meal a day. This religious practice still prevails in Sri Lanka and Southeast
About the time of Christ, two major branches of Buddhism had developed. They are
known as Mahayana or the Greater Vehicle and Hinayana or the Lesser Vehicle (also
known as Theravada or the Doctrine of Elders). The former claimed to be more tolerant
and inclusive than the latter, which spread widely in Sri Lanka and in the Southeast
Asian countries of Myanmar (Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos); rejected all later
additions to the tradition; and remained closer to original Buddhism, in which the monks
were the central element. Over the centuries, Mahayana Buddhism, which had spread
to China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam, developed the concept of salvation by faith in one
of many buddhas, including the historical Buddha. It also created a new type of deity,
the Boddhisattvas ("Buddha-to-be" or "Enlightened Existence"), who were dedicated to
selflessly helping as many other creatures as possible and delayed achieving nirvana
and becoming a Buddha themselves.
Enlightenment of the Buddha
From The Edicts of Asoka. N. Nikam and R. McKeon, eds., (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1959.)
This selection is from the best-known biography of the Buddha, called the
Buddhacarita and written by the Indian poet Ashvaghosha before A.D. 200. The
reading begins with Prince Gautama [who would become the Buddha] already having
abandoned family and home, intent on conquering the cause of human suffering. This
Buddha-to-be decides to sit alone under a tree until an answer to his problem is clear.
The episode ends with his achieving enlightenment – insight into the cause of suffering
and the way to overcome it. This experience turns him into a Buddha, an Enlightened
The Bodhisattva [Buddha-to-he], possessed of great skill in meditation, put himself into
trance, intent on discerning both the ultimate reality of things and the final goal of
existence After he had gained complete mastery over all the degrees and kinds of
1. In the first watch of the night he recollected the successive series of his former
births. "There was I so and so; that was my name; deceased from there I came
here" – in this was he remembered thousands of births, as though living them over
again. When he had recalled his own births and deaths in all these various lives of
his, the Sage, full of pity. turned his compassionate mind towards other living beings,
and he thought to himself: "Again and again they must leave the people they regard
as their own, and must go on elsewhere, and that without ever stopping. Surely this
world is unprotected and helpless, and like a wheel it turns round and round." As he
continued steadily to recollect the past thus, he came to the definite conviction that
this world of Samsara is as unsubstantial as the pith of a plantain tree.
2. Second to none in valour, he then, in the second watch of the night, acquired the
supreme heavenly eye, for he himself was the best of all those who have sight.
Thereupon with the perfectly pure heavenly eve he looked upon the entire world,
which appeared to him as though reflected in a spotless mirror. He saw that the
decease and rebirth of beings depend on whether they have done superior or
inferior deeds. And his compassionateness grew still further. It became clear to him
that no security can be found in this flood of Samsaric existence, and that the threat
of death is ever-present. Beset on all sides, creatures can find no resting place. In
this way he surveyed the five places of rebirth with his heavenly eve. And he found
nothing substantial in the world of becoming, just as no core of heartwood is found in
a plantain tree when its layers are peeled off one by one.
3. Then, as the third watch of that night drew on, the supreme master of trance turned
his meditation to the real and essential nature of this world: "Alas, living beings wear
themselves out in vain! Over and over again they are born, they age, die, pass on to
a new life, and are reborn! What is more, greed and dark delusion obscure their
sight, and they are blind from birth. Greatly apprehensive, they yet do not know how
to get out of this great mass of ill." He then surveyed the twelve links of conditioned
co-production, and saw that, beginning with ignorance, they lead to old age and
death, and, beginning with the cessation of ignorance, they lead to the cessation of
birth, old age, death, and all kinds of ill. When the great seer had comprehended that
where there is no ignorance whatever, there also the karma-formations are stopped
– then he had achieved a correct knowledge of all there is to he known, and he
stood out in the world as a Buddha. He passed through the eight stages of Transic
insight, and quickly reached their highest point. From the summit of the world
downwards he could detect no self anywhere. Like the fire, when its fuel is burnt up,
he became tranquil. He had reached perfection, and he thought to himself: "This is
the authentic Way on which in the past so many great seers, who also knew all
higher and all lower things, have travelled on to ultimate and real truth. And now I
have obtained it!"
4. At that moment, in the fourth watch of the night, when dawn broke and all the ghosts
that move and those that move not went to rest, the great seer took up the position
which knows no more alteration, and the leader of all reached the state of allknowledge. When, through his Buddhahood, he had cognized this fact, the earth
swayed like a woman drunken with wine, the sky shone bright with the Siddhas who
appeared in crowds in all the directions, and the mighty drums of thunder resound
ed through the air. Pleasant breezes blew softly, rain fell from a cloudless sky,
flowers and fruits dropped from the trees out of season-in an effort, as it were, to
show reverence for him. Mandarava flowers and lotus blossoms, and also water
lilies made of gold and beryl, fell from the sky on to the ground near the Shakva
sage, so that it looked like a place in the world of the gods. At that moment no one
anywhere was angry, ill, or sad; no one did evil, none was proud; the world became
quite quiet, as though it had reached full perfection. Joy spread through the ranks of
those gods who longed for salvation; joy also spread among those who lived in the
regions below. Everywhere the virtuous were strengthened, the influence of Dharrna
in creased, and the world rose from the dirt of the passions and the darkness of
ignorance. Filled with joy and wonder at the Sage's work, the seers of the solar race
who had been protectors of men, who had been royal seers, who had been great
seers, stood in their mansions in the heavens and showed him their reverence. The
great seers among the hosts of invisible beings could be heard widely proclaiming
his fame. All living things rejoiced and sensed that things went well.
The Four Holy Truths
What then is the Holy Truth of Ill? Birth is ill, decay is ill, sickness is ill, death is ill. To be
conjoined with what one dislikes means suffering. To be disjoined from what one likes
means suffering. Not to get what one wants, also that means suffering. In short, all
grasping at any of the five Skandhas involves suffering.
What then is the Holy Truth of the Origination of Ill? It is that craving which leads to
rebirth, accompanied by delight and greed, seeking its delight now here, now there, i.e.,
craving for sensuous experience, craving to perpetuate oneself, craving for extinction.
What then is the Holy Truth of the Stopping of Ill? It is the complete stopping of that
craving, the withdrawal from it, the renouncing of it, throwing it hack, liberation from it,
non-attachment to it.
What then is the Holy Truth of the steps which lead to the stopping of ill? It is this holy
eightfold Path, which consists of right views, right intentions, right speech, right conduct,
right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration.
Pure Land Scripture, Sukhavativyuha
In Mahayana Buddhism, a new concept of Buddhahood emerged. The number of
buddhas increased, and multiple paths to salvation or enlightenment evolved. These
buddhas reigned over separate Buddha-lands, and each could lead his devotees to
rebirth and ultimate enlightenment in his Buddha-Land. Among these, one gained
prominence in eastern Asia: the "Pure Land" sect, also known as the "Western Paradise
of Buddha Amitabha," the land of purity, beauty, and happiness (Sanskrit, "Sukhavati").
According to Pure Land tradition, Dharmakara, an Indian ascetic who was a
contemporary of Siddhartha Gautama, took forty-eight vows and eventually gained
Buddhahood under the name of Amitabha, meaning "Buddha of Infinite Light." In his
eighteenth vow, Amitabha promised that anyone who, at the moment of death, wished
salvation need only call upon him by name, and that person would be released from the
sufferings of this world, gain rebirth in the Pure Land, and lead a life of peace and
happiness until his or her final entry into nirvana. In China, a monk named Hui-yuan
(B.C.E. 334–416) was the first to teach the attainment of salvation through faith in
Buddha Amitabha. In time, the Pure Land sect placed less emphasis on the attainment
of salvation through one's own efforts than on salvation through the power of another,
that is, Amitabha. In the early period of its development, only serious devotees to
Amitabha, such as monks and nuns, could attain Pure Land salvation. However, as this
sect gained popularity, the Pure Land became accessible to all people, including the
poor and downtrodden who sought release from the sufferings of this world but could
not afford to practice asceticism, seclusion, and meditation. The practice of invoking
Amitabha's name is known as "nienfo" in Chinese, "nembutsu" in Japanese, and
"yombul" in Korean. The following excerpt is the Pure Land Sutra (Sukhavativyuha),
which describes the blissful paradise ruled by Buddha Amitabha.
This world Sukhavati, Ananda,19 which is the world system of the Lord Amitabha is rich
and prosperous, comfortable, fertile, delightful and crowded with many Gods and men.
And in this world system, Ananda, there are no hells, no animals, no ghosts, no
Asuras20 and none of the inauspicious places of rebirth. And in this our world no jewels
make their appearance like those which exist in the world system Sukhavati.
And that world system Sukhavati, Ananda, emits many fragrant odours, it is rich in a
great variety of flowers and fruits, adorned with jewel trees, which are frequent ed by
flocks of various birds with sweet voices, which the Tathagata's21 miraculous power
has conjured up. And these jewel trees, Ananda, have various colours, many colours,
many hundreds of thousands of colours. They are variously composed of the seven
precious things, in varying combinations, i.e. of gold, silver beryl, crystal, coral, red
pearls or emerald. Such jewel trees, and clusters of banana trees and rows of palm
trees, all made of precious things. grow everywhere in this Buddha-field. On all sides it
is surrounded with golden nets, and all round covered with lotus flowers made of all the
precious things. Some of the lotus flowers are half a mile in circumference, others up to
ten miles. And from each jewel lotus issue thirty-six hundred thousand kotis of rays. And
at the end of each ray there issue thirty-six hundred thousand kotis of Buddhas, with
golden-coloured bodies, who bear the thirty-two marks of the superman, and who, in all
the ten directions, go into countless world systems, and there demonstrate Dharma.
And further, Ananda, in this Buddha-field there are nowhere any mountains – black
mountains, jewel mountains, Sumerus, kings of mountains, circular mountains and great
Buddha‘s favorite disciple
Evil spirits
circular mountains. But the Buddha-field is everywhere even, delightful like the palm of
the hand, and in all its parts the ground contains a great variety of jewels and gems....
And many kinds of rivers flow along in this world system Sukhavati. There are great
rivers there, one mile broad, and up to fifty miles broad and twelve miles deep. And all
these rivers flow along calmly, their water is fragrant with manifold agreeable odours, in
them there are bunches of flowers to which various jewels adhere, and they resound
with various sweet sounds. And the sound which issues from these great rivers is as
pleasant as that of a musical instrument, which consists of hundreds of thousands of
kotis of parts, and which, skillfully played, emits a heavenly music. It is deep,
commanding, distinct, clear, pleasant to the ear, touching the heart, delightful, sweet,
pleasant, and one never tires of hearing it. it always agrees with one and one likes to
hear it, like the words "impermanent, peaceful, calm, acid not-self." Such is the sound
that reaches the ears of those beings.
And, Ananda, both the banks of those great rivers are lined with variously scent ed
jewel trees, and from them bunches of flowers, leaves and branches of all kinds hang
down. And if those beings wish to indulge in sports full of heavenly delights on those
river-banks, then, after they have stepped into the water, the water in each case rises
as high as they wish it to – up to the ankles, or the knees, or the hips, or their sides, or
their ears. And heavenly delights arise. Again, if beings wish the water to be cold, for
them it becomes cold; if they wish it to be hot, for them it becomes hot; if they wish it to
be hot and cold, for them it becomes hot and cold, to suit their plea sure. And those
rivers flow along, full of water scented with the finest odours, and covered with beautiful
flowers, resounding with the sounds of many birds, easy to ford, free from mud, and
with golden sand at the bottom. And all the wishes those beings may think of, they all
will be fulfilled, as long as they are rightful.
And as to the pleasant sound which issues from the water (of these rivers), that reaches
all the parts of this Buddha-field. Arid everyone hears the pleasant sound he wishes to
hear, i.e. he hears of the Buddha, the Dharma,22 the Samgha,23 ... the powers, the
grounds of self-confidence, of the special dharmas24 of a Buddha, of the analytical
knowledges, of emptiness, the signless, and the wishless, of the uneffected, the unborn,
of non-production, non-existence, non-cessation, of calm, quietude and peace, of the
great friendliness, the great compassion, the great sympathetic joy, the great
evenmindedness, of the patient acceptance of things which fail to he produced, and of
the acquisition of the stage where one is consecrated (as a Tathagata). And, hearing
this, one gains the exalted zest and joyfulness, which is associated with detachment,
Teachings of Buddha
Community of believers
dispassion, calm, cessation, Dharma, and brings about the state of mind which leads to
the accomplishment of enlightenment. And nowhere in this world-system Sukhavati
does one hear of anything unwholesome, nowhere of the hindrances, nowhere of the
states of punishment, the states of woe and the bad destinies, nowhere of suffering.
Even of feelings which are neither pleasant nor unpleasant one does not hear here, how
much less of suffering! And is the reason why this world-system is called the "Happy
Land" (Sukhavati). But all this describes it only in brief, not in detail. One aeon might
well reach its end while one proclaims the reasons for happiness in the world-system
Sukhavati, and still one could riot come to the end of (the enumeration of) the reasons
for happiness.
Moreover, Ananda, all the beings who have been reborn in this world-system Sukhavati,
who are reborn in it, or who will he reborn in it, they will be exactly like the
Paranirmitavasavartin Gods:25 of the same colour, strength, vigour, height and breadth,
dominion, store of merit and keenness of super-knowledges; they enjoy the same
dresses, ornaments, parks, palaces and pointed towers, the same kind of forms,
sounds, smells, tastes and touchables, just the same kinds of enjoyments. And the
beings in the world-system Sukhavati do not eat gross food, like soup or raw sugar; but
whatever food they may wish for, that they perceive as eaten, and they become gratified
in body and mind, without there being any further need to throw the food into the body.
And if, after their bodies are gratified, they wish for certain perfumes, then the whole of
that Buddha-field becomes scented with just that kind of heavenly perfumes. But if
some one does not wish to smell that perfume, then the perception of it does not reach
him. In the same way, whatever they may wish for, comes to them, be it musical
instruments, banners, flags, etc.; or cloaks of different colours, or ornaments of various
kinds. If they wish for a palace of a certain colour, distinguishing marks, construction,
height and width, made of various precious things, adorned with hundreds of thousands
of pinnacles, while inside it various heavenly woven materials are spread out, and it is
full of couches strewn with beautiful cushions – then just such a palace appears before
them. In those delightful palaces, surrounded and honoured by seven times seven
thousand Apsaras,26 they dwell, play, enjoy and disport themselves.
…And the beings who are touched by the winds, which are pervaded with various
perfumes, are filled with a happiness as great as that of a monk who has achieved the
cessation of suffering.
And in this Buddha-field one has no conception at all of fire, sun, moon, planets,
constellations, stars or blinding darkness, and no conception even of day and night,
except (where they are mentioned) in the savings of the Tathagata. There is nowhere a
notion of monks possessing private parks for retreats.
Gods who live in the sixth of the seven heavens of desire
Female supernatural beings
And all the beings who have been born, who are born, who will be born in this Buddhafield, they all are fixed on the right method of salvation, until they have won Nirvana.
And why? Because there is here no place for and no conception of the two other
groups. i.e. of those who are not fixed at all, and those who are fixed on wrong ways.
For this reason also that world-system is called the "Happy Land."...
And further again, Ananda, in the ten directions, in each single direction, in Buddhafields countless like the sands of the river Ganges, Buddhas and Lords countless like
the sands of the river Ganges, glorify the name of the Lord Amitabha, the Tathagata,
praise him, proclaim his fame, extol his virtue. And why? Because all beings are
irreversible from the supreme enlightenment if they hear the name of the Lord
Amitabha, and, on hearing it, with one single thought only raise their hearts to him with
a resolve connected with serene faith.
And if any beings, Ananda. again and again reverently attend to this Tathagata, if they
will plant a large and immeasurable root of good, having raised their hearts to
enlightenment, and if they vow to be reborn in that world system, then, when the hour of
their death approaches, that Tathagata Amitabha, the Arhat,27 the fully Enlightened
One, will stand before them, surrounded by hosts of monks. Then, having seen that
Lord, and having died with hearts serene, they will be reborn in just that world-system
Sukhavati. And if there are sons or daughters of good family, who may desire to see
that Tathagata Amitabha in this very life, they should raise their hearts to the supreme
enlightenment, they should direct their thought with extreme resoluteness and
perseverance unto this Buddha-field and they should dedicate their store of merit to
being reborn therein.
Edict of Ashoka
This statement was one of several rock inscriptions Ashoka had erected in public so
that everyone could be instructed. While the content is not particularly Buddhist, the
material was inspired by the Buddhist ideal of compassion. The ideal of rule by dharma,
a just and humane order, is emphasized.
The Kalinga country was conquered by King Priyadarsi [Ashoka], Beloved of the Gods,
in the eighth year of his reign. One hundred amid fifty thousand persons were carried
away captive, one hundred thousand were slain, and many times that number died.
Immediately after the Kalingas had been conquered, King Priyadarsi became intensely
devoted to the study of Dharma, to the love of Dharma, and to the inculcation of
One who has achieved Nirvana
The Beloved of the Gods, conqueror of the Kalingas, is moved to remorse now. For he
has felt profound sorrow and regret because the conquest of a people previously
unconquered involves slaughter, death, and deportation.
But there is, a more important reason for the King's remorse. The Brahmanas and
Sramanas [the priestly and ascetic orders] as well as the followers of other religions and
the householders – who all practiced obedience to superiors, parents, and teachers,
and proper courtesy and firm devotion to friends, acquaintances, companions, relatives,
slaves, and servants-all suffer from the injury, slaughter, and deportation inflicted on
their loved ones. Even those who escaped calamity themselves are deeply afflicted by
the misfortunes suffered by those friends, acquaintances, companions, and relatives for
whom they feel an undiminished affection. Thus all men share in the misfortune, and
this weighs on King Priyadarsi's mind…
Therefore, even if the number of people who were killed or who died or who were
carried away in the Kalinga war had been only one one-hundredth or one onethousandth of what it actually was, this would still have weighed on the King's mind.
King Priyadarsi now thinks that even a person who wrongs him must be forgiven for
wrongs that can be forgiven.
King Priyadarsi seeks to induce even the forest peoples who have come tinder his
dominion [that is, primitive peoples in the remote sections of the conquered territory] to
adopt this way of life and this ideal. He reminds them, however, that he exercises the
power "to punish, despite his repentance, in order to induce them to desist from their
crimes and escape execution.
For King Priyadarsi desires security, self-control, impartiality, and cheerfulness for all
living creatures.
King Priyadarsi considers moral conquest [that is, conquest by Dharma, Dharma-vijava]
the most important conquest. He has achieved this moral conquest repeatedly both
here and among the peoples living beyond the borders of his kingdom, even as far
away as six hundred yojanas [about three thousand miles], where the Yona [Greek] king
Antiyoka rules, and even beyond Antiyoka in the realms of the four kings named
Turamaya, Antikini, Maka and Alikasudara, and to the south among the Cholas and
Pandyas [in the southern tip of the Indian peninsula] as far as Ceylon....
Even in countries which King Priyadasi's envoys have not reached, people have heard
about Dharma and about his Majesty's ordinances and instructions in Dharma, amid
they themselves conform to Dharma and will continue to do so. Wherever conquest is
achieved by Dharma, it produces satisfaction. Satisfaction is firmly established by
conquest by Dharma [since it generates no opposition of conquered and conqueror].
Even satisfaction, however, is of little importance. King Priyadarsi attaches value
ultimately only to consequences of action in the other world. This edict on Dharma has
been inscribed so that my sons and great grandsons who may come after me should
not think new conquests worth achieving. If they do conquer, let them take pleasure in
moderation find mild punishments. Let them consider moral conquest the only true
conquest. This is good, here and hereafter. Let their pleasure be pleasure in morality
[Dharma-rati]. For this alone is good, here and hereafter.
HW # 15: The Birth of Chinese Civilization
Read WH, pp. 46-51, 97-101.
1. Where did Chinese civilization develop? How did it emerge in response to its
2. What role has the family played in Chinese civilization?
3. How did Chinese religion reflect the focus of Chinese culture on the family?
4. What was the ―Mandate of Heaven?‖ How why this connected to idea of dynastic
cycles in China? Would this idea place any limits on what a Chinese ruler could do?
5. How did the first emperor of China, Shi Huangdi, unify and rule the country? The
leader of the Communist Revolution of 1949 and the main founder of the modern
People‘s Republic of China, Mao Zedong, was fond of comparing himself to Shi
Huangdi. What might we conclude by this choice of comparison?
6. European thinkers such as Montesquieu, Hegel and Marx have suggested that China
developed a form of government and society they called ―oriental despotism.‖
According to this view, the development of flood control and irrigation along China‘s
rivers required a highly centralized and bureaucratized government, with an all
powerful leader. This form of rule prevented China from developing a modern
democratic government like Europe and North America, it is argued. Do you think this
idea is accurate? Or do you think it simply reflects Western prejudice about Chinese
Lesson 16
The Duke of Shao on the „Mandate of Heaven‟:
Heaven, unpitying, has sent down ruin on Yin [a name for the Shang dynasty]. Yin has
lost the Mandate, and we Zhou have received it. I dare not say that our fortune will
continue to prosper, even though I believe that heaven favors those who are sincere in
their intentions. I dare not say, either that it would end in certain disaster...
The Mandate of Heaven is not easy to gain. It will be lost when men fail to live up to the
reverent and illustrious virtues of their forefathers.
HW # 16: The Confucian Tradition
Read the below.
1. What are the qualities of a Confucian gentleman? How is he different from a ―small
man‖? To what extent does Confucius believe that a gentleman should be a scholar?
2. What does Confucius means by ―being humane‖ [ren]? Why does he think that
attempts to cultivate humanity through regulation and chastisement are
counterproductive? What is the right way to cultivate humanity?
3. For Confucius, what is the foundation of social order? What models of authority and
obedience does he cite?
4. In Confucius‘ philosophy, what is the relationship between individual behavior and
social order and harmony?
5. What is Confucius‘ standard for moral action? Do you agree with it?
6. What would Confucius think of a person who engaged in civil disobedience,
disobeying a law they believed to be unjust?
7. Would government practiced by Confucian principles benefit the common people, as
he claims? Do you think it is a practical program?
The most influential of Chinese philosophers was Kung Fu Tzu (Master Kung Fu),
whose name was Latinized by the Jesuits in the seventeenth century to Confucius. Born
in 551 B.C.E. in the state of Lu, Confucius traveled widely, looking for a ruler who would
heed his advice on good rulership and restoring the harmony to Chinese civilization. His
prescriptions for reform looked back to the age of the founders of the Chou dynasty,
King Wen and King Wu – and, indeed, even farther back to the semi-legendary
founders of the Shang dynasty – for models of leadership, correct individual behavior,
and the foundations of social order. His program of reform was, therefore, like many
such programs in the traditional world, backward looking, advocating a return to the
virtues of an earlier Golden Age. But Confucius was no simple imitator of old ways. His
teachings – collected by his students and eventually written down in several versions,
one of which is The Analects as we have it – stress the importance of education and the
malleability of human nature, and so offered openings for further interpretation. The
nature of The Analects themselves – fragmentary, organized apparently haphazardly,
but with an underlying coherence that invites further study and thought – contributed to
the vitality of Confucian philosophy.
Confucius himself, however, found no real takers for his services among those in power
during his lifetime. He died in 479 B.C.E., thinking that he had failed as a teacher and
government advisor. It was only in later generations that his teachings became central
to the Chinese tradition.
There are five key terms and concepts in The Analects:
[1] Ii: ritual, decorum, civility, rites, rules of propriety
[2] ren: humanity, humaneness, human-heartedness, benevolence, goodness
[3] te: virtue, moral force, power
[4] tien ming: the mandate of Heaven, the will of Heaven
[5] wen: culture, civilization, refinement
Confucius weaves these concepts together into a coherent account of social
relationships and individual responsibility within them. As the list of terms shows, proper
behavior – not just what we would call manners, but also ritual, rites, and the music that
accompanied them – was central to Confucius' teaching.
From The Analects of Confucius, Arthur Waley, translator. New York: Vintage Books,
Book 1
[See ―Pleasure and Humility‖ and ―Self-Critique‖]
1.1. The Master said, To learn and at due times to repeat what one has learned, is that
not after all a pleasure? That friends should come to one from afar, is this not after
all delightful? To remain unsoured even though one's merits are unrecognized by
others, is that not after all what is expected of a gentleman?
1.2. Master Yu [a disciple of Confucius] said, Those who in private life behave well
towards their parents and elder brothers, in public life seldom show a disposition to
resist the authority of their superiors. And as for such men starting a revolution, no
instance of it has ever occurred. It is upon the root that a gentleman works. When
that is firmly planted, the Way28 grows. And surely proper behavior towards
parents and elder brothers is the root of humanity.
1.5. The Master said, A country of a thousand war-chariots cannot be administered
unless the ruler attends strictly to business, punctually observes his promises, is
economical in expenditure, shows affection towards his subjects in general, and
uses the labor of the common people only at the proper times of year.
1.6. The Master said, A young man's duty is to behave well to his parents at home and
to his elders abroad, to be cautious in giving promises and punctual in keeping
them, to have kindly feelings towards everyone, but to associate with humane
men. If, when all that is done, he has any energy to spare, then let him study the
polite arts [wen].
Book 2
[See ―Like the North Star‖ and ―Cultivating the Way‖]
2.1. The Master said, He who rules by virtue [te] is like the pole-star29, which remains in
its place while all the lesser stars do homage to it.
2.2. The Master said, If out of the three hundred Songs30, I had to take one phrase to
cover all my teaching, I would say "Let there be no evil in your thoughts."
Dao, meaning "The Way," is the word used by virtually every Chinese school of thought to name its teachings as a
whole. Thus, there is a Confucian Way, a Legalist Way, and so forth. But later Chinese and Western scholarship
have also attached Dao specifically to the teachings of Daoism. This is not the sense used here; this is the Way of
Confucius (or the Way of the Gentleman, as Confucius might have said.)
North Star
2.3. The Master said, Govern the people by regulations, keep order among them by
chastisements, and they will flee from you, and lose all self-respect. Govern them
by virtue, keep order among them by ritual, and they will keep their self-respect
and come to you of their own accord.
2.4. The Master said, At fifteen I set my heart upon learning. At thirty, I had taken my
stance. At forty, I no longer suffered from perplexities. At fifty, I knew what were
the biddings of Heaven [t'ien-ming]. At sixty, I heard them with docile ear. At
seventy, I could follow the dictates of my own heart; for what I desired no longer
overstepped the boundaries of righteousness.
2.5. Meng Yi Tzu [a disciple] asked about the treatment of parents. The Master said,
Never disobey! When Fan Ch'ih [another disciple] was driving his carriage for him,
the Master said, Meng asked me about the treatment of parents and I said, Never
disobey! Fan Ch'ih said, In what sense did you mean it? The Master said, While
they are alive, serve them according to ritual. When they die, bury them according
to ritual, and sacrifice to them according to ritual.
2.13. Tzu-kung [a disciple] asked about the true gentleman. The Master said, He does
not preach what he practices till he has practiced what he preaches.
2.14. The Master said, A gentleman can see a question from all sides without bias. The
small man is biased and can see a question only from one side.
2.15. The Master said, He who learns but does not think, is lost. He who thinks but does
not learn is in great danger.
Book 3
3.3. The Master said, A man who is not humane, what can he have to do with ritual [Ii]?
A man who is not humane, what can he have to do with music?
3.7. The Master said, Gentlemen never compete. You will say that in archery they do so.
But even then they bow and make way for one another when they are going up to
the archery-ground, when they are coming down, and at the subsequent drinkingbout. Thus even when competing, they still remain gentlemen.
Book 4
4.16. The Master said The gentleman understands what is moral. The small man
understands what is profitable.
Book 6
The Book of Songs was a collection of poems from Chou times taken as a canonical text by Confucius. As songs,
they were connected with music and rites in the realm of Confucian proper behavior.
6.16. The Master said, When inborn qualities prevail over culture, you get the
boorishness of the rustic31. When culture prevails over inborn qualities, you get
the pedantry of the scribe. Only when culture and inborn qualities are duly
blended do you get the true gentleman.
Book 8
8.2. The Master said, Courtesy not bounded by the prescriptions of ritual becomes
tiresome. Caution not bounded by the prescriptions of ritual becomes timidity,
daring becomes turbulence, inflexibility becomes harshness. The Master said,
When gentle men deal generously with their own kin, the common people are
incited to humanity. When old dependents are not discarded, the common people
will not be fickle.
8.9. The Master said, The common people can be made to follow it; they cannot be
made to understand it.
Book 12
[See ―Benevolence‖]
12.2 Zhonggong asked about the meaning of benevolence [ren]. The Master said, Go
out of your home as if you receiving an important guest. Employ the people as if
you were assisting at a great ceremony. What you don‘t want done to yourself,
don‘t do to others. Live in your town without stirring up resentments, and live in
your household without stirring up resentments.
Book 13
[See ―Rectifying Oneself‖ and ―Patience and Prescience‖]
13.3. Tzu-Iu said, If the prince of Wei were waiting for you to come and serve in his
government, what would be your first measure? The Master said, It would
certainly be the rectification of names.32 Tzu-lu said, Can I have heard you
aright? Surely what you say has nothing to do with the matter. Why should
names be rectified? The Master said, Tzu-lu! How boorish you are! With regard
to things he does not understand, a gentleman should maintain an attitude of
reserve. If names are not rectified, then what is said does not correspond to what
is meant. If what is said does not correspond to what is meant, then what is to be
done will not be accomplished. If what is to be done cannot be accomplished,
then ritual and music will not flourish. If ritual and music do not flourish, then
punishments will go astray. If punishments go astray, then the common people
will not know where to put hand and foot. Thus the gentleman gives to things
only those names which can be used in speech, and says only what can be
People who live in the countryside.
"Rectification of names" is an important Confucian doctrine that advocated not just calling things by their proper
names but also encouraging people to conform to the proper meaning of the "name" of their social position. Thus
Confucius said: "Let the father be a father, let the son be a son." – That is, let each rectify his behavior to match the
ideal implied by the word, and let the word be used only of fathers and sons who act as true fathers and sons. The
doctrine recognizes and attempts to shape the social power of language.
carried out in practice. A gentleman, in what he says, leaves nothing to mere
Book 15
[See ―Golden Rule,‖ Thinking vs. Studying‖ and ―Yield To No One.‖]
15.14. The Master said, To demand much from oneself and little from others is the way
for a ruler to banish discontent.
15.20. The Master said, The demands that a gentleman makes are upon himself. Those
that a small man makes are upon others.
15.21. The Master said, A gentleman is proud, but not quarrelsome, allies himself with
individuals, but not with parties.
15.23. Tzu-kung asked, Is there any single saying that one can act upon all day and
every day? The Master said, Perhaps the saying about consideration: "Never
do to others what you would not like them to do to you."
15.29. The Master said, To have faults and to be making no effort to amend them is to
have faults indeed!
15.31. The Master said, A gentleman, in his plans, thinks of the Way. He does not think
how he is going to make a living. Even farming sometimes entails times of short
age; and even learning may incidentally lead to high pay. But a gentleman's
anxieties concern the progress of the Way. He has no anxiety concerning
15.35. The Master said, When it comes to being humane, one need not avoid
competing with one's teacher.
Book 17
[See Nature vs. Nurture]
17.2. The Master said, By nature men are pretty much alike; it is learning and practice
that set them apart.
HW # 17: Laozi and Taoism
Read the following.
1. What is the Tao? What qualities does Lao Tze ascribe to it? What metaphors does
he use to describe it?
2. One central idea of Taoist philosophy is the complementary unity of opposites, Yin
and Yang. One can not understand the Yin without also understanding the Yang.
What are some of the examples of Laozi employing this idea in the selection you
3. Yin is generally understood to be feminine, and as such, the passive and dark
element. Yang is generally understood to be masculine, and as such, the active and
light element. Is this a useful way of understanding opposites in life and society?
4. A key term in the Tao is ―wu-wei,‖ variously translated [loosely] as ―inaction‖ or, more
evocatively, as ―going with the flow.‖ How is wu-wei a means to managing affairs?
Would you recommend it?
5. What are the principles of social order for Lau Tzu? How do they emerge from the
meaning of the Tao? What is the role of the individual in the social order?
6. Do you think that Laozi‘s Taoism would work as a form of government? As a basis for
a social order?
7. How does Laozi‘s Taoism differ from Confucius‘ philosophy?
8. What would Laozi think of a person who engaged in civil disobedience, disobeying a
law they believed to be unjust?
Little is known of Laozi, the supposed author of the Tao te ching, or "Classic of the
Way and its Virtue." He was (probably) an older contemporary of Confucius: legend has
it he was visited several times by Confucius, to whom he once said: "Abandon your
arrogant ways and countless desires, your suave demeanor and unbridled ambition, for
they do not promote your welfare. That is all I have to say to you." Parts of the Tao te
ching certainly seem to respond to Confucian teachings. Legend also has it that he was
the Keeper of the Archives in Chou, where the last of the Chou kings still lived, before
disappearing forever into the west in his old age, leaving behind only his small,
enigmatic book on the Tao.
Tao (pronounced "dow") means "way." Confucius and Han Fei Tzu both also use this
word, but with a very different meaning from Laozi, and it is to Laozi's version of the
Way that Chinese history has attached the term Daoism. Even more than The
Analects, the Tao te ching is cryptic, poetically mysterious, and open to multiple
interpretations (and indeed multiple translations, some of which don't even look like the
same work!). In other words, don't look for a logical, linear argument here, but for
images, suggestions, and definition by negation. The last may be taken as a metaphor
for the Taoist concept of "action through in action": by doing nothing (or saying what
something is not), something (an idea of what something is) is accomplished.
The Tao is, like The Analects, partly a handbook for rulers, but it has been taken even
more often as a guide to individual life and behavior, and indeed the individualism and
emphasis on individual freedom and choice of the Tao's teachings is one of the things
that distinguishes it from Confucian thought. This emphasis leads to a clear opposition
to ritual in the Tao. Read it both as a response and as a potential complement to
Confucianism, for the two teachings are not mutually exclusive: One could in certain
ways be both a Confucian and a Taoist.
Tao Te Ching
From The Way of Laozi, Tao te ching. Wing-tsit Ch'an, translator. Upper Saddle, NJ:
Prentice Hall, 1963.
Book I: The Book of the Way
[See ―The Dao That Can‘t Be Spoken‖]
1. The Tao that can be told of is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
The Nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth.
The Named is the mother of all things.
Therefore let there always be non-being so we may see their subtlety.
And let there always be being so we may see their outcome.
The two are the same.
But after they are produced, they have different names.
They both may be called deep and profound.
Deeper and more profound,
The door of all subtleties!
[See ―The Theory of Relativity‖]
2. When the people of the world all know beauty as beauty,
There arises the recognition of ugliness.
When they all know the good as good,
There arises the recognition of evil.
Being and non-being produce each other.
Difficult and easy complete each other.
Long and short contrast each other.
High and low distinguish each other.
Sound and voice harmonize with each other.
Front and back follow each other.
Therefore the sage manages affairs without action [wu-wei],
And spreads doctrines without words.
All things arise, and he does not turn away from them.
He produces them, but does not take possession of them.
He acts, hut does not rely on his own ability.
He accomplishes his task, but does not claim credit for it.
It is precisely because he does not claim credit that his accomplishment remains with
[See ―Favors‖]
3. Do not exalt the worthy, so that the people shall not compete.
Do not value goods that are hard to get, so that the people shall not steal.
Do riot display objects of desire, so that the people's hearts shall not be disturbed.
Therefore in the government of the sage,
He keeps their hearts vacuous,
Fills their bellies,
Weakens their ambitions,
And strengthens their bones.
He always causes his people to be without knowledge or desire,
And the crafty to be afraid to act.
By acting without action, all things will be in order.
5. Heaven and Earth are not humane [ren].
They regard all things as straw dogs.33
The sage is not humane.
He regards all people as straw dogs.
How Heaven and Earth are like a bellows!
While vacuous, it is never exhausted.
When active, it produces even more.
Much talk will of course come to a dead end.
It is better to keep to the center.
8. The best man is like water.
Water is good; it benefits all things and does not compete with them.
It dwells in lowly places that all disdain.
This is why it is so near to the Tao.
The best man in his dwelling loves the earth.
In his heart, he loves what is profound.
In his associations, he loves humanity.
In his words, he loves faithfulness.
In government, he loves order.
In handling affairs, he loves competence.
In his activities, he loves timeliness.
[See ―The Empty Cup‖]
11. Thirty spokes are united around the hub to make a wheel,
But it is on its non-being that the utility of the carriage depends.
Clay is molded to form a utensil,
But it is on its non-being that the utility of the utensil depends.
Doors and windows are cut out to make a room,
But it is on its non-being that the utility of the room depends.
Therefore turn being into advantage, and turn non-being into utility.
[See ―The Invisible King‖]
17. The best rulers are those whose existence is merely known by the people.
The next best are those who are loved and praised.
The next are those who are feared.
And the next are those who are despised.
Dogs made of straw were used for sacrifices in ancient China and then thrown away.
It is only when one does not have enough faith in others that others will have no faith
in him.
[See ―Regression Into Benevolence‖]
18. When the great Tao declined,
The doctrines of humanity and righteousness arose.
When knowledge and wisdom appeared,
There emerged great hypocrisy.
When the six family relationships34 are not in harmony,
There will be the advocacy of filial piety and deep love to children.
When a country is in disorder,
There will be praise of loyal ministers.
Book II: The Book of Virtue
[See ―In Pursuit of Non-Action‖]
48. The pursuit of learning is to increase day after day.
The pursuit of the Tao is to decrease day after day.
It is to decrease and further decrease until one reaches the point of taking no
No action is undertaken, and yet nothing is left undone.
An empire is often brought to order by having no activity.
If one likes to undertake activity, he is not qualified to govern the empire.
80. Let there be a small country with few people.
Let there be ten times and a hundred times as many utensils,
But let them not be used.
Let the people value their lives highly and not migrate far.
Even if there are ships and carriages, none will ride in them.
Even if there are armor and weapons, none will display them,
Let the people again knot cords and use them [in place of writing].
Let them relish their food, beautify their clothing, be content with their homes, and
delight in their customs.
Though neighboring communities overlook one another, and the crowing of cocks
and barking of dogs can be heard,
Yet the people there may grow old and die without ever visiting one another.
HW # 18: Han Fei Tzu and Legalism
Read the below.
Answer the following questions:
1. Who are the ―five vermin?‖ Why are these people enemies of a strong state,
according to Han Fei Tzu? Authoritarian political thinkers often refer to their political
Father-son, elder brother-young brother, husband-wife: these family relationships were important in Confucian
enemies as animals and pests. Why do you think they would employ this sort of
What are the ―two handles,‖ and how do they lead to an orderly society?
How does strict adherence to the law, including harsh punishments, lead to an
orderly society, according to Han Fei Tzu? Do you agree with this point of view?
Does Legalism strike you as a workable system of government? Is it a useful guide to
individual action and the creation of social order? What might the advantages and the
dangers of a Legalist state be?
What would Han Fei Tzu think of a person who engaged in civil disobedience,
disobeying a law they believed to be unjust?
How is Han Fei Tzu‘s idea of human nature different from those of Confucius and
Which thinker do you believe is most closely followed by the current Chinese
government – Confucius, Laozi or Han Fei Tzu?
Han Fei Tzu differs from Confucius and Lao Tzu in a number of ways. Han Fei Tzu
(Master Han Fei) was born a prince of the northern state of Han, one of the successor
states of the old state of Chou, and was thus of noble lineage. He lived later – he was
born around 280 B.C.E., near the end of the Warring States era. And therefore the
urgency of reform showed itself differently to Han Fei Tzu than it had to Confucius or
Lao Tzu: The state of Han's very existence was threatened during Han Fei Tzu's lifetime
by the growing power of the state of Qin to its west.
Han Fei had been educated in Confucianism as a young man, but the condition of his
own state led him to doubt and eventually reject these teachings as impractical and to
focus instead on what could be done to strengthen the state. The result of his concern
was a long book, known now as the Han Fei Tzu, after its author, that is the clearest
statement of the school of thought known as Legalism, or the Way of Law. Han Fei
advocated strengthening agriculture and the army, reducing the influence of ―enemies of
the state‖ through the impartial application of law, and ruling through an efficient
administration. In terms of individual behavior and social order, Han Fei obviously gives
primacy to social order and, indeed, subordinates even that to the needs of the state,
which are the primary concern in his writing. This formula arrives at very different
answers to the problems posed in this selection from those of Confucius and Lao Tzu.
Unfortunately, Han Fei's book, aimed at his own king, found no response there and
came instead to the attention of the king of Qin. Han Fei met the Qin monarch on a
diplomatic mission in 233 B.C.E. and was at first kindly received. But he got caught up
in court intrigues and was imprisoned and forced to drink poison. Shortly afterward the
ruler of Qin, following some of Han Fei Tzu's advice, conquered Han, then went on to
conquer and unite the rest of China by 221 B.C.E., becoming the First Emperor of
China. Han Fei Tzu thus won an ironic victory in the battle of armies and philosophies
that characterized the Warring States era. The victory proved short-lived in one way, as
the harshness of Qin rule brought the new imperial dynasty down within twenty years.
Legalism was discredited in the eyes of later Chinese scholars, mostly Confucian. But
the structures of Chinese rule, laid down in the Warring States period by Legalist rulers,
persisted beneath the cover of Confucian (and Taoist) philosophy.
The Five Vermin
Han Fei Tzu
From Han Fei Tzu. Burton Watson, translator. New York: Columbia University Press,
An enlightened ruler will administer his state in such a way as to decrease the number
of merchants, artisans, and other men who make their living by wandering from place to
place, and will see to it that such men are looked down upon. In this way he lessens the
number of people who abandon primary pursuits [i.e., agriculture) to take up secondary
occupations. Nowadays, however, if a man can enlist the private pleading of someone
at court, he can buy offices and titles. When offices and titles can be bought, you may
be sure that merchants and artisans will not remain despised for long. And when wealth
and money, no matter how dishonestly gotten, can buy what is in the market, you may
be sure that the number of merchants will not remain small for long. When a man who
sits back and collects taxes makes twice as much as the farmer, and enjoys greater
honor than the plowman or the soldier, then public-spirited men will grow few, and
merchants and tradesmen will increase in number.
These are the customs of a disordered state. Its scholars praise the ways of the former
kings and imitate their humanity and righteousness. They put on a fair appearance and
speak in elegant phrases, thus casting doubt upon the laws of the time and causing the
ruler to be of two minds. Its speech makers propound false schemes and bor row
influence from abroad, furthering their private interests and forgetting the welfare of the
states altars of the soil and grain. Its swordsmen gather bands of followers about them
and perform deeds of honor, making a fine name for themselves and violating the
prohibitions of the five government bureaus. Those of its people who are worried about
military service flock to the gates of private individuals and pour out their wealth in
bribes to influential men who will plead for them. In this way they escape the hard ship
of battle. Its merchants and artisans spend their time making luxury goods,
accumulating riches, waiting for the best time to sell, and exploiting the farmers.
These five groups are the vermin of the state. If the rulers do not wipe out such vermin,
and in their place encourage men of integrity and public spirit, then they should not be
surprised when they look about the area within the four seas, and see states perish and
ruling houses wane and die.
On Having Standards
In our present age he who can put an end to private scheming and make men uphold
the public law will see his people secure and his state well-ordered. He who can block
selfish pursuits arid enforce the public law will see his armies growing stronger and his
enemies weakening...
Now it able men are selected for promotion on the basis of reputation alone, then the
officials will disregard the ruler and seek only the good will of their associates and
subordinates. If appointments to office are controlled by cliques, then men will work only
to establish profitable connections and will not try to achieve office by regular routes. In
such cases, official posts will never be filled by able men, and the state will fall into
If rewards are handed out on the basis of good report alone, and punishments on the
basis of slander, then men who covet rewards and fear punishment will abandon the
public interest and pursue only private schemes, banding together to further each
other's interests.
A truly enlightened ruler uses the law to select men for him; he does not choose them
himself. He uses the law to weigh their merits; he does not attempt to judge them for
himself. Hence men of true worth will not be able to hide their talents, nor spoilers to
gloss over their faults. Men cannot advance on the basis of praise alone, nor be driven
from court by slander. Then there will be a clear understanding of values between the
ruler and his ministers, and the state can be easily governed. But only if the ruler makes
use of law can he hope to achieve this.
The Two Handles
The enlightened ruler controls his ministers by means of two handles alone. The two
handles are punishment and favor. What do I mean by punishment and favor? To inflict
mutilation and death on men is called punishment; to bestow honor and reward is called
favor. Those who act as ministers fear the penalties and hope to profit by the rewards.
Hence, if the ruler wields his punishments and favors, the ministers will fear his
sternness and flock to receive his benefits.
If the ruler of men wishes to put an end to evil-doing, then he must be careful to match
up names and results, that is to say, words and deeds. The ministers come forward to
present their proposals. The ruler assigns them tasks on the basis of their words, and
then concentrates on demanding the accomplishment of the task. If the accomplishment
fits the task, and the task fits the words, then he bestows reward. But if they do not
match, he doles out punishment.
Hence, if one of the ministers comes forward with big words but produces only small
accomplishments, the ruler punishes him-not because the accomplishments are small,
but because they do not match the name that was given to the undertaking. Likewise, if
one of the ministers comes forward with small words but produces great
accomplishments, he too is punished-not because the ruler is displeased at great
accomplishments, but because he considers the discrepancy in the name given to the
undertaking to be a fault too serious to be outweighed by great accomplishments.
Hence an enlightened ruler, in handling his ministers, does not permit them to gain merit
by overstepping their offices, or to speak words that do not tally with their actions.
Those who overstep their offices are condemned to die. Those whose words and
actions do not tally are punished. If the ministers are made to stick to their proper duties
and speak only what is just. then they will be unable to band together in cliques to work
for each other‘s benefit.
HW # 19: Sun Tzu and the Art of Warfare
Read below.
Answer the following:
1. What basic principles of warfare does Sun Tzu advocate? How does economics
[such as the logistics of feeding and supplying armies] shape these principles? What
role does psychology play in them?
2. What seems to be the ultimate goal of warfare in ancient China? How does this relate
to the downplaying of glory and bravery in Sun Tzu‘s text? Do you think that this
approach to warfare is a workable one?
3. How do Sun Tzu‘s ideas on warfare reflect the influences of Confucian philosophy,
Taoism and Legalism?
4. What are the qualities of good military leadership, according to Sun Tzu? Would you
have wanted to serve as a spy under one of Sun Tzu‘s general? Explain your
5. Why has Sun Tzu‘s text remained so popular in modern times?
6. Has the Bush administration‘s conduct of the war in Iraq followed or ignored the
advice of Sun Tzu on warfare?
7. Many commentators believe that Sun Tzu‘s advice on warfare could be applied to a
number of different political or personal situations where strategy can be employed.
Select one of the following situations – parent-teenager, minister/priest-teenager,
teacher-student, boyfriend-girlfriend – and explain how one side might use Sun Tzu‘s
advice to attain its objectives.
The Warring States era (464 to 221 B.C.E.) was a crucial turning point in Chinese
history. During this time, the many effectively independent states into which China had
become divided were at war with each other constantly. But unlike the constant warfare
of the period 770 to 453 B.C.E., which had been aristocratic, based on extracting tribute
and admissions of suzerainty35, and which had involved small armies of charioteers,
Warring States warfare evolved rapidly into a deadly contest of political survival. Some
rulers began raising larger, infantry-based armies with which they conducted campaigns
of conquest against their neighbors. To raise and support such armies, they refashioned
their administrative systems and enhanced the power of kingship against their
aristocracies. The fundamental outlines of the later Chinese imperial state were created
during this age of military competition.
As rulers looked for every military advantage they could get, there arose a class of
military experts who wrote advice on how best to use the new, larger armies in this lifeor-death environment. The most famous of these many writers, Sun Tzu, is a shadowy
figure about whom we know very little. He lived during the latter half of the Warring
A situation in which a region or people is a tributary to a more powerful entity which allows the tributary some
limited domestic autonomy to control its foreign affairs.
States period. Sun Tzu was a scholar of war, and he takes his place beside Confucius,
Lao Tzu (founder of Taoism), and Han Fei Tzu (founder of Legalism) as one of the
Chinese masters. Indeed, the influence of Confucian, Taoist, and Legalist ideas can he
seen in Sun Tzu's principles of war. The scholarly nature of Sun Tzu 's work and the
other Warring States military manuals is important in two ways. First, it shows that the
study of warfare and its place in statecraft was taken seriously by Chinese intellectuals.
But, second, the intellectualization of war fit into the anti-aristocratic, centralizing trends
of Chinese states in this age. Sun Tzu and others constructed leadership – and indeed
soldierly qualities – in warfare as a matter not of heroism and practical knowledge (as it
had been for aristocratic-led armies earlier) but as the implementation of rational
principles by a single trained expert; they saw good soldiers as obedient followers of
this enlightened leadership. The implications of this model of military leadership for the
structure of the state are clear.
The unification of China by the Ch'in in 221 B.C.E. resulted from the successful
application of Sun Tzu's principles. It thus proved itself to be a very practical set of
principles, so practical that Mao Zedong in the twentieth century read and followed Sun
Tzu's advice in his campaigns, and Sun Tzu is still required reading in United States
military academies today. But also note that the edition we read includes commentaries
by later Chinese scholars on the basic text. These commentaries illustrate the living,
expanding nature of the Chinese philosophical tradition and point to the even wider
metaphorical use of Sun Tzu's work beyond the military sphere – it has been used as a
manual for business executives, for example. It is, in short, a rich text that will repay
close study.
The Art of Warfare
Sun Tzu
From Sun Tzu, The Art of War. Samuel Griffith, translator. New York: Oxford University
Press, 1963.
Chapter 1. Estimates
Sun Tzu said:
[See ―Calculations‖]
1. War is a matter of vital importance to the state; the province of life or death; the road
to survival or ruin. It is mandatory that it be thoroughly studied.
Li Ch‘üan36: ―Weapons are tools of ill omen.‖ War is a grave matter; one is
apprehensive lest men embark upon it without due reflection.
[See ―Moral Cause, Nature, Situation, Leadership and Discipline‖]
2. Therefore, appraise it in terms of the five fundamental factors and make comparisons
of the seven elements later named. So you may assess its essentials.
This and other names in italics before indented paragraphs are the names of later Chinese commentators on the
text, followed by their commentary.
3. The first of these factors is the Tao; the second, weather; the third, terrain; the fourth,
command; and the fifth, law.
[See ―Moral Cause‖]
4. By the Tao I mean that which causes the people to be in harmony with their leaders,
so that they will accompany them in life and unto death without fear of mortal peril.
Chang Yü: When one treats people with humanity, justice, and righteousness,
and reposes confidence in them, the army will be united in mind and all will be
happy to serve their leaders.
[See ―Nature‖]
5. By weather I mean the interaction of yin and yang; the effects of winter's cold and
summer's heat and the conduct of military operations in accordance with the
[See ―Situations‖]
6. By terrain I mean distances, whether the ground is traversed with ease or difficulty,
whether it is open or constricted, and the chances of life or death.
[See ―Leadership‖]
7. By command I mean the general's qualities of wisdom, sincerity, humanity, courage,
and strictness.
[See ―Discipline‖]
8. By law I mean organization, control, assignment of appropriate ranks to officers,
regulation of supply routes, and the provision of principal items used by the army.
9. There is no general who has not heard of these five matters. Those who master them
win; those who do not are defeated...
15. If a general who heeds my strategy is employed, he is certain to win. Retain him!
When one who refuses to listen to my strategy is employed, he is certain to be
defeated. Dismiss him!..
[See ―Exploitation‖ and ―Deception‖]
17. All warfare is based on deception.
18. Therefore, when capable, feign incapacity; when active, inactivity.
19. When near, make it appear that you are far away; when far away, that you are near.
20. Offer the enemy a bait to lure him; feign disorder and strike him.
Tu Mu: The Chao general Li Mu released herds of cattle with their shepherds;
when the Hsiung Nu [Huns]37 had advanced a short distance he feigned a
retirement, leaving behind several thousand men as if abandoning them. When
the Khan heard this news, he was delighted, and at the head of a strong force
marched to the place. Li Mu put most of his troops into formations on the right
and left wings, made a horning attack, crushed the Huns and slaughtered over
one hundred thousand of their horsemen.
21. When he concentrates, prepare against him; where he is strong, avoid him.
22. Anger his general and confuse him...
24. Keep him under a strain and wear him down.
25. When he is united, divide him.
Chang Yü: Sometimes drive a wedge between a sovereign and his ministers; on
other occasions separate his allies from him. Make them mutually suspicious so
that they drift apart. Then you can plot against them.
26. Attack where he is unprepared; sally out when he does not expect you.
Ho Yen-hsi: Li Ching of the T'ang38 proposed ten plans to be used against Hsiao
Hsieh, and the entire responsibility of commanding the armies was entrusted to
him. In the eighth month he collected his forces at K'uei Chou. As it was the
season of the autumn floods the waters of the Yangtze were overflowing and the
roads by the three gorges were perilous, Hsiao Hsieh thought it certain that Li
Ching would not advance against him. Consequently he made no preparations.
In the ninth month Li Ching took command of the troops and addressed them as
follows: ―What is of the greatest importance in war is extraordinary speed; one
cannot afford to neglect opportunity. Now we are concentrated and Hsiao Hsieh
does not yet know of it. Taking advantage of the fact that the river is in flood, we
will appear unexpectedly under the walls of his cap ital. As is said: ―When the
thunder-clap comes, there is no time to cover the ears.' Even if he should
discover us, he cannot on the spur of the moment devise a plan to counter us,
and surely we can capture him.‖ He advanced to I Ling and Hsiao Hsieh began to
be afraid and summoned reinforcements from south of the river, but these were
unable to arrive in time. Li Ching laid siege to the city and Hsieh surrendered.
27. These are the strategist's keys to victory. It is not possible to discuss them
Mei Yao-ch'en: When confronted by the enemy respond to changing
circumstances and devise expedients. How can these be discussed beforehand?
The Hsiung Nu [Huns] were nomads who caused the Chinese trouble for centuries. The Great Wall was
constructed to protect China from their incursions.
Li Ching was a general for the T'ang Dynasty (618-907). The names of people and places in this and other
accounts in the commentaries are less important than the general principles the episode illustrates.
[See ―Deliberation‖]
28. Now if the estimates made in the temple before hostilities indicate victory, it is
because calculations show one's strength to be superior to that of his enemy; if they
indicate defeat, it is because calculations show that one is inferior. With many
calculations, one can win; with few one cannot. How much less chance of victory
has one who makes none at all! By this means I examine the situation and the
outcome will be clearly apparent.
Chapter 2. Waging War
Sun Tzu said:
[See ―Time Is Money‖]
1. Generally, operations or war require one thousand fast four-horse chariots, one
thousand four-horse wagons covered in leather, and one hundred thousand mailed
Tu Mu:. . . In ancient chariot fighting, ―leather-covered chariots‖ were both light
and heavy. The latter were used for carrying halberds, weapons, military
equipment, valuables, and uniforms. The Ssu-ma Fa said: ―One chariot carries
three mailed officers; seventy-two foot troops accompany it. Additionally, there
are ten cooks and servants, five men to take care of uniforms, five grooms in
charge of fodder, and five men to collect firewood and draw water. Seventy-five
men to one light chariot, twenty-five to one baggage wagon, so that taking the
two together one hundred men compose a company.‖
2. When provisions are transported for a thousand !I, expenditures at home and in the
field, stipends for the entertainment of advisers and visitors, the cost of materials
such as glue and lacquer, and of chariots and armor, will amount to one thousand
pieces of gold a day. After this money is in hand, one hundred thousand troops may
he raised.
Li Ch'uan: Now when the army marches abroad, the treasury will be emptied at
[See ―Avoid Long Battles‖]
3. Victory is the main object in war. If this is long delayed, weapons are blunted and
morale depressed. When troops attack cities, their strength will be exhausted.
4. When the army engages in protracted campaigns, the resources of the state will not
[See ―Fight to Win Quickly‖]
5. When your weapons are dulled and ardor damped, your strength exhausted and
treasure spent, neighboring rulers will take advantage of your distress to act. And
even though you have wise counselors, none will he able to lay good plans for the
6. Thus, while we have heard of blundering swiftness in war, we have not yet seen a
clever operation that was prolonged.
Tu Yu: An attack may lack ingenuity, but it must be delivered with supernatural
7. For there has never been a protracted war from which a country has benefitted.
[See ―Use the Enemy‘s Resources‖]
8. Thus those unable to understand the dangers inherent in employing troops are
equally unable to understand the advantageous ways of doing so.
9. Those adept in waging war do not require a second levy of conscripts nor more than
one provisioning.
10. They carry equipment from the homeland; they rely for provisions on the enemy.
Thus the army is plentifully provided with food.
11. When a country is impoverished by military operations it is due to distant
transportation; carriage of supplies for great distances renders the people destitute.
12. Where the army is, prices are high; when prices rise the wealth of the people is
exhausted. When wealth is exhausted, the peasantry will be afflicted with urgent
13. With strength thus depleted and wealth consumed, the households in the central
plains will be utterly impoverished and seven-tenths of their wealth dissipated.
Li Ch'üan: If war drags on without cessation, men and women will resent not
being able to marry, and will be distressed by the burdens of transportation.
14. As to government expenditures, those due to broken-down chariots, worn-out
horses, armor and helmets, arrows and crossbows, lances, hand and body shields,
draft animals and supply wagons will amount to sixty percent of the total.
15. Hence the wise general sees to it that his troops feed on the enemy, for one bushel
of the enemy's provisions is equivalent to twenty of his; one hundredweight of
enemy fodder to twenty hundredweight of his.
16. The reason troops slay the enemy is because they are enraged.
17. They take booty from the enemy because they desire wealth...
19. Treat the captives well, and care for them.
Chang Yü: All the soldiers taken must be cared for with magnanimity and
sincerity so that they may he used by us.
[See ―Good Tacticians Decide A Country‘s Fate‖ and ―The Art of War‖]
20. This is called ―winning a battle and becoming stronger.‖
21. Hence what is essential in war is victory, not prolonged operations. And therefore
the general who understands war is the Minister of the people's fate and arbiter of
the nation's destiny.
Ho Yen-hsi: The difficulties in the appointment of a commander are the same
today as they were in ancient times.
Chapter 13. Employment of Secret Agents
[See ―The Use of Intelligence‖ and ―Five Types of Spies‖]
5. Now there are five sorts of secret agents to be employed. These are native, inside,
double, expendable, and living...
7. Native agents are those of the enemy's country people whom we employ.
8. Inside agents are enemy officials whom we employ.
9. Double agents are enemy spies whom we employ.
10. Expendable agents are those of our own spies who are deliberately given fabricated
11. Living agents are those who return with information.
12. Of all those in the army close to the commander none is more intimate than the
secret agent; of all rewards none more liberal than those given to secret agents; of
all matters none is more confidential than those relating to secret operations.
Mei Yao-ch'en: Secret agents receive their instructions within the tent of the
general, and are intimate and close to him.
13. He who is not sage and wise, humane and just, cannot use secret agents. And he
who is not delicate and subtle cannot get the truth out of them...
23. And therefore only the enlightened sovereign and the worthy general who are able
to use the most intelligent people as agents are certain to achieve great things.
Secret operations are essential in war; upon them the army relies to make its every
Chia Lin: An army without secret agents is exactly like a man without eyes or
HW # 20: Trade and the Development of The Classical Asian World
Read the following.
Answer the following questions:
1. What developments made the emergence of global trade networks possible during
the Classical era?
2. What role did the ‗Silk Roads‘ and other trade routes play in the development of
classical China and classical India? In addition to silk, what goods were traded? What
economic benefits did classical China and India receive from the ‗Silk Roads‘ and
other trade routes?
3. How did trade lead to the spread of religion? In particular, what features of Indian
religion were incorporated into Christianity?
4. How did the spread of epidemic diseases that came with global trade networks lead
to the decline of trade and the classical civilizations? Has the spread of global trade
in the modern world brought any similar developments?
5. Reflecting on the passage of St. Cyprian, Christian bishop of Carthage, what can you
conclude about how classical peoples tried to understand epidemic diseases?
6. If you had to make up a balance sheet for trade in the classical Asian world, what
would be its benefits and what would be its drawbacks?
From Traditions and Encounters and The Earth and Its Peoples: A Global Encounter
In classical China, textile production – particularly sericulture, the manufacture of silk –
became an especially important industry. The origins of sericulture date to the fourth
millennium B.C.E., long before the ancient Xia dynasty, but only in Han times did
sericulture expand from its original home in the Yellow River valley to most parts of
China. It developed especially rapidly in the southern regions known today as Sichuan
and Guangdong provinces, and the industry thrived after the establishment of longdistance trade relations with western lands in the second century B.C.E.
Although silkworms inhabited much of Eurasia, Chinese silk was especially fine
because of advanced sericulture techniques. Chinese producers bred their silkworms,
fed them on finely chopped mulberry leaves, and carefully unraveled their cocoons so
as to obtain long fibers of raw silk that they wove into light, strong, lustrous fabrics. (In
other lands, producers relied on wild silkworms that ate a variety of leaves and chewed
through their cocoons, leaving only short fibers that yielded lower-quality fabrics.)
Chinese silk became a prized commodity in India, Persia, Mesopotamia, and even the
distant Roman empire. Commerce in silk and other products led to the establishment of
an intricate network of trade routes known collectively as the silk roads.
In the year 139 B.C.E., the Chinese emperor Han Wudi sent an envoy named Zhang
Qian on a mission to lands west of China. The emperor's purpose was to find allies who
could help combat the nomadic Xiongnu, who menaced the northern and western
borders of the Han empire. From captives he had learned that other nomadic peoples in
far western lands bore grudges against the Xiongnu, and he reasoned that they might
ally with Han forces to pressure their common enemy.
The problem for Zhang Qian was that to communicate with potential allies against the
Xiongnu, he had to pass directly through lands they controlled. Soon after Zhang Qian
left Han territory, Xiongnu forces captured him. For ten years the Xiongnu held him in
comfortable captivity: they allowed him to keep his personal servant, and they provided
him with a Xiongnu wife, with whom he had a son. When suspicions about him
subsided, however, Zhang Qian escaped with his family and servant. He even had the
presence of mind to keep with him the yak tail that Han Wudi had given him as a sign of
his ambassadorial status. He fled to the west and traveled as far as Bactria39, but he did
not succeed in lining up allies against the Xiongnu. While returning to China, Zhang
Qian again fell into Xiongnu hands but managed to escape after one year's detention
when the death of the Xiongnu leader led to a period of turmoil. In 126 B.C.E. Zhang
Qian and his party returned to China and a warm welcome from Han Wudi.
Although his diplomatic efforts did not succeed, Zhang Qian's mission had far reaching
consequences. Apart from political and military intelligence about western lands and
their peoples, Zhang Qian also brought back information of immense commercial value.
While in Bactria about 128 B.C.E., he noticed Chinese goods – textiles and bamboo
articles – offered for sale in local markets. Upon inquiry he learned that they had come
from southwest China by way of Bengal. From this information he deduced the
possibility of establishing trade relations between China and Bactria through India. Han
Wudi responded enthusiastically to this idea and dreamed of trading with peoples
inhabiting lands west of China. From 102 to 98 B.C.E., he mounted a massive
campaign that broke the power of the Xiongnu and pacified central Asia. His conquests
simplified trade relations, since it became unnecessary to route commerce through
The intelligence that Zhang Qian gathered during his travels thus contributed to the
opening of the silk roads – the network of trade routes that linked lands as distant as
China and the Roman empire – and more generally to the establishment of relations
between China and lands to the west.
China and other classical societies imposed political and military control over vast
territories. They promoted trade and communication within their own empires, bringing
regions that had previously been self-sufficient into a larger economy and society. They
also fostered the spread of cultural and religious traditions to distant regions, and they
encouraged the construction of institutional frameworks that promoted the long-term
survival of those traditions.
The influence of the classical societies did not stop at the imperial boundaries. Nearby
peoples regarded their powerful neighbors with a mixture of envy and suspicion, and
they sought to share the wealth that those neighbors generated. They pursued this goal
by various means, both peaceful and violent, and relations with neighboring peoples,
particularly nomadic peoples, became a major preoccupation of all the classical
Bactria is an ancient society, the ancestors of modern-day Tajiks, who live in northern Afghanistan, southern
Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. It was located in the middle of the ‗silk roads.‘
Beyond their relations with neighboring peoples, the classical societies established a
broad zone of communication and exchange throughout much of the earth's eastern
hemisphere. Trade networks crossed the deserts of central Asia and the depths of the
Indian Ocean. Long-distance trade passed through much of Eurasia and north Africa,
from China to the Mediterranean basin, and to parts of sub-Saharan Africa as well. This
long-distance trade profoundly influenced the experiences of peoples and the
development of societies throughout the eastern hemisphere. It brought wealth and
access to foreign products, and it enabled peoples to concentrate their efforts on
economic activities best suited to their regions. It facilitated the spread of religious
traditions beyond their original homelands, since merchants carried their beliefs and
sometimes attracted converts in the lands they visited. It also facilitated the
transmission of disease: pathogens traveled the trade routes alongside commercial
wares and religious faiths. Indeed, the transmission of disease over the silk roads
helped bring an end to the classical societies, since infectious and contagious diseases
sparked devastating epidemics that caused political, social, and economic havoc. Longdistance trade thus had deep political, social, and cultural as well as economic and
commercial implications for classical societies.
Ever since the earliest days of history, human communities have traded with one
another, sometimes over long distances. Before classical times, however, long-distance
trade was a risky venture. Ancient societies often policed their own realms effectively,
but since they were relatively small and compact, extensive regions lay beyond their
control. Trade passing between societies was therefore liable to interception by bandits
or pirates. This risk increased the costs of long-distance transactions in ancient times.
During the classical era, two developments reduced the risks associated with travel and
stimulated long-distance trade. In the first place, rulers invested heavily in the
construction of roads and bridges. They undertook these expensive projects primarily
for military and administrative reasons, but roads also had the effect of encouraging
trade within individual societies and facilitating exchanges between different societies.
In the second place, classical societies built large imperial states that sometimes
expanded to the point that they bordered on one another: the campaigns of Alexander
of Macedon for example, brought Hellenistic and Indian societies into direct contact, and
only small buffer states separated the Roman and Parthian empires. Even when they
did not encounter each other so directly, classical empires pacified large stretches of
Eurasia and north Africa. As a result, merchants did not face such great risk as in
previous eras, the costs of long-distance trade dropped, and its volume rose
Trade Networks of the Hellenistic40 Era
The tempo of long-distance trade increased noticeably during the Hellenistic era, partly
because of the many colonies established by Alexander of Macedon41 and the Seleucid
Hellenistic is a term for the Greek sphere of influence and culture created by the conquests of Alexander of
rulers42 in Persia and Bactria. Though originally populated by military forces and
administrators, these settlements soon attracted Greek merchants and bankers who
linked the recently conquered lands to the Mediterranean basin. The Seleucid rulers
worked diligently to promote trade. They controlled land routes linking Bactria, which
offered access to Indian markets, to Mediterranean ports in Syria and Palestine.
Archaeologists have unearthed hundreds of coins, pieces of jewelry, and other physical
remains, including Greek-style sculptures and buildings, that testify to the presence of
Greek communities in Persia and Bactria during the Hellenistic era.
Like the Seleucids, the Ptolemies maintained land routes – in their case, routes going
south from Egypt to the kingdom of Nubia and Meroë in east Africa – but they also paid
close attention to sea lanes and maritime trade. They ousted pirates from sea lanes
linking the Red Sea to the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. They also built several
new ports, the most important being Berenice on the Red Sea, while Alexandria served
as their principal window on the Mediterranean.
Even more important, perhaps, mariners from Ptolemaic Egypt learned about the
monsoon winds that governed sailing and shipping in the Indian Ocean. During the
summer the winds blow regularly from the southwest, whereas in the winter they come
from the northeast. Knowledge of these winds enabled mariners to sail safely and
reliably to all parts of the Indian Ocean basin. During the second century B.C.E.,
Hellenistic mariners learned the rhythm of these winds from Arab and Indian seamen
whose ancestors had sailed before the monsoons for centuries. Merchant seamen then
established regular links by way of the Red Sea between India and Arabia in the east
and Egypt and the Mediterranean basin in the west.
Establishment and maintenance of these trade routes was an expensive affair calling for
substantial investment in military forces, construction, and bureaucracies to administer
the commerce that passed over the routes. But the investment paid hand some
dividends. Long-distance trade stimulated economic development within the Hellenistic
realms themselves, bringing benefits to local economies throughout the empires.
Moreover, Hellenistic rulers closely supervised foreign trade and levied taxes on it,
thereby deriving income even from foreign products.
With official encouragement, a substantial trade developed throughout the Hellenistic
world, from Bactria and India in the east to the Mediterranean basin in the west. Spices,
pepper, cosmetics, gems, and pearls from India traveled by caravan and ship to
Hellenistic cities and ports. Grain from Persia and Egypt fed urban populations in distant
lands. Mediterranean wine, olive oil, jewelry, and works of art made their way to Persia
and Bactria. And throughout the region from India to the Mediterranean, merchants
conducted a brisk trade in slaves recruited largely from the ranks of kidnaping victims or
prisoners of war.
Macedon was northern Greece.
Seleucids were the Greek rulers of Persia and Bactria installed by the empire of Alexander of Macedon.
Indeed, maritime trade networks through the Indian Ocean linked not only the large
classical societies of Eurasia and north Africa but also smaller societies in east Africa.
During the late centuries B.C.E., the port of Rhapta emerged as the principal
commercial center on the east African coast. Archaeologists have not discovered the
precise location of Rhapta, but it probably was located near modern Dar es Salaam in
Tanzania. With increasing trade, groups of professional merchants and entrepreneurs
emerged at Rhapta, and coins came into general use on the east African coast.
Merchants of Rhapta imported iron goods such as spears, axes, and knives from
southern Arabia and the eastern Mediterranean region in exchange for ivory, rhinoceros
horn, tortoise shell, and slaves obtained from interior regions. Just as trade in the
Mediterranean basin encouraged economic and political development in regions like
western Europe, far-flung commercial networks of the Hellenistic era fostered economic
organization and the emergence of states in the distant lands that they brought into
The Silk Roads
The establishment of classical empires greatly expanded the scope of long distance
trade, as much of Eurasia and north Africa fell under the sway of one classical society
or another. The Han empire maintained order in China and pacified much of central
Asia, including a sizable corridor offering access to Bactria and western markets. The
Parthian43 empire displaced the Seleucids in Persia and extended its authority to
Mesopotamia. The Roman empire brought order to the Mediterranean basin. With the
decline of the Mauryan44 dynasty, India lacked a strong imperial state, but the Kushan
empire and other regional states provided stability and security, particularly in northern
India, that favored long-distance trade.
As the classical empires expanded, merchants and travelers created an extensive
network of trade routes that linked much of Eurasia and north Africa. Historians refer to
these routes collectively as the silk roads, since high-quality silk from China was one of
the principal commodities exchanged over the roads. The overland silk roads took
caravan trade from China to the Roman empire, thus linking the extreme ends of the
Eurasian landmass. From the Han capital of Chang'an45, the main silk road went west
until it arrived at the Taklamakan desert46, also known as the Tarim Basin. This desert is
one of the most dangerous and inhospitable regions of the earth: its very name,
Taklamakan, warns that "he who enters does not come back out." The silk road then
split into two main branches that skirted the desert proper and passed through oasis
towns that ringed it to the north and south. The branches came together at Kashgar
(now known as Kashi, located in the westernmost corner of modern China). From there
the reunited road went west to Bactria, where a branch forked off to offer access to
A Persian society based in what is modern day northern Iran.
An Indian dynasty, whose most famous ruler was Ashoka.
The modern day Chinese city of Xian, in northwest China.
This is a desert of central Asia in northwest China.
Taxila and northern India, while the principal route continued across northern Iran.
There it joined with roads to ports on the Caspian Sea and the Persian Gulf and
proceeded to Palmyra (in modern Syria) where it met roads coming from Arabia and
ports on the Red Sea. Continuing west, it terminated at the Mediterranean ports of
Antioch (in modern Turkey) and Tyre (in modern Lebanon).
The silk roads also included a network of sea lanes that sustained maritime commerce
throughout much of the eastern hemisphere. From Guangzhou47 in southern China, sea
lanes through the South China Sea linked the east Asian seaboard to the mainland and
the islands of southeast Asia. Routes linking southeast Asia with Ceylon (modern Sri
Lanka) and India were especially busy during classical times. From India, sea lanes
passed through the Arabian Sea to Persia and Arabia, and through the Persian Gulf and
the Red Sea they offered access to land routes and the Mediterranean basin, which
already possessed a well-developed network of trade routes.
A wide variety of manufactured products and agricultural commodities traveled over the
silk roads. Generally speaking, silk and spices traveled west from producers in
southeast Asia, China, and India to consumers in central Asia, Iran, Arabia, and the
Roman empire (including Egypt and north Africa as well as the European regions of the
empire). Silk came mostly from China, the only land in classical times where cultivators
and weavers had developed techniques for producing high-quality silk fabrics. The fine
spices – cloves, nutmeg, mace, and cardamom – all came from southeast Asia. Ginger
came from China, cinnamon from China and southeast Asia, pepper from India, and
sesame oil from India, Arabia, and southwest Asia. Spices were extremely important
commodities in classical times because they had many more uses than they do in the
modern world. They served not only as condiments and flavoring agents but also as
drugs, anesthetics, aphrodisiacs, perfumes, aromatics, and magical potions. Apart from
spices, India also exported cotton textiles and valuable exotic items such as pearls,
coral, and ivory.
Central Asian and Mediterranean lands exchanged a variety of manufactured goods
and other commodities for the silks and spices that they imported. Central Asia
produced large, strong horses and high-quality jade, much prized in China by stone
carvers. From the Roman empire came glassware, jewelry, works of art, decorative
items, perfumes, bronze goods, wool and linen textiles, pottery, iron tools, olive oil,
wine, and gold and silver bullion. Mediterranean merchants and manufacturers often
imported raw materials such as uncut gem stones, which they exported as finished
products in the form of expensive jewelry and decorative items.
Some individuals made very long journeys during classical times: Zhang Qian ventured
from China as far west as Bactria; Chinese merchants traveled regularly to central Asia
and Persia; several Indian embassies called on Roman emperors: Roman merchants
traveled by sea at least as far east as southern India; and Malay merchant mariners
sailed from the islands of southeast Asia to India and east Africa. On a few occasions
Also known as Canton, near modern day Hong Kong.
individuals even traveled across much or all of the eastern hemisphere between China
and the Roman empire. A Chinese ambassador named Gang Ying embarked on a
mission to distant western lands in 97 C.E. and proceeded as far as Mesopotamia
before reports of the long and dangerous journey ahead persuaded him to return home.
And Chinese sources reported the arrival in 166 C.E. of a delegation claiming to
represent the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius. No information survives to throw light
on the experiences of this party – or even to confirm its identity – but Roman subjects
from Egypt or Syria might well have traveled as far as China in search of trading
Individual merchants did not usually travel from one end of Eurasia to the other. Instead,
they handled long-distance trade in stages. On the caravan routes between China and
Bactria, for example, Chinese and central Asian nomadic peoples dominated trade.
Rarely if ever did they go farther west, however, because the Parthians took advantage
of' their power and geographic position to control overland trade within their boundaries
and to reserve it for their own subjects. Once it reached Palmyra, merchandise passed
mostly into the hands of Roman subjects such as Greeks, Jews, and Armenians, who
were especially active in the commercial life of the Mediterranean basin.
Meanwhile, on the seas, other peoples became invoked in long-distance trade. From
south China through southeast Asia to Ceylon and India, the principal figures were
Malay and Indian mariners. In the Arabian Sea, Persians joined Egyptian and Greek
subjects of the Roman empire as the most prominent trading peoples. The Parthian
empire largely controlled trade in the Persian Gulf, whereas the Ptolemaic dynasty48
and later the Roman empire dominated affairs in the Red Sea. After Roman emperors
absorbed Egypt in the first century C.E., their subjects carried on an especially brisk
trade between India and the Mediterranean. The Greek geographer Strabo reported in
the early first century C.E. that as many as 120 ships departed annually from the Red
Sea for India. Archaeologists have unearthed the remains of a Roman trading outpost at
Arikamedu, near modern Pondicherry in southern India, and literary sources report that
merchants subject to Roman rule established Indian colonies also at Muziris (near
modern Cranganore), Barygaza (near modern Broach), Barbarikon (near modern
Karachi), and other sites as well. Meanwhile, since the mid-first century C.E., the
Romans also had dominated both the eastern and western regions of mare nostrum49,
the Mediterranean.
It is impossible to determine the quantity or value of trade that passed over the silk
roads in classical times, but it clearly made a deep impression on contemporaries. By
the first century C.E., pepper cinnamon, and other spices graced the tables of the
wealthy classes in the Roman empire, where silk garments had become items of high
fashion. Indeed, silk was in such demand that Roman merchants often stretched their
supplies by unraveling the densely woven fabrics that came from China and then
reweaving them into larger numbers of sheer garments that were sometimes so light as
Egyptian dynasty descending from Ptolemy, established in the wake of Alexander of Macedon conquest of Egypt.
Latin for ―our sea.‖
to be transparent. Some Romans fretted that see-through silk attire would lead to moral
decay, while others worried that hefty expenditures for luxury items would ruin the
imperial economy. In both cases their anxieties testified to the powerful at traction of
imported silks and spices for Roman consumers.
As it happened, long-distance trade did not cause moral or economic problems for the
Roman empire or any other state in classical times. Indeed, it more likely stimulated
rather than threatened local economies. Yet long-distance trade did not occur in a
vacuum. Commercial exchanges encouraged cultural and biological exchanges, some
of which had large implications for classical societies.
The silk roads served as magnificent highways for merchants and their commodities,
but others also took advantage of the opportunities they offered to travel in relative
safety over long distances. Merchants, missionaries, and other travelers carried their
beliefs, values, and religious convictions to distant lands: Buddhism, Hinduism, and
Christianity all traveled the silk roads and attracted converts far from their original
homelands. Meanwhile, invisible travelers such as disease pathogens also crossed the
silk roads and touched off devastating epidemics when they found fresh populations to
infect. Toward the end of the classical era, epidemic disease that was spread over the
silk roads caused dramatic demographic decline especially in China and the
Mediterranean basin and to a lesser extent in other parts of Eurasia as well.
The Spread of Buddhism and Hinduism
By the third century B.C.E., Buddhism had become well established in northern India,
and with the sponsorship of the emperor Ashoka50 the faith spread to Bactria and
Ceylon. Buddhism was particularly successful in attracting merchants as converts.
When they traveled, Buddhist merchants observed their faith among themselves and
explained it to others. Gradually, Buddhism made its way along the silk roads to Iran,
central Asia, China, and southeast Asia.
Buddhism first established a presence in the oasis towns along the silk roads – notably
Merv, Bukhara, Samarkand, Kashgar, Khotan, Kuqa, Turpan, and Dunhuang – where
merchants and their caravans found food, rest, lodging, and markets. The oases
depended heavily on trade for their prosperity, and they allowed merchants to build
monasteries and invite monks and scribes into their communities. Because they hosted
travelers who came from different lands, spoke different languages, and observed
different religious practices, the oasis towns became cosmopolitan centers. As early as
the second century B.C.E., many residents of the oases themselves adopted Buddhism,
which was the most prominent faith of silk roads merchants for almost a millennium,
from about 200 B.C.E. to 700 C.E.
An second century B.C.E. Indian emperor of the Maurya dynasty, often considered to be one of India‘s greatest
From the oasis communities Buddhism spread to the steppe lands of central Asia and to
China. Nomadic peoples from the steppes visited the oases regularly to trade animal
products from their herds for grains and manufactured items. They often found
Buddhism intriguing, and in the early centuries C.E. they increasingly responded to its
appeal. By the fourth century C.E., they had sponsored the spread of Buddhism
throughout much of central Asia.
By the first century B.C.E., Buddhism had also established a foothold in China. The
earliest Buddhists in China were foreign merchants – Indians, Parthians, and central
Asian peoples – who observed their faith in the enclaves that Han dynasty officials
allowed them to inhabit in Chang'an and other major cities. For several centuries
Buddhism remained the faith largely of these expatriate merchants, and it did not appeal
very strongly to native Chinese. Yet the presence of monasteries and missionaries
offered Buddhism the potential to attract Chinese converts. Beginning about the fifth
century C.E. Chinese began to respond enthusiastically to Buddhism, which during the
post-classical era became the most popular religious faith throughout all of east Asia,
including Japan and Korea as well as China.
As Buddhism spread north from India into central Asia and China, both Buddhism and
Hinduism also began to attract a following in southeast Asia. Once again, merchants
traveling the silk roads – in this case the sea lanes through the Indian Ocean – played
prominent roles in spreading these faiths. Merchant mariners regularly plied the waters
between India and southeast Asia during the late centuries B.C.E. By the first century
C.E., clear signs of Indian cultural influence had appeared in southeast Asia. In Java,
Sumatra, and other islands, as well as in the Malay peninsula and territories embraced
by modern Vietnam and Cambodia, rulers of southeast Asian states called themselves
rajas (―kings‖), in the manner of Indian rulers, and they adopted Sanskrit as a means of
written communication. Many rulers converted to Buddhism, while others promoted the
Hindu cults of Shiva and Vishnu. They built walled cities around lavish temples
constructed in the Indian style. They appointed Buddhist or Hindu advisors, and they
sought to enhance their authority by associating themselves with honored religious
The Spread of Christianity
Early Christians faced intermittent persecution from Roman officials. During the early
centuries C.E., Roman authorities launched a series of campaigns to stamp out
Christianity, since most Christians refused to observe the state cults that honored
emperors as divine beings. Paradoxically, imperial officials viewed Christians as
irreligious because they declined to participate in state-approved religious ceremonies.
They also considered Christianity a menace to society because zealous missionaries
attacked other religions and generated sometimes violent conflict. Nevertheless,
Christian missionaries took full advantage of the Romans' magnificent network of roads
and sea lanes, which enabled them to carry their message throughout the Roman
empire and the Mediterranean basin.
During the second and third centuries C.E., countless missionaries took Paul of Tarsus
as their example and worked zealously to attract converts. One of the more famous was
Gregory the Wonderworker, a tireless missionary with a reputation for performing
miracles, who popularized Christianity in central Anatolia during the mid-third century
C.E. Contemporaries reported that Gregory not only preached Christian doctrine but
also expelled demons, moved boulders, diverted a river in flood, and persuaded
observers that he had access to impressive supernatural powers. Gregory and his
fellow missionaries helped to make Christianity an enormously popular religion of
salvation in the Roman empire. By the late third century C.E., in spite of continuing
imperial opposition, devout Christian communities flourished throughout the
Mediterranean basin in Anatolia, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, and north Africa as well as in
Greece, Italy, Spain, and Gaul.
As Christianity became a prominent source of religious inspiration within the Roman
empire, the young faith also traveled the trade routes and found followers beyond the
Mediterranean basin. By the second century C.E., sizable Christian communities
flourished throughout Mesopotamia and Iran, and a few Christian churches had
appeared as far away as India. Christians did not dominate eastern lands as they did
the Roman empire, but they attracted large numbers of converts in southwest Asia.
Indeed, alongside Jews and Zoroastrians, Christians constituted one of the major
religious communities in the region, and they remained so even after the seventh
century C.E., when the Islamic faith of Arab Muslim conquerors began to displace the
older religious communities.
Christian communities in Mesopotamia and Iran deeply influenced Christian practices in
the Roman empire. To demonstrate utter loyalty to their faith, Christians in southwest
Asia often followed strict ascetic regimes: inspired by Indian traditions, they abstained
from sexual contact, refused fine foods and other comforts, and some times even
withdrew from family life and society. These practices impressed devout Christians in
the Roman empire. By the third century C.E., some Mediterranean Christians had
begun to abandon society together and live as hermits in the deserts of Egypt, the
mountains of Greece, and other isolated locations. Others withdrew from lay society but
lived in communities of like-minded individuals who devoted their efforts to prayer and
praise of God. Thus, ascetic practices of Christians living in lands east of the Roman
empire helped to inspire the formation of Christian monastic communities in the
Mediterranean basin.
After the fifth century C.E., Christian communities in southwest Asia and the
Mediterranean basin increasingly went separate ways. Most of the faithful in south west
Asia became Nestorians – followers of the Greek theologian Nestorius, who lived during
the early fifth century and emphasized the human as opposed to the divine nature of
Jesus. Mediterranean church authorities rejected Nestorius's views, and many of his
disciples departed for Mesopotamia and Iran. They soon became prominent in local
Christian communities, and they introduced a strong organizational framework to the
church in southwest Asia. Although they had limited dealings with Mediterranean
Christians, the Nestorians spread their faith east across the silk roads. Nestorian
merchants took their faith with them on trade missions, and by the early seventh century
they had established communities in central Asia, India, and China.
Flourishing Indian towns maintained marketplaces and encouraged the development of
trade. Within the subcontinent itself trade was most active along the Ganges River,
although trade routes also passed through the Ganges delta east to Burma and down
the east Indian coast to the Deccan and southern India. Roads built by Ashoka also
facilitated overland commerce within the subcontinent.
Meanwhile, the volume of long-distance trade also grew as large imperial states in
China, southwest Asia, and the Mediterranean basin provided a political foundation
enabling merchants to deal with their counterparts in distant lands. Direct political and
military links with foreign peoples drew Indians into long-distance commercial relations,
as part of the ‗silk roads‘ network. Beginning with Cyrus, the Achaemenid51 rulers of
Persia coveted the wealth of India and included the northern kingdom of Gandhara as a
province of their empire. The presence of Persian administrators in India and the
building of roads between Persia and India facilitated commerce between the two lands.
Alexander of Macedon's conquests helped to establish even more extensive trade
networks by forging links between India and the Mediterranean basin by way of Bactria,
Persia, and Anatolia52.
From India, long-distance trade passed overland in two directions: through the Hindu
Kush mountains and the Gandharan capital of Taxila to Persia and the Mediterranean
basin, and across the silk roads of central Asia to markets in China. Cotton, aromatics,
black pepper, pearls, and gems were the principal Indian exports, in exchange for which
Indian merchants imported horses and bullion from western lands and silk from China.
During the Mauryan era merchants continued to use land routes, but they increasingly
turned to the sea to transport their goods. A multlingual multiethnic society of seafarers
established the Indian Ocean Maritime System – a trade network across the Indian
Ocean and the South China Sea. These people left few records and seldom played a
visible part in the rise and fall of kingdoms and empires, but they forged increasingly
strong economic and social ties between the coastal lands of East Africa, southern
Arabia, the Persian Gulf, India, Southeast Asia, and southern China.
This trade took place in three distinct regions: (1) In the South China Sea, Chinese and
Malays (including In donesians) dominated trade. (2) From the east coast of India to the
islands of Southeast Asia, Indians and Malays were the main traders. (3) From the west
coast of India to the Persian Gulf and the east coast of Africa, merchants and sailors
were predominantly Persians and Arabs. However, Chinese and Malay sailors could
and did voyage to East Africa, and Arab and Persian traders reached southern China.
The first of the great Persian empires.
Modern day Turkey.
From the time of Herodotus in the fifth century B.C.E., Greek writers regaled their
readers with stories of mar velous voyages down the Red Sea into the Indian Ocean
and around Africa from the west. Most often, they attributed such trips to the
Phoenicians, the most fearless of Mediterranean seafarers. Occasionally a Greek
appears. One such was Hippalus, a Greek ship's pilot who was said to have discovered
the seasonal monsoon winds that fa cilitate sailing across the Indian Ocean.
Of course, the regular, seasonal alternation of steady winds could not have remained
unnoticed for thousands of years, waiting for an alert Greek to happen along. The great
voyages and discoveries made before written records became common should surely
be attributed to the peoples who lived around the Indian Ocean rather than to
interlopers from the Mediterranean Sea. The story of Hippalus resembles the Chinese
story of General Zhang Jihan, whose role in opening trade with Central Asia over
shadows the anonymous contributions made by the indigenous peoples. The Chinese
may indeed have learned from General Zhang and the Greeks from Hippalus, but other
people played important roles anonymously.
Mediterranean sailors of the time of Alexander used square sails and long banks of oars
to maneuver among the sea's many islands and small harbors. Indian Ocean vessels
relied on roughly triangular lateen sails and normally did without oars in running before
the wind on long ocean stretches. Mediterranean shipbuilders nailed their vessels
together. The planks of Indian Ocean ships were pierced, tied together with palm fiber,
and caulked with bitumen. Mediterranean sailors rarely ventured out of sight of land.
Indian Ocean sailors, thanks to the mon soon winds, could cover long reaches entirely
at sea.
These technological differences prove that the world of the Indian Ocean developed
differently from the world of the Mediterranean Sea, where the Phoenicians and Greeks
established colonies that maintained con tact with their home cities. The traders of the
Indian Ocean, where distances were greater and contacts less frequent, seldom
retained political ties with their homelands. The colonies they established were
sometimes socially distinctive but rarely independent of the local political powers. War,
so common in the Mediterranean, seldom beset the Indian Ocean maritime system prior
to the arrival of European explorers at the end of the fifteenth century C.E.
Origins of Contact and Trade
By 2000 B.C.E. Sumerian records indicate regular trade between Mesopotamia, the
islands of the Persian Gulf, Oman, and the Indus Valley. However, this early trading
contact broke off, and later Mesopotamian trade references mention East Africa more
often than India.
A similarly early chapter in Indian Ocean history concerns migrations from Southeast
Asia to Madagascar, the world's fourth largest island, situated off the southeastern coast
of Africa. About two thousand years ago, people from one of the many Indonesian
islands of Southeast Asia established themselves in that forested, mountainous land
6,000 miles (9,500 kilometers) from home. They could not possibly have carried enough
sup plies for a direct voyage across the Indian Ocean, so their route must have touched
the coasts of India and south ern Arabia. No physical remains of their journeys have
been discovered, however.
Apparently, the sailing canoes of these people plied the seas along the increasingly
familiar route for several hundred years. Settlers farmed the new land and entered into
relations with Africans who found their way across the 250-mile-wide (400-kilometerwide) Mozambique Channel around the fifth century C.E. Descendants of the seafarers
preserved the language of their homeland and some of its culture, such as the
cultivation of bananas, yams, and other native Southeast Asian plants. These food
crops spread to mainland Africa. But the memory their distant origins gradually faded,
not to be recovered until modern times, when scholars established the lin guistic link
between the two lands.
The Impact of Indian Ocean Trade
The only extensive written account of trade in the Indian Ocean before the rise of Islam
in the seventh century C.E. is an anonymous work by a Greco-Egyptian of the first
century C.E., The Periplus of the Ervthraean Sea (that is, the Indian Ocean). It
describes ports of call along the Red Sea and down the East African coast to
somewhere south of the island of Zanzibar. Then it describes the ports of southern
Arabia and the Persian Gulf before continuing eastward to India, mentioning ports all
the way around the subcontinent to the mouth of the Ganges River. Though the
geographer Ptolemy, who lived slightly later, had heard of ports as far away as
Southeast Asia, the author of the Per plus had obviously voyaged to the places he
mentions. That he describes is unquestionably a trading system and is clear evidence of
the steady growth of interconnec tions during the preceding centuries.
The demand for products from the coastal lands in spired mariners to persist in their
long ocean voyages. Africa produced exotic animals, wood, and ivory. Since ivory also
came from India, Mesopotamia, and North Africa, the extent of African ivory exports
cannot be determined. The highlands of northern Somalia and south ern Arabia grew
the scrubby trees whose aromatic resins were valued as frankincense and myrrh.
Pearls abounded in the Persian Gulf, and evidence of ancient copper mines has been
found in Oman in southeastern Arabia. India shipped spices and manufactured goods,
and more spices came from Southeast Asia, along with manufactured items, particularly
pottery, obtained in trade with China. In sum, the Indian Ocean trading region had a
great variety of highly valued products. Given the long distances and the comparative
lack of islands, however, the volume of trade there was undoubtedly much lower than in
the Mediterranean Sea.
Furthermore, the culture of the Indian Ocean ports was often isolated from the
hinterlands, particularly in the west. The coasts of the Arabian peninsula, the African
side of the Red Sea, southern Iran, and northern India (today's Pakistan) were mostly
barren desert. Ports in all these areas tended to be small, and many suffered from
meager supplies of fresh water. Farther south in India, the monsoon provided ample
water, but steep mountains cut off the coastal plain from the interior of the country. Thus
few ports between Zanzibar and Sri Lanka had substantial inland populations within
easy reach. The head of the Persian Gulf was one exception: ship-borne trade was
possible from the port of Apologus (later called Ubulla, the precursor of modern Basra)
as far north as Babylon and, from the eighth century C.E., nearby Baghdad.
By contrast, eastern India, the Malay Peninsula, and Indonesia afforded more
hospitable and densely popu lated shores with easier access to inland populations.
Though the fishers, sailors, and traders of the western Indian Ocean system supplied a
long series of kingdoms and empires, none of these consumer societies became
primarily maritime in orientation, as the Greeks and Phoenicians did in the
Mediterranean. In the east, in contrast, seaborne trade and influence seem to have
been important even to the earliest states of Southeast Asia.
In coastal areas throughout the Indian Ocean system, small groups of seafarers
sometimes had a significant social impact despite their usual lack of political power.
Women seldom accompanied the men on long sea voyages so sailors and merchants
often married local women in port cities. The families thus established were bilingual
and bicultural. As in many other situations in world history, women played a crucial
though not well-documented role as mediators between cultures. Not only did they raise
their children to be more cosmopolitan than children from inland regions but they also
introduced the men to customs and attitudes that they carried with them when they
returned to sea. As a consequence the designation of specific seafarers as Persian,
Arab, Indian, or Malay often conceals mixed heritages and a rich cultural diversity.
The Spread of Epidemic Disease
Like religious faiths, infectious and contagious diseases also spread along the trade
routes of the classical world. Aided by long-distance travelers, pathogens had
opportunities to spread beyond their original environments and attack populations with
no inherited or acquired immunities to the diseases they caused. The resulting
epidemics took a ferocious toll in human lives.
Information about human populations in classical times is scanty and full of gaps.
Scholars often do not have records to work with and must draw inferences about
population size from the area enclosed by city walls, the number of houses discovered
in a settlement, the agricultural potential of a region, and similar considerations. As a
result, population estimates for pre-modern societies are rough approximations rather
than precise figures. Moreover, within a single society, individual regions often had very
different demographic experiences. Nevertheless, even for classical times, the general
outlines of population history are reasonably clear.
During the second and third centuries C.E., the Han and Roman empires suffered large
scale outbreaks of epidemic disease. The most destructive of these diseases were
probably smallpox and measles, and epidemics of bubonic plague may also have
erupted. All three diseases are devastating when they break out in populations without
resistance, immunities, or medicines to combat them. As disease ravaged the two
empires, Chinese and Roman populations declined sharply. During the reign of
Augustus, the population of the Roman empire stood at about sixty million people.
During the second century C.E., epidemics reduced Roman population by about onequarter, to forty-five million. Most devastating was an outbreak of smallpox that spread
throughout the Mediterranean basin during the years 105 to 180 C.E. The epidemic was
especially virulent in cities, and it even claimed the life of the Roman emperor Marcus
Aurelius (180 C.E.). In combination with war and invasions, continuing outbreaks
caused a significant population decline during the third and fourth centuries: by 400 C.E.
the number of Romans had fallen to perhaps forty million. By the sixth century C. E.,
population had probably stabilized or perhaps even begun to expand in the eastern
Mediterranean, but western Mediterranean lands experienced demographic stagnation
until the tenth century.
Epidemics appeared slightly later in China than in the Mediterranean region. From fifty
million people at the beginning of the millennium, Chinese population rose to sixty
million in 200 C.E. As diseases found their way east, however, Chinese numbers fell
back to fifty million by 400 C.E. and to forty-five million by 600 C.E. Thus, by 600 C.E.,
both Mediterranean and Chinese populations had fallen by a quarter to a third from their
high points during classical times.
Demographic decline in turn brought economic and social change. Trade within the
empires declined, and both the Chinese and Roman economies contracted. Both
economies also moved toward regional self-sufficiency: whereas previously the Chinese
and Roman states had integrated the various regions of their empires into a larger
network of trade and exchange, after about 200 C.E. they increasingly embraced
several smaller regional economies that concentrated on their own needs instead of the
larger imperial market. In the Roman empire, for example, the eastern Mediterranean
regions of Anatolia, Egypt, and Greece continued to form a larger, integrated society,
but regional economies increasingly emerged in western Mediterranean lands, including
Italy, Gaul, Spain, and northwest Africa.
The demographic histories of classical Persia, India, and other lands are not so clear as
they are for China and the Roman empire. Persia most likely experienced demographic,
economic, and social problems similar to those that afflicted China and the
Mediterranean basin. India may well have suffered from epidemic disease and
population losses, although there is limited evidence for these troubles in south Asia. In
east Asia and the Mediterranean basin, however, it is clear that epidemic disease
seriously weakened Chinese and Roman societies. Indeed, epidemic disease
contributed to serious instability in China after the collapse of the Han dynasty, and in
weakening Mediterranean society, it helped bring about the decline and fall of the
western Roman empire.
From S. Thasci Caecili Cypriani opera omnia in Corpus scriptorum ecclesiasticorum
latinorum. Volume 3. Wilhelm von Hartel, editor. Vienna: 1868.
St. Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, was an outspoken proponent of Christianity during the
early and middle decades of the third century C.E. When epidemic disease struck the
Roman empire in 251 C.E., imperial authorities blamed the outbreak on Christians who
refused to honor pagan gods. Cvprian refuted this charge in his treatise On Mortality
[below], which described the symptoms of epidemic disease and reflected on its
significance for the Christian community.
It serves as validation of the [Christian] faith when the bowels loosen and drain the
body's strength, when fever generated in hone marrow causes sores to break out in the
throat, when continuous vomiting roils the intestines, when blood-shot eyes burn, when
the feet or other bodily parts are amputated because of infection by putrefying disease,
when through weakness caused by in juries to the body either mobility is impeded, or
hearing is impaired, or sight is obscured. It requires enormous greatness of heart to
struggle with resolute mind against so many onslaughts of destruction and death. It
requires great loftiness to stand firm amidst the ruins of the human race, not to concede
defeat with those who have no hope in God, but rather to rejoice and embrace the gift of
the times. With Christ as our judge, we should receive this gift as the reward of his faith,
as we vigorously affirm our faith and, having suffered, advance toward Christ by Christ's
narrow path...
Many of us [Christians] are dying in this epidemic – that is, many of us are being
liberated from the world. The epidemic is a pestilence for the Jews and the pagans and
the enemies of Christ, but for the servants of God it is a welcome event. True, without
any discrimination, the just are dying alongside the unjust, but you should not imagine
that the evil and the good face a common destruction. The just are called to
refreshment, while the unjust are herded off to punishment: the faithful receive
protection, while the faithless receive retribution. We are unseeing and ungrateful for
divine favors, beloved brethren, and we do not recognize what is granted to us...
How suitable and essential it is that this plague and pestilence, which seems so terrible
and ferocious, probes the justice of every individual and examines the minds of the
human race to determine whether the healthy care for the ill, whether relatives diligently
love their kin, whether masters show mercy to their languishing slaves, whether
physicians do not abandon those seeking their aid, whether the ferocious diminish their
violence, whether the greedy in the tear of death extinguish the raging flames of their
insatiable avarice, whether the proud bend their necks, whether the shameless mitigate
their audacity, whether the rich will loosen their purse strings and give something to
others as their loved ones perish all around them and as they are about to die without
HW # 21: Women In Classical Asian Societies
Read the below.
Answer the following questions:
1. How did the practice of footbinding keep Chinese women subservient to Chinese
men, and make them into sexual objects?
2. What lifelong problems did footbinding create for Chinese women?
3. The persistence of footbinding over centuries of Chinese history, and its spread
throughout social classes and different regions of China, could not have taken place
if a great many Chinese women themselves had not accepted the practice. Why did
some Chinese women accept the practice, and do the actual binding themselves?
4. How did the practice of sati reflect the diminished status of Hindu women?
5. The British General Napier is reputed to have said: ―You say that it is your custom to
burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we
tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it,
my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will
follow ours.‖ Do you think this is an appropriate response?
6. Gayatri Spivak argues that women in classical Indian society had no voice, and that
sati may have been one of the ways women were able to express their desires. Do
you find that convincing?
7. Do you think that scholars who focus on the ―orientalism‖ of critics of foot binding and
sati fail to consider the role of Chinese and Indian opponents of these practices?
Like other traditional societies throughout the world, the classical Indian and Chinese
societies were patriarchal, with men exercising considerable power over women.
Practices found in other patriarchal cultures, such as marriage dowries, the taking of
additional wives or concubines, and child brides, were also represent in India and
China. But there were also practices unique to these societies – sati, or widows
throwing themselves on the funeral pyres of deceased husbands, in classical India and
footbinding in classical China – that have become notorious. These practices are clearly
violent expressions of male supremacy, but our understanding of them is complicated,
since it is also caught up in the ways that the West have generally viewed the peoples
of East, especially India and China. Some scholars argue that the Western way of
viewing the peoples of the East – what they call Orientalism – has been part of the
imperialist subjugation of those peoples. In this argument, the Western view of Asian
peoples as exotic and strange, given to unusual cultural practices, is complicit with
imperialism. This view is reflected in the pieces by Dorothy Ko and Gayatri Spivak, who
argue that footbinding and sati are more complex than often understood.
“Footbinding: From Status Symbol to Subjugation”
Adapted from Louisa Lim, National Public Radio
Legend has it that the origins of footbinding go back as far as the Shang dynasty (17001027 B.C.). The Shang Empress had a clubfoot, so she demanded that footbinding be
made compulsory in the court.
But historical records from the Song dynasty (960-1279 A.D.) date footbinding as
beginning during the reign of Li Yu, who ruled over one region of China between 961975. It is said his heart was captured by a concubine, Yao Niang, a talented dancer who
bound her feet to suggest the shape of a new moon and performed a "lotus dance."
During subsequent dynasties, footbinding became more popular and spread from court
circles to the wealthy. Eventually, it moved from the cities to the countryside, where
young girls realized that binding their feet could be their passport to social mobility and
increased wealth.
According to the American author William Rossi, who wrote The Sex Life of the Foot
and Shoe, 40 percent to 50 percent of Chinese women had bound feet in the 19th
century. For the upper classes, the figure was almost 100 percent. Some estimate that
as many as 2 billion Chinese women broke and
bound their feet to attain this agonizing ideal of
physical perfection.
When the Manchu nobility came to power in
1644, they tried to ban the practice, but with little
success. The first anti-footbinding committee
was formed in Shanghai by a British priest in
1874. But the practice wasn't outlawed until
1912, when the Qing dynasty had already been
toppled by a revolution. Beginning in 1915,
government inspectors could levy fines on those
who continued to bind their feet. But despite these measures, footbinding still continued
in various parts of the country. A year after the Communists came to power in 1949,
they too issued their own ban on footbinding.
Author Yang Yang says that women with tiny feet were a status symbol who would bring
honor upon the entire clan by their appearance. "Some married women with bound feet
would even get up in the middle of the night to start their toilette, just to ensure they
would look good in daytime," he says.
Although the bound foot was described as aesthetically pleasing compared with the
natural alternative, complications such as ulceration, paralysis and gangrene were not
uncommon, and it has been estimated that as many as ten percent of the girls did not
survive the "treatment."
In footbinding, young girls' feet, usually at age 6 but often earlier, were wrapped in tight
bandages so that they could not grow and develop normally; they would, instead, break
and become highly deformed, not growing past 4-6 inches (10-15 cm). As the girl
reached adulthood, her feet would remain small and dysfunctional, prone to infection,
paralysis, and muscular atrophy.
Today, it is a prominent cause of disability among some elderly Chinese women. If a
girl's feet were bound in this manner, sometimes beginning as early as age five, four
toes on each foot would break within a year; the first ("big toe") remained intact. The
arch had to be well-developed for the perfect "lotus foot" to be formed, so some women
would bind their girls' feet at a later age; the ideal was a 3-in. foot (gold lotuses), and no
longer than 10 cm (4 in), called silver lotuses. Bound feet would bend, becoming so
concave they were sometimes described as "lotus hooks". The binding process resulted
in intense pain and caused phalanges to fracture easily, and additionally resulted in an
unsteady fashion of walking, referred to as the "lotus gait."
Some scholars say footbinding deepened female subjugation by making women more
dependent on their men folk, restricting their movements and enforcing their chastity,
since women with bound feet were physically incapable of venturing far from their
homes. Certainly the "three-inch golden lotuses" were seen as the ultimate erogenous
zone, with Qing dynasty pornographic books listing 48 different ways of playing with
women's bound feet.
For those unfortunate women who paid the ultimate price for beauty, there was little
choice involved.
In Liuyicun53, the practice persisted so long because of the village's economic prosperity
— and its inhabitants' desire for obvious wealth signifiers, like daughters with bound
feet. Liuyicun resident Wang Lifen, 79, describes her own attitude as a child, saying, "I
didn't want to bind my feet, but the whole village told me that I had to. So I did." And 86year-old Zhou Guizhen says, "At that time everybody had bound feet. If you didn't, you'd
only be able to marry a tribesman from an ethnic minority."
These women disfigured their feet to guarantee their own future, but according to Yang
Yang, this act ultimately consigned them to tragic lives. Most of Liuyicun's bound-feet
women were forced to perform hard physical labor in the late 1950s, digging reservoirs,
for example — work which was punishing enough for ordinary women, but agonizing for
those with tiny, misshapen feet. Their families also suffered food shortages as they
were often unable to fulfill their production quotas at work, or walk into the mountains to
pick vegetables and fruit like other mothers.
"Their tiny feet sealed their tragic fates," Yang says.
From Dorothy Ko, Cinderella’s Sisters: A Revisionist History of Footbinding.
University of California Press, 2005.
The pursuit of beauty, status, sex, money: footbinding is implicated in every one of
these human desires, but in themselves, these drives for self-betterment or gratification
can not account for the ferocity with which footbinding spread, sprouting a surprising
array of literary forms and material cultures along the way. Envy, cruelty, violence,
objectification: these horrible things that men do to others are also part of the story, but
they are inadequate explanations for the longevity of the practice and the stubbornness
with which women embraced it and perpetuated it. At once beautiful and ugly, neither
voluntary or coerced, footbinding defies a black-against-white, male against female and
good or bad way of understanding the world...
A town in the southern Chinese province of Yunnan.
Although male desires for bound feet were born of and perpetuated by poetic allusions,
the written word enjoyed far less persuasive power among women. A handful of women
in the Ming and Qing dynasties did participate in poetic exercises, but women learned
about the burdens and uses of footbinding primarily from the performing arts and culture
– realms that were influenced by the realm of the literati but were no means contained
by it. For this reason I have sought female perspectives not from women‘s poetry, but
from ballads, vernacular plays, household almanacs and the material remains
themselves. However dominant, male desires and tastes can not account for the
longevity let along the geographical and social scope of footbinding.
In seeking female incentives I have avoided the language of ―free choice.‖ Modern
critics often imagine that traditional Chinese women would have rebelled if given a
choice, and the fact that they did not attests to the draconian success of Confucian
patriarchy. This erroneous views derives from a modern, individualistic valorization of
free choice that structures our desires, not theirs. It is true that from the sixteenth
century onward, women did not have a ―choice‖: any daughter from Han Chinese
families whose economic circumstances remotely allowed them to bind would. Even
those who could not afford did. Footbinding was not merely an announcement of status
and desirability to the outside world, but also a concrete embodiment of self-respect to
the woman herself...
Female desires were so ―rearranged‖ by the fashion regime and sediments of culture in
the late imperial period that not binding become unthinkable, in the way that choosing to
bind is unthinkable to us. Instead of resisting, the women applied their imagination and
skills to the most advantageous angle of presentation, vying to outdo their sisters and
neighbors in the choice of fabric, novelty of style and workmanship. To them, the appeal
of footbinding is located in the fantastic lives of shoes as fashionable and ritualized
objects. Without the participation of women, footbinding would not have spread so far is
the face of persistent opposition by moralizing and pontificating men.
Although the exact mechanisms of transmission remain dimly understood, during its
spread across geographical and social boundaries, the practice of footbinding
sedimented in local cultures and acquired a concrete reality in the minutiae of every day
life – rituals, colloquialisms, footwear styles and gestures of the body. In due time, a
once alien practice that belonged to the ―other woman‖ became a matter of fact way of
living in one‘s own body...
Footbinding began as an act of embodied lyricism – to live as the poets imagined – and
ended as a ridiculous exercise of excess and folly. In the final analysis, selfcontradiction – the ability to encompass different desires and the tendency to turn
against itself – is the only enduring trait of footbinding as a social practice and a subject
of knowledge. For this reason, it continues to repel and fascinate long after it has
ceased to be a viable practice.
Sati adapted from Wikipedia
The practice of Sati is a Hindu funeral custom, now very rare, in which the widow would
immolate herself on her husband‘s funeral pyre.
The term is derived from the original name of the goddess Sati, also known as
Dakshayani, who immolated herself, unable to bear the humiliation of her (living)
husband Shiva by her father Daksha. The term may also be used to refer to the widow
herself. The term sati is now sometimes interpreted as 'chaste woman.'
The ritual has prehistoric roots, and many parallels from other cultures are known.
Compare for example the ship burial of the Rus described by Ibn Fadlan, where a
female slave is burned with her master. Few reliable records exist of the practice before
the time of the Gupta empire, approximately 400 AD. While a couple of instances of
voluntary self immolation by women as well as men are mentioned in the Mahabharata
and other works that may be considered at least partly historical accounts, it is known
that large parts of these works are relatively late interpolations into an original story.
Also, the immolation or desire of self immolation is not regarded as a custom in the
Mahabharata and as such the word 'sati' as a custom never occurs in the epic as
compared to other customs such as the Rajasuya yagna. Rather, the instances are
viewed as an expression of extreme grief on the loss of a beloved one.
Aristobulus of Cassandreia, a Greek historian who traveled to India with the expedition
of Alexander of Macedon, recorded the practice of sati at the city of Taxila. A later
instance of voluntary co-cremation appears in an account of an Indian soldier in the
army of Eumenes of Cardia, whose two wives vied to die on his funeral pyre, in 316
B.C.E. The Greeks believed that the practice had been instituted to discourage wives
from poisoning their husbands.
Voluntary death at funerals has been described in northern India before the Gupta
empire. The original practices were called anumarana, and were not common. They
were not necessarily practices that would be understood as sati at present, since it was
not necessarily a widow who died. Those who died could be anyone, male or female
with a personal loyalty to the dead person. They included other relatives of the dead
person, servants, followers or friends. Sometimes these deaths were because of vows
of loyalty taken in life.
Widow burning, the practice as understood today, started to become more extensive
after about 500 C.E., and the end of the Gupta empire. Some have ascribed the
practice to the decline of Buddhism in India, the rise of caste based societies, and the
idea that sati was used to reinforce caste status. There are also suggestions that the
practice was introduced into India by the Huna Buddhist invaders who contributed to the
fall of the Gupta empire.
At about this time, instances of sati began to be marked by inscribed memorial stones.
The earliest of these is in Sagar, Madhya Pradesh, though the largest collections are
some centuries later, in Rajasthan. These stones, called devli, or sati-stones, became
shrines where the dead woman became an object of reverence and worship. They are
most common in western India.
By about the 10th century sati, as understood today, was known across much of the
subcontinent. It continued to occur, usually at a low frequency and with regional
variations, until the early 19th century.
The act of sati was supposed to take place voluntarily, and from the existing accounts,
most of them were indeed voluntary. The act may have been expected of widows in
some communities. The extent to which any social pressures or expectations should be
considered as compulsion has been the matter of much debate in modern times. It is
frequently stated that a widow could expect little of life after her husband's death,
especially if she was childless. However, there were also instances where the wish of
the widow to commit sati was not welcomed by others, and where efforts were made to
prevent the death.
Traditionally, the funeral of any dead person would usually have taken place within a
day of the death. Thus a decision by a widow to die at her husband's funeral would
often have to be made quickly. In some cases, such as when the husband died
elsewhere, it was still possible for the widow to die by immolation, but at a later date.
The connection with the original marriage between the widow and the deceased was
emphasized. Unlike other mourners, the sati at the funeral was often dressed in
marriage robes or other finery. Her death may have been seen as a culmination of the
marriage. In the preliminaries of the related act of Jauhar, both the husbands and wives
have been known to dress in their marriage clothes and re-enact their wedding ritual,
before going to their separate deaths.
There are accounts of many different approaches of the widow to her death. The
majority have the widow seated or lying down on the funeral pyre beside her dead
husband. There are also many descriptions of widows who walked or jumped into the
flames after the fire had been lit, and there are descriptions of widows who lit their own
funeral pyres after seating themselves on it. Some written prescriptions to the practice
Although sati was supposed to be voluntary, it is agreed that in many cases it may not
have been voluntary in practice. Leaving aside the matter of social pressures, there are
many accounts of widows being physically forced to their deaths.
Pictorial and narrative accounts often describe the woman seated on the unlit pyre, and
tied or otherwise restrained to keep her from fleeing after the fire was lit. Some accounts
say that the woman was drugged. There is one description of men with long poles
preventing a widow from fleeing the flames.
In some Hindu communities, it is conventional to bury the dead. It has been known for
similar widow deaths to occur in these communities, but with the widow being buried
alive with the husband, in ceremonies that are otherwise largely as in the immolation.
There have also been accounts of symbolic sati in some Hindu communities. A widow
lies down next to her dead husband, and certain parts of both the marriage ceremony
and the funeral ceremonies are enacted, but without her death.
Records exist of sati across most of the subcontinent. However, there seem to have
been major differences historically, in different regions, and among different
communities. There are no reliable figures for the numbers who died by sati across the
country. A local indication of the numbers is given in the records kept by the Bengal
Presidency of the British East India Company. The total figure of known occurrences for
the period 1813 to 1828 is 8,135, thus giving an average of about 600 per year.
Bentinck, in his 1829 report, states that 420 occurrences took place in one (unspecified)
year in the 'Lower Provinces' of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa, and 44 in the 'Upper
Provinces' (the upper Gangetic plain). Given a population of over 50 million at the time
for the Presidency, this suggests a maximum frequency of immolation among widows of
well under 1%.
It is said by some authorities that the practice was more common among the higher
castes, and among those who considered themselves to be rising in social status. It was
little known or unknown in most of the population of India and the tribal groups.
According to at least one source, it was very rare for anyone in the later Mughal empire
except royal wives to be burnt. However, it has been said elsewhere that it was unusual
in higher caste women in the south.
Sati still occurs occasionally, mostly in rural areas. About 40 cases have occurred in
India since independence in 1947, the majority in the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan. A
well documented case from 1987 was that of Roop Kanwar. In response to this incident,
some more recent legislation against the practice was passed, first by the state
government of Rajasthan, then by the central government of India.
Justifications and criticisms
Brahmin scholars of the second millennium justified the practice, and gave reasonings
as to how the scriptures could be said to justify them. Among them were Vijnanesvara,
of the Chalukya court, and later Madhavacharya, theologian and minister of the court of
the Vijayanagara empire, according to Shastri, who quotes their reasoning. It was
lauded by them as required conduct in righteous women, and it was explained that this
was considered not to be suicide (suicide was otherwise variously banned or
discouraged in the scriptures). It was deemed an act of peerless piety, and was said to
purge the couple of all accumulated sin, guarantee their salvation and ensure their
reunion in the afterlife.
These are relatively late works. Justifications for the practice are given in the Vishnu
Smriti: Now the duties of a woman (are) ... After the death of her husband, to preserve
her chastity, or to ascend the pile after him. (Vishnu Smriti, 25-14). There is justification
also in the later work of the Brihaspati Smriti (25-11). Both this and the Vishnu Smriti
date from the first millennium.
The Manu Smriti is often regarded as the culmination of classical Hindu law, and hence
its position is important. It does not mention or sanction sati though it does prescribe
life-long asceticism for most widows.
Explicit criticisms of sati appear later in the first millennium, included those of
Medhatithi, a commentator on various theological works. He considered it suicide, which
was forbidden by the Vedas. Another critic was Bana, who wrote during the reign of
Harsha. Bana condemned it both as suicide, and as a pointless and futile act. There
does not seem to be any thought or suggestion among any of these critics that the act
would not be voluntary.
Reform and bhakti movements within Hinduism tended to be anti-caste, favored
egalitarian societies, and in line with the tenor of these beliefs, they generally
condemned the practice, sometimes explicitly. The Alvars condemned sati, in the 8th
century. The Virashaiva movement in the 12th and 13th centuries, also condemned it.
The Sikh religion explicitly proscribed the practice, by about 1500.
The principal foreign early visitors to the subcontinent whose have left records of the
practice, are from Western Asia, mostly Muslim, and later on, Europeans. Both groups
were fascinated by the practice, and sometimes described it as horrific, but often also
as an incomparable act of devotion. Ibn Battuta described an instance, but said that he
collapsed or fainted and had to be carried away from the scene. European artists in the
eighteenth century produced many images for their own native markets, showing the
widows as heroic women, and moral exemplars.
As Islam established itself in the subcontinent, their opinion of sati changed to regarding
it as a barbaric practice. The earliest known governmental effort to halt the practice
were by Muslim rulers, including Muhammad Tughlaq. Europeans also showed a
change in their attitude to local customs as they became dominant local powers. The
earliest Europeans to establish themselves were the Portuguese in Goa. They tried
early on to override local customs and practices, including sati, as they attempted to
Christianize territories in their control. The British entered India as a trading body, and in
the earlier periods of their rule, they were largely indifferent to local practices. The
practice of sati, and its later legal abolition by the British (along with the suppression of
thuggee54) went on to become one of the standard justifications for British rule. British
attitudes in their later history in India are usually given in the following much repeated
quote, usually ascribed to General Napier:
The practice of engaging in widespread robbery of travelers. The English term ‗thug‘ is taken from this practice.
You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when
men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build
your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your
custom. And then we will follow ours.
The Mughal55 emperor Akbar required that permission be granted by his officials, and
these officials were instructed to delay the woman's decision for as long as possible.
The reasoning was that she was less likely to chose to die once the emotions of the
moment had passed. In the reign of Shah Jahan, widows with children were not allowed
in any circumstances to burn. In other cases governors did not readily give permission,
but could be bribed to do so. Later on in the Mughal period, pensions, gifts and
rehabilitative help were offered to the potential sati to wean her away from committing
the act. Children were strictly forbidden from the practice. The later Moghuls continued
to put obstacles in the way but the practice carried on in the areas outside their capitals.
The strongest attempts to control it were made by Aurangzeb. In 1663, he "issued an
order that in all lands under Mughal control, never again should the officials allow a
woman to be burnt." In spite of such attempts however, the practice continued,
especially in conditions of war and upheaval.
By the end of the 18th century, the practice had been banned in territories held by some
European powers. The Portuguese banned the practice in Goa by about 1515, though it
is not believed to have been especially prevalent there. The Dutch and the French had
also banned it in Chinsurah and Pondicherry. The British who by then ruled much of the
subcontinent, and the Danes, who held the small territory of Shrirampur, permitted it into
the 19th century. Attempts to limit or ban the practice had been made by individual
British officers in the 18th century, but without the backing of the British East India
Company. The first formal British ban was in 1798, in the city of Calcutta only. The
practice continued in surrounding regions. Toward the end of the 18th century, the
evangelical church in Britain, and its members in India, started campaigns against sati.
Leaders of these included William Carey and William Wilberforce, and both appeared to
be motivated partly by a desire to convert Indians to Christianity. These movements put
pressure on the company to ban the act, and the Bengal Presidency started collecting
figures on the practice in 1813.
From about 1812, the Bengali reformer Raja Rammohan Roy started his own campaign
against the practice. He was motivated by the experience of seeing his own sister-in-law
commit sati. Among his actions, he visited Calcutta cremation grounds to persuade
widows not to so die, formed watch groups to do the same, and wrote and disseminated
articles to show that it was not required by scripture.
On 4 December 1829, the practice was formally banned in the Bengal Presidency
lands, by the then governor, Lord William Bentinck. The ban was challenged in the
courts, and the matter went to the Privy Council in London, but was upheld in 1832.
Other company territories also banned it shortly after. Although the original ban in
Bengal was fairly uncompromising, later in the century British laws include provisions
An important empire of South Asia from the 16 through 19 centuries. Its leaders were Muslims.
that provided mitigation for murder when "the person whose death is caused, being
above the age of 18 years, suffers death or takes the risk of death with his own
consent." Sati remained legal in some princely states for a time after it had been
abolished in lands under British control. The last such state to permit it, Jaipur, banned
the practice in 1846.
In modern India, following outcries after each instance, there have been various fresh
measures passed against the practice, which now effectively make it illegal to be a
bystander at an event of sati. The law now makes no distinction between passive
observers to the act, and active promoters of the event; all are supposed to be held
equally culpable. Other measures include efforts to stop the 'glorification' of the dead
women. Glorification includes the erection of shrines to the dead, the encouragement of
pilgrimages to the site of the pyre, and the derivation of any income from such sites and
pilgrims. Enforcement of these measures is not always consistent however. The
enforcement of some measures, such as the possible stopping of worship at ancient
shrines, is a matter of modern controversy.
Adapted from Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Can The Sub-Altern56 Speak?”
The Hindu widow ascends the pyre of the dead husband and immolates herself upon it.
This is widow sacrifice. [The conventional transcription of the Sanskrit word for the
widow would be sati. The early colonial British transcribed it sutee.] The rite was not
practiced universally and was not caste- or class-fixed. The abolition of this rite by the
British has been generally understood as a case of ―White men saving brown women
from brown men.‖ White women – from the nineteenth century British Missionary
Registers to Mary Daly57 – have not produced an alternative understanding. Against this
is the Indian nativist argument, a parody of nostalgiia for lost origins: ―The women
actually wanted to die.‖
Those two sentences go a long way to legitimize each other. One never encounters the
testimony of the women‘s voice...
But given that the abolition of sati was itself admirable, how should we understand the
imperial British prohibition of it? Imperialism‘s image as the establisher of a good society
is marked by the espousal of the woman as an object of protection from her own kind...
For the female subject, a sanctioned self-immolation... brings praise for act of choice...
In a society where she had no voice, such a death can be understood by the female
subject as a way to assert her own desires...
Obviously I am not advocating the killing of widows. I am suggesting that, within the two
contending versions of freedom [the traditional Hindu and the imperial British], neither
understands the widows‘ assertion of her desires...
This is a term for the oppressed and exploited, especially under imperialism.
Mary Daly is an American feminist author.
Critic of Spivak
Opposition to Sati, culminating in passage of an ordinance against it by the British, was
galvanized by Raja Rammohun Roy, an Begali Indian. He had a great deal of difficulty
interesting the British in doing anything about it, since their instinctive approach (later
codified as overt colonial policy) was not to interfere with the cultural traditions of
colonized people, indeed sometimes to strengthen them subtly, so that nothing would
cause trouble that might get in the way of economic exploitation of India. Like so much
of the narrative of civilizing imperialism, this notion of the British anti-sati crusade is
largely mythological.
HW # 22: Ancient Israel and the Rise of Monotheism
Read the following.
1. Why was Israel so influential in ancient history, out of all proportion to its size?
2. Why is the biblical account of Israel‘s origins problematic as a record of actual
history? What other tools do historians have to reconstruct the actual history of
3. At what stage in ancient Israeli history does one see the development of a unified
government and a class of elite priests?
4. What role do prophets, such as Amos, play in ancient Israeli society? For whom is
Amos‘ message intended? How does the ruling elite respond to that message?
5. What does Amos see as wrong in ancient Israeli society? According to Amos, what
will be the means by which God punishes Israel? Are there any grounds for hope?
6. Why did Judaic monotheism continually face challenges to the belief in a single God?
7. What is meant by the term Diaspora? Why has the Diaspora become a long-lasting
theme in the history of the Jewish peoples?
ISRAEL: 2000-500 B.C.E.
From The Earth and Its Peoples: A Global History
On the western edge of the Assyrian Empire lived a people who probably seemed of no
great significance to the masters of western Asia but were destined to play an important
role in world history. The history of ancient Israel is marked by two grand and
interconnected dramas that played out from around 2000 to 500 B.C.E. First, a loose
collection of nomadic kinship groups engaged in herding and caravan traffic became a
sedentary, agricultural people, developed complex political and social institutions, and
became integrated into the commercial and diplomatic networks of the Middle East.
Second, these people transformed the austere cult of a desert god into the concept of a
single, all-powerful, and all-knowing deity, in the process creating the ethical and
intellectual traditions that underlie the beliefs and values of Judaism, Christianity, and,
to a lesser extent, Islam.
The land and the people at the heart of this story have gone by various names: Canaan,
Israel, Palestine; Hebrews, Israelites, Jews. For the sake of consistency, the people are
referred to here as Israelites, the land they occupied in antiquity as Israel.
Israel is a crossroads, linking Anatolia58, Egypt, Arabia, and Mesopotamia. Its location
has given Israel an importance in history out of all proportion to its size. Its natural
resources are few. The Negev Desert and the vast wasteland of the Sinai lie to the
south. The Mediterranean coastal plain was usually in the hands of others, particularly
the Philistines, throughout much of this period. Galilee to the north, with its sea of the
same name, was a relatively fertile land of grassy hills and small plains. The narrow
ribbon of the Jordan River runs down the eastern side of the region into the Dead Sea,
so named because its high salt content is toxic to life.
Origins, Exodus, and Settlement
Information about ancient Israel comes partly from archaeological excavations and
references in contemporary documents such as the royal annals of Egypt and Assyria.
Fundamental to any attempt to write a history of the Israelites, but also problematic is
the collection of writings preserved in the Hebrew Bible (called the Old Testament by
Christians). The Hebrew Bible is a compilation of several collections of materials that
originated with different groups, employed distinctive vocabularies, and advocated
particular interpretations of past events. Traditions about the Israelites' early days were
long transmitted orally. Not until the tenth century B.C.E. were they written down in a
script borrowed from the Phoenicians. The text that we have today dates from the fifth
century B.C.E., with a few later additions, the Temple in Jerusalem. The Hebrew
language of the Bible reflects the speech of the Israelites until about 500 B.C.E. It is a
Semitic language, most closely related to Phoenician and Aramaic (which later
supplanted Hebrew in Israel), more distantly related to Arabic and the Akkadian
language of the Assyrians. Historians disagree about how accurately this document
represents Israelite history. In the absence of other written sources, however, it provides
a foundation to be used critically and tested against archaeological discoveries.
In some respects the history of ancient Israel is unique, but it also reflects a familiar
pattern in the ancient Middle East, a story of nomadic pastoralists who occupied
marginal land between the inhospitable desert and settled agricultural areas. Early on,
these nomads raided the farms and villages of settled peoples, but eventually they
settled down to an agricultural way of life and later developed a unified state.
The Hebrew Bible tells the story of the family of Abraham. Born in the city of Ur in
southern Mesopotamia, Abraham rejected the traditional idol worship of his homeland
and migrated with his family and livestock across the Syrian desert. Eventually he
arrived in the land of Israel, which, according to the biblical account, had been promised
to him and his descendants as part of a ―covenant,‖ or pact with the Israelite god,
These ―recollections‖ of the journey of Abraham (who, if he was a real person, probably
lived around 1800 B.C.E.) may compress the experiences of generations of pastoralists
who migrated from the grazing lands between the upper reaches of the Tigris and
Euphrates Rivers to the Mediterranean coastal plain. Abraham, his family, and his
Modern day Turkey.
companions were following the usual pattern in this part of the world. They camped by a
permanent water source in the dry season, then drove herds of domesticated animals
(sheep, cattle, donkeys) to a well-established sequence of grazing areas during the rest
of the year. The animals provided them with milk, cheese, meat, and cloth.
The early Israelites and the settled peoples of the region were suspicious of one
another. This friction between nomadic herders and settled farmers, as well as the
Israelites' view of their ancestors as having been nomads, comes through in the story of
the innocent shepherd Abel, who was killed by his farmer brother Cain, and in the story
of Sodom and Gomorrah, two cities that Yahweh destroyed because of their
According to the Hebrew Bible, Abraham's son Isaac and then his grandson Jacob
became the leaders of this wandering group of herders. In the next generation the
squabbling sons of Jacob's several wives sold their brother Joseph as a slave to
passing merchants heading for Egypt. According to the biblical account, through luck
and ability Joseph became a high official at Pharaoh's court. Thus he was in a position
to help his people when drought struck Israel and forced the Israelites to migrate to
Egypt. The sophisticated Egyptians feared and looked down on these rough herders
and eventually reduced the Israelites to slaves, putting them to work on the grand
building projects of the pharaoh.
Several points need to be made about this biblical account. First, it glosses over the
period from 1700 to 1500 B.C.E., when Egypt was dominated by the Hyksos. Since the
Hyksos are thought to have been Semitic groups that infiltrated the Nile Delta from the
northeast, the Israelite migration to Egypt and later enslavement could have been
connected to the Hyksos rise and fall. Second, although the surviving Egyptian sources
do not refer to Israelite slaves, they do complain about Apiru, a derogatory term applied
to caravan drivers, outcasts, bandits, and other marginal groups. The word seems to
designate a class of people rather than a particular ethnic group, but some scholars
believe there may be a connection between the similar-sounding terms Apiru and
Hebrew. Third, the period of alleged Israelite slavery coincided with the era of ambitious
building programs launched by several New Kingdom pharaohs. However, there is little
archaeological evidence of an Israelite presence in Egypt.
According to the Hebrew Bible, the Israelites were led out of captivity by Moses, an
Israelite with connections to the Egyptian royal family. The narrative of their departure,
the Exodus, is overlaid with folktale motifs, including the ten plagues that Yahweh
inflicted on Egypt to persuade the pharaoh to release the Israelites and the miraculous
parting of the waters of the Red Sea that enabled the refugees to escape. It is possible
that oral tradition may have preserved memories of a real emigration from Egypt
followed by years of wandering in the wilderness of Sinai.
During their forty years in the desert, as reported in the Hebrew Bible, the Israelites
entered into a further covenant with their god, Yahweh: they would be his ―Chosen
People‖ if they promised to worship him exclusively. This pact was confirmed by tablets
that Moses brought down from the top of Mount Sinai. Written on the tablets were the
Ten Commandments, which set out the basic tenets of Jewish belief and practice. The
Commandments prohibited murder, adultery, theft, lying, and envy and demanded
respect for parents and rest from work on the Sabbath, the seventh day of the week.
The biblical account proceeds to tell how Joshua, Moses's successor, led the Israelites
from the east side of the Jordan River into the land of Canaan (modern Israel and the
Palestinian territories), where they at tacked and destroyed Jericho and other Canaanite
cities. Archaeological evidence confirms the destruction of some Canaanite towns
between 1250 and 1200 B.C.E., though not precisely the towns mentioned in the biblical
account. Shortly thereafter, lowland sites were resettled and new sites were established
in the hills, thanks to the development of cisterns carved into non-porous rock to hold
rainwater and the construction of leveled terraces on the slopes to expand the cultivable
area. The material culture of the new settlers was cruder but continued Canaanite
patterns. Most scholars doubt that Canaan was conquered by a unified Israelite army. In
a time of widespread disruption, movements of peoples, and decline and destruction of
cities throughout this region, it is more likely that Israelite migrants took advantage of
the disorder and were joined by other loosely organized groups and even refugees from
the Canaanite cities.
In a pattern common throughout history, the new coalition of peoples invented a
common ancestry. The ―Children of Israel,‖ as they called themselves, were divided into
twelve tribes supposedly descended from the sons of Jacob and Joseph. Each tribe
installed itself in a different part of the country and was led by one or more chiefs. Such
leaders usually had limited power and were primarily responsible for mediating disputes
and seeing to the welfare and protection of the group. Certain charismatic figures,
famed for their daring in war or genius in arbitration, were called ―Judges‖ and enjoyed a
special standing that transcended tribal boundaries. The tribes also shared access to a
shrine in the hill country at Shiloh, which housed the Ark of the Covenant, a sacred
chest containing the tablets that Yahweh had given Moses.
Rise of Monarchy
The time of troubles that began in the eastern Mediterranean around 1200 B.C.E. also
brought the Philistines to Israel. Possibly related to the pre-Greek population of the
Aegean Sea region and likely participants in the Sea People's attack on Egypt, the
Philistines occupied the coastal plain of Israel and came into frequent conflict with the
Israelites. Their wars were memorialized in Bible stories about the long-haired
strongman Samson, who toppled a Philistine temple, and the shepherd boy David,
whose slingshot felled the towering warrior Goliath.
The Hebrew Bible claims that a religious leader named Samuel recognized the need for
a stronger central authority to lead the Israelites against the Philistine city-states and
anointed Saul as the first king of Israel around 1020 B.C.E. When Saul perished in
battle, the throne passed to David ( 1000-960 B.C.E.). Many scholars regard the
biblical account for the period of the monarchy as more historically reliable than the
earlier parts, although some experts maintain that the archaeological record still does
not match up very well with that narrative and that the wealth and power of the early
kings have been greatly exaggerated.
A gifted musician, warrior, and politician, David oversaw Israel‘s transition from a tribal
confederacy to a unified monarchy. He strengthened royal authority by making the
captured hill city of Jerusalem, which lay out side tribal boundaries, his capital. Soon
after, David brought the Ark to Jerusalem, making the city the religious as well as the
political center of the kingdom. A census was taken to facilitate the collection of taxes,
and a standing army, with soldiers paid by and loyal to the king, was instituted. These
innovations enabled David to win a string of military victories and expand Israel's
The reign of David's son Solomon ( 960-920 B.C.E.) marked the high point of the
Israelite monarchy. Alliances and trade linked Israel with near and distant lands.
Solomon and Hiram, the king of Phoenician Tyre, together commissioned a fleet that
sailed into the Red Sea and brought back gold, ivory, jewels, sandal wood, and exotic
animals. The story of the visit to Solomon by the queen of Sheba, who brought gold,
precious stones, and spices, may be mythical, but it reflects the reality of trade with
Saba in south Arabia (present-day Yemen) or the Horn of Africa (present day Somalia).
The wealth gained from these military and commercial ventures supported a lavish court
life, a sizeable bureaucracy, and an intimidating chariot army that made Israel a regional
power. Solomon undertook an ambitious building program employing slaves and the
compulsory labor of citizens. To strengthen the link between religious and secular
authority, he built the First Temple in Jerusalem. The Israelites now had a central shrine
and an impressive set of rituals that could compete with other religions in the area.
The Temple priests became a powerful and wealthy class, receiving a share of the
annual harvest in return for making animal sacrifices to Yahweh on behalf of the
community. The expansion of Jerusalem, new commercial opportunities and the
increasing prestige of the Temple hierarchy changed the social composition of Israelite
society. A gap between urban and rural, rich and poor, polarized a people that
previously had been relatively homogeneous. Fiery prophets, claiming revelation from
Yahweh, accused the monarchs and aristocracy of corruption, impiety, and neglect of
the poor.
The Israelites lived in patriarchal extended families, several generations residing
together under the authority of the eldest male. Marriage, usually arranged between
families, was an important economic as well as social institution. When the groom, in
order to prove his financial worthiness, gave a substantial gift to the father of the bride,
her entire family participated in the ceremonial weighing out of silver or gold. The wife's
dowry often included a slave girl who attended her for life.
Male heirs were of paramount importance, and first born sons received a double share
of the inheritance. If a couple had no son, they could adopt one, or the husband could
have a child by the wife's slave attendant. If a man died childless, his brother was
expected to marry his widow and sire an heir.
In early Israel women provided a vital portion of the goods and services that sustained
the family. As a result, women were respected and enjoyed relative equality with their
husbands. Unlike men, however, they could not inherit property or initiate divorce, and a
woman caught in extramarital relations could be put to death. Working-class women
labored with other family members in agriculture or herding in addition to caring for the
house and children. As the society became urbanized, some women worked outside the
home as cooks, bakers, perfumers, wet nurses (usually a recent mother, still producing
milk, hired to provide nourishment to another person's child), prostitutes, and singers of
laments at funerals. A few women reached positions of influence, such as Deborah the
Judge, who led troops in battle against the Canaanites. Women known collectively as
―wise women‖ appear to have composed sacred texts in poetry and prose. This reality
has been obscured, in part by the male bias of the Hebrew Bible, in part because the
status of women declined as Israelite society became more urbanized.
Fragmentation and Dispersal
After Solomon's death around 920 B.C.E., resentment over royal demands for money
and labor and the neglect of tribal prerogatives split the monarchy into two kingdoms:
Israel in the north, with its capital at Samaria; and Judah in the southern territory around
Jerusalem. The two were sometimes at war, sometimes allied.
This period saw the final formulation of monotheism, the absolute belief in Yahweh as
the one and only god. Nevertheless, religious leaders still had to contend with cults
professing polytheism (the belief in multiple gods). The ecstatic rituals of the Canaanite
storm-god Baal and the fertility goddess Asherah attracted many Israelites. Prophets
condemned the adoption of foreign ritual and threatened that Yahweh would punish
Israel severely.
The small states of Syria and the two Israelite kingdoms laid aside their rivalries to
mount a joint resistance to the Neo-Assyrian Empire, but to no avail. In 721 B.C.E. the
Assyrians destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel and deported much of its population
to the east. New settlers were brought in from Syria, Babylon, and Iran, changing the
area's ethnic, cultural, and religious character and removing it from the mainstream of
Jewish history. The kingdom of Judah survived for more than a century longer,
sometimes rebelling, sometimes paving tribute to the Assyrians or the Neo-Babylonian
kingdom (626-539 B.C.E.) that succeeded them. When the Neo-Babylonian monarch
Nebuchadnezzar captured Jerusalem in 587 B.C.E., he destroyed the Temple and
deported to Babylon the royal family, the aristocracy, and many skilled workers such as
blacksmiths and scribes.
The deportees prospered so well in their new home ―by the waters of Babylon‖ that haIf
a century later most of their descendants refused the offer of the Persian monarch
Cyrus (see Chapter 5) to return to their home land. This was the origin of the Diaspora
– a Greek word meaning ―dispersion‖ or ―scattering.‖ This dispersion outside the
homeland of many Jews – as we may now call these people, since an independent
Israel no longer existed – continues to this day. To maintain their religion and culture
outside the homeland, the Diaspora communities developed institutions like the
synagogue (Greek for ―bringing together‖), a communal meeting place that served
religious, educational, and social functions.
Several groups of Babylonian Jews did make the long trek back to Judah in the later
sixth century B.C.E., where they met with a cold reception from the local population.
Persevering, they rebuilt the Temple in modest form and drafted the Deuteronomic
Code (deuteronomic is Greek for ―second set of laws‖) of law and conduct. The fifth
century B.C.E. also saw the compilation of much of the Hebrew Bible in roughly its
present form.
The loss of political autonomy and the experience of exile had sharpened Jewish
identity, with an unyielding monotheism as the core belief. Jews lived by a rigid set of
rules. Dietary restrictions forbade the eating of pork and shellfish and mandated that
meat and dairy products not be consumed together. Ritual baths were used to achieve
spiritual purity, and women were required to take ritual baths after menstruation. The
Jews venerated the Sabbath (Saturday, the seventh day of the week) by refraining from
work and from fighting, following the example of Yahweh, who, according to the Bible,
rested on the seventh day after creating the world (this is the origin of the concept of the
weekend). These strictures and others, including a ban on marrying non-Jews, tended
to isolate the Jews from other peoples, but they also fostered a powerful sense of
community and the belief that they were protected by a watchful and beneficent deity.
Protest Against the Ruling Class in Israel
Israelite society underwent profound changes in the period of the monarchy, and the
new opportunities for some to acquire considerable wealth led to greater disparities
between rich and poor. Throughout this period a series of prophets publicly challenged
the behavior of the Israelite ruling elite. They denounced the changes in Israelite society
as corrupting people and separating them from the religious devotion and moral
rectitude of an earlier, better time. The prophets often spoke out on behalf of the
uneducated, inarticulate, illiterate, and powerless lower classes, and they thus provide
valuable information about the experiences of different social groups. Theirs was not
objective reporting, but rather the angry, anguished visions of unconventional
The following excerpt from the Hebrew Bible is taken from the book of Amos. A
herdsman from the southern kingdom of Judah in the era of the divided monarchy,
Amos was active in the northern kingdom of Israel in the mid-eighth century B.C.E.,
when Assyria threatened the Syria-Palestine region.
1:1 The following is a record of what Amos prophesied. He was one of the herdsmen
from Tekoa. These prophecies about Israel were revealed to him during the time of
King Uzziah of Judah and King Jeroboam son of Joash of Israel.
3:1 Listen, you Israelites, to this message which the Lord is proclaiming against you.
This message is for the entire clan I brought up from the land of Egypt:
3:2 ―I have chosen you alone from all the clans of the earth. Therefore I will punish you
for all your sins.‖
3:9 Make this announcement in the fortresses of Ashdod and in the fortresses in the
land of Egypt. Say this: ―Gather on the hills around Samaria! [capital of the northern
kingdom] Observe the many acts of violence taking place within the city, the
oppressive deeds occurring in it.‖
3:11 ―Therefore,‖ says the sovereign Lord, ―an enemy will encircle the land. Your
power, Samaria, will be taken away; your fortresses will be looted.‖
3:12 This is what the Lord says: ―Just as a shepherd salvages from the lion's mouth a
couple of leg bones or a piece of an ear, so the Israelites who live in Samaria will
be salvaged. They will be left with just a corner of a bed, and a part of a couch.‖
4:1 Listen to this message, you ―cows of Bashan‖ who live on Mount Samaria! You
oppress the poor; you crush the needy. You say to your husbands, ―Bring us more
to drink so we can party!‖
4:2 The sovereign Lord confirms this oath by his own holy character: ―Certainly the time
is approaching! You will be carried away in baskets, every last one of you in
fishermen's pots.‖
4:3 ―Each of you will go straight through the gaps in the walls; you will be thrown out
toward Harmon.‖
5:11 ―Therefore, because you make the poor pay taxes on their crops and exact a grain
tax from them, you will not live in the houses you built with chiseled stone, nor will
you drink the wine from the fine vineyards you planted.‖
5:12 ―Certainly I am aware of your many rebellious acts and your numerous sins. You
torment the innocent, you take bribes, and you deny justice to the needy at the city
5:21 ―I absolutely despise your festivals. I get no pleasure from your religious
5:22 ―Even if you offer me burnt and grain offerings, I will not be satisfied; I will not look
with favor on the fattened calves you offer in peace.‖
5:23 ―Take away from me your noisy songs; I don't want to hear the music of your
stringed instruments.‖
6:4 They lie around on beds decorated with ivory, and sprawl out on their couches.
They eat lambs from the flock, and calves from the middle of the pen.
6:5 They sing to the tune of stringed instruments; like David they invent musical
6:6 They drink wine from sacrificial bowls, and pour the very best oils on themselves.
6:7 Therefore they will now be the first to go into exile, and the religious banquets
where they sprawl out on couches will end.
7:10 Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent this message to King Jeroboam of Israel: ―Amos
is conspiring against you in the very heart of the kingdom of Israel! The land can
not endure all his prophecies.‖
7:11 ―As a matter of fact, Amos is saying this: 'Jeroboam will die by the sword and
Israel will certainly be carried into exile away from its land‘.‖
7:12 Amaziah then said to Amos, ―Leave, you visionary! Run away to the land of Judah!
Earn money and prophesy there!‖
7:13 ―Don't prophesy at Bethel any longer, for a royal temple and palace are here!‖
7:14 Amos replied to Amaziah, ―I was not a prophet by profession. No, I was a
herdsman who also took care of sycamore fig trees.‖
7:15 ―Then the Lord took me from tending flocks and gave me this commission, 'Go!
Prophesy to my people Israel!‘―
8:8 ―Because of this the earth will quake, and all who live in it will mourn. The whole
earth will rise like the River Nile, it will surge upward and then grow calm, like the
Nile in Egypt.‖
8:9 ―In that day,‖ says the sovereign Lord, ―I will make the sun set at noon, and make
the earth dark in the middle of the day.‖
8:10 I will turn your festivals into funerals, and all your songs into funeral dirges. I will
make everyone wear funeral clothes and cause every head to be shaved bald. I
will make you mourn as if you had lost your only son; when it ends it will indeed
have been a bitter day.‖
9:8 ―Look, the sovereign Lord is watching the sinful nation, and I will destroy it from the
face of the earth. But I will not completely destroy the family of Jacob,‖ says the
9:9 ―For look, I am giving a command and I will shake the family of Israel together with
all the nations. It will resemble a sieve being shaken, when not even a pebble falls
to the ground.‖
9:11 ―In that day I will rebuild the collapsing hut of David. I will seal its gaps, repair its
ruins, and restore it to what it was like in days gone by.‖
HW # 23: The Athenian and Spartan City States
Read WH, pp. 110-125.
Answer the following:
1. How did its origins as a society surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea, on a mountainous terrain,
shape the development of Greek civilization?
2. How were the aristocracies, oligarchies and direct democracies of the Greek city-states different?
3. The Greek poleis were the first governments to develop the idea of citizenship. Who were
included in the category of citizen, and who were excluded? Why what the idea of citizenship so
pivotal in the development of government?
4. How did the governments of Athens and Sparta differ? How was their education of youth
5. Why did Sparta evolve into a military state with an authoritarian cast? Why did Athens develop
into a democracy? Although Athenian polis is often portrayed as the better city-state, do you see
any redeeming features in Sparta?
6. What was Perciles‘ legacy for Athens?
7. Why did the Peloponnesian War break out between Athens and Sparta?
HW # 24: The Homeric Epic and Greek Myth
Read the below.
Answer the following questions:
1. How would you characterize the behavior of the Greek gods in the Iliad? What is their
relationship with the mortals? How do they determine the fates of men? What does
the seduction of Zeus by Hera tell us about Homer‘s view of the interaction between
humanity and the gods?
2. What could we conclude about how the ancient Greeks understood their world,
based on Homer‘s description of the Greek gods and the way they interacted with
human beings?
3. In Greek tragedies, leading figures have a ―tragic flaw‖ which leads to their downfall.
What was the tragic flaw of Achilles? Is Achilles a sympathetic figure?
4. The aim of every Homerian hero is to achieve honor, which is more important than
life itself. In battle, a hero‘s honor is determined primarily by his courage and physical
abilities, in a life-and-death struggle which can require mercilessness. The highest
honor comes not just from killing the enemy, but from stripping his body of armor –
degrading the foe by leaving him naked, and taking a permanent trophy of his defeat.
Thus, when Hector slays Patroclus, he takes Achilles‘ armor, which Patroclus was
wearing, and wears it into battle. Similarly, when Achilles kills Hector, he seizes his
armor back. How is this focus on honor different from modern warfare? Do we lose
anything by giving up the concept of honor?
5. What is the image of the Greek polis Homer paints in his description of Achilles‘
shield? Why do you think he introduced that image in the form of a description of a
6. At the end of his 20th century poem, ―The Shield of Achilles,‖ the British poet W. H.
Auden wrote:
A ragged urchin, aimless and alone,
Loitered about that vacancy; a bird
Flew up to safety from his well-aimed stone:
That girls are raped, that two boys knife a third,
Were axioms to him, who'd never heard
Of any world where promises were kept,
Or one could weep because another wept.
The thin-lipped armorer,
Hephaestos, hobbled away,
Thetis of the shining breasts
Cried out in dismay
At what the god had wrought
To please her son, the strong
Iron-hearted man-slaying Achilles
Who would not live long.
Do you think Auden had the same view as Homer of the Greek polis and the Trojan
7. The French philosopher Simone Weil argued that the true protagonist of Iliad is not
Achilles, but the use of force. Force ―turns anyone who is subjected to it into a thing.
Exercised to the limit, it makes man into a thing in the most literal sense: it makes a
corpse out of him.‖ In Weil‘s view, Achilles' wrath is not a tribute to his manliness, but
the story of his ignorance, specifically his ignorance of the workings of Nemesis, the
god of retribution. ―Force is as pitiless to the man who possesses it, or thinks he
does, as it is to its victims; the second it crushes, the first it intoxicates.‖ Those who
kill are in turned killed, first Patroclus, then Hector and finally Achilles. Do you agree
with Weil that the Iliad could be read as the first anti-war poem, telling the story of the
futility of trying to resolve disputes through force? Explain your reasoning.
Homer‘s Iliad
The Iliad is one of the two ancient Greek epic poems attributed to Homer,
supposedly a blind Ionian poet, or collection of nameless poets; the other is the
The Iliad concerns events during the tenth and final year in the siege of the city of
Ilium, or Troy, by the Greeks. The word "Iliad" means "pertaining to Ilium," the city
proper, as opposed to Troy, the state centered around Ilium, over which Priam
reigned. The names "Ilium" and "Troy" are often used interchangeably.
For most of the twentieth century, scholars dated the Iliad and the Odyssey to the
8th century B.C.E. Some still argue for an early dating, seeing a link between the
writing of the Iliad and the invention of the Greek alphabet. Many others now prefer a
date in the 7th or even the 6th century B.C.E. Most modern scholars consider these
poems to be the oldest literature in the Greek language, possibly equaled by
A ancient Greek poet, roughly contemporaneous with Homer, whose work contained much Greek mythology.
The Iliad begins with these lines:
Sing, goddess, the rage of Achilles60, the son of Peleus61,
the destructive rage that sent countless pains on the Achaeans62...
The first word of the Iliad is m nin, "rage" or "wrath." This word announces the major
theme of the Iliad: the wrath of Achilles. When Agamemnon63, the commander of the
Greek forces at Troy, dishonors Achilles by taking Braces, a slave woman concubine
given to Achilles as a prize of war, Achilles becomes enraged and withdraws from the
fighting for almost all of the story. Without him and his powerful Myrmidon warriors, the
Greeks suffer defeat by the Trojans, almost to the point of losing their will to fight.
Achilles re-enters the fighting when his dearest friend and lover, Patroclus64, is killed by
the Trojan prince Hector65. Achilles slaughters many Trojans and kills Hector. In his
rage, he then refuses to return Hector's body and instead defiles it. Priam66, the father
of Hector, ransoms his son's body, and the Iliad ends with the funeral of Hector.
Homer devotes long passages to frank, blow-by-blow descriptions of combat. He gives
the names of the fighters, recounts their taunts and battle-cries, and gruesomely details
the ways in which they kill and wound one another. Often, the death of a hero only
escalates the violence, as the two sides battle for his armor and corpse, or his close
companions launch a punitive attack on his killer. The lucky ones are sometimes
whisked away by friendly charioteers or the intervention of a god, but Homeric warfare
is still some of the most bloody and brutal in literature.
The Iliad has a very strong religious and supernatural element. Both sides in the war
are extremely pious, and both have heroes descended from divine beings. They
constantly sacrifice to the gods and consult priests and prophets to decide their actions.
In Greek mythology, Achilles was a hero of the Trojan War, the central character and greatest warrior of Homer's
Iliad, which takes for its theme, not the War of Troy in its entirety, but specifically the Wrath of Achilles. Achilles has
the attributes of being the most handsome of the heroes assembled at Troy, as well as the quickest. Central to his
myth is his relationship with Patroclus, characterized in different sources as either deep friendship or passionate love.
Later legends (beginning with a poem by Statius in the first century B.C.E.) state that Achilles was invulnerable on all
of his body except for his heel. These legends state that Achilles was killed in battle by an arrow to the heel, and so
an Achilles' heel has come to mean a person's only weakness. Achilles' death came in retribution for a sacrilege he
had previously committed, his decapitation of Troilus upon an altar-omphalos of Apollo.
In Greek mythology, the king of Aegina and father of Achilles.
A name for the Greeks in the Iliad.
A Mycenaen king, and son of King Atreus of Mycenae and Queen Aerope.
In Greek mythology, the very close friend and lover of Achilles. There is some dispute in the scholarly literature on
whether or not he is the lover of Achilles, although the majority view, going back to the ancient writer Ovid, holds that
they were lovers. When Achilles initially refused to fight because of his feud with Agamemnon, Patroclus donned his
armor and led the Greeks into battle. Hector killed him in battle, causing Achilles to enter into combat with the Trojans
seeking revenge.
In Greek mythology, a Trojan prince and one of the greatest fighters in the Trojan War. He is the son of Priam and
Hecuba, descendant of Dardanus, ancient king of the Dardanians, who lived under Mount Ida, and of Tros, the
founder of Troy. He acts as leader of the Trojans and their allies in the defense of Troy. Hector is one of the Nine
Worthies, as he is known not only for his courage, but for his noble nature.
Hector‘s father and the king of Troy.
For their own part, the gods frequently join in battles, both by advising and protecting
their favorites and even by participating in combat against humans and other gods.
The Iliad's huge cast of characters connects the Trojan War to many Greek myths, such
as Jason and the Argonauts, the Seven Against Thebes, and the Labors of Hercules.
Many Greek myths exist in multiple versions, so Homer had some freedom to choose
among them to suit his story.
The action of the Iliad covers only a few weeks of the tenth and final year of the Trojan
War. It does not cover the background and early years of the war (Paris'67 abduction of
Helen68 from King Menelaus69 – the purported reason for the war) nor its end (the death
of Achilles and the fall of Troy). Other epic poems, collectively known as the Epic Cycle
or cyclic epics, narrated many of these events; these poems only survive in fragments
and later descriptions.
Selections from The Iliad
From The Iliad of Homer. Richmond Lattimore, translator. (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1961.)
Now Hera70, she of the golden throne, standing on Olympus'71
horn, looked out with her and saw at once how Poseidon72,
who was her very brother and her lord's brother, was bustling
about the battle where men win glory, arid her heart was happy.
Then she saw Zeus73, sitting along the loftiest summit
on Ida of the springs, and in her eyes he was hateful.
And now the lady ox-eyed Hera was divided in purpose
as to how she could beguile the brain in Zeus of the aegis.
And to her mind this thing appeared to he the best counsel,
to array herself in loveliness, and go down to Ida74,
and perhaps he might be taken with desire to lie in love with her
next her skin, and she might be able to drift an innocent
warm sleep across his eyelids, and seal his crafty perceptions.
She went into her chamber, which her beloved son Hephaestus75
had built for her, and closed the leaves in the door-posts snugly
with a secret door-bar, and no other of the gods could open it.
In Greek mythology, a Trojan prince and son of Priam who causes the Trojan War by abducting Helen.
In Greek mythology, the very beautiful daughter of Zeus and Leda, wife of king Menelaus of Sparta and sister of
Castor, Polydeuces and Clytemnestra.
In Greek mythology, the king of Sparta and the husband of Helen.
In Greek mythology, the older sister and primary wife of Zeus – in effect, the queen of gods.
In Greek mythology, the mountain which was the home of the gods.
In Greek mythology, the god of the sea and brother of Zeus.
In Greek mythology, the king of gods.
A Greek mountain.
In Greek mythology, the god of fire and blacksmiths.
There entering she drew shut the leaves of the shining door, then
first from her adorable both washed away all stains
with ambrosia, and next anointed herself with ambrosial
sweet olive oil, which stood there in its fragrance beside her,
and from which, stirred in the house of Zeus by the golden pavement,
a fragrance was shaken forever forth, on earth and in heaven.
When with this she had anointed her delicate body
and combed her hair, next with her hands she arranged the shining
and lovely and ambrosial curls along her immortal
head, and dressed in an ambrosial robe that Athena76
had made her carefully, smooth, and with many figures upon it,
and pinned it across her breast with a golden brooch, and circled
her waist about with a zone that floated a hundred tassels,
and in the lobes of her carefully pierced ears she put rings
with triple drops in mulberry clusters, radiant with beauty,
and, lovely among goddesses, she veiled her head downward
with a sweet fresh veil that glimmered pale like the sunlight...
Then Hera light-tooted made her way to the peak of Gargaros
on towering Ida. And Zeus who gathers the clouds saw her,
and when he saw her desire was a mist about his close heart
as much as on that time they first went to bed together
and lay in love, and their dear parents knew nothing of it.
He stood before her and called her by name and spoke to her: ―Hera,
what is your desire that you come clown here from Olvmpus?
And your horses are not here, nor your chariot, which you would ride in.‖
Then with false lying purpose the lady Hera answered him:
―I am going to the ends of the generous earth, on a visit
to Okeanos77, whence the gods have risen, and Tethys our mother,
who brought me up kindly in their own house, and cared for me.
I shall go to visit these, and resolve their division of discord,
since now for a long time they have stayed apart from each other
and from the bed of love, since rancour has entered their feelings
In the foothills by Ida of the waters are standing
my horses, who will carry me over hard land and water.
Only now I have come down here from Olympus for your sake
so you will not be angry with me afterwards, if I
have gone silently to the house of deep-running Okeanos.‖
Then in turn Zeus who gathers the clouds answered her:
In Greek mythology, the goddess of wisdom and the patron goddess of Athens. She is said to have been born by
springing fully formed from the head of Zeus.
In Greek mythology, the ruler of the seas before Poseidon. In some accounts, he and Tethys gave birth to Zeus,
Hera and Poseidon.
―Hera, there will be a time afterwards when you can go there
as well. But now let us go to bed and turn to love-making.
For never before has love for any goddess or woman
so melted about the heart inside me, broken it to submission,
as now: not that time when I loved the wife of Ixion78
who bore me Peirithoös79, equal of the gods in counsel,
nor when I loved Akrisios‘ daughter, sweet-stepping Danaë80,
who bore Perseus81 to me, pre-eminent among all men,
nor when I loved the daughter of far-renowned Phoinix82, Europa83
who bore Minos84 to me, and Rhadamanthys85 the godlike;
not when I loved Semele86, or Alkmene87 in Thebe,
when Alkmene bore me a son, Herakles88 the strong-hearted,
while Semele's son was Dionysos89, the pleasure of mortals;
not when I loved the queen Demeter90 of the lovely tresses,
not when it was glorious Leto91, nor yourself, so much
as now I love you, and the sweet passion has taken hold of me.‖
Then with false lying purpose the lady Hera answered him:
―Most honoured son of Kronos92, what sort of thing have you spoken?
If now your great desire is to lie in love together
here on the peaks of Ida, everything can be seen. Then
what would happen if some one of the gods everlasting
saw us sleeping, and went and told all the other immortals
of it? I would not simply rise out of bed and go back
again, into your house, and such a thing would be shameful.
No, if this is your heart's desire, if this is your wish, then
there is my chamber, which my beloved son Hephaestus
In Greek mythology, the king of the Lapiths, the most ancient tribe of Thessaly, and a son of Ares, the god of war.
In Greek mythology, another king of the Lapiths, the most ancient tribe of Thessaly.
In Greek mythology, a daughter of King Acrisius of Argos and Eurydice.
In Greek mythology, the hero who killed Medusa, the figure who was ugly that looking upon her would turn a
person into stone.
A mythological bird, drawn from Phoenician mythology, who rises anew from the ashes of a fire that consumes it.
In Greek mythology, a beautiful Phoenician princess.
In Greek mythology, a king of Crete who became a judge in the underworld, Hades, after his death.
In Greek mythology, a wise king who ruled Crete before Minos.
In Greek mythology, a priestess seduced by Zeus and mother of Dionysus.
In Greek mythology, the mother of Hercules. She was the daughter of Electryon, king of Mycenae and
granddaughter of Perseus.
In Greek mythology, Hercules was a very powerful man who performed twelve heroic feats and then went
temporarily crazy, killing his wife, his children and the entire village where he lived.
In Greek mythology, the god of wine, intoxication and revelry.
In Greek mythology, the goddess of mother earth and fertility, responsible for the seasons.
In Greek mythology, the goddess mother of the twins Apollo, the god of healing and archery, and Artemis, goddess
of the hunt.
In Greek mythology, the Titan god of time. He was the father of Zeus, who Zeus overthrew to rule Olympus..
has built for me, and closed the leaves in the door-posts snugly.
We can go back there and lie down, since bed is your pleasure.‖
Then in turn Zeus who gathers the clouds answered her:
―Hera, do not fear that any mortal or any god
will see, so close shall be the golden cloud that I gather
about us. Not even Helios93 can look at us through it,
although beyond all others his light has the sharpest vision.‖
So speaking, the son of Kronos caught his wife in his arms. There
underneath them the divine earth broke into young, fresh
grass, arid into dewy clover, crocus arid hyacinth
so thick and soft it held the hard ground deep away from them.
There they lay down together amid drew about them a golden
wonderful cloud, and from it the glimmering dew descended.
So the father slept unshaken on the peak of Gargaron
with his wife in his arms, when sleep and passion had stilled him;
but gently Sleep went on the run to the ships of the Achaians
with a message to tell him who circles the earth and shakes it,
Poseidon, and stood close to him and addressed him in winged words:
―Poseidon, now with all your heart defend the Danaans94
and give them glory, though only for a little, while Zeus still
sleeps; since I have mantled a soft slumber about him
and Hera beguiled him into sleeping in love beside her.‖
[One famous section of the poem gives an account of a Greek polis, in the form of a
description of the images on a shield crafted for Achilles by Hephaestus. The passage
is an early example of ecphrasis (a literary description of a work of art) and influenced
many later poems, including ―The Shield of Herucles‖ once attributed to Hesiod. Virgil's
description of the shield of Aeneas in Book Eight of the Aeneid is clearly modelled on
Homer. The poem ―The Shield of Achilles‖ by W. H. Auden reimagines Homer's
description in 20th century terms.
The shield had a series of concentric circles, starting with [1] the earth, sky and sea, the
sun, the moon and the constellations, and proceeding to [2] two beautiful cities full of
people: in one a wedding and a law case are taking place; the other city is besieged by
one feuding army and the shield shows an ambush and a battle; [3] a field being
ploughed for the third time; [4] a king's estate where the harvest is being reaped; [5] a
vineyard with grape pickers; [6] a "herd of straight-horned cattle"; the lead bull has been
attacked by a pair of savage lions which the herdsmen and their dogs are trying to beat
off; [7] a picture of a sheep farm; [8] a dancing-floor where young men and women are
dancing; and [9] the great stream of Ocean. The following selection describes the first
city, Homer‘s ideal Greek polis.]
In Greek mythology, the personification of the sun.
Another name for the Greeks in the Iliad.
The first thing he created was a huge and sturdy shield,
all wonderfully crafted...
Then he created two splendid cities of mortal men.
In one, there were feasts and weddings. By the light
of blazing torches, people were leading the brides
out from their homes and through the town to loud
of the bridal song. There were young lads dancing,
whirling to the constant tunes of flutes and lyres,
while all the women stood beside their doors, staring
in admiration.
Then the people gathered
in the assembly, for a dispute had taken place.
Two men were arguing about blood-money owed
for a murdered man. One claimed he'd paid in full,
setting out his case before the people, but the other
was refusing any compensation. Both were keen
to get the judgment from an arbitration.
The crowd there cheered them on, some supporting one,
some the other, while heralds kept the throng controlled.
Meanwhile, elders were sitting there on polished stones
in the sacred circle, holding in their hands
the staffs they'd taken from the clear-voiced heralds.
With those they'd stand up there and render judgment,
each in his turn. In the centre lay two golden talents,
to be awarded to the one among them all
who delivered the most righteous verdict.
[Toward the end of the poem there is a climactic duel between the Trojan prince Hector
and the Greek hero Achilles. The goddess Athena appears to Hector in the guise of his
brother Deiphobos95 and promises to help him in the fight – then she betrays him to
So Athena spoke and led him on by beguilement.
Now as the two in their advance were come close together,
first of the two to speak was tall helm-glittering Hector:
―Son of Peleus, I will no longer run from you, as before this
I fled three times around the great city of Priam, and dared not
stand to your onfall. But now my spirit in turn has driven me
to stand and face you. I must take you now, or I must be taken.
Come then, shall we swear before the gods? For these are the highest
who shall be witnesses arid watch over our agreements.
In Greek mythology, a prince of Troy, son of Priam and brother of Hector and Paris.
Brutal as you are I will not defile you, if Zeus grants
to me that I can wear you out, and take the life from you.
But after I have stripped your glorious armour, Achilles,
I will give your corpse back to the Achaians. Do you do likewise?‖
Then looking darkly at him swift-footed Achilles answered:
―Hector, argue me no agreements. I cannot forgive you.
As there are no trustworthy oaths between men and lions,
nor wolves and lambs have spirit that can be brought to agreement
but forever these hold feelings of hate for each other,
so there can be no love between you and me, nor shall there be
oaths between us, but one or the other must fall before then
to glut with his blood Ares the god who fights under the shield's guard.
Remember every valour of yours, for now the need comes
hardest upon you to be a speamman and a bold warrior.
There shall be no more escape for you, but Pallas Athena
will kill you soon by my spear. You will pay in a lump for all those
sorrows of my companions you killed in your spear's fury.‖
So he spoke, and balanced the spear far shadowed, and threw it;
but glorious Hector kept his eyes on him, and avoided it,
for he dropped, watchful, to his knee, and the bronze spear flew over his shoulder
and stuck in the ground, but Pallas Athena snatched it, and gave it
back to Achilles, unseen by Hector shepherd of the people.
But now Hector spoke out to the blameless son of Peleus:
―You missed; and it was not, O Achilles like the immortals,
from Zeus that you knew my destiny; but you thought so; or rather
you are someone clever in speech and spoke to swindle me,
to make me afraid of you and forget my valour and war strength.
You will not stick your spear in my back as I run away from you
but drive it into my chest as I storm straight in against you;
if the god gives you that; and now look out for my brazen
spear. I wish it might be taken full length in your body.
And indeed the war would be a lighter thing for the Trojans
if you were dead, seeing that you are their greatest affliction.‖
So he spoke, and balanced the spear far shadowed, and threw it
and struck the middle of Peleïdes' shield, nor missed it,
but the spear was driven far back from the shield, and Hector was angered
because his swift weapon had been loosed from his hand in a vain cast.
He stood discouraged, and had no other ash spear; but lifting
his voice he called aloud on Deïphobos of the pale shield,
and asked him for a long spear, but Deïphobos was not near him
And Hector knew the truth inside his heart, and spoke aloud:
―No use. Here at last the gods have summoned me deathward.
I thought Deïphobos the hero was here close beside me,
but he is behind the wall and it was Athena cheating me,
and now evil death is close to me, and no longer far away,
and there is no way out. So it must long since have been pleasing
to Zeus, and Zeus' son who strikes from afar, this way; though before this
they defended me gladly. But now my death is upon me.
Let me at least not die without a struggle, inglorious,
but do some big thing first, that men to come shall know of it.‖
So he spoke. and pulling out the sharp sword that was slung
at the hollow of his side, huge and heavy, and gathering
himself together, he made his swoop, like a high-flown eagle
who launches himself out of the murk of the clouds on the flat land
to catch away a tender lamb or a shivering hare;
so Hector made his swoop. swinging his sharp sword, and Achilles
charged, the heart within him loaded with savage fury.
In front of his chest the beautiful elaborate great shield
covered him, and with the glittering helm with four horns
he nodded: the lovely golden fringes were shaken about it
which Hephaestus had driven close along the horn of the helmet.
And as a star moves among stars in the night's darkening,
Hesper, who is the fairest star who stands in the sky,
such was the shining from the pointed spear Achilles was shaking
in his right hand with evil intention toward brilliant Hector.
He was eyeing Hector's splendid body, to see where it might best
give way, but all the rest of the skin was held in the armour,
brazen and splendid, he stripped when he cut down the strength of Patroclus;
yet showed where the collar-bones hold the neck from the shoulders,
the throat, where death of the soul comes most swiftly; in this place
brilliant Achilles drove the spear as he came on in fury,
and clean through the soft part of the neck the spearpoint was driven.
Yet the ash spear heavy with bronze did not sever the windpipe,
so that Hector could still make exchange of words spoken.
But he dropped in the dust, and brilliant Achilles vaunted above him:
―Hector, surely you thought as you killed Patroclus you would be safe,
and since I was far away you thought nothing of me,
O fool, for an avenger was left, far greater than he was,
behind him amid away by the hollow ships.
And it was I; and I have broken your strength; on you the dogs and the vultures
shall feed and foully rip you; the Achaians will bury Patroclus.‖
In his weakness Hector of the shining helm spoke to him:
―I entreat you, by your life, by your knees, by your parents,
do not let the dogs feed on me by the ships of the Achaians,
but take yourself the bronze and gold that are there in abundance,
those gifts that my father and the lady my mother will give you,
and give my body to be taken home again, so that the Trojans
and the wives of the Trojans may give me in death my rite of burning.‖
But looking darkly at him swift-footed Achilles answered:
―No more entreating of me, you dog, by knees or parents.
I wish only that my spirit and fury would drive me
to hack your meat away and eat it raw for the things that
your have done to me. So there is no one who can hold the dogs off
from your head, not if they bring here and set before me ten times
and twenty times the ransom, and promise more in addition,
not if Priam son of Dardanos should offer to weigh out
your bulk in gold; not even so shall the lady your mother
who herself bore you lay you on the death-bed and mourn you:
no, but the dogs and the birds will have you all for their feasting.‖
Then, dying, Hector of the shining helmet spoke to him:
―I know you well as I look upon you, I know that I could not
persuade you, since indeed in your breast is a heart of iron.
Be careful now; for I might be made into the gods' curse
upon you, on that day when Paris and Phoibos Apollo
destroy you in the Skaian gates, for all your valour.‖
He spoke, and as he spoke the end of death closed in upon him,
arid the soul fluttering free of the limbs went down into Death's house
mourning her destiny, leaving youth and manhood behind her.
Now though he was a dead man brilliant Achilles spoke to him:
―Die: and I will take my own death at whatever time
Zeus and the rest of the immortals choose to accomplish it.‖
HW # 25: Greek Drama and Sophocles’ Antigone
Read the below.
Answer the following questions:
1. What principles does Creon appeal to in support of his position? What principles
does Antigone appeal to? Are the two positions necessarily incompatible?
2. What is Antigone's attitude toward her "crime" and the death penalty she is facing?
3. Which figure – Creon or Antigone – do you find more admirable? Why?
3. What are the implications of Creon‘s stance for individual ethical choice? For social
order? What as the implications of Antigone‘s position?
4. How do you think Antigone's gender influences her position and Creon's reaction to
5. The German philosopher Hegel wrote that the story of Antigone represented the
conflict between the human law of the polis and the divinely sanctioned law of the
family. For Hegel, the funeral ritual which Antigone performs is an important marker
of civilization: it rescues the dead from the anonymity and meaninglessness of a
purely natural death, such as that experienced by other species, and gives them an
individual recognition and cultural life that extends beyond their natural life. Do you
agree with Hegel that a funeral is a sign of civilized behavior, and that Antigone was
advancing the cause of civilization?
6. How does Antigone‘s actions compare with the modern practice of civil
7. Is Creon guilty of hubris (a pride and belief in one‘s abilities out of all proportion to
reality)? Could Antigone be accused of hubris as well?
8. Is Creon‘s son Haemon right, that ―No true city-state obeys one man alone.‖? Do you
agree with him that Creon is not exercising reason in his decision-making?
Sophocles’ Antigone
In modern times, classical Athenian tragedies have enjoyed substantial revivals –
remarkable given the fact that they were intended to be performed only once. What
keeps them in modern repertoires is their concern with conflicts having universal
interest. Some themes appear much more frequently than others, to be sure. For
example, the Greek tragic hero is typically hounded by a fate inherited from the
misdeeds of his ancestors. Very often, too, he brings doom upon himself with hubris – a
mortal's false pride leading to acts that no mortal can get away with.
In Greek drama, the Chorus often recites or chants odes96. These relate events on
stage to the will of the gods, punishments for those guilty of hubris, the implacability of
fate, or similar cosmic concerns. The Chorus leader (or Choragos) enters the dialogue
with questions and observations.
Sophocles was born in 495 B.C.E., just outside of Athens, and died in 404 after a long
and distinguished career as perhaps the greatest of the Athenian writers of tragedy. He
wrote Antigone in 442, making it the earliest of his seven surviving plays (out of the 120
that he wrote). Sophocles was interested above all in questions of individual
psychology, and Antigone explores the conflict between the demands of the state and
social order against the dictates of individual conscience and ethical choice through the
tragedy of the lead character, Antigone.
It is interesting, however, that Sophocles pursues this theme through a female character
– one of a number of strong female portrayals in his body of work – adding gender to an
already complicated encounter of ideals. Questions of gender roles had, perhaps,
special meaning in Athens, where increasing freedom and social responsibility for its
male citizens was matched by a far more restricted and subordinate life for its women
than was common in other Greek city-states. His work allows us a rare glimpse at the
influence of conceptions of gender on questions of social order and individual ethics.
The play is set in the city of Thebes and involves the ill-fated family of Oedipus, the
Theban ruler who killed his father and married his mother, producing four children by
her: the twin sons Eteocles and Polynices and the sisters Ismene and Antigone. After
discovering his horrible fate, Oedipus blinds himself and goes into exile. Eteocles takes
An ode is an elaborate, lyrical form of poetry developed by the ancient Greeks.
the Theban throne, but Polynices contests his rule with an invading army. The two
brothers kill each other, and rule of Thebes passes to their uncle Creon, who accords
the loyal Theban Eteocles a state burial but decrees that the traitor Polynices's corpse
should rot, unburied. Antigone sees this order not through the eyes of the state but as a
violation of family relationships and the dictates of religion with regard to proper burial.
She defies the order, and eventually dies as a result of her uncle's decision; this proves
to have tragic consequences for Creon.
Sophocles therefore presents a conflict of principles with no winners (thus, a tragedy)
and no easy answers to the clash between individual conscience and collective
responsibility. The key statements of principle by the central characters are contained in
the excerpts that follow.
Selections from Sophocles‘ Antigone
From Sophocles, Three Thebian Plays. (New York: Penguin Books, 1982.)
My countrymen, the ship of state is safe. The gods who rocked her, after a long,
merciless pounding in the storm, have righted her once more. Out of the whole city I
have called you here alone. Well I know, first, your undeviating respect for the throne
and royal power of King Laius97. Next, while Oedipus steered the land of Thebes, and
even after he died, your loyalty was unshakable, you still stood by their children. Now
then, since the two sons are dead – two blows of fate in the same day, cut down by
each other's hands, both killers, both brothers stained with blood – as I am next in kin to
the dead, I now possess the throne and all its powers.
Of course you cannot know a man completely, his character, his principles, sense of
judgment, not till he's shown his colors, ruling the people, making laws. Experience,
there's the test. As I see it, whoever assumes the task, the awesome task of set ting the
city's course, and refuses to adopt the soundest policies but fearing someone, keeps his
lips locked tight, he's utterly worthless. So I rate him now, I always have. And whoever
places a friend above the good of his own country, he is nothing: I have no use for him.
Zeus is my witness, Zeus who sees all things, always – I could never stand by silent,
watching destruction march against our city, putting safety to rout, nor could I ever make
that man a friend of mine who menaces our country. Remember this: our country is our
safety. Only while she voyages true on course can we establish friendships, truer than
blood itself.
Such are my standards. They make our city great. Closely akin to them I have
proclaimed, just now, the following decree to our people concerning the two sons of
Oedipus. Eteocles, who died fighting for Thebes, excelling all in arms: he shall be
buried, crowned with a hero's honors, the cups we pour to soak the earth and reach the
famous dead. But as for his blood brother, Polynices, who returned from exile, home to
his father-city and the gods of his race, consumed with one desire – to burn them roof to
In Greek mythology, a king of Thebes.
roots – who thirsted to drink his kinsmen's blood and sell the rest to slavery: that man –
a proclamation has forbidden the city to dignify him with burial, mourn him at all. No, he
must be left unburied, his corpse carrion for the birds and dogs to tear, an obscenity for
the citizens to behold!
These are my principles. Never at my hands will the traitor behonored above the patriot.
But whoever proves his loyalty to the state – I'll prize that man in death as well as life.
Leader of the Chorus:
If this is your pleasure, Creon, treating our city's enemies and our friend this way...
The power is yours, I suppose, to enforce it with the laws, both for the dead and all of
us, the living.
[The burial of Polynices in contradiction of this order is revealed by a guard to Creon,
who at first suspects the Guard or someone else did this for money.]
Leader of the Chorus:
My king, ever since he began I've been debating in my mind, could this possibly be the
work of the gods?
Stop before you make me choke with anger – the gods! You, you're senile, must you be
insane? You say – why it's intolerable – say the gods could have the slightest concern
for that corpse? Tell me, was it for meritorious service they proceeded to bury him,
prized him so? The hero who came to burn their temples ringed with pillars, their golden
treasures – scorch their hallowed earth and fling their laws to the winds. Exactly when
did you last see the gods celebrating traitors? Inconceivable!
No, from the first there were certain citizens who could hardly stand the spirit of my
regime, grumbling against me in the dark, heads together, tossing wildly, never keeping
their necks beneath the yoke, loyally submitting to their king. These are the instigators,
I'm convinced – they've perverted my own guard, bribed them to do their work.
Money! Nothing worse in our lives, so current, rampant, so corrupting. Money – you
demolish cities, root men from their homes, you train and twist good minds and set them
on to the most atrocious schemes. No limit, you make them adept at every kind of
outrage, every godless crime-money!
Everyone – the whole crew bribed to commit this crime, they've made one thing sure at
least: sooner or later they will pay the price.
Creon turns to the sentry.
You – I swear to Zeus as I still believe in Zeus, if you don't find the man who buried that
corpse, the very man, and produce him before my eyes, simple death won't be enough
for you, not till we string you up alive and wring the immorality out of you. Then you can
steal the rest of your days better informed about where to make a killing. You'll be
learned, at last, it doesn't pay to itch for rewards from every hand that beck ons. Filthy
profits wreck most men, you'll see – they'll never save your life.
[Antigone is brought before Creon having been caught in the act of reburying her
brother, whose body had been exposed once again.]
We have the culprit here! We seized her tight when she was burying him. Now where is
the king?
Coming from the palace right now. (Creon enters.)
What is all this. ..?
Sire, no man should ever swear he'll never do a thing. After all your threats, I swore
you'd never see me return. But being so surprised and so very glad when we captured
the one who did it just made a liar out of me. ... I am bringing you the woman we caught
in the very act of burying him. Take her and judge her guilt any way you like. I've done
my part and ought to be relieved of any further responsibility.
Just what was she doing when you arrested her? Tell me.
Burying him. It's that simple....
You there, standing with your head bowed, do you admit the truth of what he charges
you with or not? You, tell me briefly, no long speeches – were you aware a decree had
forbidden this?
Well aware. How could I avoid it? It was public.
And still you had the gall to break this law?
Of course I did. It wasn't Zeus, not in the least, who made this proclamation – not to me.
Nor did that justice, dwelling with the gods beneath the earth, ordain such laws for men.
Nor did I think your edict had such force that you, a mere mortal, could override the
gods, the great unwritten, unshakable traditions. They are alive, not just today or
yesterday: they live forever, from the first of time, and no one knows when they first saw
the light.
These laws – I was not about to break them, not out of fear of some man's wounded
pride, and face the retribution of the gods. Die I must, I've known it all my life – how
could I keep from knowing? – even without your death – sentence ringing in my ears.
And if I am to die before my time I consider that a gain. Who on earth, alive in the midst
of so much grief as I, could fail to find his death a rich reward? So for me, at least, to
meet this doom of yours is precious little pain. But if I had allowed my own mother's son
to rot, an unburied corpse-that would have been an agony! This is nothing. And if my
present actions strike you as foolish, let's just say I've been accused of folly by a fool.
Chorus Leader:
Like father like daughter, passionate, wild . . . she hasn't learned to bend before
This girl has outdone herself in insolence: she broke the law, and now she's boasting
about breaking it. If she can get away with that, she is the man, not I.
Do you want something else besides my execution?
No, that will be enough for me.
Then why wait? Have me killed. Your words are having no effect on me, and you must
be getting tired of mine, although you shouldn't be. I deserve all honor for burying my
brother. These men right here would all congratulate me for my courage if their fear of
you did not keep them quiet. Kings are really fortunate in being able to adjust laws so
that whatever they want to do or say is covered by them.
Not one single Theban thinks that way but you.
They think as I do, but you intimidate them.
Aren't you ashamed to be the only one talking like that?
To show respect for a dead kinsman is nothing to be ashamed of. ... Be what may,
Hades98 requires the rite of burial.
Not so that good and bad men will be treated equally.
Why do you think you know how the gods below will judge this?
An enemy does not become a friend by dying.
Nature inclines me to love, not to hate.
Go ahead and die then! Love the dead in the world below if you must!
Will you really steal your own son's bride from him?
Then she really is to die. .. . Now here comes Haemon, your last surviving son. Isn't it
grief bringing him here? He's sad and bitter over Antigone's doom. (Haemon enters.)
We'll find out soon enough.. . . Son, have you heard about your bride's death sentence?
Have you come here raving mad, or will you accept my decision as an act of love?
Father, I belong to you. Your good judgment will steer me, and I will obey. No marriage
will mean more to me than your loving guidance.
That's the right way to act, recognizing your father's authority like a proper son. Men
pray for dutiful sons, each one harming his father's enemies and doing good to his
father's friends. . . . So you have made the right choice, not to let this woman cloud your
mind. You would find her embraces turning cold, Haemon, and then you'd be left with a
hateful armful. What is worse than a false love? Let Hades find her a husband! I will not
go back on my word to the state, since she alone among my people disobeyed my law.
.. . She must surely die. Let her sing her appeal to Zeus who helps guard family ties. If I
let my own family rebel, I would be en couraging lawlessness on a grand scale. The
man who heads an orderly household is the right one to help with administering the citystate. I will not put up with any one who wants to bend the law and dictate to his rulers.
In Greek mythology, the underworld where the dead go.
The ruler entrusted with the power of the state must be obeyed, whether he happens to
be right or wrong.
There is no greater evil than disrespect for authority, which destroys homes and citystates alike, demoralizing and defeating armies: Discipline makes life orderly and good.
With it we will preserve authority and not be led astray by a woman. If I am overthrown, I
want it said at least that I was beaten by a man rather than outmaneuvered by a
Unless old age is taking its toll, my mind tells me you are speaking sensibly and justly.
Father, reason is the greatest gift of the gods to mankind. It's not my place to say you
are not using your share of it; however, there are other men around who reason well,
and as your son I feel responsible for telling you their thoughts when they pertain to you.
The people are afraid of making you angry and will not let you know what they really
think, but I have overheard them whispering their complaints and their grief over this
girl's fate. You should know how the people are mourning, saying she is doomed to die
a shameful death for a glorious deed. They say she refused to leave her brother's body
unburied for the vultures and dogs, and they ask: ―Doesn't she deserve a prize of gold?"
That's what the people are really saving.
Withdraw your anger, and reverse your decree! Young as I am, I do know this:
The ideal would be to have absolute wisdom at all times, but since nature doesn't work
like that the next best thing is to pay attention to wisdom and reason in good advice.
Sire, if what he says makes sense, you would do well to listen. Haemon, you in turn
should consider your father's words. Both of you have spoken well.
You think it's right for a man to take instruction from a boy?
Not if I did not have right on my side, but if I do you shouldn't hold my age against me.
Are you asking me to condone lawlessness?
I'm not asking you to protect lawbreakers.
Isn't that just what this girl is?
The people of Thebes don't think so.
And so the citizens are going to dictate my decrees?
It is you now who are talking like a youngster.
Am I to rule or let others do it?
No true city-state obeys one man alone.
A city-state belongs to its ruler.
You might rule well alone in a desert.
I can tell this boy is under the woman's influence.
That's true if you're a woman. I am thinking of your own interests.
Good for nothing! Getting into a fight of words with your father...! All your arguing is for
her sake!
For yours and mine, too, and for the sake of the gods below.
You will never marry her while she's alive.
She must die then, but another death will follow hers.
Another? Are you going so far as to make threats?
I'm only trying to keep you from carrying out your vain plan.
You vain fool: you'll regret condescending talk like that.
If you weren't my father, I'd say you were crazy....
That's enough! I swear by Olympus you will not get away with your raving insults! Bring
out the hateful creature: She will die this moment before her bridegroom's very eyes,
right close to him.
Don't deceive yourself. She will not die with me looking on, and you will never see my
face again. Keep on raving as long as you think you have a friend to listen. (Haemon
He's gone, Sire. A young man made furious can do great harm.
HW # 26: Socrates and Greek Philosophy
Read the below.
Answer the following:
1. What is the Socratic method, and why is it important as a method for teaching
philosophy and other subjects? In what ways are Socratic dialogues, such as that
from the Phaedo below, similar to the way our class is conducted? In what ways are
they different? Do you think this is a good way to teach?
2. In his defense during his trial, Socrates is reputed to have said, "The unexamined life
is not worth living." What do you think he meant by that statement? Do you agree
with it?
3. Socrates is famous for contending that true wisdom is not knowing a lot of facts and
information, but knowing what you don‘t know. "That what I don't know,‖ he says ―I
don't think I know." Do you think that it is a good definition of wisdom?
4. The charges levelled against Socrates was that he was ―corrupting the youth,‖ by
teaching them to question the city‘s values – its system of democracy and its religion.
Do you think that teachers should be require to uphold the values of the society to
which they and the students belong? Why or why not?
5. Although Socrates was a critic of Athenian democracy, would it be possible to
understand the way he taught youth as best for the health of the democratic polis?
Explain your reasoning.
6. The well-known journalist I. F. Stone argued that Athens was wrong to convict and
execute Socrates, but that Socrates himself could easily have won acquittal by
appealing to the right of all Athenian citizens to free speech. Instead, Socrates
wanted to become a martyr, to advance his criticisms of Athenian democracy. Do you
think that Stone had a point?
7. Why do you think that Socrates refuses to escape his death, but willingly drank the
hemlock which killed him? What does this say about his understanding of his
relationship to Athens and its laws?
8. Do you agree with Socrates that death is the way for the soul to become truly free?
Socrates (470 B.C.E. – 399 B.C.E.) was a Classical Greek philosopher. The most
reliable source of information concerning Socrates is Plato. However, classical scholars
disagree as to whether a completely historically accurate portrayal of Socrates can be
extracted from any of the sources. Even Plato is alleged to create an incompatible
portrayal of Socrates: his dialogues portray Socrates as a teacher who denies having
disciples, as a man of reason who obeys a divine voice in his head, and a pious man
who is executed for the state's own expediency; Socrates disparages the pleasures of
the senses, yet is excited by beauty; he is devoted to the education of the citizens of
Athens, yet indifferent to his own sons.
Details about Socrates are derived from three contemporary sources: the dialogues of
Plato and Xenophon (associates or students of Socrates), and the plays of
Aristophanes. There is no evidence that Socrates himself published any writings. He
has been depicted by some scholars as a champion of oral modes of communication,
standing up at the dawn of writing against its haphazard diffusion.
Aristophanes' play The Clouds portrays Socrates as a clown who teaches his students
how to bamboozle their way out of debt. Most of Aristophanes' works, however, function
as parodies. Thus, one should not take his portrayal of Socrates at face value.
According to Plato, Socrates' father was Sophroniscus and his mother Phaenarete, a
midwife. Socrates married Xanthippe, who was much younger than her husband. She
bore him three sons, Lamprocles, Sophroniscus and Menexenus. His friend Crito
criticized him for abandoning his sons when he refused to try to escape before his
It is unclear how Socrates earned a living. According to Timon of Phlius and later
sources, Socrates took over the profession of stone masonry from his father. There was
a tradition in antiquity, not credited by modern scholarship, that Socrates crafted the
statues of the Three Graces, which stood near the Acropolis until the second century
AD. There is evidence which indicates that Socrates never engaged in a profession: In
Xenophon's Symposium, Socrates is reported as saying he devotes himself only to what
he regards as the most important art or occupation: discussing philosophy.
Aristophanes portrays Socrates as accepting payment for teaching and running a
sophist99 school with Chaerephon, in The Clouds, while in Plato's Apology and
Symposium and in Xenophon's accounts, Socrates explicitly denies accepting payment
for teaching. More specifically, in the Apology Socrates cites his poverty as proof that he
is not a teacher.
The Sophists were a school of classical philosophy that taught skepticism of all authority and all received truths.
Although Plato was accused of belonging to them, he did advocate truths – they were just truths not embraced by the
Athens populace.
Several of Plato's dialogues refer to Socrates' military service. Socrates says he served
in the Athenian army during three campaigns: at Potidaea, Amphipolis, and Delium. In
the Symposium Alcibiades describes Socrates' valor in the battles of Potidaea and
Delium, recounting how Socrates saved his life in the former battle. Socrates'
exceptional service at Delium is also mentioned in the Laches, by the general the
dialogue is named after. In the Apology Socrates compares his military service to his
courtroom troubles, and says that anyone on the jury who thinks he ought to retreat
from philosophy must also think that soldiers should retreat when it looks like they will
be killed in battle.
Trial and death
The trial and execution of Socrates was the climax of his career and a central event in
the dialogues of Plato. Socrates admits in this series of dialogues that he could have
avoided the trial by abandoning philosophy and going home to mind his own business.
After his conviction, he could have avoided the death penalty by escaping with the help
of his friends. The reason for his cooperation with the state's mandate forms a valuable
philosophical insight in its own right, and is best articulated by the dialogues
themselves, especially in his dialogue with Crito.
Socrates lived during the time of the transition from the height of the Athenian
Hegemony to its decline with the defeat by Sparta and its allies in the Peloponnesian
War. At a time when Athens was seeking to stabilize and recover from its humiliating
defeat, the Athenian public may have been entertaining doubts about democracy as an
efficient form of government. Socrates appears to have been a critic of democracy, and
his trial is interpreted by some scholars to be an expression of political infighting.
Despite claiming death-defying loyalty to his city, Socrates' pursuit of virtue and his strict
adherence to truth clashed with the current course of Athenian politics and society. Here
it is telling to refer to Thucydides: "Applause, in a word, went to one who got in first with
some evil act, and to him who cheered on another to attempt some crime that he was
not thinking of." Socrates praised Sparta, arch rival to Athens, directly and indirectly in
various dialogues. But perhaps the most historically accurate of Socrates' offences to
the city was his position as a social and moral critic. Rather than upholding a status quo
and accepting the development of immorality within his region, Socrates worked to
undermine the collective notion of "might makes right" so common to Greece during this
period. Plato refers to Socrates as the gadfly of the state, insofar as he irritated the
establishment with considerations of justice and the pursuit of goodness. His attempts
to improve the Athenian's sense of justice may have been the source of his execution.
According to Plato's Apology, Socrates' life as the "gadfly" of Athens began when his
friend Chaerephon asked the oracle at Delphi if anyone was wiser than Socrates; the
Oracle responded that none was wiser than Socrates. Socrates believed that what the
Oracle had said was a riddle, considering there is no record of the oracle ever giving
individuals praise for their achievements or knowledge. He proceeded to test the riddle
through approaching men who were considered to be wise by the people of Athens. He
questioned the men of Athens about their knowledge of good, beauty, and virtue.
Finding that they knew nothing and yet believed themselves to know much, Socrates
came to the conclusion that he was wise only insofar as "that what I don't know, I don't
think I know." Socrates' paradoxical wisdom made the prominent Athenians he publicly
questioned look foolish, turning them against him and leading to accusations of
wrongdoing. Socrates defended his role as a gadfly until the end: at his trial, when
Socrates is asked to propose his own punishment, he suggests a wage paid by the
government instead, to finance the time he spends as Athens' benefactor.
He was nevertheless found guilty of corrupting the minds of the youth of Athens and
sentenced to death by drinking a mix of the poisonous hemlock. Socrates' death is
described at the end of Plato's Phaedo. Socrates turned down the pleas of Crito to
attempt an escape from prison. After drinking the poison, he was instructed to walk
around until his limbs felt heavy. After he laid down, the man who administered the
poison pinched his foot. Socrates could no longer feel his legs. The numbness slowly
crept up his body until it reached his heart. Shortly before dying, Socrates spoke his last
words to Crito saying, "Crito, we owe a cock to Asclepius. Please, don't forget to pay the
debt." Asclepius was the Greek god for curing illness, and it is likely that Socrates' last
words were implied to mean that death is the cure, and freedom, of the soul from the
body. The Roman philosopher Seneca attempted to emulate Socrates' death by
hemlock when forced to commit suicide by the Emperor Nero.
According to Xenophon and Plato, Socrates had an opportunity to escape, as his
followers were able to bribe the prison guards. After escaping, Socrates would have had
to flee from Athens. However, Socrates refused to escape for several reasons. 1. He
believed that such a flight would indicate a fear of death, which he believed no true
philosopher has. 2. Even if he did leave, he, and his teaching, would fare no better in
another country. 3. Having knowingly agreed to live under the city's laws, he implicitly
subjected himself to the possibility of being accused of crimes by its citizens and judged
guilty by its jury. To do otherwise would have caused him to break his 'contract' with the
state, and by so doing harming it, an act contrary to Socratic principle. The full
reasoning behind his refusal to flee is the main subject of the Crito.
According to Xenophon's story of Socrates' defense to the jury, Socrates purposefully
gives a defiant defense to the jury because "he believed he would be better off dead."
Xenophon's explanation goes on to describe a defense by Socrates that explains the
rigors of old age, and how Socrates will be glad to circumvent these by being sentenced
to death. It is also understood that Socrates not only wished to avoid the pains of old
age, but also to die because he "actually believed the right time had come for him to
Socratic method
Perhaps his most important contribution to Western thought is his dialectic method of
inquiry, known as the Socratic Method or method of elenchos, which he largely applied
to the examination of key moral concepts such as the Good and Justice. It was first
described by Plato in the Socratic Dialogues. To solve a problem, you would ask a
question and when finding the answer, you would also have an answer to your problem.
This led to the beginning of the Scientific Method, in which the first step says to name
the problem in the form of a question. For this, Socrates is customarily regarded as the
father of political philosophy and ethics or moral philosophy, and as a fountainhead of
all the main themes in Western philosophy in general. (The method may have been
suggested by Zeno of Elea, but Socrates refined it and applied it to ethical problems.)
In this method, a series of questions are posed to help a person or group to determine
their underlying beliefs and the extent of their knowledge. The Socratic method is a
negative method of hypothesis elimination, in that better hypotheses are found by
steadily identifying and eliminating those which lead to contradictions. It was designed
to force one to examine one's own beliefs and the validity of such beliefs. In fact,
Socrates once said, "I know you won't believe me, but the highest form of Human
Excellence is to question oneself and others."
The beliefs of Socrates, as opposed to those of Plato, are difficult to discern. Little in the
way of concrete evidence demarcates the two. The lengthy theories given in most of the
dialogues are those of Plato, and it is thought that Plato so adapted the Socratic style as
to make the literary character and the philosopher himself impossible to distinguish.
Others argue that he did have his own theories and beliefs, but there is much
controversy over what these might have been, owing to the difficulty of separating
Socrates from Plato and the difficulty of interpreting even the dramatic writings
concerning Socrates. Consequently, distinguishing the philosophical beliefs of Socrates
from those of Plato and Xenophon is not easy and it must be remembered that what is
attributed to Socrates might more closely reflect the specific concerns of these thinkers.
If anything in general can be said about the philosophical beliefs of Socrates, it is that
he was morally, intellectually, and politically at odds with his fellow Athenians. When he
is on trial for heresy and corrupting the minds of the youth of Athens, he uses his
method of elenchos to demonstrate to the jurors that their moral values are wrongheaded. He tells them that they are concerned with their families, careers, and political
responsibilities when they ought to be worried about the "welfare of their souls."
Socrates's belief in the immortality of the soul, and his conviction that the gods had
singled him out as a divine emissary seemed to provoke if not annoyance, at least
ridicule. Socrates also questioned the Sophistic doctrine that arete (that is, virtue) can
be taught. He liked to observe that successful fathers (such as the prominent military
general Pericles) did not produce sons of their own quality. Socrates argued that moral
excellence was more a matter of divine bequest than parental nurture. This belief may
have contributed to his lack of anxiety about the future of his own sons.
Socrates seems to have often said that his wisdom was limited to an awareness of his
own ignorance. Socrates may have believed that wrongdoing was a consequence of
ignorance, that those who did wrong knew no better. The one thing Socrates
consistently claimed to have knowledge of was "the art of love" which he connected with
the concept of "the love of wisdom", i.e., philosophy. He never actually claimed to be
wise, only to understand the path that a lover of wisdom must take in pursuing it. It is
debatable whether Socrates believed that humans (as opposed to gods like Apollo)
could actually become wise. On the one hand, he drew a clear line between human
ignorance and ideal knowledge; on the other, Plato's Symposium (Diotima's Speech)
and Republic (Allegory of the Cave) describe a method for ascending to wisdom.
In Plato's Theaetetus, Socrates compares himself to a true matchmaker, as
distinguished from a panderer. This distinction is echoed in Xenophon's Symposium,
when Socrates jokes about his certainty of being able to make a fortune, if he chose to
practice the art of pandering. For his part as a philosophical interlocutor, he leads his
respondent to a clearer conception of wisdom, although he claims that he is not himself
a teacher (Apology). His role, he claims, is more properly to be understood as
analogous to a midwife. Socrates explains that he is himself barren of theories, but
knows how to bring the theories of others to birth and determine whether they are
worthy or mere "wind eggs." Perhaps significantly, he points out that midwives are
barren due to age, and women who have never given birth are unable to become
midwives; a truly barren woman would have no experience or knowledge of birth and
would be unable to separate the worthy infants from those that should be left on the
hillside to be exposed. To judge this, the midwife must have experience and knowledge
of what she is judging.
Socrates believed that the best way for people to live was to focus on self-development
rather than the pursuit of material wealth. He always invited others to try to concentrate
more on friendships and a sense of true community, for Socrates felt that this was the
best way for people to grow together as a populace. His actions lived up to this: in the
end, Socrates accepted his death sentence when most thought he would simply leave
Athens, as he felt he could not run away from or go against the will of his community; as
mentioned above, his reputation for valor on the battlefield was without reproach.
The idea that humans possessed certain virtues formed a common thread in Socrates'
teachings. These virtues represented the most important qualities for a person to have,
foremost of which were the philosophical or intellectual virtues. Socrates stressed that
"virtue was the most valuable of all possessions; the ideal life was spent in search of the
Good. Truth lies beneath the shadows of existence, and that it is the job of the
philosopher to show the rest how little they really know." Ultimately, virtue relates to the
form of the Good; to truly be good and not just act with "right opinion"; one must come
to know the unchanging Good in itself. In the Republic, he describes the "divided line", a
continuum of ignorance to knowledge with the Good on top of it all; only at the top of
this line do we find true good and the knowledge of such.
It is often argued that Socrates believed "ideals belong in a world that only the wise man
can understand", making the philosopher the only type of person suitable to govern
others. According to Plato's account, Socrates was in no way subtle about his particular
beliefs on government. He openly objected to the democracy that ran Athens during his
adult life. It was not only Athenian democracy: Socrates objected to any form of
government that did not conform to his ideal of a perfect republic led by philosophers,
and Athenian government was far from that. It is, however, possible that Plato's account
is coloured here by his own views. During the last years of Socrates' life, Athens was in
continual flux due to political upheaval. Democracy was at last overthrown by a junta
known as the Thirty Tyrants, led by Plato's relative, Critias, who had been a student of
Socrates. The Tyrants ruled for about a year before the Athenian democracy was
reinstated, at which point it declared an amnesty for all recent events. Four years later,
it acted to silence the voice of Socrates.
This argument is often denied, and the question is one of the biggest philosophical
debates when trying to determine what, exactly, it was that Socrates believed. The
strongest argument of those who claim that Socrates did not actually believe in the idea
of philosopher kings is Socrates' constant refusal to enter into politics or participate in
government of any sort; he often stated that he could not look into other's matters or tell
people how to live their lives when he did not yet understand how to live his own. He
believed he was a philosopher engaged in the pursuit of Truth, and did not claim to
know it fully. Socrates' acceptance of his death sentence, after his conviction by the
Boule (Senate), can also be seen to support this view. It is often claimed that much of
the anti-democratic leanings are from Plato, who was never able to overcome his
disgust at what was done to his teacher. In any case, it is clear that Socrates thought
that the rule of the Thirty Tyrants was at least as objectionable as democracy; when
called before them to assist in the arrest of a fellow Athenian, Socrates refused and
narrowly escaped death before the Tyrants were overthrown. He did however fulfill his
duty to serve as prytanis when a trial of a group of generals who presided over a
disastrous naval campaign were judged; even then he maintained an uncompromising
attitude, being one of those who refused to proceed in a manner not supported by the
laws, despite intense pressure. Judging by his actions, he considered the rule of the
Thirty Tyrants less legitimate than that of the democratic senate who sentenced him to
In the dialogues of Plato, Socrates often seems to purport a mystical side, discussing
reincarnation and the mystery religions; however, this is generally attributed to Plato.
Regardless, this cannot be dismissed out of hand, as we cannot be sure of the
differences between the views of Plato and Socrates; in addition, there seem to be
some corollaries in the works of Xenophon. In the culmination of the philosophic path as
discussed in Plato's Symposium and Republic, one comes to the Sea of Beauty or to
the sight of the form of the Good in an experience akin to mystical revelation; only then
can one become wise. (In the Symposium, Socrates credits his speech on the
philosophic path to his teacher, the priestess Diotima, who is not even sure if Socrates
is capable of reaching the highest mysteries.) In the Meno, he refers to the Eleusinian
Mysteries, telling Meno he would understand Socrates' answers better if only he could
stay for the initiations next week. Further confusions result from the nature of these
sources, insofar as the Platonic dialogues are arguably the work of an artistphilosopher, whose meaning does not volunteer itself to the passive reader nor again
the lifelong scholar. Plato himself was a playwright before taking up the study of
philosophy. His works are, indeed, dialogues; Plato's choice of this, the medium of
Sophocles, Euripides, and the fictions of theatre, may reflect the interpretable nature of
his writings. What is more, the first word of nearly all Plato's works is a, or the,
significant term for that respective study, and is used with the commonly approved
definition in mind. Finally, the Phaedrus and the Symposium each allude to Socrates'
coy delivery of philosophic truths in conversation; the Socrates of the Phaedrus goes so
far as to demand such dissembling and mystery in all writing. The mysticism we often
find in Plato, appearing here and there and couched in some enigmatic tract of symbol
and irony, is often at odds with the mysticism that Plato's Socrates expounds in some
other dialogue. These mystical resolutions to thitherto rigorous inquiries and analyses
fail to satisfy caring readers, without fail. Whether they would fail to satisfy readers who
understood them is another question, and will not, in all probability, ever be resolved.
Perhaps the most interesting facet of this is Socrates' reliance on what the Greeks
called his "daemonic sign", an averting inner voice that Socrates heard only when he
was about to make a mistake. It was this sign that prevented Socrates from entering
into politics. In the Phaedrus, we are told Socrates considered this to be a form of
"divine madness", the sort of insanity that is a gift from the gods and gives us poetry,
mysticism, love, and even philosophy itself. Alternately, the sign is often taken to be
what we would call "intuition"; however, Socrates' characterization of the phenomenon
as "daemonic" suggests that its origin is divine, mysterious, and independent of his own
Satirical playwrights
Socrates was prominently lampooned in Aristophanes' comedy The Clouds, produced
when Socrates was in his mid-forties; he said at his trial (according to Plato) that the
laughter of the theater was a harder task to answer than the arguments of his accusers.
Soren Kierkegaard believed this play was a more accurate representation of Socrates
than those of his students. In the play, Socrates is ridiculed for his dirtiness, which is
associated with the Laconizing fad; also in plays by Callias, Eupolis, and Telecleides. In
all of these, Socrates and the Sophists were criticised for "the moral dangers inherent in
contemporary thought and literature".
Plato, Xenophon, and Aristotle are the main sources for the historical Socrates;
however, Xenophon and Plato were direct disciples of Socrates, and presumably, they
idealize him; however, they wrote the only continuous descriptions of Socrates that
have come down to us. Aristotle refers frequently, but in passing, to Socrates in his
writings. Almost all of Plato's works center around Socrates. However, Plato's latter
works appear to be more his own philosophy put into the mouth of his mentor.
The Socratic dialogues are a series of dialogues written by Plato and Xenophon in the
form of discussions between Socrates and other persons of his time, or as discussions
between Socrates' followers over his concepts. Plato's Phaedo is an example of this
latter category. Although his Apology is a monologue delivered by Socrates, it is usually
grouped with the dialogues.
The Apology professes to be a record of the actual speech that Socrates delivered in
his own defense at the trial. In the Athenian jury system, an "apology" is composed of
three parts: a speech, followed by a counter-assessment, then some final words.
"Apology" is a transliteration, not a translation, of the Greek apologia, meaning
"defense"; in this sense it is not apologetic according to our contemporary use of the
Plato generally does not place his own ideas in the mouth of a specific speaker; he lets
ideas emerge via the Socratic method, under the guidance of Socrates. Most of the
dialogues present Socrates applying this method to some extent, but nowhere as
completely as in the Euthyphro. In this dialogue, Socrates and Euthyphro go through
several iterations of refining the answer to Socrates' question, "...What is the pious, and
what the impious?"
In Plato's dialogues, learning appears as a process of remembering. The soul, before its
incarnation in the body, was in the realm of Ideas (very similar to the Platonic "Forms").
There, it saw things the way they truly are, rather than the pale shadows or copies we
experience on earth. By a process of questioning, the soul can be brought to remember
the ideas in their pure form, thus bringing wisdom.
Especially for Plato's writings referring to Socrates, it is not always clear which ideas
brought forward by Socrates (or his friends) actually belonged to Socrates and which of
these may have been new additions or elaborations by Plato — this is known as the
Socratic problem. Generally, the early works of Plato are considered to be close to the
spirit of Socrates, whereas the later works — including Phaedo and the Republic — are
considered to be possibly products of Plato's elaborations.
From Plato, Phaedo, B. Jowett, trans. in The Dialogues of Plato, 3rd ed. (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1892, reprinted 1924.)
But do you mean to take away your thoughts with you, Socrates? said Simmias. Will
you not impart them to us? – for they are a benefit in which we too are entitled to share.
Moreover, if you succeed in convincing us, that will be an answer to the charge against
I will do my best, replied Socrates. But you must first let me hear what Crito wants; he
has long been wishing to say something to me.
Only this, Socrates, replied Crito: – the attendant who is to give you the poison has
been telling me, and he wants me to tell you, that you are not to talk much; talking, he
says, increases heat, and this is apt to interfere with the action of the poison; persons
who excite themselves are sometimes obliged to take a second or even a third dose.
Then, said Socrates, let him mind his business and be prepared to give the poison twice
or even thrice if necessary; that is all.
I knew quite well what you would say, replied Crito; but I was obliged to satisfy him.
Never mind him, he said.
And now, O my judges. I desire to prove to you that the real philosopher has reason to
be of good cheer when he is about to die, and that after death he may hope to obtain
the greatest good in the other world... let us discuss the matter among ourselves. Do we
believe that there is such a thing as death?
To be sure, replied Simmias.
Is it not the separation of soul and body? And to be dead is the completion of this; when
the soul exists in herself, and is released from the body and the body is released from
the soul, what is this but death?
Just so, he replied.
There is another question, which will probably throw light on our present enquiry if you
and I can agree about it: – Ought the philosopher to care about the pleasures – if they
are to be called pleasures – of eating and drinking?
Certainly not, answered Simmias.
And what about the pleasures of love-should he care for them?
By no means.
And will he think much of the other ways of indulging the body, for example, the
acquisition of costly dress, or sandals, or other adornments of the body? Instead of
caring about them, does he not rather despise anything more than nature needs? What
do you say?
I should say that the true philosopher would despise them.
Would you not say that he is entirely concerned with the soul and not with the body? He
would like, as far as he can, to get away from the body and to turn to the soul.
Quite true.
In matters of this sort philosophers, above all other men, may be observed in every sort
of way to dissever the soul from the communion of the body.
Very true.
Whereas, Simmias, the rest of the world are of opinion that to him who has no sense of
pleasure and no part in bodily pleasure, life is not worth having; and that he who is
indifferent about them is as good as dead.
That is also true.
What again shall we say of the actual acquirement of knowledge? – is the body, if
invited to share in the enquiry, a hinderer or a helper? I mean to say, have sight and
hearing any truth in them? Are they not, as the poets are always telling us, inaccurate
witnesses? And yet, if even they are inaccurate and indistinct, what is to be said of the
other senses? – for you will allow that they are the best of them?
Certainly, he replied.
Then when does the soul attain truth? – for in attempting to consider anything in
company with the body she is obviously deceived.
Then must not true existence be revealed to her in thought, if at all?
And thought is best when the mind is gathered into herself and none of these things
trouble her – neither sounds nor sights nor pain nor any pleasure. – when she takes
leave of the body, and has as little as possible to do with it, when she has no bodily
sense or desire, but is aspiring after true being?
And in this the philosopher dishonours the body; his soul runs away from his body and
desires to be alone and by herself?
That is true.
Well, but there is another thing, Simmias: Is there or is there not an absolute justice?
Assuredly there is.
And an absolute beauty and absolute good?
Of course.
But did you ever behold any of them with your eyes?
Certainly not.
Or did sun ever reach them with any other bodily sense? – and I speak not of these
alone, but of absolute greatness, and health, and strength, and of the essence or true
nature of everything. Has the reality of them ever been perceived by you through the
bodily organs? Or rather, is not the nearest approach to the knowledge of their several
natures made by him who so orders his intellectual vision as to have the most exact
conception of the essence of each thing which he considers?
And he attains to the purest knowledge of them who goes to each with the mind alone,
not introducing or intruding in the act of thought sight or any other sense together with
reason, but with the very light of the mind in her own clearness searches into the very
truth of each; he who has got rid, as far as he can, of eves and ears and, so to speak, of
the whole body, these being in his opinion distracting elements which when they infect
the soul hinder her from acquiring truth and knowledge – who, if not he, is likely to attain
to the knowledge of true being?
What you say has a wonderful truth in it, Socrates, replied Simmias.
And when real philosophers consider all these things, will they not be led to make a
reflection which they will express in words something like the following? ―Have we not
found,‖ they will say, ―a path of thought which seems to bring us and our argument to
the conclusion, that while we are in the body, and while the soul is infected with the evils
of the body, our desire will not be satisfied?‖ And our desire is of the truth. For the body
is a source of endless trouble to us by reason of the mere requirement of food; and is
liable also to diseases which overtake and impede us in the search after true being: it
fills us full of loves, and lusts, and fears, and fancies of all kinds, and endless foolery,
and in fact, as men say, takes away from us the power of thinking at all. Whence come
wars, and lightings, and factions? Whence but from the body and the lusts of the body?
Wars are occasioned by the love of money, and money has to be acquired for the sake
and in the service of the body; and by reason of all these impediments we have no time
to give to philosophy; and, last and worst of all, even if we are at leisure and betake
ourselves to some speculation, the body is always breaking in upon us, causing turmoil
and confusion in our enquiries, and so amazing us that we are prevented from seeing
the truth. It has been proved to us by experience that if we would have pure knowledge
of anything we must be quit of the body – the soul in herself must be hold things in
themselves: and then we shall attain the wisdom which we desire, and of which we say
that we are lovers; not while we live, but after death; for if while in company with the
body, the soul cannot have pure knowledge, one of two things follows-either knowledge
is not to be attained at all, or, if at all, after death. For then, and not till then, the soul will
be parted from the body and exist in herself alone. In this present life, I reckon that we
make the nearest approach to knowledge when we have the least possible intercourse
or communion with the body, arid are not surfeited with the bodily nature, but keep
ourselves pure until the hour when God himself is pleased to release us. And thus
having got rid of the foolishness of the body we shall be pure and hold converse with
the pure, and know of ourselves the clear light everywhere, which is no other than the
light of truth. For the im pure are not permitted to approach the pure. These are the sort
of words, Simmias, which the true lovers of knowledge cannot help saying to one
another, and thinking. You would agree; would you not?
Undoubtedly, Socrates.
But, O my friend, if this be true, there is great reason to hope that, going whither I go,
when I have come to the end of my journey, I shall attain that which has been the
pursuit of my life. And therefore I go on my way rejoicing, and not I only, but every other
man who believes that his mind has been made ready and that he is in a manner
When he had spoken these words, he arose and went into a chamber to bathe; Crito
followed him and told us to wait. So we remained be hind, talking and thinking of the
subject of discourse, and also of the greatness of our sorrow; he was like a father of
whom we were being bereaved, and we were about to pass the rest of our lives as
orphans. When he had taken the bath his children were brought to him – (he had two
young sons and an elder one); and the women of his family also came, and he talked to
them and gave them a few directions in the presence of Crito; then he dismissed them
and returned to us.
Now the hour of sunset was near, for a good deal of time had passed while he was
within. When he came out, he sat down with us again after his bath, but not much was
said. Soon the jailer, who was the servant of the Eleven, entered and stood by him,
saying: – ―To you, Socrates, whom I know to he the noblest and gentlest and best of all
who ever came to this place, I will not impute the angry feelings of other men, who rage
and swear at me, when, in obedience to the authorities, I bid them drink the poison –
indeed, I am sure that you will not be angry with me; for others, as you are aware, and
not I, are to blame. And so fare you well, and try to bear lightly what must needs be –
you know my errand.‖ Then bursting into tears he turned away and went out.
Socrates looked at him and said: I return your good wishes, and will do as you bid. Then
turning to us, he said, How charming the man is: since I have been in prison he has
always been coming to see me, and at times he would talk to me, and was as good to
me as could be, and now see how generously he sorrows on my account. We must do
as he says, Crito; and therefore let the cup be brought, if the poison is pre pared: if not,
let the attendant prepare some.
Yet, said Crito, the sun is still upon the hill-tops, and I know that many a one has taken
the draught100 late, and after the announcement has been made to him, he has eaten
and drunk, and enjoyed the society of his beloved; do not hurry – there is time enough.
Socrates said: ―Yes, Crito, and they of whom you speak are right in so acting, for they
think that they will be gainers by the delay; but I am right in not following their example,
for I do not think that I should gain anything by drinking the poison a little later; I should
only be ridiculous in my own eyes for sparing and saving a life which is already forfeit.
Please then to do as I say, and not to refuse me.‖
A drink.
Crito made a sign to the servant, who was standing by; and he went out, and having
been absent for some time, returned with the jailer carrying the cup of poison. Socrates
said: ―You, my good friend, who are experienced in these matters, shall give me
directions how I am to proceed.‖ The man answered: ―You have only to walk about until
your legs are heavy, and then to lie down, and the poison will act.‖ At the same time he
handed the cup to Socrates, who in the easiest and gentlest manner, without the least
fear or change of colour or feature, looking at the man with all his eyes, Echecrates, as
his manner was, took the cup and said: ―What do you say about making a libation out of
this cup to any god? May I, or not?‖ The man answered: ―We only prepare, Socrates,
just so much as we deem enough.‖ ―I understand,‖ he said, ―but I may and must ask the
gods to prosper my journey from this to the other world – even so – and so be it
according to my prayer.‖ Then raising the cup to his lips, quite readily and cheerfully he
drank off the poison. And hitherto most of us had been able to control our sorrow; but
now when we saw him drinking, and saw too that he had finished the draught, we could
no longer forbear, and in spite of my self my own tears were flowing fast; so that I
covered my face and wept, not for him, but at the thought of my own calamity in having
to part from such a friend. Nor was I the first; for Crito, when he found himself unable to
restrain his tears, had got up, and I followed; and at that moment, Apollodorus, who had
been weeping all the time, broke out in a loud and passionate cry which made cowards
of us all. Socrates alone retained his calmness: ―What is this strange outcry?‖ he said. ―I
sent away the women mainly in order that they might not misbehave in this way, for I
have been told that a man should die in peace. Be quiet then, and have patience.‖
When we heard his words we were ashamed, and refrained our tears; and he walked
about until, as he said, his legs began to fail, and then he lay on his back, according to
the directions, and the man who gave him the poison now and then looked at his feet
and legs; and after a while he pressed his foot hard, and asked him if he could feel; and
he said, No; and then his leg, and so upwards and upwards, and showed us that he was
cold and stiff. And he felt them himself, and said: When the poison reaches the heart,
that will be the end. He was beginning to grow cold about the groin, when he uncovered
his face, for he had covered himself up, and said – they were his last words – he said:
―Crito, I owe a cock to Asclepius; will you remember to pay the debt?‖ ―The debt shall be
paid,‖ said Crito; ―is there any thing else?‖ There was no answer to this question; but in
a minute or two a movement was heard, and the attendants uncovered him; his eyes
were set, and Crito closed his eyes and mouth.
Such was the end, Echecrates, of our friend; concerning whom I may truly say, that of
all the men of his time whom I have known, he was the wisest and most just and best.
HW # 26: Plato’s Republic and The Ideal Polis
Read the below.
Answer the following questions:
1. What are the three social classes in Plato‘s ideal polis? What functions in society
does each class serve? If you lived in a society based on Plato‘s Republic, in which
social class would you want to be placed? Why?
2. How should the guardians, the elite which would rule Plato‘s polis, be selected? How
are they to be educated?
3. How does Plato want the guardians to live? What purpose would such a life style
4. In general, what do you think is Plato‘s view of women? What do you make of Plato‘s
discussion of male and female dogs to explain his view of women?
5. Do you think it would be fair to describe Plato‘s Republic as a communist society?
Explain your reasoning.
6. In Plato‘s view, why is the philosopher the only man fit to rule the polis? Is there any
merit in this view?
7. What is Plato‘s Allegory of Cave intended to explain? Why might it be read as a
justification for the rule of the philosopher-king?
8. Is Plato‘s Republic modeled more after Sparta or Athens? Provide evidence for your
The Republic is a Socratic dialogue by Plato, written approximately 360 B.C.E. [A more
literal translation of the title would be ‗The Polis.‘] It is an influential work of philosophy,
widely considered to be the founding text of Western political thought, and perhaps
Plato's best known work. Although the protagonist in the dialogues is Socrates, Plato‘s
teacher, scholars believe that it is as much an expression of Plato‘s own beliefs as it is
the views of Socrates.
The Republic begins with Plato‘s Socrates considering different definitions of justice
and the just political order. It is a dramatic dialogue, not a treatise. Socrates' definition of
justice is never unconditionally stated, only versions of justice within each polis are
"found" and evaluated. Plato‘s Socrates constantly refers the definition of justice back to
the conditions of the polis for which it is created. He builds a series of myths, or noble
lies, to make the cities appear just, and these conditions moderate life within the
communities. The "earth born" myth makes all men believe that they are born from the
earth and have predestined natures within their veins. Accordingly, Plato‘s Socrates
defines justice as "working at that which he is naturally best suited," and goes on to say
that justice sustains and perfects the other three cardinal virtues: Temperance
[Moderation], Wisdom, and Courage, and that justice is the cause and condition of their
existence. A result of this conception of justice separates people into three social
classes; that of the soldier, that of the producer, and that of a ruler, or guardian. If a
ruler can create just laws, and if the warriors can carry out the orders of the rulers, and if
the producers can obey this authority, then a society will be just.
The just polis of Plato‘s Socrates is challenged by Adeimantus and Glaucon throughout
its development, Adeimantus cannot find happiness in the polis, and Glaucon cannot
find honour and glory.
There is human tendency to be corrupted by power, Plato‘s Socrates believes, and this
leads to timocracy [a form of government which limits citizenship to those who own
property], oligarchy, democracy and tyranny. Ruling should thus be left to philosophers,
the most just and therefore least susceptible to corruption. The "good polis" is depicted
as being governed by philosopher-kings; disinterested persons who rule not for their
personal enjoyment but for the good of the entire polis.
In the ideal polis of Plato‘s Socrates, there are no slaves, no discrimination between
men and women. While the ruling class of guardians holds all property – including
women and children – in common, there is also a class of private producers which does
own property. Education in the polis of Plato‘s Socrates is designed to make the people
strong: it is universal, for all men and women, and it excludes what Plato‘s Socrates
calls debilitating music, poetry and theatre -- a startling departure from ancient Athens.
All of Plato‘s social classes receive this education.
In general, the restrictions placed on the philosopher-kings chosen from the warrior
class and the warriors are much more severe than those placed on the producers,
because the rulers must be kept away from any source of corruption. The abolishment
of private property among the guardian class leads controversially to the abandonment
of the typical family, with wives and children being held as common property to all of the
guardians. No child may know his or her parents and the parents may not know their
own children.
The Republic contains Plato's famous ‗Allegory of the Cave,‘ which serves as an
attempt to justify the philosopher's place in society as king. Plato‘s Socrates imagines a
group of people who have lived in a cave all of their lives, chained to a wall in the
subterranean so they cannot see outside nor look behind them. Behind these prisoners
is a constant flame that illuminates various statues that are moved by others, which
cause shadows to flicker around the cave. When the people of the cave see these
shadows they realize how imitative they are of human life, and begin to ascribe forms to
these shadows such as either "dog" or "cat". The shadows are as close as the prisoners
get to seeing reality, according to Plato.
Plato‘s Socrates then goes on to explain how the philosopher is a former prisoner who
is freed from the cave and comes to understand that the shadows on the wall are not
the real world. He sees that the fire and the statues which cause the shadows are
indeed more real than the shadows themselves, and therefore apprehends how the
prisoners are so easily deceived. Plato‘s Socrates then imagines that the freedman is
taken outside of the cave and into the real world. The prisoner is initially blinded by the
light. However when he adjusts to the brightness, he eventually understands that all of
the real objects around him are illuminated by the sun. He also realizes it is the sun to
which he is indebted for being able to see the beauty and goodness in the objects
around him. The freedman is finally cognizant that the fire and statues in the cave were
just copies of the real objects in the world.
Allegorically, Plato reasons that the man freed from the cave is the philosopher, who is
the only person able to discern the Good, the Just and the True. At the end of this
allegory, Plato‘s Socrates asserts that it is the philosopher's burden to reenter the cave.
Those who have seen the ideal world, he says, have the duty to educate those in the
material world, or spread the light to those in darkness. Since the philosopher is the only
one able to recognize the Good, the Just and the True, only he is fit to rule society
according to Plato.
Selections from Plato‘s Republic
From Plato, The Republic. B. Jowett, translator. in The Dialogues of Plato. (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 1895.)
Book Two:
Plato‟s Socrates:
―Is not the love of learning the love of wisdom, which is philosophy?‖
―They are the same,‖ he replied.
Plato‟s Socrates:
―And may we not say confidently of man also, that he who is likely to be gentle to his
friends and acquaintances, must by nature be a lover of wisdom and knowledge?‖
―That we may safely affirm.‖
Plato‟s Socrates:
―Then he who is to be a really good and noble guardian of the State will require to unite
in himself philosophy and spirit and swiftness and strength?‖
Plato‟s Socrates:
―Then we have found the desired natures; and now that we have found them, how are
they to he reared and educated? Is not this an enquiry which may he expected to throw
light on the greater enquiry which is our final end – How do justice and injustice grow up
in states?‖
Adeimantus thought that the enquiry would be of great service to us...
Plato‟s Socrates:
―Come then, and let us pass a leisure hour in story-telling and our story shall be the
education of our heroes.‖
―By all means.‖
Plato‟s Socrates:
―And what shall be their education? Can we find a better than the traditional sort? – and
this has two divisions, gymnastic for the body, and music for the soul.‖
Book Three
Plato‟s Socrates:
―Very good, I said; then what is the next question? Must we not ask who are to be rulers
and who are subjects?‖
Plato‟s Socrates:
―There can be no doubt that the elder must rule the younger.‖
Plato‟s Socrates:
―And that the best of these must rule.‖
―That is also clear.‖
Plato‟s Socrates:
―Now, are not the best husbandmen those who are most devoted to husbandry?‖
Plato‟s Socrates:
―And as we are to have the best of guardians for our city, must they not be those who
have most the character of guardians?‖
Plato‟s Socrates:
―Then there must be a selection. Let us note among the guardians those who in their
whole life show the greatest eagerness to do what is for the good of their country, and
the greatest repugnance to do what is against her interests.‖
―Those are the right men.‖
Plato‟s Socrates:
―And they will have to be watched at every age, in order that we may see whether they
preserve their resolution, and never, under the influence either of force or enchantment,
forget or cast off their sense of duty to the State...‖
Plato‟s Socrates:
―And he who at every age, as boy and youth and in mature life, has come out of the
trial victorious and pure, shall be appointed a ruler and guardian of the State: he shall
be honoured in life and death, and shall receive sepulture and other memorials of
honour, the greatest that we have to give. But him who fails, we must reject. I am
inclined to think that this is the sort of way in which our rulers and guardians should be
chosen and appointed. I speak generally, and not with any pretension to exactness.‖
―And, speaking generally, I agree with you,‖ he said...
Plato‟s Socrates:
―Then let us consider what will be their way of life, if they are to realize our idea of them.
In the first place, none of them should have any property of his own beyond what is
absolutely necessary; neither should they have a private house or store closed against
anyone who has a mind to enter; their provisions should be only such as are required by
trained warriors, who are men of temperance and courage; they should agree to receive
from the citizens a fixed rate of pay, enough to meet the expenses of the year and no
more; and they will go to mess and live together like soldiers in a camp. Gold and silver
we will tell them that they have from God: the diviner metal is within them, and they
have therefore no need of the dross which is current among men, and ought not to
pollute the divine by any such earthly admixture; for that commoner metal has been the
source of many un holy deeds, but their own is undefiled. And they alone of all the
citizens may not touch or handle silver or gold, or be under the same roof with them, or
wear them, or drink from them. And this will be their salvation, and they will be the
saviours of the State. But should they ever acquire homes or lands or moneys of their
own, they will become housekeepers and husbandmen instead of guardians, enemies
and tyrants instead of allies of the other citizens; hating and being hated, plotting and
being plotted against, they will pass their whole life in much greater terror of internal
than of external enemies, and the hour of ruin, both to themselves and to the rest of the
State, will be at hand. For all which reasons may we not say that thus shall our State be
ordered, and that these shall be the regulations appointed by us for our guardians
concerning their houses and all other matters?‖
―Yes,‖ said Glaucon.
Plato‟s Socrates:
―The part of the men has been played out, and now properly enough comes the turn of
the women. Of them I will proceed to speak, and the more readily since I am invited by
Book Five
Plato‟s Socrates:
―For men born and educated like our citizens, the only way, in my opinion, of arriving at
a right conclusion about the possession and use of women and children is to follow the
path on which we originally started, when we said that the men were to be the
guardians and watchdogs of the herd.‖
Plato‟s Socrates:
―Let us further suppose the birth and education of our women to be subject to similar or
nearly similar regulations; then we shall see whether the result accords with our design.‖
―What do you mean?‖
Plato‟s Socrates:
―What I mean maybe put into the form of a question, I said: Are dogs divided into hes
and shes, or do they both share equally in hunting and in keeping watch and in the
other duties of dogs? Or do we entrust to the males the entire and exclusive care of the
flocks, while we leave the females at home, under the idea that the bearing and suckling
their puppies is labour enough for them?‖
―No, he said, they share alike: the only difference between them is that the males are
stronger and the females weaker.‖
Plato‟s Socrates:
―But can you use different animals for the same purpose, unless they are bred and fed
in the same way?‖
―You cannot.‖
Plato‟s Socrates:
―Then, if women are to have the same duties as men, they must have the same nurture
and education?‖
Plato‟s Socrates:
―The education which was assigned to the men was music and gymnastic.‖
Plato‟s Socrates:
―Then women must be taught music and gymnastic and also the art of war, which they
must practice
like the men?‖
―That is the inference I suppose.‖
Plato‟s Socrates:
―I should rather expect. I said, that several of our proposals, if they are carried out,
being unusual, may appear ridiculous.‖
―No doubt of it.‖
Plato‟s Socrates:
―Yes, and the most ridiculous thing of all will be the sight of women naked in the
palaestra, exercising with the men, especially when they are no longer young; they
certainly will not be a vision of beauty, any more than the enthusiastic old men who in
spite of wrinkles and ugliness continue to frequent the gymnasia.‖
―Yes, indeed, he said: according to present notions the proposal would be thought
Plato‟s Socrates:
―But then, I said, as we have determined to speak our minds we must not fear the jests
of the wits which will be directed against this sort of innovation; how they will talk of
women's attainments both in music and gymnastic, and above all about their wearing
armour and riding upon horseback!‖
―Very true,‖ he replied...
Plato‟s Socrates:
―My friend, I said, there is no special faculty of administration in a state which a woman
has because she is a woman, or which a man has by virtue of his sex, but the gifts of
nature are alike diffused in both: all the pursuits of men are the pursuits of women also,
but in all of them a woman is inferior to a man.‖
―Very true.‖
Plato‟s Socrates:
―Then are we to impose all our enactments on men and none of them on women?‖
―That will never do.‖
Plato‟s Socrates:
―One woman has a gift of healing, another not; one is a musician, and another has no
music in her nature?‖
―Very true.‖
Plato‟s Socrates:
―And one woman has a turn for gymnastic and military exercises, and another is
unwarlike and hates gymnastics?‖
Plato‟s Socrates:
―And one woman is a philosopher, and another is an enemy of philosophy: one has
spirit, and another is without spirit?‖
―That is also true.‖
Plato‟s Socrates:
―Then one woman will have the temper of a guardian, and another not. Was not the
selection of the male guardians determined by differences of this sort?‖
Plato‟s Socrates:
―Men and women alike possess the qualities which make a guardian; they differ only in
their comparative strength or weakness.‖
Plato‟s Socrates:
―And those women who have such qualities are to be selected as the companions and
colleagues of men who have similar qualities and whom they resemble in capacity and
in character?‖
―Very true.‖
Plato‟s Socrates:
―And ought not the same natures to have the same pursuits?‖
―They ought.‖
Plato‟s Socrates:
―Then, as we were saving before, there is nothing unnatural in assigning music and
gymnastic to the wives of the guardians – to that point we come round again.‖
―Certainly not.‖
Plato‟s Socrates:
―The law which we then enacted was agreeable to nature, and there fore not an
impossibility or mere aspiration; and the contrary practice, which prevails at present, is
in reality a violation of nature.‖
―That appears to be true.‖
Plato‟s Socrates:
―Then let the wives of our guardians strip, for their virtue will be their robe, and let them
share in the toils of war and the defence of their country; only in the distribution of
labours the lighter are to be assigned to the women, who are the weaker natures, but in
other respects their duties are to be the same.‖
―Very true.‖
Plato‟s Socrates:
―Here, then, is one difficulty in our law about women, which we may say that we have
now escaped; the wave has not swallowed us up alive for enacting that the guardians of
either sex should have all their pursuits in common; to the utility and also to the
possibility of this arrangement the consistency of the argument with itself bears
―Yes, that was a mighty wave which you have escaped.‖
Plato‟s Socrates:
―Yes, I said, but a greater is coming; you will not think much of this when you see the
―Go on; let me see.‖
Plato‟s Socrates:
―The law, I said, which is the sequel of this and of all that has preceded, is to the
following effect, – ―that the wives of our guardians are to be common, and no woman is
to live privately with any man, her children are to be common, and no parent is to know
his own child, nor any child his parent.‖
―Yes, he said, that is a much greater wave than the other; and the possibility as well as
the utility of such a law are far more questionable.‖
Plato‟s Socrates:
―Both the community of property and the community of families as I am saying, tend to
make them more truly guardians; they will not tear the city in pieces by differing about
'mine' and 'not mine;' each man dragging any acquisition which he has made into a
separate house of his own, where he has a separate wife and children and private
pleasures and pains: but all will be affected as far as may be by the same pleasures
and pains because they are all of one opinion about what is near and dear to them, and
therefore they all tend towards a common end.‖
―Certainly,‖ he replied.
Plato‟s Socrates:
―Let me next endeavour to show what is that fault in States which is the cause of their
present maladministration, and what is the least change which will enable a State to
pass into the truer form: and let the change, if possible, be of one thing only, or, if not, of
two; at any rate, let the changes be as few and slight as possible.‖
―Certainly,‖ he replied.
Plato‟s Socrates:
―I think, I said, that there might be a reform of the State if only one change were made,
which is not a slight or easy though still a possible one.‖
―What is it?‖ he said.
Plato‟s Socrates:
―Now then,‖ I said, ―I go to meet that which I liken to the greatest of the waves; yet shall
the word be spoken, even though the wave break and drown me in laughter and
dishonour: and do you mark my words.‖
Plato‟s Socrates:
I said: ―Until philosophers are kings, or the kings and princes of this world have the spirit
and power of philosophy, and political greatness and wisdom meet in one, and those
commoner natures who pursue either to the exclusion of the other are compelled to
stand aside cities will never have rest from their evils, – no, nor the human race, as I
believe – and then only will this our State have a possibility of life and behold the light of
Book Seven: The Allegory of the Cave
Plato‟s Socrates:
―And now, I said, let me show in a figure how far our nature is enlightened or
unenlightened: – Behold! Human beings living in an under ground den, which has a
mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the den here they have been from
their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and
can only see before them [facing inward], being prevented by the chains from turning
around their heads. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between
the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way and you will see, if you look, a low wall
built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over
which they show the puppets.‖
―I see.‖
Plato‟s Socrates:
―And do you see,‖ I said, ―men passing along the wall carrying all sorts of vessels, and
statues and figures of animals made of wood and stone and various materials, which
appear over the wall? Some of them are talking, others silent.‖
―You have shown me a strange image, and they are strange prisoners.‖
Plato‟s Socrates:
―Like ourselves,‖ I replied; ―and they see only their own shadows, or the shadows of one
another, which the fire throws on the opposite wall of the cave.‖
―True,‖ he said; ―how could they see anything but the shadows if they were never
allowed to move their heads?‖
Plato‟s Socrates:
―And of the objects which are being carried in like manner they would only see the
―Yes,‖ he said.
Plato‟s Socrates:
―And if they were able to converse with one another, would they not suppose that they
were naming what was actually before them?‖
―Very true.‖
Plato‟s Socrates:
―And suppose further that the prison had an echo which came from the other side,
would they not be sure to fancy when one of the passers-by spoke that the voice which
they heard came from the passing shadow?‖
―No question,‖ he replied.
Plato‟s Socrates:
―To them,‖ I said, ―the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.‖
―That is certain.‖
Plato‟s Socrates:
―And now look again, and see what will naturally follow if the prisoners are released and
disabused of their error. At first, when any of them are liberated and compelled
suddenly to stand up and turn his neck round and walk and look toward the light, he will
suffer sharp pains; the glare will distress him, and he will be unable to see the realities
of which in his former state he had seen the shadows: and then conceive someone
saving to him, that what he saw before was an illusion, but that now, when he is
approaching nearer to being and his eye is turned towards more real existence, he has
a clearer vision, – what will be his reply? And you may further imagine that his instructor
is pointing to the objects as they and requiring him to name them. – will he not be
perplexed? Will he not fancy that the shadows which he formerly saw are truer than the
objects which are now shown to him?‖
―Far truer.‖
Plato‟s Socrates:
―And if he is compelled to look straight at the light, will he not have a pain in his eves
which will make him turn away to take refuge in the objects of vision which he can see,
and which he will conceive to be in reality clearer than the things which are now being
shown to him?‖
―True‖ he said.
Plato‟s Socrates:
―And suppose once more, that he is reluctantly dragged up a steep and rugged ascent
and held fast until he is forced into the presence of the sun himself, is he not likely to be
pained and irritated? When he approaches the light his eyes will be dazzled, and he will
not be able to see anything at all of what are now called realities.‖
―Not all in a moment,‖ he said.
Plato‟s Socrates:
―He will require to grow accustomed to the sight of the upper world. And first he will see
the shadows best, next the reflections of men and other objects in the water, and then
the objects themselves; then he will gaze upon the light of the moon and the stars and
the spangled heaven; and he will see the sky and the stars by night better than the sun
or the light of the sun by day?‖
Plato‟s Socrates:
―Last of all he will be able to see the sun, and not mere reflections of him in the water,
but he will see him in his own proper place, and not in another; and he will contemplate
him as he is.‖
Plato‟s Socrates:
―He will then proceed to argue that this is he who gives the season and the years and is
the guardian of all that is in the visible world, and in a certain way the cause of all things
which he and his fellows have been accustomed to behold?‖
―Clearly,‖ he said, ―he would first see the sun and then reason about him.‖
Plato‟s Socrates:
―And when he remembered his old habitation, and the wisdom of the den and his fellowprisoners, do you not suppose that he would felicitate himself on the change, and pity
―Certainly, he would.‖
Plato‟s Socrates:
―And if they were in the habit of conferring honours among themselves on those who
were quickest to observe the passing shadows and to remark which of them went
before, and which followed after, and which were together; and who were therefore best
able to draw conclusions as to the future, do you think that he would care for such
honours and glories, or envy the possessors of them? Would he not say with Homer,
‗Better to be the poor servant of a poor master,‘ and to endure anything, rather than
think as they do and live after their manner?‖
―Yes,‖ he said, ―I think that he would rather suffer anything than entertain these false
notions and live in this miserable manner.‖
Plato‟s Socrates:
―Imagine once more,‖ I said, ―such a person coming suddenly out of the sun to be
replaced in his old situation; would he not be certain to have his eyes full of darkness.‖
―To be sure,‖ he said.
Plato‟s Socrates:
―And if there were a contest, and he had to compete in measuring the shadows with the
prisoners who had never moved out of the den, while his sight was still weak, and
before his eyes had become steady (and the time which would be needed to acquire
this new habit of sight might be very considerable), would he not be ridiculous? Men
would say of him that up he went and down he came without his eyes; and that it was
better not even to think of ascending; and if anyone tried to loose another and lead him
up to the light, let them only catch the offender, and they would put him to death.‖
―No question,‖ he said.
Plato‟s Socrates:
―This entire allegory,‖ I said, ―you may now append, dear Glaucon, to the previous
argument; the prison-house is the world of sight, the light of the fire is the sun, and you
will not misapprehend me if you interpret the journey upwards to be the ascent of the
soul into the intellectual world according to my poor belief, which, at your desire, I have
expressed – whether rightly or wrongly God knows. But, whether true or false, my
opinion is that in the world of knowledge the idea of good appears last of all, and is seen
only with an effort; and, when saw, is also inferred to be the universal author of all
things beautiful and right, parent of light and of the lord of light in this visible world, and
the immediate source of reason and truth in the intellectual; and that this is the power
upon which he who would act rationally in either public or private life must have his eye
HW # 28: Aristotle’s Vision of Politics
Read the below.
Answer the following questions:
1. Why does Aristotle believe that the study of politics is the ―master art and science?‖
2. What does Aristotle mean by his claim that man is a ―political animal?‖ Do you agree
with him?
3. How does Aristotle explain and defend slavery? What distinction does he draw
between slaves and women? Why does he based the family on slavery and women?
4. According to Aristotle, what is the best way for a society to organize property? What
is his argument defending this model? Do you agree with him?
5. How does Aristotle organize the different forms of government into a system of
classification? How does this approach differ from that of Plato?
6. According to Aristotle, what is the best form of government? How does this differ from
Plato‘s Republic?
7. What role does the idea of the mean, or the middle, play in Aristotle‘s vision of the
best government? What do you think of his idea that such a government is best
based on the middle class?
Aristotle (384 B.C.E. – 322 B.C.E.) was a Greek philosopher, a student of Plato and
teacher of Alexander the Great. He wrote on diverse subjects, including physics,
metaphysics, poetry (including theater), logic, rhetoric, politics, government, ethics,
biology and zoology. Along with Socrates and Plato, he was among the most influential
of the ancient Greek philosophers, as they established the foundations of Western
philosophy as it is known today.
Aristotle's Politics is a work of political philosophy. The end of the Nicomachean
Ethics declared that the inquiry into ethics necessarily follows into politics, and the two
works are frequently considered to be parts of a larger treatise dealing with the
"philosophy of human affairs." The title of the Politics literally means "the things
concerning the polis."
In the first book of the Politics, Aristotle discusses the origin of the state and its
composition. This leads him into the issues of slavery, household economics and
natural and unnatural modes of acquiring goods and wealth. The second book concerns
criticism of Plato's Republic and other proposed and real constitutions, and a
discussion of property. Books III through VI starts with a definition of citizenship, and
then lays out Aristotle‘s classification of political regimes into six types: the positive
forms of monarchy, aristocracy and polis, and the corrupt counterparts of tyranny,
oligarchy and democracy, Aristotle argues that democracy is the rule of the mob. In the
seventh book, Aristotle elaborates his ideal state and life, and in the eighth and last
book he lays out his ideal system of education.
Aristotle had studied with Plato for some twenty years, but in his philosophy he reacted
against many of the teachings of Socrates and Plato. Aristotle did not believe in a
separate, transcendent world of "forms" such as the Good and the Just that could be
grasped through philosophical questioning, but rather in gathering knowledge by
observing specifics, leading to general conclusions. He shared the very strong interest
of Socrates and Plato in examining the ideal state, but his own findings were very
different from those in Plato's Republic. In contrast with his teacher, Aristotle did not
believe that extensive collective ownership would benefit society, and he looked to the
middle class, rather than to philosophers, as the main stay of the best possible
government. "Polity" for Aristotle became the form of government with the best record of
providing for stability and human happiness. He uses it, as in the reading that follows,
as a synonym for "constitutional government" or "mixed government," containing both
aristocratic and democratic elements.
From Aristotle‘s Nicomachean Ethics
Book I
Every art and every scientific inquiry, and similarly every action and purpose, seems to
aim at some good. That good is correctly defined as the end, or telos, at which all things
aim... As there are various actions, arts, and sciences, it follows that the ends differ:
some are actions, others are results rather than the actions which bring them about. In
the latter case, it is natural for the results to be valued higher than the actions.
If we find something desirable for its own sake and find also that everything else seems
desirable for the sake of this one thing... then clearly we have found the good, meaning
"the supreme good." Will knowledge of it not be a main determining factor in our lives?
Will it not give us, like archers, a proper target to aim at? If there be such a thing, we
must try to ascertain what it is and which arts and sciences search for it. It would have
to be the object of the most sovereign and comprehensive study.
We find that political study meets the requirements of this master art and science:
politics determines what other studies should be pursued in the city-states, what each
class of people should learn, and how much. We find that politics controls education in
the most respected fields of study such as military strategy, economics and rhetoric.
Since it uses the other branches of knowledge and controls what people should and
should not do, the goals of political science subsume the goals of the others, making the
ends of politics the general ends of mankind.
From The Politics of Aristotle. Benjamin Jowett, translator. [Dover: 2000.]
Book One
Every state is a community of some kind, and every community is established with a
view to some good; for mankind always act in order to obtain that which they think good.
But, if all communities aim at some good, the state or political community, which is the
highest of all, and which embraces all the rest, aims at good in a greater degree than
any other, and at the highest good...
He who thus considers things in their first growth and origin, whether a state or anything
else, will obtain the clearest view of them. In the first place there must be a union of
those who cannot exist without each other; namely, of male and female, that the race
may continue (and this is a union which is formed, not of deliberate purpose, but
because, in common with other animals and with plants, mankind have a natural desire
to leave behind them an image of themselves), and of natural ruler and subject, that
both may be preserved. For that which can foresee by the exercise of mind is by nature
intended to be lord and master, and that which can with its body give effect to such
foresight is a subject, and by nature a slave; hence master and slave have the same
interest. Now nature has distinguished between the female and the slave. For she
[nature] is not cheap, like the smith who fashions the Delphian knife for many uses; she
makes each thing for a single use, and every instrument is best made when intended for
one and not for many uses.
Of these two relationships, between man and woman, master and slave, the family
arises first...
The family is the association established by nature for the supply of men's everyday
But when several families are united, and the association aims at something more than
the supply of daily needs, the village then comes into existence. When several villages
are united into a single complete community large enough to be nearly or totally selfsufficing, the city-state or polis comes into existence, originating in the hate needs of life
and continuing its existence for the sake of a good life. And therefore, if the earlier forms
of society are natural, so is the state, for it is the culmination of them...
Hence it is evident that the state is a creation of nature, and that man is by nature a
political animal. And he who by nature and not by mere accident is without a state, is
either a bad man or above humanity; he is like the ―tribeless, lawless, hearthless one"
whom Homer denounces...
Now, that man is more of a political animal than bees or any other gregarious animals is
evident. Nature, as we often say, makes nothing in vain, and man is the only animal
whom she has endowed with the gift of speech. And whereas mere voice is but an
indication of pleasure or pain, and is therefore found in other animals (for their nature
attains to the perception of pleasure and pain and the intimation of them to one another,
and no further), the power of speech is intended to set forth the expedient and
inexpedient, and therefore likewise the just and the unjust. And it is a characteristic of
man that he alone has any sense of good and evil, of just and unjust, and the like, and
the association of living beings who have this sense makes a family and a state.
Further, the state is by nature clearly prior to the family and to the individual, since the
whole is of necessity prior to the part; for example, if the whole body be destroyed, there
will be no foot or hand, except in an equivocal sense, as we might speak of a stone
hand; for when destroyed the hand will be no better than that. But things are defined by
their working and power; and we ought not to say that they are the same when they no
longer have their proper quality, but only that they have the same name. The proof that
the state is a creation of nature and prior to the individual is that the individual, when
isolated, is not self-sufficing; and therefore he is like a part in relation to the whole. But
he who is unable to live in society, or who has no need because he is sufficient for
himself, must be either a beast or a god: he is no part of a state. A social instinct is
implanted in all men by nature, and yet he who first founded the state was the greatest
of benefactors. For man, when perfected, is the best of animals, but, when separated
from law and justice, he is the worst of all; since armed injustice is the more dangerous,
and he is equipped at birth with arms, meant to be used by intelligence and virtue,
which he may use for the worst ends. Wherefore, if he have not virtue, he is the most
unholy and the most savage of animals, and the most full of lust and gluttony. But
justice is the bond of men in states, for the administration of justice, which is the
determination of what is just, is the principle of order in political society.
Property is a part of the household, and the art of acquiring property is a part of the art
of managing the household; for no man can live well, or indeed live at all, unless he be
provided with necessaries. And as in the arts which have a definite sphere the workers
must have their own proper instruments for the accomplishment of their work, so it is in
the management of a household. Now instruments are of various sorts; some are living,
others lifeless; in the rudder, the pilot of a ship has a lifeless, in the look-out man, a
living instrument; for in the arts the servant is a kind of instrument. Thus, too, a
possession is an instrument for maintaining life. And so, in the arrangement of the
family, a slave is a living possession, and property a number of such instruments; and
the servant is himself an instrument which takes precedence of all other instruments.
Book Two
Next let us consider what should be our arrangements about property: should the
citizens of the perfect state have their possessions in common or not? This question
may be discussed separately from the enactments about women and children. Even
supposing that the women and children belong to individuals, according to the custom
which is at present universal, may there not be an advantage in having and using
possessions in common?...
When farmers farm their land, questions arising from common ownership will give a
world of trouble. If they do not share equally enjoyments and toils, those who labor
much and get little will necessarily complain of those who labor little and receive or
consume much. Indeed, there is always a difficulty in men living together and having all
human relations in common, but especially in their having common property. The
partnerships of fellow-travelers are an example to the point; for they generally fall out
over everyday matters and quarrel about any trifle which turns up. So with servants: we
are most able to take offense at those with whom we most we most frequently come
into contact in daily life.
In one sense property should be common, but, as a general rule, private. When
everyone has a separate interest, men will not complain about one another and they will
make more progress because each will be attending to his own business. And yet by
reason of goodness, and in matters of use, "Friends," as the proverb verb says, "have
all things in common.‖ Even now there are traces of such a principle, showing that it is
not impossible, but, in well-ordered states, exists already to a certain extent and may be
carried further. For, although every man has his own property, some things he will place
at the disposal of his friends, while of others he shares the use with them. The
Spartans, for example, use one another's slaves, and horses, and dogs, as if they were
their own; and when they lack provisions on a journey, they appropriate what they find
in the fields throughout the country. It is clearly better that property should be private,
but the use of it common; and the special business of the legislator is to create in men
this benevolent disposition.
Book Three
Having determined these questions, we have next to consider whether there is only one
form of government or many, and if many, what they are, and how many, and what are
the differences between them.
A constitution is the arrangement of rulers in a state, especially of the highest of all. The
government is everywhere sovereign in the state, and the constitution is in fact the
government. For example, in democracies the people are supreme, but in oligarchies,
the few; and, therefore, we say that these two forms of government also are different:
and so in other cases....
The words constitution and government have the same meaning, and the government,
which is the supreme authority in states, must be in the hands of one, or of a few, or of
the many. The true forms of government, therefore, are those in which the one, or the
few, or the many, govern with a view to the common interest; but governments which
rule with a view to the private interest, whether of the one or of the few, or of the many,
are perversions. For the members of a state, if they are truly citizens, ought to
participate in its advantages. Of forms of government in which one rules, we call that
which regards the common interests, kingship or royalty; that in which more than one,
but not many, rule, aristocracy; and it is so called, either because the rulers are the best
men, or because they have at heart the best interests of the state and of the citizens.
But when the citizens at large administer the state for the common interest, the
government is called by the generic name – a constitution. And there is a reason for this
use of language. One man or a few may excel in virtue; but as the number increases it
becomes more difficult for them to attain perfection in every kind of virtue, though they
may in military virtue, for this is found in the masses. Hence in a constitutional
government the fighting-men have the supreme power, and those who possess arms
are the citizens.
Of the above-mentioned forms, the perversions are as follows: of royalty, tyranny; of
aristocracy, oligarchy; of constitutional government, democracy. For tyranny is a kind of
monarchy which has in view the interest of the monarch only; oligarchy has in view the
interest of the wealthy; democracy, of the needy: none of them the common good of all.
Book Four
Next we have to consider how by the side of oligarchy and democracy the so-called
polity or constitutional government springs up, and how it should be organized. The
nature of it will be at once understood from a comparison of oligarchy and democracy;
we must ascertain their different characteristics, and taking a portion from each, put the
two together... There are three systems by which fusions of government may come
about. Using the first, we must combine the laws made by both governments, say
concerning the administration of justice. In oligarchies they impose a fine on the rich if
they do not serve as judges, and to the poor they give no pay when they do serve, but
in democracies they give pay to the poor and do not fine the rich. Now combining these
two approaches would achieve a middle ground between them, a characteristic of a
constitutional government, for it is a union of both. A second way is to take a mean
between the enactments of the two: democracies require no property qualification, or
only a small one, from members of the assembly, oligarchies a high one, and here a
mean or middle ground can be located between them. There is a third way, in which
something is borrowed from the oligarchical and something from the democratic
principle. For example, the appointment of magistrates and judges by lot is thought to
be democratic, and the election of them oligarchical; democratic again when there is no
property qualification, and oligarchical when there is. In the... constitutional state, one
element will be taken from each – from oligarchy the principle of electing officials, from
democracy the absence of any property qualifications to serve. Such are the various
modes of combination...
We have now to inquire what is the best constitution for most states, and the best life for
most men, neither assuming a standard of virtue which is above ordinary persons, nor
an education which is exceptionally favored by nature and circumstances, nor yet an
ideal state which is an aspiration only, but having regard to the life in which the majority
are able to share, and to the form of government which states in general can attain. As
to those aristocracies, as they are called, of which we were just now speaking, they
either lie beyond the possibilities of the greater number of states, or they approximate to
the so-called constitutional government, and therefore need no separate discussion.
And in fact the conclusion at which we arrive respecting all these forms rests upon the
same grounds. For if what was said in the Ethics is true, that the happy life is the life
according to virtue lived without impediment, and that virtue is a mean, then the life
which is in a mean, and in a mean attainable by every one, must be the best. And the
same the same principles of virtue and vice are characteristic of cities and of
constitutions; for the constitution is in a figure the life of the city.
Now in all states there are three elements: one class is very rich, another very poor, and
a third in a mean. It is admitted that moderation and the mean are best, and therefore it
will clearly be best to possess the gifts of fortune in moderation; for in that condition of
life men are most ready to follow rational principle. But he who greatly excels in beauty,
strength, birth, or wealth, or on the other hand who is very poor, or very weak, or very
much disgraced, finds it difficult to follow rational principle. Men of the first one sort grow
into violent and great criminals, the others into rogues and petty rascals... The middle
class is least likely to resent rule, or to be over-ambitious for it; both of which are injuries
to the state. Again, those who have too much of the goods of fortune, strength, wealth,
friends, and the like, are neither willing nor able to submit to authority. The evil begins at
home; for when they are boys, by reason of the luxury in which they are brought up,
they never learn, even at school, the habit of obedience. On the other hand, the very
poor, who are in the opposite extreme, are too degraded. The result is that one class
cannot obey, and can only rule despotically; the other knows not how to command and
must be ruled like slaves. Thus arises a city, not of freemen, but of masters and slaves,
the one despising, the other envying. Nothing can be more fatal to friendship and good
fellowship in states than this, for good fellowship springs from friendship, while when
men are hostile with one another, they would rather not even share the same path. A
city-state ought to be composed, as far as possible, of equals and similars, and these
are generally the middle classes. Wherefore the city which is composed of middle-class
citizens is necessarily best constituted in respect of the elements of which we say the
fabric of the state naturally consists. This is the class of citizens which is most secure in
a state, for they do not, like the poor, covet their neighbors' goods; nor do others covet
theirs, as the poor covet the goods of the rich. As they neither plot against others, nor
are themselves plotted against, they pass through life safely...
Thus it is manifest that the best political community is formed by citizens of the middle
class, and that those states are likely to be well-administered in which the middle class
is large, and stronger if possible than both the other classes, or at any rate than either
singly; for the addition of the middle class turns the scale, and prevents either of the
extremes from being dominant. Great then is the good fortune of a state in which the
citizens have a moderate and sufficient property; for where some possess much, and
the others nothing, there may arise an extreme democracy, or a pure oligarchy; or a
tyranny may grow out of either extreme – either out of the most rampant democracy, or
out of an oligarchy; but it is not so likely to arise out of the middle constitutions and
those akin to them.
HW # 29: Ancient Greek Slavery
Read the below.
1. What sorts of economic activity did ancient Greek slaves perform? What was the
most common work of ancient Greek slaves? How does slave work in ancient Greece
compare to modern slavery in the Americas?
2. What portion of the population in ancient Athens was enslaved?
3. What was the source of the supply of slaves in ancient Greece? How does this
compare to the modern slavery in the Americas? If slavery was a potential threat for
all ancient Greeks, how might that shape the way they viewed it?
4. Why did the Greeks identify slaves with uncivilized ―barbarians?‖
5. How do you account for the lack of a movement in opposition to slavery among free
ancient Greeks?
6. How do you account for the lack of slave revolts in ancient Greece? Why were the
Spartan helots the exception to this rule? By what other means did ancient Greek
slaves resist slavery?
7. What potential did ancient Greek slaves have for winning freedom? How does this
compare to modern slavery in the Americas?
8. Do you agree with the author, Moses Finley, that ancient Greek civilization – with all
of its cultural and intellectual accomplishments, and even Greek freedom – was
dependent upon slavery?
M. I. Finley, ―Was Greek Civilization Based on Slave Labor?‖
From Historia Vol. VIII, 1959. Franz Steiner Verlag GmbH, Wiesbaderi.
Two generalizations may be made at the outset. First: at all times and in all places the
Greek world relied on some form (or forms) of dependent labor to meet its needs, both
public and private. By this I mean that dependent labor was essential, in a significant
measure, if the requirements of agriculture, trade, manufacture, public works, and war
production were to be fulfilled. And by dependent labor I mean work performed under
compulsions other than those of kinship or communal obligations. Second: with the
rarest of exceptions, there were always substantial numbers of free men engaged in
productive labor. By this I mean primarily not free hired labor but free men working on
their own (or leased) land or in their shops or homes as craftsmen and shopkeepers. It
is within the framework created by these two generalizations that the questions must be
asked which seek to locate slavery in the society. And by slavery finally, I mean roughly
the status in which a man is, in the eyes of the law and of public opinion and with
respect to all other parties, a possession, a chattel, of another man.
How completely the Greeks always took slavery for granted as one of the facts of
human existence is abundantly evident to anyone who has read their literature. In the
Homeric poems it is assumed (correctly) that captive women will be taken home as
slaves, and that occasional male slaves – the victims of Phoenician merchant-pirates –
will also be on hand. In the seventh century B.C.E., when Hesiod101, the Boeotian
"peasant" poet, gets down to practical advice in his Works and Days, he tells his brother
how to use slaves properly; that they will be available is simply assumed. The same is
true of Xenophon's102 manual for the gentleman farmer, the Oeconomicus, written about
375 B.C.E. A few years earlier, an Athenian cripple who was appealing a decision
dropping him from the dole, said to the Council: "I have a trade which brings me in a
little, but I can barely work at it myself and I cannot afford to buy someone to replace
myself in jt." In the first book of the Pseudo-Aristotelian Oeconomica, a Peripatetic work
probably of the late fourth or early third century B.C.E., we find the following proposition
about the organization of the household, stated as baldly and flatly as it could possibly
be done: "Of property, the first and most necessary kind, the best and most
manageable, is man. Therefore the first step is to procure good slaves. Of slaves there
are two kinds, the overseer and the worker." Polybius103, discussing the strategic
situation of Byzantium104, speaks quite casually of "the necessities of life – cattle and
slaves" which come from the Black Sea region. And so on.
The Greek language had an astonishing range of vocabulary for slaves, unparalleled in
my knowledge. In the earliest texts, Homer and Hesiod, there were two basic words for
slave, dmos and doulos, used without any discoverable distinction between them, and
both with uncertain etymologies. Dmos died out quickly, surviving only in poetry,
whereas doulos remained the basic word, so to speak, all through Greek history, and
the root on which were built such words as douleia, "slavery." But Homer already has, in
one probably interpolated passage, the word (in the plural form) andrapoda, which
became very common, and seems to have been constructed on the model of tetrapoda.
Still another general word came into use in the Hellenistic period, when soma ("body")
came to mean "slave" if not otherwise qualified by an adjective.
These words were strictly servile, except in such metaphors as "the Athenians enslaved
the allies." But. there was still another group which could be used for both slaves and
freemen, depending on the context. Three of them are built on the household root, oikos
– oikeus, oiketes, and oikiatas – and the pattern of usage is variegated, complicated,
and still largely unexamined. In Crete, for example, oikeus seems to have been a
technical status term more like "serf" than any other instance known to me in Greek
history. It was archaic even in Crete, however, and it dropped out of sight there in postfifth-century documents. Elsewhere these oikos – words sometimes meant merely
"servant" or "slave" generically, and sometimes, though less often, they indicated
narrower distinctions, such as house-born slave (as against purchased) or privately
owned (as against royal in the Hellenistic context).
Hesoid was a well known contemporary of Homer, and with him, the first ancient Greek poet.
Xenophon was a student of Socrates, and his writings and Plato‘s writings are the main source of our knowledge
of Socrates.
An ancient Greek historian, perhaps best known for his Histories of the Rise of The Roman Empire.
The eastern, Greek speaking section of the Roman Empire.
If we think of ancient society as made up of a spectrum of statuses, with the free citizen
at one end and the slave at the other, and with a considerable number of shades of
dependence in between, then we have already discovered two lines of the spectrum,
the slave and the serf-like oikeus of Crete105. At least four more can easily be added:
the helot (with such parallels as the penestes of Thessaly106); the debt-bondsman, who
was not a slave although under some conditions he could eventually be sold into
slavery abroad; the conditionally manumitted107 slave; and, finally, the freedman. All six
categories rarely, if ever, appeared concurrently within the same community, nor were
they equal in importance or equally significant in all periods of Greek history. By and
large, the slave proper was the decisive figure (to the virtual exclusion of the others) in
the economically and politically advanced communities; whereas helotage and debtbondage were to be found in the more archaic communities, whether in Crete or Sparta
or Thessaly at an even late date, or in Athens in its pre-Solonian period108. There is also
some correlation, though by no means a perfect one, between the various categories of
de pendent labor and their function. Slavery was the most flexible of the forms,
adaptable to all kinds and levels of activity, where as helotage and the rest were best
suited to agriculture, pasturage, and household service, much less so to manufacture
and trade.
With little exception, there was no activity, productive or un productive, public or private,
pleasant or unpleasant, which was not performed by slaves at some times and in some
places in the Greek world. The major exception was, of course, political: no slave held
public office or sat on the deliberative and judicial bodies (though slaves were
commonly employed in the "civil service," as secretaries and clerks, and as policemen
and prison attendants). Slaves did not fight as a rule, either, unless freed (although
helots apparently did), and they were very rare in the liberal professions, including
medicine. On the other side, there was no activity which was not performed by free men
at some times and in some places. That is sometimes denied, but the denial rests on a
gross error, namely, the failure to differentiate between a free man working for himself
and one working for another, for hire. In the Greek scale of values, the crucial test was
not so much the nature of the work (within limits, of course) as the condition or status
under which it was carried on. "The condition of the free man," said Aristotle, "is that he
does not live under the restraint of another." On this point, Aristotle was expressing a
nearly universal Greek notion. Although we find free Greeks doing every kind of work,
the free wage-earner, the free man who regularly works for another and therefore "lives
under the restraint of another" is a rare figure in the sources, and he was a minor factor
in the picture.
The basic economic activity was, of course, agriculture. Throughout Greek history, the
overwhelming majority of the population had its main wealth in the land. And the
An island off of Greek mainland.
A northern region abutting Greece.
Manumission is a technical term for the process of freeing a slave.
Solon was a sixth century B.C.E. ruler of Athens. The pre-Solonian period pre-dates his rule.
majority were smallholders, depending on their own labor, the labor of other members of
the family, and the occasional assistance (as in time of harvest) of neighbors and casual
hired hands. Some proportion of these smallholders owned a slave, or even two, but we
cannot possibly determine what the proportion was, and in this sector the whole issue is
clearly not of the greatest importance. But time large landholders, a minority though
they were, constituted the political (and often the intellectual) elite of the Greek world;
our evidence reveals remarkably few names of any consequence whose economic base
was outside the land. This landholding elite tended to become more and more of an
absentee group in the course of Greek history; but early or late, whether they sat on
their estates or in the cities, dependent labor worked their land as a basic rule (even
when allowance is made for tenancy). In some areas it took the form of helotage, and in
the archaic period, of debt-bondage, but generally the form was outright slavery.
I am aware, of course, that this view of slavery in Greek agriculture is now strongly
contested. Nevertheless, I accept the evidence of the line of authors whom I have
already cited, from Hesiod to the pseudo-Aristotelian Oeconomica. These are all matterof-fact writings, not utopias or speculative statements of what ought to be. If slavery was
not the customary labor form on the larger holdings, then I cannot imagine what Hesiod
or Xenophon or the Peripatetic were doing, or why any Greek bothered to read their
works. One similar piece of evidence is worth adding. There was a Greek harvest
festival called the Kronia109, which was celebrated in Athens and other places
(especially among the lonians). One feature, says the Atthidographer Philochorus 110,
was that "the heads of families ate the crops and fruits at the same table with their
slaves, with whom they had shared the labors of cultivation. For the god is pleased with
this honor from the slaves in contemplation of their labors." Neither the practice nor
Philochorus' explanation of it makes any sense whatever if slavery was as unimportant
in agriculture as some modern writers pretend.
I had better be perfectly clear here: I am not saying that slaves outnumbered free men
in agriculture, or that the hulk of farming was clone by slaves, but that slavery
dominated agriculture insofar as it was on a scale that transcended the labor of the
householder and his sons. Nor am I suggesting that there was no hired free labor;
rather that there was little of any significance. Among the slaves, furthermore, were the
overseers, invariably so if the property was large enough or if the owner was an
absentee. "Of slaves," said the author of the Oeconomia, "there are two kinds, the
overseer and the worker."
In mining and quarrying the situation was decisively one-sided. There were free men, in
Athens for example, who leased such small mining concessions that they were able to
work them alone. The moment, however, additional labor was introduced (and that was
the more common case), it seems normally to have been slave. The largest individual
holdings of slaves in Athens were workers in the mines, topped by the one thousand
A festival in honor of the god of agriculture, Cronus.
A third century B.C.E. Athenian historian.
reported to have been leased out for this purpose by the fifth-century general Nicias111.
It has been suggested, indeed, that at one point there may have been as many as thirty
thousand slaves at work in the Athenian silver mines and processing mills.
Manufacture was like agriculture in that the choice was (even more exclusively)
between the independent craftsman working alone or with members of his family and
the owner of slaves. The link with slavery was so close (and the absence of free hired
labor so complete) that Demosthenes112, for example, could say "they caused the
ergasterion to disappear" and then he could follow, as an exact synonym and with no
possible misunderstanding, by saying that "they caused the slaves to disappear." On
the other hand, the proportion of operations employing slaves, as against the
independent self-employed craftsmen, was probably greater than in agriculture, and in
this respect more like mining. In commerce and banking, subordinates were invariably
slaves, even in such posts as "bank manager." However, the numbers were small.
In the domestic field, finally, we can take it as a rule that ally free man who possibly
could afford one, owned a slave attendant who accompanied him when he walked
abroad in the town or when he traveled (including his military service), and also a slave
woman for the household chores. There is no conceivable way of estimating how many
such free men there were, or how many owned numbers of domestics, but the fact is
taken for granted so completely and so often in the literature that I strongly believe that
many owned slaves even when they could not afford them. (Modern parallels will come
to mind readily.) I stress this for two reasons. First, the need for domestic slaves, of ten
an unproductive element, should serve as a cautionary sign when one examines such
questions as the efficiency and cost of slave labor. Second, domestic slavery was by no
means entirely unproductive. In the countryside in particular, but also in the towns, two
important industries would often be in their hands in the larger households, on a straight
production for household consumption basis. I refer to baking and textile making, and
every medievalist, at least, will at once grasp the significance of the withdrawal of the
latter from market production, even if the withdrawal was far from complete. It would be
very helpful if we had some idea how many slaves there were in any given Greek
community to carry on all this work, and how they were divided among the branches of
the economy. Unfortunately we have no reliable figures, and none at all for most of the
poleis. What I consider to be the best computations for Athens suggest that the total of
slaves reached 80-100,000 in peak periods in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C.E.
Athens had the largest population in the classical Greek world and the largest number
of slaves. Thucydides113 said that there were more slaves in his day on the island of
Chios than in any other Greek community except Sparata," but I suggest that he was
thinking of the density of the slave population measured against the free, not of absolute
totals (and in Sparta he meant the helots, not chattel slaves). Other places, such as
A wealthy Athenian who owned mines.
A prominent Athenian orator and statesmen, 384–322 B.C.E.
The most famous Greek historian, author of the History of the Peloponnesian War.
Aegina or Corinth114, may at one time or another also have had a higher ratio of slaves
than Athens. And there were surely communities in which the slaves were less dense.
More than that we can scarcely say about the numbers, but I think that is really enough.
There is too much tendentious discussion of numbers in the literature already, as if a
mere count of heads is the answer to all the complicated questions which flow from the
existence of slavery. The Athenian figures I mentioned amount to an average of no less
than three or four slaves to each free household (including all free men in the
calculation, whether citizen or not). But even the smallest figure anyone has suggested
– 20,000 slaves in Demosthenes' time' – altogether too low in my opinion-would be
roughly equivalent to one slave for each adult citizen, no negligible ratio. Within very
broad limits, the numbers are irrelevant to the question of significance. When Starr, for
example, objects to "exaggerated guesses" and replies that "the most careful
estimates... reduce the proportion of slaves to far less than half the population, probably
one third or one quarter at most," he is proving far less than he thinks. No one seriously
believes that slaves did all the work in Athens (or anywhere else in Greece except for
Sparta with its helots) one merely confuses the issue when one pretends that somehow
a reduction of the estimates to only a third or a quarter of the population is crucial. In
1860, according to official census figures, slightly less than one third of the total
population of the American slave states were slaves. Further more, "nearly three-fourths
of all free Southerners had no connection with slavery through either family ties or direct
ownership. The 'typical' Southerner was not only a small farmer but also a nonslavehoIder." Yet no one would think of denying that slavery was a decisive element in
southern society. The analogy seems obvious for ancient Greece, where, it can be
shown, ownership of slaves was even more widely spread among the free men and the
use of slaves much more diversified, and where the estimates do not give a ratio
significantly below the American one. Simply stated, there can be no denial that there
were enough slaves about for them to be, of necessity, an integral factor in the society.
There were two main sources of supply. One was captives, the victims of war and
sometimes piracy. One of the few generalizations about the ancient world to which there
is no exception is this, that the victorious power had absolute right over the per sons
and the property of the vanquished. This right was not exercised to its full extent every
time, but it was exercised often enough, and on a large enough scale, to throw a
continuous and numerous supply of men, women, and children on to the slave market.
Alongside the captives we must place the so-called barbarians who came into the
Greek world in a steady stream – Thracians115, Scythians116, Cappadocians117, etc. –
through the activity of full-time traders, much like the process by which African slaves
reached the new world in more modern times. Many were the victims of wars among the
barbarians themselves. Others came peacefully, so to speak: Herodotus118 says that
Two Greek city states.
A people to the north of Greece, conquered by Alexander the Great.
A pastoralist people who lived to the north of Persia [modern day Iran].
A people who lived in modern day Turkey.
A famous fifth century B.C.E. Greek historian, often called the ―father of history.‖
the Thracians sold their children for export. The first steps all took place outside the
Greek orbit, and our sources tell us virtually nothing about them, but there can be no
doubt that large numbers and a steady supply were involved, for there is no other way
to explain such facts as the high proportion of Paphlagonians119 and Thracians among
the slaves in the Attic silver mines, many of them specialists, or the corps of 300
Scythian archers (slaves owned by the state) who constituted the Athenian police force.
Merely to complete the picture, we must list penal servitude and the exposure of
unwanted children. Beyond mere mention, however, they can he ignored because they
were altogether negligible in their importance. There then remains one more source,
breeding, and that is a puzzle. One reads in the modern literature that there was very
little breeding of slaves (as distinct from helots and the like) among the creeks because,
under their conditions, it was cheaper to buy slaves than to raise them. I am not
altogether satisfied with the evidence for this view, and I am al together dissatisfied with
the economics which is supposed to justify it. There were conditions under which
breeding was certainly rare, but for reasons which have nothing to do with economics,
In the mines, for example, nearly all the slaves were men, and that is the explanation,
simply enough. But what about domestics, among whom the proportion of women was
surely high? I must leave the question unanswered, except to remove one fallacy. It is
sometimes said that there is a demographic law that no slave population ever
reproduces itself, that they must always be replenished from outside. Such a law is a
myth: that can be said categorically on the evidence of the southern states, evidence
which is statistical and reliable.
The impression one gets is clearly that the majority of the slaves were foreigners. In a
sense, they were all foreigners. That is to say, it was the rule (apart from debt bondage)
that Athenians were never kept as slaves in Athens or Corinthians in Corinth. However,
I am referring to the more basic sense, that the majority were not Greeks at all, but men
and women from the races living outside the Greek world. It is idle to speculate about
proportions here, but there cannot be any reasonable doubt about the majority. In some
places, such as the Laurium silver mines in Attica, this meant relatively large
concentrations in a small area. The number of Thracian slaves in Laurium 120 in
Xenophon's time, for example, was greater than the total population of some of the
smaller Greek city-states.
No wonder some Greeks came to identify slaves and barbarians (a synonym for all nonGreeks). The most serious effort, so far as we know, to justify this view as part of the
natural arrangement of things, will be found in the first book of Aristotle's Politics. It was
not a successful effort for several reasons, of which the most obvious is the fact, as
Aristotle himself conceded, that too many were slaves ―by accident," by the chance of
warfare or shipwreck or kidnaping. In the end, natural slavery was abandoned as a
concept, defeated by the pragmatic view that slavery was a fact of life, a conventional
A people from the portion of modern day Turkey bordering on the Black Sea.
A city-state in southeastern Greece.
institution universally practiced. As the Roman jurist Florentinus phrased it, "Slavery is
an institution of the ius gentium121 whereby someone is subject to the dominium of
another, contrary to nature." That view (and even sharper formulations) can be traced
back to the sophistic122 literature of the fifth century B.C.E., and, in a less formal way, to
Greek tragedy. I chose Florentinus to quote instead because his definition appears in
the Digest, in which slavery is so prominent that the Roman law of slavery has been
called "the most characteristic part of the most characteristic intellectual product of
Rome." Nothing illustrates more perfectly the inability of the ancient world to imagine
that there could be a civilized society without slaves.
The Greek world was one of endless debate and challenge. Among the intellectuals, no
belief or idea was self-evident: every conception and every institution sooner or later
came under attack – religious beliefs, ethical values, political systems, aspects of the
economy, even such bedrock institutions as the family and private property. Slavery,
too, up to a point, but that point was invariably a good distance short of abolitionist
proposals. Plato, who criticized society more radically than any other thinker, did not
concern himself much with the question in the Republic, but even there he assumed the
continuance of slavery. And in the Laws, "the number of passages... that deal with
slavery is surprisingly large" and the tenor of the legislation is generally more severe
than the actual law of Athens at that time. "Their effect, on the one hand, is to give
greater authority to masters in the exercise of rule over slaves, and on the other hand to
accentuate the distinction between slave and free man." Paradoxically, neither were the
believers in the brotherhood of man (whether Cynic123, Stoic124, or early Christian)
opponents of slavery. In their eyes, all material concerns, including status, were a
matter of essential indifference. Diogenes125, it is said, was once seized by pirates and
taken to Crete to be sold. At the auction, he pointed to a certain Corinthian among the
buyers and said: "Sell me to him; he needs a master."
The question must then be faced, how much relevance has all this for the majority of
Greeks, for those who were neither philosophers nor wealthy men of leisure? What did
the little man think about slavery? It is no answer to argue that we must not take "the
political theorists of the philosophical schools too seriously as having established 'the
main line of Greek thought concerning slavery.' " No one pretends that Plato and
Aristotle speak for all Greeks. But, equally, no one should pretend that lower-class
Greeks necessarily rejected everything which we read in Greek literature and
philosophy, simply because, with virtually no exceptions, the poets and philosophers
were men of the leisure class. The history of ideology and belief is not so simple. It is a
commonplace that the little man shares the ideals and aspirations of his betters – in his
dreams if not in the hard reality of his daily life. By and large, the vast majority in all
periods of history have always taken the basic institutions of society for granted. Men do
Roman law regulating the contacts between Romans and non-Romans.
Sophists were a school of philosophy, contemporaneous to Socrates, which would take positions in intellectual
debate whether or not they sincerely believed it.
A post-Socratic school of Greek philosophy.
Another post-Socratic school of Greek philosophy.
A first century C.E. Greek explorer and merchant.
not, as a rule, ask themselves whether monogamous marriage or a police force or
machine production is necessary to their way of life. They accept them as facts, as selfevident. Only when there is a challenge from one source or another – from outside or
from catastrophic famine or plague – do such facts become questions.
A large section of the Greek population was always on the edge of marginal
subsistence. They worked hard for their livelihood and could not look forward to
economic advancement as a reward for their labors; on the contrary, if they moved at
all, it was likely to be downward. Famines, plagues, wars, political struggles, all were a
threat, and social crisis was a common enough phenomenon in Greek history. Yet
through the centuries no ideology of labor appeared, nothing that in any sense be
counterpoised to the negative judgments with which the writings of the leisure class are
filled. There was neither a word in the Greek language with which to express the
general notion of "labor," nor the concept of labor "as a general social function." There
was plenty of grumbling, of course, and there was pride of craftsmanship. Men could not
survive psychologically without them. But neither developed into a belief: grumbling was
not turned into a punishment for sin – "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread" –
nor pride of craftsmanship into the virtue of labor, into the doctrine of the calling or
anything comparable. The nearest to either will be found in Hesiod's Works and Days,
and in this context the decisive fact about Hesiod is his unquestioning assumption that
the farmer will have proper slave labor.
That was all there was to the poor man's counter-ideology: we live in the iron age when
"men never rest from toil and sorrow by day, and from perishing by night"; therefore it is
better to toil than to idle and perish – but if we can we too will turn to the labor of slaves.
Hesiod may not have been able, even in his imagination, to think beyond slavery as
supplementary to his own labor, but that was the seventh century, still the early days of
slavery. About 400 B.C.E., however, Lysias'126 cripple could make the serious argument
in the Athenian boule127 that he required a dole because he could not afford a slave as
a replacement. And half a century later Xenophon put forth a scheme whereby every
citizen could be maintained by the state, chiefly from revenues to be derived from
publicly owned slaves working in the mines.
When talk turned to action, even when crisis turned into civil war and revolution, slavery
remained unchallenged. With absolute regularity, all through Greek history, the demand
was "cancel debts and redistribute the land." Never, to my knowledge, do we hear a
protest from the free poor, not even in the deepest crises, against slave competition.
There are no complaints – as there might well have been – that slaves deprive free men
of a livelihood, or compel free men to work for lower wages and longer hours. There is
nothing remotely resembling a workers' programme, no wage demands, no talk of
working conditions or government employment measures or the like. In a city like
Athens there was ample opportunity. The demos had power, enough of them were poor
and they had leaders. But economic assistance took the form of pay for public office
and for rowing in the fleet, free admission to the theatre (the so-called rhetoric fund),
A famed Greek orator.
An assembly of citizens in Greek poleis.
and various doles; while economic legislation was restricted to imports and exports,
weights and measures, price controls. Not even the wildest of the accusations against
the demagogues – and they were wholly unrestrained as every reader of Aristophanes
or Plato knows – ever suggested anything which would hint at a working-class interest,
or an anti-slavery bias. No issue of free versus slave appears in this field of public
Nor did the free poor take the other possible tack of joining with the slaves in a common
struggle on a principled basis. The Solonic revolution in Athens at the beginning of the
sixth century B.C.E., for example, brought an end to debt bondage and the return of
Athenians who had been sold into slavery abroad, but not the emancipation of others,
non-Athenians, who were in slavery in Athens. Centuries later, when the great wave of
slave revolts came after 140 B.C.E., starting in the Roman west and spreading to the
Greek east, the free poor on the whole simply stood apart. It was no issue of theirs, they
seem to have thought; correctly so, for the outcome of the revolts promised them
nothing one way or the other. Numbers of free men may have taken advantage of the
chaos to enrich themselves personally, by looting or otherwise. Essentially that is what
they did, when the opportunity arose, in a military campaign, nothing more. The slaves
were, in a basic sense, irrelevant to their behaviour at that moment.
In 464 B.C.E. a great helot revolt broke out, and in 462 Athens dispatched a hoplite
force under Cimon128 to help the Spartans suppress it. When the revolt ended, after
nearly five years, a group of the rebels were permitted to escape, and it was Athens
which provided them refuge, settling them in Naupactus. A comparable shift took place
in the first phase of the Peloponnesian War. In 425 the Athenians seized Pylos, a
harbor on the west coast of the Peloponnese. The garrison was a small one and Pylos
was by no means an important port. Nevertheless, Sparta was so frightened that she
soon sued for peace, because the Athenian foothold was a dangerous center of
infection, inviting desertion and eventual revolt among the Messenian129 helots. Athens
finally agreed to peace in 421, and immediately afterwards concluded an alliance with
Sparta, one of the terms of which was: "Should the slave-class rise in rebellion, the
Athenians will assist the Lacedaemonians130 with all their might, according to their
Obviously the attitude of one city to the slaves of another lies largely outside our
problem. Athens agreed to help suppress helots when she and Sparta were allies; she
encouraged helot revolts when they were at war. That reflects elementary tactics, not a
judgment about slavery. Much the same kind of distinction must be made in the
instances, recurring in Spartan history, when helots were freed as pawns in an internal
power struggle. So, too, of the instances which were apparently not uncommon in fourth
century Greece, but about which nothing concrete is known other than the clause in the
A fifth century B.C.E. Athenian general and statesman.
A neighboring city state to Sparta in southwest Greece.
The principal region of the Spartan city-state.
agreement between Alexander and the Hellenic League131, binding the members to
guarantee that "there shall be no killing or banishment contrary to the laws of each city,
no confiscation of property, no redistribution of land, cancellation of debts, no freeing of
slaves for purposes of revolution." These were mere tactics again. Slaves were
resources, and they could be useful in a particular situation. But only a number of
specific slaves, those who were available at the precise moment; not slaves in general,
or all slaves, and surely not slaves in the future. Some slaves were freed, but slavery
remained untouched. Exactly the same behaviour can be found in the reverse case,
when a state (or ruling class) called upon its slaves to help protect it. Often enough in a
military crisis, slaves were freed, conscripted into the army or navy, and called upon to
fight. And again the result was that some slaves were freed while the institution
continued exactly as before.
In sum, under certain conditions of crisis and tension the society (or a sector of it) was
faced with a conflict within its system of values and beliefs. It was sometimes
necessary, in the interest of national safety of a political programme, to surrender the
normal use of, and approach to, slaves. When this happened, the institution itself
survived without any noticeable weakening. The fact that it happened is not without
significance; it suggests that among the Greeks, even in Sparta, there was not that
deep-rooted and often neurotic horror of the slaves known in some other societies,
which would have made the freeing and arming of slaves en masse, for whatever
purpose, a virtual impossibility. It suggests, further, something about the slaves
themselves. Some did fight for their masters, and that is not unimportant.
Nothing is more elusive than the psychology of the slave. Even when, as in the
American South, there seems to be a lot of material – autobiographies of ex-slaves,
impressions of travelers from non-slaveholding societies, and the like – no reliable
picture emerges. For antiquity there is scarcely any evidence at all, and the bits are
indirect and tangential, and far from easy to interpret. Thus, a favorite apology is to
invoke the fact that, apart from very special instances as in Sparta, the record shows
neither revolts of slaves nor a fear of uprisings. Even if the facts are granted – and the
nature of our sources warrants a little scepticism – the rosy conclusion does not follow.
Slaves have scarcely ever revolted, even in the southern states. A large-scale rebellion
is impossible to organize and carry through except under very unusual circumstances.
The right combination appeared but once in ancient history, during two generations of
the late Roman Republic, when there were great concentrations of slaves in Italy and
Sicily, many of them almost completely unattended and unguarded, many others
professional fighters (gladiators), and when the whole society was in turmoil, with a very
marked breakdown of social and moral values.
At this point it is necessary to recall that helots differed in certain key respects from
chattel slaves. First, they had the necessary ties of solidarity that come from kinship and
nationhood, intensified by the fact, not to be underestimated that they were not
foreigners but a subject people working their own lands in a state of servitude. This
complex was lacking among the slaves of the Greek world. The Peripatetic author of the
An association of Greek city-states.
Oeconomica made the sensible recommendation that neither an individual nor a city
should have many slaves of the same nationality. Second, the helots had property rights
of a kind: the law, at least, permitted them to retain everything they produced beyond
the fixed deliveries to their masters. Third, they outnumbered the free population on a
scale without parallel in other Greek communities. These are the peculiar factors, in my
opinion, which explain the revolts of the helots and the persistent Spartan concern with
the question, more than Spartan cruelty. It is a fallacy to think that the threat of rebellion
increases automatically with an increase in misery and oppression. Hunger and torture
destroy the spirit; at most they stimulate efforts at flight or other forms of purely
individual behavior (including betrayal of fellow victims), whereas revolt requires
organization and courage and persistence. Frederick Douglass who in 1855 wrote the
most penetrating analysis to come from an ex-slave, summed up the psychology in
these words:
"Beat and cuff your slave, keep him hungry and spiritless, and he will follow the chain of
his master like a dog; but feed and clothe him well, – work him moderately – surround
him with physical comfort, – and dreams of freedom intrude. Give him a bad master,
and he aspires to a good master; give him a good master, and he wishes to become his
own master."
There are many ways, other than revolt, in which slaves can protest. In particular they
can flee, and though we have no figures whatsoever, it seems safe to say that the
fugitive slave was a chronic and sufficiently numerous phenomenon in the Greek cities.
Thucydides estimated that more than 20,000 Athenian slaves fled in the final decade of
the Peloponnesian War. In this they were openly encouraged by the Spartan garrison
established in Decelea132, and Thucydides makes quite a point of the operation.
Obviously he thought the harm to Athens was serious, intensified by the fact that many
were skilled workers. My immediate concern is with the slaves themselves, not with
Athens, and I should stress very heavily that so many skilled slaves (who must be
presumed to have been, on the average, among the best treated) took the risk and tried
to flee. The risk was no light one, at least for the barbarians among them: no Thracian
or Carian133 wandering about the Greek countryside without credentials could be sure of
what lay ahead in Boeotia134 or Thessaly. Indeed, there is a hint that these particular
20,000 and more may have been very badly treated after escaping under Spartan
promise. A reliable fourth-century historian attributed the great Theban prosperity at the
end of the fifth century to their having purchased very cheaply the slaves and other
booty seized from the Athenians during the Spartan occupation of Decelea. Although
there is no way to determine whether this is a reference to the 20,000, the suspicion is
obvious. Ethics aside, there was no power, within or without the law, which could have
prevented the re-enslavement of fugitive slaves even if they had been promised their
A city on the primary trade route from rural Attica to Athens.
A ‗barbarian‘ people of ancient Greece.
A central region of ancient Greece to the north of Corinth.
The Oeconomica sums up the life of the slave as consisting of three elements: work,
punishment, and food. And there are more than enough floggings, and even tortures, in
Greek literature, from one end to the other. Apart from psychological quirks (sadism and
the like), flogging means simply that the slave, as slave, must be goaded into
performing the function assigned to him. So, too, do the various incentive plans which
were frequently adopted. The efficient, skilled, reliable slave could look for ward to
managerial status. In the cities, in particular, he could often achieve a curious sort of
quasi-independence, living and working on his own, paying a kind of rental to his owner,
and accumulating earnings with which, ultimately, to purchase his freedom.
Manumission was, of course, the greatest incentive of all. Again we are baffled by the
absence of numbers, but it is un disputed that manumission was a common
phenomenon in most of the Greek world. This is an important difference between the
Greek slave on the one hand, and the helot or American slave on the other. It is also
important evidence about the degree of the slave's alleged "acceptance" of his status.
It is now time to try to add all this up and form some judgment about the institution. This
would be difficult enough to do under ordinary circumstances; it has become almost
impossible because of two extraneous factors imposed by modern society. The first is
the confusion of the historical study with moral judgments about slavery. We condemn
slavery, and we are embarrassed for the Greeks, whom we admire so much; therefore
we tend either to underestimate its role in their life, or we ignore it altogether, hoping
that somehow it will quietly go away. The second factor is more political, and it goes
back at least to 1848, when the Communist Manifesto declared that "The history of all
hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. Free man and slave, patrician
and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and
oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another.‖ Ever since, ancient slavery
has been a battleground between Marxists and non-Marxists, a political issue rather
than a historical phenomenon.
Now we observe that a sizable fraction of the population of the Greek world consisted of
slaves, or other kinds of dependent labor, many of them barbarians; that by and large
the elite in each city-state were men of leisure, completely free from any preoccupation
with economic matters, thanks to a labor force which they bought and sold, over whom
they had extensive property rights, and, equally important, what we may call physical
rights; that the condition of servitude was one which no man, woman, or child,
regardless of status or wealth, could be sure to escape in case of war or some other
unpredictable and uncontrollable emergency. It seems to me that, seeing all this, if we
could emancipate ourselves from the despotism of extraneous moral, intellectual, and
political pressures, we would conclude, without hesitation, that slavery was a basic
element in Greek civilization.
Such a conclusion, however, should be the starting-point of analysis, not the end of an
argument, as it is so often at present. Perhaps it would be best to avoid the word "basic"
altogether, because it has been preempted as a technical term by the Marxist theory of
history. Anyone else who uses it in such a question as the one which is the title of this
paper, is compelled, by the intellectual (and political) situation in which we work, to
qualify the term at once, to distinguish between a basic institution and the basic
institution. In effect what has happened is that, in the guise of a discussion of ancient
slavery, there has been a desultory discussion of Marxist theory, none of it, on either
side, particularly illuminating about either Marxism or slavery. Neither our understanding
of the historical process nor our knowledge of ancient society is significantly advanced
by these repeated statements and counter-statements, affirmations and denials of the
proposition, "Ancient society was based on slave labor." Nor have we gained much from
the persistent debate about causes. Was slavery the cause of the decline of Greek
science? Or of loose sexual morality? Or of the widespread contempt for gainful
employment? These are essentially false questions, imposed by a naive kind of pseudoscientific thinking.
The most fruitful approach, I suggest, is to think in terms of purpose, in Immanuel
Kant's135 sense, or of function, as the social anthropologists use that concept. The
question which is most promising for systematic investigation is not whether slavery was
the basic element, or whether it caused this or that, but how it functioned. This
eliminates the sterile attempts to decide which was historically prior, slavery or
something else; it avoids imposing moral judgments on, and prior to, the historical
analysis; and it should avoid the trap which I shall call the free-will error. There is a
maxim of Emile Durkheim's136 that "The voluntary character of a practice or an
institution should never be assumed beforehand." Given the existence of slavery – and
it is given, for our sources do not permit us to go back to a stage in Greek history when
it did not exist – the choice facing individual Greeks was socially and psychologically
imposed. In the Memorabilia Xenophon says that "those who can do so buy slaves so
that they may have fellow workers." That sentence quoted to prove that some Greeks
owned no slaves, which needs no proof. It is much better cited to prove that those who
can, buy slaves – Xenophon clearly places this whole phenomenon squarely in the
realm of necessity.
The question of function permits no single answer. There are as many answers as there
are contexts: function in relation to what? And when? And where? Buckland begins his
work on the Roman law of slavery by noting that there ―is scarcely a problem which can
present itself, in any branch of law, the solution of which may not be affected by the fact
that one of the parties to the transaction is a slave." That sums up the situation in its
simplest, most naked form, and it is as correct a statement for Greek law as for Roman.
Beyond that, I would argue, there is no problem or practice in any branch of Greek life
which was not affected, in some fashion, by the fact that many people in that society,
even if not in the specific situation under consideration, were (or had been slaves). The
connection was not always simple or direct, nor was the impact necessarily "bad" (or
"good"). The historian's problem is precisely to uncover what the connections were, in
all their concreteness and complexity, their goodness or badness or moral neutrality.
A leading Enlightenment German philosopher of the late 1700s.
A prominent and early French sociologist.
I think we will find that, more often than not, the institution of slavery turned out to be
ambiguous in its function. Certainly the Greek attitudes to it were shot through with
ambiguity, and not rarely with tension. To the Greeks, Nietzsche said, both labor and
slavery were "a necessary disgrace, of which one feels ashamed, as a disgrace and as
a necessity at the same time." There was a lot of discussion: that is clear from the
literature which has survived, amid it was neither easy nor unequivocally one-sided
even though it did not end in abolitionism. In Roman law "slavery is the only case in
which, in the extant sources..., a conflict is declared to exist between the lus Gentium
and the Ius Naturale." In a sense, that was an academic conflict, since slavery went
right on; but no society can carry such a conflict within it, around so important a set of
beliefs and institutions, without the stresses erupting in some fashion, no matter how
remote and extended the lines and connections may be from the original stimulus.
Perhaps the most interesting sign among the Greeks can be found in the proposals, and
to an extent the practice in the fourth century B.C.E., to give up the enslavement of
Greeks. They all came to nought in the Hellenistic world, and I suggest that this one fact
reveals much about Greek civilization after Alexander.
It is worth calling attention to two examples pregnant with ambiguity, neither of which
has received the attention it deserves. The first comes from Locris, the Greek colony in
southern Italy, where descent was matrilineal, an anomaly which Aristotle explained
historically. The reason, he said, was that the colony was originally founded by slaves
and their children by free women. Timaeus wrote a violent protest against this insulting
account, and Polybius, in turn, defended Aristotle in a long digression, of which
unfortunately only fragments survive. One of his remarks is particularly worth quoting:
"To suppose, with Timaeus137, that it was unlikely that man, who had been the slaves of
the allies of the Lacedaemonians, would continue the kindly feelings and adopt the
friendships of their late masters is foolish. For when they have had the good fortune to
recover their freedom, and a certain time has elapsed, men, who have been slaves, not
only endeavor to adopt the friendships of their late masters, but also their ties of
hospitality and blood; in fact, their aim is to keep them up even more than the ties of
nature, for the express purpose of thereby wiping out the remembrance of their former
degradation and humble position, because they wish to pose as the descendants of
their masters rather than as their freedmen."
In the course of his polemic Timaeus had said that "it was not customary for the Greeks
of early times to be served by bought slaves." This distinction, between slaves who
were bought and slaves who were captured (or bred from captives), had severe moral
overtones. Inevitably, as was their habit, the Greeks found a historical origin for the
practice of buying slaves – in the island of Chios138. The historian Theopompus139, a
native of the island, phrased it this way: 'The Chians were the first of the Greeks, after
the Thessalians and Lacedaemonians, who used slaves. But they did not acquire them
A Pythagorean philosopher who appears in Plato‘s Socratic dialogues.
The fifth largest of the Greek islands, located near the Turkish mainland.
A Greek historian and rhetorician.
in the same manner as the latter; for the Lacedaemonians and Thessalians will be
found to have derived their slaves from the Greeks who formerly inhabited the territory
which they now possess,... calling them helots and penestae, respectively. But the
Chians possessed barbarian slaves, for whom they paid a price.‖ This quotation is
preserved by Athenaeus140, whose floruit141 was about 200 C.E. and who went on to
comment that the Chians ultimately received divine punishment for their innovation. The
stories he then tells, as evidence, are curious and interesting, but I cannot take time for
This is not very good history, but that does not make it any less important. By a
remarkable coincidence Chios provides us with the earliest contemporary evidence of
democratic institutions in the Greek world. In a Chian inscription dated, most probably,
to the years 575-550 B.C.E., there is unmistakable reference to a popular council and to
the "laws (or ordinances) of the demos." I do not wish to assign any significance other
than symbolic to this coincidence, but it is a symbol with enormous implications. I have
already made the point that, the more advanced the Greek city-state, the more it will be
found to have had true slavery rather than the "hybrid" types like helotage. More bluntly
put, the cities in which individual freedom reached its highest expression – most
obviously Athens – were cities in which chattel slavery flourished. The Greeks, it is well
known, discovered both the idea of individual freedom and the institutional framework in
which it could be realized. The pre-Greek world – the world of the Sumerians,
Babylonians, Egyptians, and Assyrians; and I cannot refrain from adding the
Myenaeans – was, in a very profound sense, a world without free men, in the sense in
which the west has come to understand that concept. It was equally a world in which
chattel slavery played no role of any consequence. That, too, was a Greek discovery.
One aspect of Greek history, in short, is the advance, hand in hand, of freedom and
HW # 30: Classical Republicanism and The Roman Republic
Read the below first and then WH, pp. 140-147.
Answer the following questions:
1. What is classical republicanism? How is a classical republic different from a direct
democracy? Would you want to live in a classical republic? Why or why not?
2. What is civic virtue? Why is the promotion of civic virtue essential for a classical
republic? How would a classical republic promote civic virtue in its citizens?
3. How did the classical republics provide for the moral education of their citizens? Is it
possible to have a moral education which does not rely upon a state religion?
4. The classical republics of ancient Greece and Rome evolved in relatively small and
compact city-states. Do you think it is possible to maintain a republican form of
government in a larger society? Explain your reasoning.
An ancient Greek rhetorician and grammarian.
A period of time during which a person or school of thought flouished.
5. Why did the classical republicans feel that economic inequality was injurious to
republican government? Who were the patricians and the plebians, and how did the
class struggles between them influence the emergence of the Roman Republic?
6. In what ways is modern American government indebted to classical republicanism?
7. How was the Roman army organized under the Republic? Do you think it should be
the responsibility for every male citizen to serve in the army, as the classical
republicans did?
Classical Republicanism
From We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution
Most of the public buildings and monuments in Washington, D.C., and state capitols
across the United States are built in the "classical" style. This architectural tradition
symbolizes our nation's indebtedness to the world of ancient Greece and Rome,
especially to their ideas about government.
The American Founders had studied the history of the classical periods of ancient
Greece and Rome. The society that had the greatest influence on their ideas was that of
the Roman Republic, which lasted for almost 500 years – 509 B.C.E. to 27 B.C.E. Many
Western philosophers and historians believed the Roman Republic had provided
Roman citizens with the most liberty under government that the world had ever known.
It also was believed widely that the Roman Republic promoted the common good, that
is, what was best for the entire society. The theory based on this form of society
became known as classical republicanism.
Classical republicanism is a theory that the best kind of society is one that promotes the
common good instead of the interests of only one class of citizens. In a classical
republic, citizens and their government are supposed to work cooperatively to achieve
the common good rather than their own personal or selfish interests. The Roman
Republic was thought to be one of the best examples of this type of society. Americans
in the eighteenth century shared the view that citizens should work to promote the
common good. They also believed that the type of government and society most likely
to promote the common good was only possible if the society and its citizens shared the
following characteristics:
$ Civic virtue
$ Moral education
$ Small, uniform communities
Civic Virtue
The classical republics demanded that their citizens have a high degree of civic virtue. A
person with civic virtue was one who set aside personal interests to promote the
common good. Today we might describe this as "public spiritedness."
Classical republicans believed that if people differed greatly, they would divide into
factions or interest groups, rather than work together for the common good. To prevent
this, citizens should be encouraged, by education and example, to avoid the
development of great differences in their ownership of property, religion, and way of life.
To prevent diversity in religious beliefs and lifestyles, they believed the community
should have one official, established religion and one set of family and moral standards
to which all must conform.
Great inequalities of wealth led inevitably to corruption as well as to factions or interest
groups. Individuals would be more concerned with their own interest rather than the
interest of the community. Their fear of great economic inequality and the corrupting
effect of luxury led the classical republicans to be wary of money-making and economic
growth. Such economic growth, they thought, gave rise to the great economic inequality
which was inconsistent with the goals of republicanism.
Citizens were expected to participate fully in their government to promote the common
good. They were not to be left free to devote themselves only to their personal interests.
They were discouraged from spending much time doing such things as making money
or caring for their families. They also were discouraged from traveling or reading and
thinking about things that had nothing to do with their government. If citizens had the
freedom to do such things, it was feared, they might stop being reliable and fully
dedicated to the common good.
To make sure citizens participated in their government, the classical republics often
drastically limited individual rights. There was little concern with protecting an
individual's privacy, freedom of conscience or religion, or nonpolitical speech or
Certain rights, however, were necessary for citizens to participate in governing
themselves. These were political rights, such as the right to vote, to express ideas and
opinions about government, and to serve in public office.
Moral Education
People who believed in classical republicanism were convinced that civic virtue is not
something that comes automatically to people. Citizens must be taught to be virtuous by
moral education based on a civic religion consisting of gods, goddesses, and their
Classical republicans believed that young citizens must be raised in a manner that
develops the right habits. They should learn to admire the people with civic virtue
described in literature, poetry, and music. The Founders themselves admired such
heroes of antiquity as the Roman patriot and orator Cato and the citizen soldier
Cincinnatus. The Founders believed they were examples of civic virtue whom
Americans should emulate. His fellow Americans admired George Washington as a
modern-day Cincinnatus because he sacrificed his private pursuits in order to lead the
nation in war and peace. George Washington was often called "our Cincinnatus"
because his fellow citizens believed he was an example of the civic virtue that all
citizens should possess.
According to classical republicans, children, as well as adults, should be encouraged –
partly by the belief in a watchful god or gods-to practice virtues, such as generosity,
courage, self-control, and fairness. They should learn the importance of taking part in
political debate and military service. The whole community must closely supervise the
upbringing of the next generation of citizens and be attentive to how individuals behave
in their daily lives.
Small, Uniform Communities
Classical republicans believed that a republican government would only work in a small
community. A small community is necessary if people are to know and care for each
other and their common good. In addition, the people must be very much alike. A great
degree of diversity should not be tolerated. They did not believe, for example, that
people should be very different in their wealth, religious or moral beliefs, or ways of life.
Lesson 31
HW # 31: The Rise and the Fall of the Roman Empire
Read WH, pp. 147-152, 158-162.
Answer the following:
1. How did the imperial expansion of Rome undermine the Roman republic?
2. How did Caesar use his position as a successful military leader in an imperial war to
seize power from the Republic?
3. What was ―Pax Romana?‖ Why did the lands under Roman law prosper during the
first two centuries C.E.? Given that some of the Roman emperors during this period,
especially Nero and Caligua, were poor, even cruel rulers, why was Roman rule
successful nonetheless?
4. What was the paterfamilias? What does this position tell us about the status of
women in Roman society?
5. It is often said that the Roman empire provided Romans with ―bread and circuses.‖
What does the form of entertainment in ancient Rome – specifically, having gladiators
fight to the death as mass entertainment in the Roman coliseum – tell us about
Roman culture?
6. Why was the western half of the Roman empire – and Rome itself – successfully
invaded by nomadic ―barbarians,‖ Germanic tribes and the Huns? What role did the
decline of the economy play in this development? What role did changes in the
Roman army play in this development?
7. Do you see any parallels between the rise and fall of the Roman empire and the
experience of the United States in world affairs since the end of World War II? Is Pax
Americana strong, or are we witnessing its end?
HW # 32: Cicero and Classical Roman Republicanism
Read the below selections.
Answer the following questions:
1. According to Cicero, what is ―natural law?‖ What is the connection of ―natural law‖ to
―right reason?‖ What is the connection of ―natural law‖ to ―divine law?‖
2. Why does natural law have greater standing than man-made ―positive law?‖ Why
would ―natural law‖ forbid rape, as in the case Cicero cites – the rape of Lucretia?
Can you think of an example of a ―natural law?‖
4. Why do you suppose that most contemporary lawyers prefer not to argue their cases
in terms of ―natural law?‖ Can you think of some cases in which an argument based
on ―natural law‖ has won out? Could the idea of ―natural law‖ be used to argue
different sides of an issue, depending upon how it was understood?
5. How might the idea of ―natural law‖ be used to restrict the abuse of power by the
government, or to use Cicero‘s term, the magistrates?
6. Based on his comments on the ―equites,‖ what do you think is Cicero‘s view of class
conflict between the patricians and the plebians in ancient Rome? Do you think he
would favor limits on the power and the wealth of the patricians?
7. Compare Cicero‘s statement supporting the ―tyrannicide‖ of Julius Caesar with the
funeral speech of Marc Antony, taken from Shakespeare‘s play Julius Caesar. Which
view do you find more compelling?
From Marcus Tullius Cicero, On the Commonwealth. George H. Sabine and Stanley B.
Smith, editors and translators. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1929.; De
legibus libri. J. Vahlen, editor amd Henry A. Myers, translator. Berlin: F. Vahlenum,
1883.; and On Duties. M. T. Griffin and E. M. Atkins, editors. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1991.
Marcus Tullius Cicero (January 3, 106 B.C.E. – December 7, 43 B.C.E.) was a Roman
statesman, lawyer, political theorist, and philosopher. Cicero is widely considered one of
Rome's greatest orators and prose stylists.
Cicero is generally seen as one of the most versatile minds of Roman culture and his
writing the paragon of Classical Latin. He introduced the Romans to the chief schools of
Greek philosophy and created a Latin philosophical vocabulary. An impressive orator
and successful lawyer, Cicero likely thought his political career his most important
achievement. However, today he is appreciated primarily for his humanism and
philosophical and political writings. His voluminous correspondence, much of it
addressed to his friend Atticus, has been especially influential, introducing the art of
refined letter writing to European culture. Cornelius Nepos, the 1st-century B.C.E.
biographer of Atticus142, remarked that Cicero's letters to Atticus contained such a
wealth of detail "concerning the inclinations of leading men, the faults of the generals,
Titus Pomponius Atticus, born Titus Pomponius (112 B.C.E. – 35 B.C.E.), came from an old but not strictly noble
Roman family of the equestrian class and the Gens Pomponia. He was a celebrated editor, banker and patron of
letters with residences in both Rome and Athens. He is best remembered as the closest friend of the orator and
philosopher, Marcus Tullius Cicero as well leading contemporaries of upper class Roman society. Cicero's treatise on
friendship, De Amicitia was dedicated to him. Their correspondence, often written in subtle code to disguise their
political observations, is preserved in Epistulae ad Atticum compiled by Cicero's freedman and personal secretary,
Marcus Tullius Tiro. Atticus was known for his elegant taste, sound judgement and financial acumen.
and the revolutions in the government" that their reader had little need for a history of
the period.
During the chaotic latter half of the first century B.C.E., marked by civil wars and the
dictatorship of Gaius Julius Caesar, Cicero championed a return to the traditional
republican government. However, his career as a statesman was marked by
inconsistencies and a tendency to shift his position in response to changes in the
political climate. His vacillations may be attributed to his sensitive and impressionable
personality; he was prone to overreaction in the face of political and private change.
"Would that he had been able to endure prosperity with greater self-control and
adversity with more fortitude!" wrote C. Asinius Pollio143, a contemporary Roman
statesman and historian
Cicero‘s idea of a higher law than men could make had been a familiar one to the
Greeks of the Classical Age. It had been well articulated by Sophocles in Antigone.
Consequently, it is a matter of some debate how original the Stoics144 of the Hellenistic
Age were in stressing Natural Law as the body of (obviously unwritten) laws governing
both the world of nature and the proper conduct of humankind. Be that as it may, the
idea of a law based on nature as the proper model for human law appealed to many
Roman commentators on law: ideally man-made law, called lex positiva or "positive
law"145 by the Romans, was to reflect and implement the lex naturalis or "law of nature."
If it did not, it did not deserve to be called "law." In the following selections, Cicero
defends this relationship.
Placing higher value on Greek authority than on a claim to originality, Cicero used
Plato's titles The Republic and The Laws to present his political ideas.
From Cicero‘s Republic:
There is in fact a true law – namely, right reason – which is in accordance with nature,
applies to all men, and is unchangeable and eternal. By its commands this law
summons men to the performance of their duties; by its prohibitions it restrains them
from doing wrong. Its commands and prohibitions always influence good men, but are
without effect upon the bad. To invalidate this law by human legislation is never morally
right, nor is it permissible ever to restrict its operation, and to annul it wholly is
impossible. Neither the Senate nor the people can absolve us from our obligation to
Gaius or Caius Asinius Pollio (sometimes wrongly called Pollius or Philo) (65 B.C.E. – C.E. 4) was a Roman
orator, poet, playwright, literary critic and historian, whose contemporary history, although lost, provided much of the
material for the historians Appian and Plutarch. Pollio was most famously a patron of Virgil and a friend of Horace and
had poems dedicated to him by both men.
Stoicism was a popular school of ancient Greek philosophy later taken up by the ancient Romans. Stoicism taught
that the development of self-control and fortitude was necessary to overcome destructive emotions; the philosophy
held that becoming a clear and unbiased thinker allows one to understand the universal reason.
This was not in the sense of "positive' versus negative,' but rather in the no longer common usage of "set down' or
"recorded," as in our common words: "deposit' and "repository."
obey this law... . It will not lay down one rule at Rome and another at Athens, nor will it
be one rule today and an other tomorrow. But there will be one law, eternal and
unchangeable, binding at all times upon all peoples; and there will be, as it were, one
common master and ruler of men, namely God, who is the author of this law, its
interpreter, and its sponsor. The man who will not obey it will abandon his better self,
and, in denying the true nature of a man, will thereby suffer the severest of penalties.
though he has escaped all the other consequences which men call punishment.
From Cicero‘s Laws:
Those learned men appear to be right who say that law is the highest reason implanted
in Nature, which commands what should be done and prohibits what should not be:
when this same reason takes root and develops in the human mind it is law. Thus they
consider law to be intelligence which has the power to command people to do what is
right and to refrain from what is wrong... The way Nature has made us lets us share the
concept of justice with each other and pass it on to all men.
Those human beings to whom Nature gave reason were also given right reason in
matters of command and prohibition...
From the time we were children, we have been calling rules that begin: "If a man makes
a complaint in court" and similar things by the name "laws." It would be good now if we
could establish that with commands to do things or refrain from doing them nations
apply the power to steer people towards doing the right things and away from
committing crimes; however, this power is not only older than peoples and governments
but is of the same age as the God protects and rules both Heaven and earth. You see,
the divine mind cannot exist without reason, and divine reason must have the power to
sanction what is right and wrong.
Nothing was ever written to say that one man alone on a bridge should face massed,
armed forces of enemies and command the bridge behind him to be destroyed, but that
fact should not mislead us into thinking that [Horatio] Cocles146 was not following to the
utmost the law which summons us to deeds of bravery. If there has been no written law
in Rome against rape back when Lucius Tarquin147 ruled as king, that would not mean
that Sextus Tarquin148 was not breaking that eternal law when he took Lucretia by
In the historical legends of ancient Rome, Horatio Cocles, Latin for "Horatius the one-eyed", was a hero who, on
his own, defended the Pons Sublicius, the bridge that led across the Tiber to Rome, against the Etruscans.
Lucius Tarquinius Superbus (also called Tarquin the Proud or Tarquin II) was the last of the seven legendary kings
of Rome, son of Lucius Tarquinius Priscus and son-in-law of Servius Tullius, the sixth king. He was of Etruscan
descent and ruled between 535 B.C.E. and 510 B.C.E., in the years immediately before his expulsion and the
founding of the Roman Republic.
Sextus Tarquinius was the son of the last legendary king of Rome, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus (Tarquin the
Proud). He is mostly known for his rape of Lucretia, wife of Collatinus. After an argument at night around the fire,
Tarquinius and his men decided to go and spy on their wives to see which one was the most superior. So they ride off
in the night and, upon arriving at the door of Collatinus' house, they see Lucretia behaving like a good Roman
matron, unlike the other women they have seen. A few days afterwards, Tarquinius returns with the intention of
sleeping with Lucretia, but she refuses. When he threatens to kill her and put a dead slave in her bed with her, thus
giving the impression that she had been unchaste, she finally gives in. Soon after, Lucretia sends a message to her
father and her husband, telling them everything, then kills herself. The revolt brought about by her husband's friend,
force... The fact is that reason did exist, a gift of Nature, calling upon man to do right
and abstain from wrong. It did not begin to be law when it first came into being, which it
did at the same time as the divine mind... The varied ordinances formulated for
momentary needs of the peoples bear the name "laws" through being so favored by
conventional usage rather than because they are really laws... Men introduced such
laws to insure the protection of citizens and states, as well as the peaceful and happy
lot of mankind. Those who originated these sanctions persuaded their people that what
they were writing down and putting into effect would – if the people lived by them – give
them happiness and honor. When these sanctions were formulated and went into effect
they were indeed called "laws."
How about all the pernicious and pestilential bits of legislation which nations have been
known to enact? These no more deserve the name "laws" than the agreements that
gangs of robbers might make among themselves. We know that if ignorant and
inexperienced men should recommend poisons instead of medicines with the power to
heal these would not be called "physicians' prescriptions." In the same way, nothing
causing injury should be called a "law;" no matter how it may have been enacted by a
state or how the people may accept it. Thus we find that law reflects justice, distinct
from injustice, and comes from that most ancient and rightfully dominant of all things:
Nature, which all human laws reflect when they punish evildoers while defending and
protecting good people...
This is the duty of magistrates, to supervise and prescribe all things which are just and
useful, and in accordance with the law. For as the law is set over the magistrate, even
so are the magistrates set over the people. And, therefore, it may be truly said, "that the
magistrate is a speaking law, and the law a silent magistrate."
Moreover, nothing is so conformable to justice and to the condition of nature (and when
I use that expression, I wish it to be understood that I mean the law, and nothing else,)
as sovereign power; without which, neither house, nor commonwealth, nor nation, nor
mankind it self, nor the entire nature of things, nor the universe itself, could exist. For
this universe is obedient to God, and land and sea are submissive to the universe; and
human life depends on the just administration of the laws of order.
But to come to considerations nearer home.... Magistrates are absolutely necessary;
since, without their prudence and diligence, a state cannot exist; and since it is by their
regulations that the whole commonwealth is kept within the bounds of moderation. But it
is not enough to prescribe them a rule of domination, unless we likewise prescribe the
citizens a rule of obedience. For he who commands well, must at some time or other
have obeyed; and he who obeys with modesty appears worthy of some day or other
being allowed to command. It is desirable, therefore, that he who obeys should expect
Lucius Junius Brutus, brought to an end the kingship of Tarquin the Proud and brought about the beginning of the
Roman Republic, Brutus becoming the first consul. Tarquinius fled to Gabii, where he made himself king, but he was
eventually killed in revenge for his actions.
that some day he will come to command, and that he who commands should bear in
mind that before long he may be called to the duty of submission.
We would not, however, limit ourselves to requiring from the citizens submission and
obedience towards their magistrates; we would also enjoin them by all means to honour
and love their rulers, as Charondas149 prescribes in his code. Our Plato likewise held
that those who oppose their magistrates are like the race of Titans who in like manner
rebelled against the heavenly deities... For you may take it for granted that it is the
establishment of magistrates that gives its form to a commonwealth, and it is exactly by
this distribution and subordination that we must determine the nature of the constitution.
Which establishment being very wisely and discreetly settled by our ancestors, there is
nothing, or at all events very little alteration that I think necessary in the laws.
In a letter of 61 B.C. Cicero described the disputes between senatorial aristocrats and
well-to-do middle-class Romans ("equites") that were undermining Roman stability. (By
this time Pompey and Caesar had both emerged as successful generals.)
At Rome I find politics in a shaky condition; everything is unsatisfactory and foreboding
change. For I have no doubt you have been told that our friends, the equites150, are all
but alienated from the senate. Their first grievance was the promulgation of a bill on the
authority of the senate for the trial of such as had taken bribes for giving a verdict. I
happened not to be in the house when that decree was passed, but when I found that
the equestrian order was indignant at it, and yet refrained from openly saying so, I
remonstrated with the senate, as I thought, in very impressive language, and was very
weighty and eloquent considering the unsatisfactory nature of my cause. But here is
another piece of almost intolerable coolness on the part of the equites, which 1 have not
only submitted to, but have even put in as good a light as possible! The companies
which had contracted with the censors [to collect the taxes from the province of Asia]
complained that in the heat of the competition they had taken the contract at an
excessive price; they demanded that the contract should be annulled. I led in their
support, or rather, I was second, for it was Crassus151 who induced them to venture on
this demand. The case is scandalous, the demand a disgraceful one, and a confession
of rash speculation. Yet there was a very great risk that, if they got no concession, they
Charondas, a celebrated lawgiver of Catania in Sicily. Some make him a pupil of Pythagoras (c. 580 - 504 B.C.E.);
but all that can be said is that he was earlier than Anaxilas of Rhegium (494 - 476 B.C.E.), since his laws were in use
amongst the Rhegians until they were abolished by that tyrant. His laws, originally written in verse, were adopted by
the other Chalcidic colonies in Sicily and Italy.
An equestrian [literally "excellent man" from the 2nd century C.E. onwards] was a member of one of the two upper
social classes in the Roman Republic and early Roman Empire. The equites were the Roman middle class between
the upper class of patricians and the lower class of plebians. The distinguishing mark of the equestrian class was a
gold ring (that of the patrician was of iron) and narrow black band on the tunic.
Marcus Licinius Crassus (ca. 115 B.C.E. – 53 B.C.E.) was a Roman general and politician who commanded
Sulla's decisive victory at Collinegate, suppressed the slave revolt led by Spartacus and entered into a secret pact,
known as the First Triumvirate, with Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus and Gaius Julius Caesar. One of the richest men of
the era, Crassus still hankered for recognition for military victories in the shape of a triumph. This desire for a triumph
led him into Syria, where he was killed after the disastrous Roman defeat at Carrhae. Crassus's significance in world
history, however, stems from his financial and political support of the impoverished young Julius Caesar, which
support allowed Caesar to embark upon his own political career.
would be completely alienated from the senate. Here again I came to the rescue more
than anyone else, and secured them a full and very friendly house, in which I, on the 1st
and 2nd of December, delivered long speeches on the dignity and harmony of the two
orders. The business is not yet settled, but the favourable feeling of the senate has
been made manifest: for no one had spoken against it except the consul-designate,
Metellus152; while our hero Cato153 had still to speak, the shortness of the day having
prevented his turn being reached. Thus I, in the maintenance of my steady policy,
preserve to the best of my ability that harmony of the orders which was originally my
joiner's work; but since it all now seems in such a crazy condition, I am constructing
what I may call a road towards the maintenance of our power, a safe one I hope, which I
cannot fully describe to you in a letter, but of which I will nevertheless give you a hint. I
cultivate close intimacy with Pompey.
In his book On Moral Duties, Cicero condemned Julius Caesar as a tyrant who
destroyed Roman liberty.
Caesar always had on his lips those Greek verses about the Phoenician women; I will
express them as I can, awkwardly perhaps, but still so that the point is intelligible: – "If
justice must be violated for sovereignty‘s sake, it must be violated: you may indulge
your scruples elsewhere." He deserved to die for having exempted the one thing that is
most criminal of all... Here you have a man who desired to be king of the Roman people
and master of every nation; and he achieved it! If anyone says that such greed is
honourable, he is out of his mind: for he is approving the death of laws and liberty, and
counting their oppression – a foul and hateful thing – as something glorious. But if
anyone admits that it is not honourable to reign in a city that has been free and ought to
be so, but says that it is beneficial to the man who can do it – what reproach, or rather
what abuse, can I use to tear him from so great an error? Immortal gods! Can the most
disgusting, the foulest of parricides, that of one‘s fatherland, be beneficial to anyone?
Can it be so, even if the man who took it upon himself is called father by the citizens
whom he has oppressed? Benefit must be measured by honourableness... In the
opinion of the ordinary man, I can think of nothing that could be a greater benefit than to
be king. Conversely, when I begin to bring my reasoning back to the truth, I find nothing
beneficial for the man who has achieved it unjustly. Can worry, anxiety, fears by day
and by night, a life full of treachery and dangers, be beneficial to anyone?
Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius Scipio Nasica – also known as Metellus Scipio, consul 52 B.C.E., adopted son of
Metellus Pius, with whom he campaigned against Sertorius. He became father-in-law of Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus.
He commanded the "republican" army at Thapsus, and was killed in battle against Julius Caesar's legions. The
Caecilii Metelli family was one of the most important and wealthiest families in the Roman Republic. They were
nobles, although of plebeian, not of patrician stock. The Caecilii Metellii remained a political power within the state
from 3rd century B.C.E. to the end of the Republic, holding every office in the cursus honorum as well as several
important military commands.
Marcus Porcius Cato – Uticensis (95 B.C.E. – 46 B.C.E.), known as Cato the Younger (Cato Minor) to distinguish
him from his great-grandfather (Cato the Elder), was a politician and statesman in the late Roman Republic, and a
follower of the Stoic philosophy. He is remembered for his legendary stubbornness and tenacity (especially in his
lengthy conflict with Gaius Julius Caesar), as well as his immunity to bribes, his moral integrity, and famous distaste
for the ubiquitous corruption of the period.
Marc Antony‘s Funeral Oration in Shakespeare‘s Julius Caesar
Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones:
So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus
Hath told you Caesar was ambitious:
If it were so, it was a grievous fault;
And grievously hath Caesar answer'd it.
Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest, –
For Brutus is an honourable man;
So are they all, all honorable men, –
Come I to speak in Caesar's funeral.
He was my friend, faithful and just to me:
But Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man.
He hath brought many captives home to Rome,
Whose ransoms did the general coffers fill:
Did this in Caesar seem ambitious?
When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept:
Ambition should be made of sterner stuff:
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man.
You all did see that on the Lupercal
I thrice presented him a kingly crown,
Which he did thrice refuse: was this ambition?
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And, sure, he is an honourable man.
I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke,
But here I am to speak what I do know.
You all did love him once, – not without cause:
What cause withholds you, then, to mourn for him? –
O judgment, thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason! – Bear with me;
My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,
And I must pause till it come back to me...
Lesson 33
Selection from Martin Luther King‘s Letter from the Birmingham Jail
How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code
that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of
harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law
is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts
human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All
segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the
personality Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme
Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for
they are morally wrong.
HW # 33: Jesus and the Birth of Christianity
Read the below and answer the following questions:
1. Why are the gospels of the Christian New Testament limited as sources of historical
knowledge of Jesus and early Christianity?
2. Were the teachings of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels more in the tradition of the
Mosaic law or in the traditions of the prophets of the Torah/Old Testament? What do
you think this line in the Sermon on the Mount – ―I have come not to abolish them
[the law and prophets] but to fulfil them‖ – means?
3. How did Christianity differ from the major world religions which preceded it?
4. Why might early Christianity be seen as a threat to the established powers first within
the Jewish community and then within the Roman empire?
5. Which Christian tradition do you find more in keeping with the original doctrines of
Jesus – the crusades which sought to maintain Christian control over the Holy Land
or the pacifist sects such as the Quakers which hold to a strict non-violence?
6. How do the doctrines of Confucius and Jesus compare? Where are their views
similar, and where do they diverge?
7. Do most contemporary Christian churches follow the teachings of Jesus? Explain
your view.
The one institution that was a vigorous part of the life of the Roman cities even in the
final decades of the western empire was the Christian church. Christianity arose in
Palestine (in western Asia) in the first century C.E. as a Jewish sect. The religious and
social institutions of Christianity accompanied Greco-Roman culture into the new
Germanic kingdoms, and together they defined the culture of the new societies that
dominated Europe in the centuries following the Classical Age. To understand the
history of the Western societies, we need to analyze the rise and values of Christianity.
Roman Palestine and Jesus of Nazareth
Christianity was founded on the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, a Jewish teacher in
first-century C.E. Roman-ruled Palestine. Palestine and the surrounding region
contained a mix of several traditions. For example, most people, including the Jews,
spoke Aramaic, the official language in the later Persian Empire, and most literate
people wrote in Greek, a legacy of Hellenism. Various ideas from Egyptian,
Mesopotamian, Phoenician, Persian, and Greek traditions undoubtedly influenced the
Jewish and then Christian faiths.
Palestine was one of the most restless Roman provinces and had a history of rebellion
against Rome. Over the centuries the Hebrew prophets, such as Isaiah in the eighth
century B.C.E. and Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the "Second" Isaiah during the early Axial
Age154, explored the relations of the Hebrews to their God and other peoples. First
century B.C.E. Jewish society was characterized by diverse beliefs and practices.
Zoroastrian155 and Hellenistic thought influenced some Jews. In contrast, various
mystical Jewish sects rejected both Hellenistic cosmopolitanism and the formal Jewish
leadership. Jesus inherited these prophetic traditions and spoke of himself as the
fulfillment of Jewish law.
Much uncertainty surrounds the life of Jesus. Roman records offer no help; although
they confirm religious conflicts in Palestine, they make no mention of Jesus. According
to Christian tradition, Jesus was a Jewish teacher and healer, a carpenter by trade, who
probably lived from around 7 or 6 B.C.E. to 30 C.E. As with Buddha and Confucius, our
knowledge of Jesus and his career comes from the writings of followers, primarily
through the four gospel (literally "good news") accounts of the Christian New
Testament. The earliest of these narratives, the Gospel of Mark, was written around 70
C.E., some forty years after the death of Jesus. Like the other three gospels in the
official canon compiled in the middle of the second century C.E., Mark was written not
as a historical account but as a faith statement, a "witness" to the power of God in the
lives of the early followers of Jesus. Modern theologians and historians vigorously
debate the accuracy of gospel accounts, all of which were written several generations
after the events described. Several dozen other gospels or fragments of gospels were
not included in the Christian Bible, and some of them differ considerably from the official
gospels. It is unclear whether the various gospel accounts were based largely on eye
witness testimonies, oral traditions, earlier writings that have since been lost, or a
combination of all of them.
In any case, the gospels describe Jesus as, among other things, a moral reformer who
confronted the Jewish leaders. He was especially critical of the Pharisees156, a group
that emphasized ritual purity; obeyed strict ceremonial laws, and awaited the coming of
a messiah who would free them from the Romans. Many scholars believe that he was a
members of the Essene sect, a group with strong messianic and mystical themes.
Jesus favored a simple life that included love of others, forgiveness of enemies,
acceptance of the poor and other despised groups, and opposition to excessive
legalism and ceremony. According to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus summed up his
teachings in two commandments: "Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind; and
love your neighbor as yourself." Matthew also reported that Jesus angered influential
Jews and Romans by advising the wealthy to give their money to the poor since,
German philosopher Karl Jaspers coined the term the Axial Age to describe the period from 800 B.C.E. to 200
B.C.E., during which, according to Jaspers, similarly revolutionary thinking appeared in China, India and the West.
Jaspers argued that during the Axial Age "the spiritual foundations of humanity were laid simultaneously and
independently... And these are the foundations upon which humanity still subsists today."
Zoroastrianism is the religion and philosophy based on the teachings ascribed to the prophet Zoroaster
(Zarathustra, Zartosht). Mazdaism is the religion that acknowledges the divine authority of Ahura Mazda, proclaimed
by Zoroaster to be the one uncreated Creator of all (God). Zoroastrianism was once the dominant religion of much of
Greater Persia, modern day Iran.
One of four Judaic schools of thought in the Second Temple period [first century C.E.]; the other three schools
were the Essenes, the revolutionaries [such as the Zealots], and the Sadducees. The Pharisees developed into the
mainstream of Rabbinic Judaism. Jesus was closer to the Essenes.
according to gospel accounts, he said that rich people were unwelcome in God's
kingdom. Some modern theologians argue that Jesus made no claims to be divine or a
"son of God," and they note that in the earliest version of the gospels, Jesus describes
himself only as a healer and wisdom teacher. Other scholars, however, emphasize that
Jesus was seen as much more than a wisdom teacher by his followers.
Jesus's enemies, especially the Roman governor but also a few Jewish religious
leaders, accused him of treason against Rome, and Jesus was tried, convicted, and
executed by crucifixion. After his death, followers of Jesus claimed that he was revived
or resurrected from death and that he "appeared to" his disciples. Although historians
cannot verify such a faith claim, this belief in the continuing divine presence of Jesus
probably motivated his followers to stay together, preach his message to others, and
honor his teachings by gathering for worship as a special sect within the first century
C.E. Jewish community.
The Sermon on the Mount, from the Gospel of Matthew [Revised Standard Version of
the English Bible]
From Chapter Five:
Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down his disciples
came to him.
And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom
of heaven.
Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil
against you falsely on my account.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the
prophets who were before you.
You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltness be
restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden under
foot by men.
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid.
Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all
in the house.
Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to
your Father who is in heaven.
Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to
abolish them but to fulfil them.
For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass
from the law until all is accomplished...
You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ―You shall not kill; and whoever kills
shall be liable to judgment.‖
But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment;
whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ―You fool!‖
shall be liable to the hell of fire.
So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has
something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled
to your brother, and then come and offer your gift...
You have heard that it was said, ―An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.‖ But I say to
you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to
him the other also; and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your
cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles...
You have heard that it was said, ―You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.‖
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you
may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and
on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust...
From Chapter 6:
No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he
will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you
shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and
the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor
gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value
than they? And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life? And
why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they
neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one
of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow
is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O men of little faith?
Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ―What shall we eat?‖ or ―What shall we drink?‖ or
―What shall we wear?‖ For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father
knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all
these things shall be yours as well.
From Chapter 7:
Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be
judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the
speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or
how can you say to your brother, ―Let me take the speck out of your eye,‖ when there is
the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then
you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.
Do not give dogs what is holy; and do not throw your pearls before swine, lest they
trample them under foot and turn to attack you.
Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.
For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will
be opened. Or what man of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or
if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give
good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good
things to those who ask him!
So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and
the prophets...
And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for
he taught them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.
HW # 34: Paul and the Emergence of Christianity As A World Religion
Read the below.
Answer the following questions:
1. What themes in Jesus‘ teachings did Paul stress? What new teachings did he
introduce to Christianity?
2. Some scholars argue that it was Paul – and not Jesus – who founded Christianity as
a world religion. On what evidence could they base such a claim? Would you agree
with it?
3. How did Paul fashion Christianity into a religion with the widest appeal?
4. Why did Paul‘s Christianity appeal to slaves and other dispossessed in the Roman
5. What is Paul‘s views of sexuality and its expression?
6. How does Paul understand the role of woman in society and the Church? Do you see
any connections in Paul‘s views on women and sex? How do you think those
patriarchal views have made the Christian tradition, like the Jewish tradition before it
and Islamic tradition after it, hostile to women, or do you think that they are incidental
to Christianity‘s main teachings?
The evolution of the religion of Jesus into Christianity was greatly affected by the
activities and writings of Paul of Tarsus, a port city in southeast Anatolia157. Paul was a
first-century Romanized Jew from a Pharisee158 family who said that he was
miraculously converted to belief in Jesus as a young man, probably around 33 C.E. He
then spent the rest of his life spreading this faith to non-Jews, traveling extensively from
Palestine to western Asian and Greek cities before his death in a prison in Rome about
64 C.E.
Paul's teaching emphasized two things. First, he stressed that Jesus was a divine
being, the "son of God" who earned forgiveness for the sins of humankind by his death
on the cross. By accepting Jesus as the Christ (Christus meant "anointed one"), Paul
taught, a person could be saved from damnation to an eternity in Hell. Second, Paul
preached that a non-Jew who did not follow Jewish laws and ritual could become a
follower of Jesus. By arguing that, among followers of the faith, there was neither Jew
nor Greek, slave nor free person but instead a spiritual equality, he was challenging
fundamental Roman assumptions such as those behind slavery. These kinds of beliefs
prompted many otherwise broad-minded Roman citizens to regard Christians as a
counter-cultural threat. Paul's patriarchal views also strongly influenced Christian
thinking. He argued that, while man is the glory and image of God, woman is the glory
of man. Paul valued celibacy above marriage and urged wives to be subject to their
husbands and remain silent in church.
Paul disagreed strongly with those in Jerusalem who believed that Christians had to
follow Jewish laws, thus creating something of a rift with the "Judaizers" led by Peter,
the chief disciple of Jesus who became the leader of the church. Paul's decision to
exempt converts from undergoing the circumcision required by Jewish law was crucial
for the success of Christianity, for, in those days before antibiotics and anesthesia, such
operations would have discouraged many. Eventually, Peter agreed that God made no
distinction between Jews and others, and in Roman Catholic tradition Peter became the
first bishop of Rome (and hence the first pope). Peter was probably killed in Rome
during the persecution of Christians in 64. Eventually, most Christians believed they
were saved by faith in Jesus, not by following any Jewish tradition.
Modern day Turkey.
One of four Judaic schools of thought in the Second Temple period [first century C.E.]; the other three schools
were the Essenes, the revolutionaries [such as the Zealots], and the Sadducees. The Pharisees developed into the
mainstream of Rabbinic Judaism.
The victory of Paul in convincing Peter to include non-Jews was crucial in establishing
Christianity as a world religion. A Jewish revolt from 66 to 73 C.E., resulted in the
Roman destruction of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem and the dispersion of many Jews
to other lands. During the revolt the Zealots, a group of Jewish rebels, held out in a
hilltop fort known as Masada overlooking the Dead Sea. Although the Romans
eventually took the fort, Masada stood through history as a symbol of Jewish resistance
to oppression. After the Roman victory, any Jew became discredited in Roman eyes, so
it was fortunate for the early Christians that they had broken with Judaism. Meanwhile,
while Jews scattered across Eurasia and North Africa, the number of non-Jewish
Christians continued to grow throughout the empire as the religion spread along the
networks of trade and occupation throughout western Asia, North Africa, and southern
First Epistle to the Corinthians, Chapter 13
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy
gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all
mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do
not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my
body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does
not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing,
but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures
all things.
Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they
will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we
prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child;
when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror,
dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully,
even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and
the greatest of these is love.
Epistle to Ephesians, Chapter Five
Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head
of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Saviour.
Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,
in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as
to present the church to himself in splendour, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the
kind—yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. In the same way, husbands
should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves
himself. For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it,
just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of his body. ―For this
reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will
become one flesh.‖ This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the
church. Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should
respect her husband.
First Epistle to Corinthians, Chapter Seven
Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: ―It is well for a man not to touch a
woman.‖ But because of cases of sexual immorality, each man should have his own
wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her
conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have
authority over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not have
authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another except
perhaps by agreement for a set time, to devote yourselves to prayer, and then come
together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
This I say by way of concession, not of command. I wish that all were as I myself am.
But each has a particular gift from God, one having one kind and another a different
To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain unmarried as I
am. But if they are not practicing self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry
than to be aflame with passion...
To the married I give this command—not I but the Lord—that the wife should not
separate from her husband (but if she does separate, let her remain unmarried or else
be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife.
However that may be, let each of you lead the life that the Lord has assigned, to which
God called you. This is my rule in all the churches. Was anyone at the time of his call
already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was
anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision.
Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing; but obeying the commandments
of God is everything. Let each of you remain in the condition in which you were called.
Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. Even if you can gain your
freedom, make use of your present condition now more than ever. For whoever was
called in the Lord as a slave is a freed person belonging to the Lord, just as whoever
was free when called is a slave of Christ. You were bought with a price; do not become
slaves of human masters. In whatever condition you were called, brothers and sisters,
there remain with God.
Now concerning virgins, I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion as one
who by the Lord‘s mercy is trustworthy. I think that, in view of the impending crisis, it is
well for you to remain as you are. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are
you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you marry, you do not sin, and if a virgin
marries, she does not sin. Yet those who marry will experience distress in this life, and I
would spare you that. I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short;
from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, and those
who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they
were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those
who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of
this world is passing away.
I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of
the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about the affairs of the
world, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman
and the virgin are anxious about the affairs of the Lord, so that they may be holy in body
and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to
please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to put any restraint upon you,
but to promote good order and unhindered devotion to the Lord.
If anyone thinks that he is not behaving properly towards his fiancée, if his passions are
strong, and so it has to be, let him marry as he wishes; it is no sin. Let them marry. But
if someone stands firm in his resolve, being under no necessity but having his own
desire under control, and has determined in his own mind to keep her as his fiancée, he
will do well. So then, he who marries his fiancée does well; and he who refrains from
marriage will do better.
HW # 35: Ancient Greek and Roman Science
Read the below.
Answer the following questions:
1. Why was the Hippocratic method of medicine relatively successful, despite such
grossly incorrect theories as that of the humours?
2. What aspects of the Hippocratic practice of medicine are still in use today?
3. What does the Hippocratic Oath require in terms of medical education and the
passing on of medical knowledge? Do you think modern-day schools of medicine
meet this demand? Why or why not?
4. Does the requirement of the Hippocratic Oath that doctors ―do no harm‖ require that
they not assist terminally ill patients in suicide? That they not participate in executions
of criminals by lethal injection? Do you think that doctors should avoid performing
abortions, as the Hippocratic Oath demands? Explain your reasoning.
5. Should doctors be required to be morally upright, not engaging in sexual relations
with patients or speaking gossip of them, as the Hippocratic Oath requires?
6. Should a doctor always be required to follow the Hippocratic Oath in sending a
patient to another doctor with more knowledge, such as a specialist, rather than
treating that person himself?
7. What is Hippocrates‘ judgment of those who claim that epilepsy is a ―sacred disease,‖
caused by the gods? Do you think that doctors have an obligation to reject all
theories of disease that attribute its origins to the divine?
8. Should a doctor always place the good of the patient before all else, as the
Hippocratic Oath requires – even above the welfare of the community, the law, and
the doctors own ability to make a living?
Hippocrates of Cos II or Hippokrates of Kos (ca. 460 B.C.E. – ca. 370 B.C.E.) was an
ancient Greek physician of the Age of Pericles159, and was considered one of the most
outstanding figures in the history of medicine. He is referred to as the "father of
medicine" in recognition of his lasting contributions to the field as the founder of the
Hippocratic school of medicine. This intellectual school revolutionized medicine in
ancient Greece, establishing it as a discipline distinct from other fields that it had
traditionally been associated with (notably theurgy and philosophy), thus making
medicine a craft of its own.
However, the achievements of the writers of the Corpus, the practitioners of Hippocratic
medicine, and the actions of Hippocrates himself are often commingled; thus very little
is known about what Hippocrates actually thought, wrote and did. Nevertheless,
Hippocrates is commonly portrayed as the paragon of the ancient physician. In
particular, he is credited with greatly advancing the systematic study of clinical
medicine, summing up the medical knowledge of previous schools, and prescribing
practices for physicians through the Hippocratic Oath and other works.
Historians accept that Hippocrates was born around the year 460 B.C.E. on the Greek
island of Kos (Cos), and became a famous physician and teacher of medicine. Other
biographical information, however, is apocryphal and likely to be untrue. Soranus of
Ephesus, a 2nd-century Greek gynecologist, was Hippocrates's first biographer and is
the source of most information on Hippocrates' person. Information about Hippocrates
can also be found in the writings of Aristotle, which date from the 4 th century B.C.E., in
the Suda160 of the 10th century C.E., and in the works of John Tzetzes161, which date
from the 12th century C.E.
Soranus said that Hippocrates learned medicine from his father and grandfather, and
studied other subjects with Democritus162 and Gorgias163. Hippocrates was probably
A prominent Athenian statesman of the 5 century B.C.E.
A massive 10 century C. E. Byzantine Greek historical encyclopædia of the ancient Mediterranean world.
A Byzantine poet and grammarian of the 12 century C.E.
A pre-Socratic Greek materialist philosopher of the 5 century B.C.E.
A Greek sophist, pre-socratic philosopher and rhetorician of the 5 century B.C.E.
trained at the asklepieion164 of Kos, and took lessons from the Thracian physician
Herodicus of Selymbria. The only contemporaneous mention of Hippocrates is in Plato's
dialogue Protagoras, where Plato describes Hippocrates as "Hippocrates of Kos, the
Asclepiad." Hippocrates taught and practiced medicine throughout his life, traveling at
least as far as Thessaly, Thrace, and the Sea of Marmara165. He probably died in
Larissa166 at the age of 83 or 90, though some accounts say he lived to be well over
100; several different accounts of his death exist.
Hippocratic theory
Hippocrates is credited with being the first physician to reject superstitions and beliefs
that credited supernatural or divine forces with causing illness. Hippocrates was
credited by the disciples of Pythagoras167 of allying philosophy and medicine. He
separated the discipline of medicine from religion, believing and arguing that disease
was not a punishment inflicted by the gods but rather the product of environmental
factors, diet and living habits. Indeed there is not a single mention of a mystical illness in
the entirety of the Hippocratic Corpus. However, Hippocrates did work with many
convictions that were based on what is now known to be incorrect anatomy and
physiology, such as Humorism.
Ancient Greek schools of medicine were split (into the Knidian and Koan) on how to
deal with disease. The Knidian school of medicine focused on diagnosis, but was
dependent on many faulty assumptions about the human body: Greek medicine at the
time of Hippocrates knew almost nothing of human anatomy and physiology because of
the Greek taboo forbidding the dissection of humans. The Knidian school consequently
failed to distinguish when one disease caused many possible series of symptoms. The
Hippocratic school or Koan school achieved greater success by applying general
diagnoses and passive treatments. Its focus was on patient care and prognosis, not
diagnosis. It could effectively treat diseases and allowed for a great development in
clinical practice.
Hippocratic medicine and its philosophy are far removed from that of modern medicine.
Now, the physician focuses on specific diagnosis and specialized treatment, both of
which were espoused by the Knidian school. This shift in medical thought since
Hippocrates's day has caused serious criticism over the past two millennia, with the
passivity of Hippocratic treatment being the subject of particularly strong denunciations;
for example, the French doctor M. S. Houdart called the Hippocratic treatment a
"meditation upon death."
Theory of the Humors
A healing temple, sacred to the god of medicine, Asclepius.
Territories on the periphery of ancient Greece.
The capital city of the Thessaly periphery of Greece
An Ionian philosopher, mathematician, mystic and scientist.
The Hippocratic school held that all illness was the result of an imbalance in the body of
the four humors, fluids which in health were naturally equal in proportion (pepsis). When
the four humors, blood, black bile, yellow bile and phlegm, were not in balance
(dyscrasia, meaning "bad mixture"), a person would become sick and remain that way
until the balance was somehow restored. Hippocratic therapy was directed towards
restoring this balance. For instance, using citrus was thought to be beneficial when
phlegm was overabundant.
Another important concept in Hippocratic medicine was that of a crisis, a point in the
progression of disease at which either the illness would begin to triumph and the patient
would succumb to death, or the opposite would occur and natural processes would
make the patient recover. After a crisis, a relapse might follow, and then another
deciding crisis. According to this doctrine, crises tend to occur on critical days, which
were supposed to be a fixed time after the contraction of a disease. If a crisis occurred
on a day far from a critical day, a relapse might be expected. Galen believed that this
idea originated with Hippocrates, though it is possible that it predated him.
Hippocratic medicine was humble and passive. The therapeutic approach was based on
"the healing power of nature" ("vis medicatrix naturae" in Latin). According to this
doctrine, the body contains within itself the power to re-balance the four humors and
heal itself (physis). Hippocratic therapy focused on simply easing this natural process.
To this end, Hippocrates believed "rest and immobilization [were] of capital importance."
In general, the Hippocratic medicine was very kind to the patient; treatment was gentle,
and emphasized keeping the patient clean and sterile. For example, only clean water or
wine were ever used on wounds, though "dry" treatment was preferable. Soothing
balms were sometimes employed.
Hippocrates was reluctant to administer drugs and engage in specialized treatment that
might prove to be wrongly chosen; generalized therapy followed a generalized
diagnosis. Potent drugs were, however, used on certain occasions. This passive
approach was very successful in treating relatively simple ailments such as broken
bones which required traction to stretch the skeletal system and relieve pressure on the
injured area. The Hippocratic bench and other devices were used to this end.
One of the strengths of Hippocratic medicine was its emphasis on prognosis. At
Hippocrates's time, medicinal therapy was quite immature, and often the best thing that
physicians could do was to evaluate an illness and induce its likely progression based
upon data collected in detailed case histories.
Hippocratic Code
Hippocratic medicine was notable for its strict code, discipline and rigorous practice.
The Hippocratic work On the Physician recommends that physicians always be wellkempt, honest, calm, understanding, and serious. The Hippocratic physician paid
careful attention to all aspects of his practice: he followed detailed specifications for,
"lighting, personnel, instruments, positioning of the patient, and techniques of bandaging
and splinting" in the ancient operating room. He even kept his fingernails to a precise
The Hippocratic School gave importance to the clinical doctrines of observation and
documentation. These doctrines dictate that physicians record their findings and their
medicinal methods in a very clear and objective manner, so that these records may be
passed down and employed by other physicians. Hippocrates made careful, regular
note of many symptoms including complexion, pulse, fever, pains, movement, and
excretions. He is said to have measured a patient's pulse when taking a case history to
know if the patient lied. Hippocrates extended clinical observations into family history
and environment. "To him medicine owes the art of clinical inspection and observation."
For this reason, he may more properly be termed as the "Father of Clinical Medicine.‖
Hippocrates and his followers were first to describe many diseases and medical
conditions. He is given credit for the first description of clubbing of the fingers, an
important diagnostic sign in chronic suppurative lung disease, lung cancer and cyanotic
heart disease. For this reason, clubbed fingers are sometimes referred to as
"Hippocratic fingers." Hippocrates was also the first physician to describe Hippocratic
face in Prognosis. Shakespeare famously alludes to this description when writing of
Falstaff's death in Act II, Scene iii. of Henry V.
Hippocrates began to categorize illnesses as acute, chronic, endemic and epidemic,
and use terms such as, "exacerbation, relapse, resolution, crisis, paroxysm, peak, and
convalescence." Another of Hippocrates's major contributions may be found in his
descriptions of the symptomatology, physical findings, surgical treatment and prognosis
of thoracic empyema, i.e. suppuration of the lining of the chest cavity. His teachings
remain relevant to present-day students of pulmonary medicine and surgery.
Hippocrates was the first documented chest surgeon and his findings are still valid.
The Hippocratic Corpus is a collection of around seventy early medical works from
ancient Greece, written in Ionic Greek. The question of whether Hippocrates himself
was the author of the corpus has not been conclusively answered, but the volumes
were probably produced by his students and followers. Because of the variety of
subjects, writing styles and apparent date of construction, scholars believe Hippocratic
Corpus could not have been written by one person. The corpus was attributed to
Hippocrates in antiquity, and its teaching generally followed principles of his; thus it
came to be known by his name. It might be the remains of a library of Kos, or a
collection compiled in the 3rd century B.C.E. in Alexandria.
The Hippocratic Corpus contains textbooks, lectures, research, notes and philosophical
essays on various subjects in medicine, in no particular order. These works were written
for different audiences, both specialists and laymen, and were sometimes written from
opposing view points; significant contradictions can be found between works in the
Corpus. Notable among the treatises of the Corpus are The Hippocratic Oath; The Book
of Prognostics; On Regimen in Acute Diseases; Aphorisms; On Airs, Waters and
Places; Instruments of Reduction; and On The Sacred Disease.
Hippocrates is widely considered to be the "Father of Medicine". His contributions
revolutionized the practice of medicine; but after his death the advancement stalled. So
revered was Hippocrates that his teachings were largely taken as too great to be
improved upon and no significant advancements of his methods were made for a long
time. The centuries after Hippocrates's death were marked as much by retrograde
movement as by further advancement. For instance, "after the Hippocratic period, the
practice of taking clinical case-histories died out...", according to Fielding Garrison.
After Hippocrates, the next significant physician was Galen, a Greek who lived from 129
to 200 C.E.. Galen perpetuated Hippocratic medicine, moving both forward and
backward. In the Middle Ages, Arabs adopted Hippocratic methods. After the European
Renaissance, Hippocratic methods were revived in Europe and even further expanded
in the 19th century. Notable among those who employed Hippocrates's rigorous clinical
techniques were Sydenham168, Heberden169, Charcot170 and Osler171. Henri Huchard, a
French physician, said that these revivals make up "the whole history of internal
Hippocratic Oath
The Hippocratic Oath, a seminal document on the ethics of medical practice, was
attributed to Hippocrates in antiquity. This is probably the most famous document of the
Hippocratic Corpus. Recently the authenticity of the document has come under
scrutiny. While the Oath is rarely used in its original form today, it serves as a
foundation for other, similar oaths and laws that define good medical practice and
morals. Such derivatives are regularly taken today by medical graduates about to enter
medical practice.
I swear by Apollo172 Physician and Asclepius173 and Hygeia174 and Panaceia175 and all
the gods and goddesses, making them my witnesses, that I will fulfill according to my
ability and judgment this oath and this covenant:
A 17 century C.E. English physician.
A 18 century C.E. English physician.
A 19 century C.E. French physician.
A late 19 and early 20 century Canadian physician.
In Greek mythology, the archer-god of medicine and healing, light, truth and a spreader of death-dealing plague.
In Greek mythology, the demigod of medicine and healing in ancient Greek mythology.
In Greek mythology, a daughter of Asclepius who was the goddess of health, cleanliness and sanitation.
In Greek mythology, a daughter of Asclepius who was the goddess of cures.
To hold him who has taught me this art as equal to my parents and to live my life in
partnership with him, and if he is in need of money to give him a share of mine, and to
regard his offspring as equal to my brothers in male lineage and to teach them this art –
if they desire to learn it – without fee and covenant; to give a share of precepts and oral
instruction and all the other learning to my sons and to the sons of him who has
instructed me and to pupils who have signed the covenant and have taken an oath
according to the medical law, but no one else.
I will apply dietetic measures for the benefit of the sick according to my ability and
judgment; I will keep them from harm and injustice.
I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it, nor will I make a
suggestion to this effect. Similarly I will not give to a woman an abortive remedy. In
purity and holiness I will guard my life and my art.
I will not use the knife, not even on sufferers from stone, but will withdraw in favor of
such men as are engaged in this work.
Whatever houses I may visit, I will come for the benefit of the sick, remaining free of all
intentional injustice, of all mischief and in particular of sexual relations with both female
and male persons, be they free or slaves.
What I may see or hear in the course of the treatment or even outside of the treatment
in regard to the life of men, which on no account one must spread abroad, I will keep to
myself, holding such things shameful to be spoken about.
If I fulfill this oath and do not violate it, may it be granted to me to enjoy life and art,
being honored with fame among all men for all time to come; if I transgress it and swear
falsely, may the opposite of all this be my lot.
On the Sacred Disease
It is thus with regard to the disease called Sacred: it appears to me to be nowise more
divine nor more sacred than other diseases, but has a natural cause from which it
originates like other afflictions. Men regard its nature and cause as divine from
ignorance and wonder, because it is not at all like to other diseases. And this notion of
its divinity is kept up by their inability to comprehend it, and the simplicity of the mode by
which it is cured, for men are freed from it by purifications and incantations. But if it is
reckoned divine because it is wonderful, instead of one there are many diseases which
would be sacred; for, as I will show, there are others no less wonderful and prodigious,
which nobody imagines to be sacred: The quotidian, tertian, and quartan fevers seem to
me no less sacred and divine in their origin than this disease, although they are not
reckoned so wonderful. And I see men become mad and demented from no manifest
cause, and at the same time doing many things out of place; and I have known many
persons in sleep groaning and crying out, some in a state of suffocation, some jumping
up and fleeing out of doors, and deprived of their reason until they awaken, and
afterward becoming well and rational as before, al though they be pale and weak; and
this will happen not once but frequently. And there are many and various things of the
like kind, which it would be tedious to state particularly.
They who first referred this malady to the gods appear to me to have been just such
persons as the conjurors, purificators, mountebanks, and charlatans now are, who give
themselves out for being excessively religious, and as knowing more than other people.
Such persons, then, using the divinity as a pretext and screen of their own inability to
afford any assistance, have given out that the disease is sacred, adding suitable
reasons for this opinion, they have instituted a mode of treatment which is safe for
themselves, namely, by applying purifications and incantations, and enforcing
abstinence from baths and many articles of food which are unwholesome to men in
diseases. Of sea substances, the surmullet, the blacktail, the mullet, and the eel; for
these are the fishes most to be guarded against. And of fleshes, those of the goat, the
stag, the sow, and the dog: for these are the kinds of flesh which are aptest to disorder
the bowels. Of fowls, the cock, the turtle, and the bustard, and such others as are
reckoned to be particularly strong. And of potherbs, mint, garlic, and onions; for what is
acrid does not agree with a weak person. And they forbid to have a black robe, because
black is expressive of death; and to sleep on a goat's skin, or to wear it, and to put one
foot upon another, or one hand upon another; for all these things are held to be
hindrances to the cure. All these they enjoin with reference to its divinity, as if
possessed of more knowledge, and announcing beforehand other causes so that if the
person should recover, theirs would be the honor and credit, and if he should die, they
would have a certain defense, as if the gods, and not they, were to blame, seeing they
had administered nothing either to eat or drink as medicines, nor had overheated him
with baths, so as to prove the cause of what had happened. But I am of opinion that (if
this were true) none of the Libyans, who live in the interior, would be free from this
disease, since they all sleep on goats' skins, and live upon goats' flesh; neither have
they couch, robe, nor shoe that is not made of goat's skin, for they have no other herds
but goats and oxen. But if these things, when administered in food, aggravate the
disease, and if it be cured by abstinence from them, godhead is not the cause at all; nor
will purifications be of any avail, but it is the food which is beneficial and prejudicial, and
the influence of the divinity vanishes.
Thus, they who try to cure these maladies in this way, appear to me neither to reckon
them sacred nor divine. For when they are removed by such purifications, and this
method of cure, what is to prevent them from being brought upon men and induced by
other devices similar to these? So that the cause is no longer divine, but human. For
whoever is able, by purifications and conjurations, to drive away such an affection, will
be able, by other practices to excite it; and, according to this view; its divine nature is
entirely done away with. By such sayings and doings, they profess to be possessed of
superior knowledge, and deceive mankind by enjoining lustrations and purifications
upon them, while their discourse turns upon the divinity and the godhead. And yet it
would appear to me that their discourse savors not of piety, as they suppose, but rather
of impiety and as if there were no gods, and that what they hold to be holy and divine,
were impious and unholy. This I will now explain.
For, if they profess to know how to bring down the moon, darken the sun, induce storms
and fine weather, and rains and droughts, and make the sea and land unproductive,
and so forth, whether they arrogate this power as being derived from mysteries or any
other knowledge or consideration, they appear to me to practice impiety and either to
fancy that there are no gods, or, if there are, that they have no ability to ward off any of
the greatest evils. How, then, are they not enemies to the gods? For if a man by magical
arts and sacrifices will bring down the moon, and darken the sun, and induce storms, or
fine weather, I should not believe that there was anything divine, but human, in these
things, provided the power of the divine were overpowered by human knowledge and
subjected to it. But perhaps it will be said, these things are not so, but, men being in
want of the means of life, invent many and various things, and devise man contrivances
for all other things, and for this disease, in every phase of the disease, assigning the
cause to a god. Nor do they remember the same things once, but frequently. For, if they
imitate a goat, or grind their teeth, or if their right side be convulsed, they say that the
mother of the gods is the cause. But if they speak in a sharper and more intense tone,
they resemble this state to a horse, and say that Poseidon is the cause. Or if any
excrement be passed, which is often the case, owing to the violence of the disease, the
appellation of Enodia is adhibited; or if it be passed in smaller and denser masses, like
bird's, it is said to be from Apollo Nomius. But if foam be emitted by the mouth, and the
patient kick with his feet, Ares then gets the blame. But terrors which happen during the
night, and fevers, and delirium, and jumpings out of bed, and frightful apparitions, and
fleeing away—all these they hold to be the plots of Hecate, and the invasions of the
Heroes, and use purifications and incantations, and, as appears to me, make the
divinity to be most wicked and most impious. For they purify those laboring under this
disease, with the same sorts of blood and the other means that are used in the case of
those who are stained with crimes, and of malefactors, or who have been enchanted by
men, or who have done any wicked act; who ought to do the very reverse, namely,
sacrifice and pray, and, bringing gifts to the temples, supplicate the gods. But now they
do none of these things, but purify; and some of the purifications they conceal in the
earth, and some they throw into the sea, and some they carry to the mountains where
no one can touch or tread upon them. But these they ought to take to the temples and
present to the god, if a god be the cause of the disease. Neither truly do I count it a
worthy opinion to hold that the body of man is polluted by god, the most impure by the
most holy; for were it defiled, or did it suffer from any other thing, it would be like to be
purified and sanctified rather than polluted by god. For it is the divinity which purifies
and sanctifies the greatest of offenses and the most wicked, and which proves our
protection from them. And we mark out the boundaries of the temples and the groves of
the gods, so that no one may pass them unless he be pure, and when we enter them
we are sprinkled with holy water, not as being polluted but as laying aside any other
pollution which we formerly had. And thus it appears to me to hold, with regard to
But this disease seems to me to be no more divine that others; but it has its nature such
as other diseases have, and a cause whence it originates, and its nature and cause are
divine only just as much as all others are.
HW # 36: The Ancient Greek and Roman Economy of Gender and Sex
Read the below.
Answer the following questions.
1. What role did the issue of Ancient Greek sexual practices play in the case of Evans
and Romer? Which side do you think had the persuasive argument? Why?
2. How do essentialist historians and social constructionist historians differ in their
interpretation of sexual practices in different cultures and time periods? In your view,
which school of historians is more convincing? Explain the reasons for your choice.
3. What did the French thinker Michel Foucault mean by the statement "The sodomite
[of the Middle Ages] was a recidivist, but the homosexual [of modernity] is now a
species?‖ Do you agree with him?
4. Kenneth Dover and David Halperin, leading scholars of ancient Greek sexual
practices, contend that it was organized around active and passive roles. What do
they mean by this contrast? How did this reflect the connection of ancient Greek
sexual practices to other relations of inequality in ancient Greece?
5. In the economy of sex in ancient Greece and ancient Rome, what would be
considered a deviant behavior, outside of the acceptable social norms? Why was it
considered deviant? How does James Davidson‘s analysis of deviancy in ancient
Greek sexual practices differ from that of Kenneth Dover and David Halperin? Which
analysis do you find more persuasive?
6. Why is it difficult for modern scholars to know how ancient Greek and Roman women
felt about their sexual being and practices? One feminist scholar has critiqued
Foucault's analysis on antiquity, on the point that his focus on the sex practices of
free, adult male citizens excludes ―not only women but also Jews, Africans,
Egyptians, Semites, Northern Europeans, children, babies, poor people, and slaves.‖
The absence of women is dictated by his choice of genres and authors, she argues,
"so that the text replicates the omissions of the history it documents." Do you think
that this criticism is on the mark? Explain your reasoning.
7. What is Platonic love?
8. How was Athenian democracy involved in the organization and regulation of sexual
practices in its polis? Is this an appropriate role for a democratic government to play?
Explain your reasoning.
Primarily selected from Marilyn B. Skinner, Sexuality in Greek and Roman Culture.
Oxford: Blackwell, 2006.
Lawyers have little time for Platonic love. In a trial in America that attracted nation wide
media attention, however, one point of constitutional law turned on arguments involving
pronouncements about sex by the fourth century B.C.E. philosopher Plato. Plaintiffs in
Evans v. Romer, heard in a Colorado district court in October 1993, were attempting to
invalidate an amendment to the Colorado state constitution, Amendment 2, approved by
referendum a year before. This amendment prohibited public agencies, municipalities,
and school districts from adopting laws or policies granting protected status on the basis
of sexual orientation. Its opponents argued that putting gays, lesbians, and bisexuals at
such specific disadvantage violated their right to equal protection of the laws under the
Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution because it did not serve
legitimate government interests and placed unique burdens on their ability to participate
equally in the political process. Plaintiffs also challenged it on First Amendment
grounds, including violation of the prohibition against the establishment of religion.
Since many Christian denominations take the position that homosexual acts are morally
wrong without exception, Amendment 2, they alleged, was an intrusion of
fundamentalist Christian bias against homosexuals into secular law.
Here is where Plato enters the courtroom. To refute the latter contention, the state
called in John M. Finnis, a specialist in moral philosophy, as an expert witness. In an
affidavit, Finnis asserted that moral condemnation of homosexual activity had its basis
in natural law theory and was clearly articulated by the founders of the Western tradition
of rational philosophy: "All three of the greatest Greek philosophers, Socrates, Plato and
Aristotle, regarded homosexual conduct as intrinsically shameful, immoral, and indeed
depraved or depraving." Appearing for the plaintiffs, Martha Nussbaum, an authority on
Greek philosophy, contested that claim. Finnis' understanding of the Greek classical
tradition was based on an erroneous reading of poorly translated texts, she maintained;
there was no evidence that ancient philosophers considered same-sex erotic
attachments immoral. Condemnation of such relationships "as a violation of natural law
or the natural human good" was therefore "inherently theological." By inference, then, it
was an establishment of religion.
As an example of what she said were the misleadingly translated passages that had
given Finnis the wrong impression, Nussbaum cited the 1926 Loeb Library version of
Plato's last treatise, the Laws. There, the philosopher several times appears to
condemn same-sex copulation explicitly, in three separate places, as "contrary to
nature." She testified, however, that the translator, R. G. Bury, had rendered the Greek
in keeping with the shame and embarrassment about homosexuality commonly felt in
the early 1900s, giving it a far more negative cast than was appropriate. In a
subsequent article defending her testimony, Nussbaum explained that Plato repeatedly
expresses fears about the threat posed to rational judgment by all the physical drives –
hunger and thirst as well as sex. He focused on the dangers of same-sex relations in
the Laws not because he viewed them as wrong, but because they were "especially
powerful sources of passionate stimulation." As for the statements that homosexuality is
"contrary to nature," that is, to the practices of the animal kingdom, Nussbaum noted
that they occurred each time in imaginary public pronouncements and construed them
as rhetorical devices for convincing the ordinary man. Appeals to animal nature would
carry little weight with Plato himself because he would say that a rational being cannot
be guided by the behavior of nonrational creatures.
There is no need to go into all the philological technicalities, or all the courtroom
charges and countercharges, whose repercussions continued on in print as fiercely
argued follow-up discussions by participants appeared in academic and legal journals.
Eventually, both the Colorado District and Supreme Courts found for the plaintiffs, and
the United States Supreme Court ruled in 1996 that Amendment 2 was unconstitutional.
None of the judicial opinions issued by the various courts cited evidence from Greek
texts in making a determination. Nevertheless, the philosophical and ethical issues
raised in the Amendment 2 case indicate that informed discussion of Greco-Roman
sexual protocols has the potential to shed valuable new light on modem controversies
about sexuality. What was unfortunate about Evans v. Romer, as observers have since
pointed out, was that the actual courtroom exchanges focused narrowly on Plato's
attitude toward male-male copulation, which is, indeed, of a piece with his distrust of all
forms of sexual pleasure, including that provided by heterosexual acts. His well-known
insistence that sublimated homoerotic affect, divorced from physical expression, can be
an impetus toward moral and intellectual good was not given any weight in testimony,
despite the fact that ―Platonic love,‖ as an ideal, is affirmed not only is his earlier
dialogues the Phaedrus and the Symposium but also in Laws, where it is stipulated that
―the love belonging to virtue and desiring that a young man be as good as possible‖
should operate in his model state. But homo-erotic feelings are completely beyond the
scope of the law, which can only take cognizance of acts...
Sexuality As A Social Category
The ancient Greeks, who had a specialized word for so many other things, had none for
what we mean by ―sexuality.‖ The nearest parallel in the Greek language is the
collective experience ta aphrodisia, ―the matters of Aphrodite.‖176 What Greek culture
regarded as the preserve of the goddess of love was an ensemble of separate but
closely related physical phenomena – sexual acts, urges and pleasures. Although Latin,
like Greek, had a rich vocabulary, both direct and metaphoric, for sexual organs and
sexual acts, it too lacks an encyclopedic concept of the sexual.
That difference in conceptualization is thought to mark a profound cultural difference.
The historian of sex Michel Foucault distinguishes ta aphrodisia from "sexuality" in this
way: "Our idea of 'sexuality' does not just cover a wider area; it applies to a reality of
another type, and it functions quite differently in our morals and knowledge." Whereas
modem English speakers can form an abstract idea of human sexual behavior, Greeks
and Romans supposedly viewed it in more concrete terms. For them, what was sexual
In Greek mythology, the goddess of love.
was presumably limited and self-evident, as opposed to our notion of a broadly diffused
and often masked biological and psychological drive. In addition, they appear to have
attached a very different set of moral weights to certain expressions of sexuality, most
notably same-sex eroticism.
For a long time, historians ignored these differences. They assumed that our modern
experience of sexuality reflects an underlying human essence, experienced the same
by all human beings in different cultures and different historical time periods. Historians
who still hold to this view are called essentialists.177 But over the last twenty-five years,
a new view of the history of sex has become dominant; this perspective is commonly
called constructionist, because it believes that different cultures at different times create
different sexual economies which fundamentally shape how we experience sex.
Constructionists argue that since the dawn of the modernity in the West, we have seen
sex acts as expressions of an underlying sexuality, or sexual drive, that defines a
person. When we moderns say that someone is heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual,
the general social understanding is that we are not simply describing the gender[s] of
that person‘s sex partner[s], but an essential quality which shapes the core of their
personhood. To a constructionist, sexuality in the modern world is a state of being, more
so than it is a state of doing. That is why we see no contradiction in speaking of a
celibate person and a virgin as straight, gay, or lesbian.
Yet as recently as the mediaeval Christian West, a person who engaged in sex acts
with another person of the same sex had simply committed a sin, not all that different in
its nature from the sin of gluttony178 or sloth.179 Every person had the same capacity to
commit that same sin. "The sodomite [of the Middle Ages] was a recidivist 180,‖ Foucault
wrote, ―but the homosexual [of modernity] is now a species.‖ In this constructionist view,
it is a mistake to assume that sexual acts have the same meanings for the ancient
Greeks and Romans as they do for us moderns. While the evidence clearly shows that
ancient Greeks and Romans saw a legitimate place in society for same sex relations
among people of the same sex, to cite the most important example, it does not follow
that those societies were accepting of what we moderns would call gay, lesbian and
bisexual people, simply because those categories of human person simply did not exist
in the way we moderns know them. There was an entirely different economy of sex in
the ancient Greek and Roman world, and that economy needs to be understood on its
own terms.
The classic expression of essentialism is the idea that our sexual identities are biologically and genetically
determined. Social constructionists do not argue that our sexual identity is a matter of a choice, although certainly a
gay or lesbian person may refuse to be public about their identity, and a bi-sexual person may choose to act on only
one set of sexual attractions. But there are many parts of our lives which are culturally and socially determined and
therefore differently organized and experienced in different cultures, such as our eating practices, which we do not
experience as a matter of choice.
Overindulgence in the consumption of food and/or drink.
A recidivist is someone who repeatedly commits the same crime or same sin.
The Ancient Economy of Sex and Social Relations of Domination and Subordination
The ancient Greek and Roman economy of sex was integrated into the larger system of
social relationships. It was intimately connected to the relations of domination and
subordination between free adult male citizens, on the one hand, and woman, children,
slaves and foreigners, on the other hand, and to the relations of equality among those
free adult male citizens. Leading scholars of ancient Greek sexuality, such as Kenneth
Dover and David Halperin, argue that it was highly polarized into "active" and "passive"
partners, penetrator and penetrated, an active/passive polarization held to be
associated with dominant and submissive social roles: the active (penetrative) role was
associated with masculinity, higher social status, and adulthood, while the passive role
was associated with femininity, lower social status, and youth. In this view, any sexual
activities in which a male penetrated a social inferior was regarded as normal; "social
inferiors" could include women, male youths, foreigners, prostitutes, or slaves. By the
same token, being penetrated, especially by a social inferior, was considered potentially
shameful for a free adult male. The Romans had a term for a free adult male citizen who
regularly allowed himself to be sexually penetrated, cinaedus. A cinaedus was not, as
sometimes mistakenly translated, the same as a modern homosexual or bisexual, but
he was a clearly a socially deviant within the ancient Roman economy of sex.
Gender roles in ancient Greece and Rome were organized around the idea that men
are active and women passive, or that men are penetrators and women penetrated.
Thus anyone who is penetrated (or is in other ways passive) is gendered feminine, and
anyone who penetrates is masculine. For the Romans, to penetrate other men could be
a sign of masculinity (hence Valerius Asiaticus's taunt, "Question your sons, Suillius,
they'll say that I'm a man," whereas a modern taunter might be more likely to say, "Ask
your mother"). Women who penetrate and men who are penetrated are seen not
primarily as sexual deviants but as gender transgressors.
Not all historians see the contrast between penetrator and penetrated as the only axis of
ancient Greek and Roman sexuality. James Davidson describes classical Athenian
culture as one where the control of one's desires and the fight against passion were of
crucial importance. The passions on which he focuses are the love of fish and the love
of men for courtesans. As in the study of same-sex desires among men, women's
desires have only a minor role to play here, but in his discussion of distinctions among
those women often lumped together as "prostitutes," he does provide a useful
discussion of the nature of their experience and agency. He attempts to recover the
highly cultured courtesan, the hetaera, as an independent and desiring woman, different
from the pornai or common whores, and he challenges the view that women fell into
only two categories, the secluded, private wife or the public prostitute.
Davidson's focus on passion leads him to attack the widely held view that it was
passivity and effeminacy that made the cinaedus (and the similar katapugones) such
figures of opprobrium. It was not, he argues, because they abdicated the masculine role
of penetrator that they were considered shameful but rather because they were
unrestrained in their desires. Indeed, he claims, the evidence rarely speaks of their
being penetrated. Their status had nothing to do with physical integrity but was a
function of self-control. Yet the cinaedus/katapugon clearly was understood as someone
who enjoyed being anally penetrated, whether or not this was the core of his identity.
Even if it were the immoderacy of his desire, rather than his passive role, that was
important, he was still fundamentally a gender transgressor, feminine in that very
immoderacy. The cinaedus comes in for far more censure than a man with an
immoderate desire to penetrate, although the latter also can meet with disapproval.
One difficulty in understanding the ancient economy of sex from the perspective of
women is that ancient Greece and Rome were such virulently male supremacist
societies and cultures that little survives in the way of accounts from women. About the
sexual subjectivity of biological females, like that of feminized males, surviving texts
reveal relatively little. One author writes about prostitution without any consideration of
how the prostitutes may have felt about their infamy. Even the study of female
homoeroticism focuses on men's constructions of women's sexuality. A scholar argues
that Ovid's Sappho181 is masculinized and "simply acts out a charade of male sexuality."
She suggests that we "imagine the masculinized lesbians of the Roman texts not as
monsters or fools (as their creators intended), but as dauntless rebels." The modern
reader may, despite the hostility of these ancient authors to women, be able to infer
from them something of how the women may have seen themselves and their sex lives.
Male Roman writers discuss tribades (women who engaged in sex with each other) as
something from the remote Greek past, not as part of their own contemporary society,
and also masculinize them, denying their resemblance to normal Roman women. But
they do so despite evidence in their own writings that they knew full well that women
could give each other pleasure without penetration. "But for Roman males who wrote
about tribadism,‖ a feminist scholar writes, ―it was evidently easier to deny the actual
and avow the unlikely than to abandon assumptions about how, according to biological
nature and Roman culture, women ought to behave."
...It was the ethical aspect of ancient sexuality that had begun to preoccupy Michel
Foucault during the eight years between the publication of the first and second volumes
of the History of Sexuality. As he tells us in the introduction to the long-delayed second
volume, he had arrived at the conclusion that understanding how modern individuals
could conceive of themselves as persons of a given "sexuality" required a preliminary
analysis of how Western man had already in antiquity come to look upon himself as
subject to certain desires and to examine his own responses to such desires.
Accordingly, Foucault undertook the study of ancient Greek concerns about appropriate
sexual behavior, considering them within a broader context of overall social values. The
kind of evidence he chose to consult was limited, for he deliberately concentrated upon
prescriptive texts addressed to men that dealt with the conduct expected of freeborn
male citizens. In Athens, this was the only group of individuals recognized as fully
accountable legal and moral agents.
Sappho was the ancient Greek author of love poetry toward other women, and is one of the very few voices we
have of ancient women discussing sex and love.
Sexual Pleasure and Self Control
Democratic Athens invested each kyrios, or male citizen who headed a household, with
patriarchal authority. This meant that the kyrios was himself responsible for the conduct
of all other members of that household, its women, children, and slaves, and acted as
their legal guardian and representative in the public sphere. At the same time, he also
performed his civic duties by attending popular assemblies, voting, holding office,
serving on juries, and defending the city-state in wartime. Competence to supervise the
private economy of an oikos, to deliberate prudently on affairs of state, to manage
public business, and to conduct oneself bravely on the battlefield depended upon selfmastery, enkrateia. The man properly in control of himself did not wholly abstain from
bodily pleasures, which served as practical tests of his resolve. Instead, through
meticulous training in virtue beginning in boyhood, he had become skilled in using
pleasure wisely, never allowing desire, however keen, to overcome rational judgment.
"Governing oneself, managing one's estate, and participating in the administration of the
city were three practices of the same type," and only someone who had achieved the
first objective was duly prepared to take on responsibilities in each of the other two
The pleasures connected with sex posed the most difficulty. From a medical and ethical
standpoint, sex was both natural and necessary, but the gratification it brought. being so
intense, was open to misuse. Thus the two chief forms of immorality associated with sex
were "excess and passivity." For an adult male physically to assume the role of
receptive partner was to surrender masculine status and assimilate oneself to the
inferior female. But passivity could also be understood in a metaphoric sense, as
capitulation to brute appetite in the case of someone who habitually overindulges in
food, drink, or sex and becomes enslaved (we would say "addicted") to pleasure. In
abandoning moderation (sôphrosynê), he behaves in a womanish manner; hence the
paradox, from our point of view, of a habitual adulterer being thought "effeminate.‖
...the "Socratic-Platonic" definition of eros was that both sexual should partners arrive at
philosophical truth through strict asceticism, totally abstaining from carnal satisfaction.
Apparently originated by Socrates, then greatly elaborated in two of Plato's major
dialogues, the Symposium and the Phaedrus, this erotics draws an absolute distinction
between love of the body and love of the soul. All admirers of beauty are naturally
kindled by the physical charms of a youth, but the true lover is even more warmly
attracted to his beloved by the boy's integrity of character and potential for growth in
virtue. He therefore seeks, in the well-known imagery of the Symposium, to "beget"
wisdom in the other and so engender offspring that are immortal. Physical
consummation of eros is, however, incompatible with the pursuit of spiritual goodness,
and the lover must forcibly check his baser impulses like a charioteer restraining an
unruly horse. Inspired by the older man's example, the beloved himself develops a
passion for truth; he begins to take an active part in the philosophic quest, responding to
his lover's eros with a reciprocal anterôs. From that lover, now his teacher, the young
man learns the practices of self-restraint and rational inquiry that will allow him to
participate as an equal partner in the lifelong pursuit of wisdom.
This combination of altruistic devotion, sexual asceticism, and the quest for mystic
experience enjoyed a long afterlife in the Christian West – although, as Foucault notes,
under Christianity the Greek homoerotic relationship was transformed into a union of
male and female and featured feminine embodiments of temptation (Morgan le Fay in
the Morte d'Arthur) and redemption (Beatrice in Dante's Divine Comedy). Whether the
object of desire is a boy or a woman, however, the fundamental ideology remains the
same: steadfast mutual desire, eros, becomes the means by which both partners,
through suffering and perseverance, achieve mastery over their ignoble passions and
arrive at the highest good – a rational understanding of absolute Being or a redemption
bestowed through divine grace.
Classical Athens: The Politics of Sex
The reforms of Solon, the early sixth-century lawgiver whom the Athenians regarded as
the founding father of their democratic system, included a number of provisions having
a direct impact upon the private lives and even bodies of individuals – adult male
citizens, citizen youths, metics (noncitizen residents), women. and slaves. Laws
affecting women included regulations about the marriages of heiresses – fatherless girls
without brothers, whose children would succeed to the paternal estate – as well as
those prohibiting dowries (later disregarded) and lim iting bridal trousseaux, restricting
the accessories carried by females in public and their extravagant weeping at funerals,
punishing adultery and rape and allowing a father to sell an unchaste daughter into
slavery. Solon is also credited by the comic poet Philemon with establishing a chain of
inexpensive brothels, which gave young men the opportunity to relieve sexual urges
without molesting virtuous women or embarrassing themselves financially. Furthermore,
he was supposed to have founded a temple of Aphrodite Pandemos ("Aphrodite of the
Common People") with the proceeds. Scholars doubt Solon's actual involvement in
promoting prostitution, but no one denies that at Athens the sex trade was a source of
civic revenue: subject to a special tax, it flourished openly.
...a law frequently discussed by students of Greek sexuality barred an Athenian citizen
who had prostituted himself from thereafter addressing the assembly, holding public
office, or entering a temple. This was the statute under which Aeschines prosecuted the
politician Timarchus in 346 B.C.E. A corollary law punished relatives and guardians for
prostituting citizen boys under their supervision together with the clients who had paid
for their services; under those circumstances the boy was not deemed at fault, since he
was a minor. Procuring for a free boy or woman was also punished. None of these
regulations made pederasty itself illegal, as each addressed only the motive for
rendering sexual services. If gratifying a lover out of affection was equivocal, doing it for
money was indisputably base. Slaves and foreigners might market their bodies with
impunity, since they had no stake in government; but a citizen youth who did so,
according to Aeschines, gave notice that as a participant in public affairs he would
"readily sell out the common interests of the polis." Unfortunately, the law as written
opened up a large gray area because it applied not merely to professional prostitutes
registered as such for tax purposes but to amateurs. Thus any citizen, no matter how
well-born or well-to-do, who had behaved with less than perfect discretion as an
adolescent might be vulnerable to prosecution if he took part in public life as an adult. In
addition, appealing to gossip, hearsay, and "common report" to bolster allegations was
legal in an Athenian court. Aeschines, who candidly admits the difficulty of proving his
charge through witnesses, cites salacious rumor at every turn. The strategy worked, for
Timarchus was convicted.
Whether owed to Solon or not, this corpus of regulations indicates that radical
democracy intruded deeply into the personal lives of men and women and imposed
state surveillance on their sexual conduct. In fact, Athenian democracy during the
classical period (490-323 B.C.E.) functioned as a gender as well as a political system,
implicating democratic institutions in conceptual structures of masculinity and femininity.
For example, the ideology responsible for suppressing citizen women's visibility in the
public sphere (as an ideal, if not altogether in reality) and reducing them to the position
of legal dependents was bolstered by democratic goals of curbing ostentatious displays
of wealth and guaranteeing status equality among male-headed households, along with
legitimate succession. In fifth-century Sparta, on the other hand, the military unit, not the
oikos, was the basis of social organization, competitive instincts found their outlet in
combat, and austerity was promoted as an ethical norm. Women therefore continued to
be publicly visible and to exercise considerable economic rights. Athenian legislation
excluding children of irregular unions from inheriting served the same purpose: it
discouraged elites from fathering children on concubines as well as wedded wives and
so "put every citizen on the same reproductive footing."
Thus widespread availability of cheap male and female prostitutes and barring the male
prostitute from the privileges of public life were "complementary aspects of a single
democratizing initiative in classical Athens intended to shore up the masculine dignity of
the poorer citizens – to prevent them from being effeminized by poverty – and to
promote a new collective image of the citizen body." Despite attempts to defuse
tensions generated by economic stratification, however, sexual conduct remained
embroiled in unresolved class conflicts, for scrutiny of behavior by legal means ran
counter to aristocratic traditions of policing social deviations through shame.
Consequently, we need to apply both class and gender as complementary analytical
categories if we are to grasp the full import of Athenian sexual discourses. There is
evidence that pederasty was much more common among the oligarchy, and class
resentment toward the upper class could target such relationships.
The democratic polis in classical Athens articulated sexual norms, and took great
cognizance of what moderns would regard as purely personal matters. The politics of
reputation, the code of honor and shame, and the state‘s interests in the preservation of
bloodlines all constituted deterrents to rape, seduction and adultery – but they also
worked at cross-purposes. Since inheritance disputes causes rancor, and ancestral and
family cult had to be performed by direct descendants, Athens had legal and religious
justification for treating sexual misconduct as a public crime. On the other hand, fear of
disrepute might tempt a family to hush up a scandal, as prosecution of the offense
would bring the whole sordid story to light, providing entertaining gossip even for those
who knew none of the parties involved. Finally, domestic relations in stable marriages
must have been influenced by the direct dependence of the polis upon oikos, especially
among the propertied classes. To a degree that makes contemporary observers
somewhat uncomfortable, classical Athenian sex in all its forms was implicated in its
system of democracy.
HW # 37: Rhetoric and Republican Citizenship in Classical Rome and Greece
Read the below.
Answer the following questions.
1. Why is language so important to politics and community? Do you agree with the
author Joy Connolly that eloquence, persuasive facility with spoken and written
language, is a form of political power? Are there any political dangers in eloquence?
2. What is rhetoric? Why was rhetoric central to the Roman idea of classical
republicanism? Why was it central to the classical republican idea of citizenship?
How could rhetoric limit the exercise of political power in a republic? Is rhetoric an
essential democratic practice?
3. In American history, who would you consider to be the greatest orators and masters
of rhetoric? Why do you think of them as the greatest orators and rhetoricians?
4. Why was the study of rhetoric the core subject of classical Roman education? Why
would the Roman elite need to know rhetoric?
5. In classical Rome, how was rhetoric connected to masculinity, to virility, to virtue?
Consider the following view from the Roman rhetorician Seneca: Eloquence has
gone to the dogs, he complains: just look at the current generation – lazy, unable to
focus on any objective and, worst of all, effeminate. ―Disgusting enthusiasms for
singing and dancing grip these pansies; to crimp their hair, pitch their voice to a
womenly warble, vie with the women in the softness [mollitia] of their bodies and
adorn themselves with the foulest fineries is the blueprint of our youth.‖ It takes a
man to be a public speaker: didn‘t the great Cato define the orator as a ―good man
skilled at speaking?‖ Seneca scornfully dismisses the present aspirants: ―Go now and
seek orators among these plucked and polished fellows, men only in their lusts.‖ Yet
if ancient Greek and Roman women were stereotyped as emotional and given to the
passions, doesn‘t rhetoric involve classically female traits?
6. Patriotism, love of one‘s country, is an example of the power – and the possible
degeneration – of political rhetoric. Do you agree with the saying of Samuel Johnson,
that patriotism is the ―last refuge of the scoundrel?‖ Or do you think that it is possible
to have a notion of patriotism which is consistent with republican values and civic
7. Political thinkers from Plato to Hobbes have been hostile to the idea of political
rhetoric, arguing for a purely rational political discourse that made no appeals to the
passions and emotions. Do you think it is possible to have political discourse which is
purely rational? Do you think it would be a good idea to have such a political
Adapted from the ―Introduction‖ to Joy Connolly, The State of Speech: Rhetoric and
Political Thought in Ancient Rome. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007.
Just as Rome‘s legions left their mark on the map of Europe, Roman ideas about
citizenship and constitutions helped frame Western political thought. The concept of
individual liberty guaranteed by law, the beliefs that the end of political rule is the
common good and that the community stands and falls on the civic virtue of its citizens,
a strong notion of collective identity expressed in terms of cultural solidarity and
common love for the fatherland – these compose the core of republican political ideas
that, through the texts of Sallust182, Cicero, Virgil183, and Livy184, were revived starting in
the twelfth century by European thinkers seeking to develop alternatives to feudal
government, and that remain matters of concern to political theorists today. In this book
I pursue a new approach to republican political thought in Rome, one that explores
notions of civic virtue and collective identity in texts that seek to guide and govern public
speech – in writings belonging to the discipline known since Plato‘s time as rhetoric. I
treat rhetoric, especially the work of Cicero, as an extended engagement with the ideals
and demands of republican citizenship. Above all, I concentrate on rhetoric‘s
representation of the ideal orator, which I read as an exploration of the ethos of the ideal
citizen. Just like the persuasive speech he utters, this citizen is a complex, paradoxical
construction, at once imperious and responsive, masterly and fragile, artifical and
authentic, who seeks civil concord through the exercise of seductive authority.
Active, reactive, and rich with resources for self-reflection, rhetoric in Rome always
meant much more than learning to deliver a speech, which is why it has lived for so
many centuries not in dusty library corners or the memories of curious antiquarians but
at the center of European culture, in monasteries, rural schools, and royal courts. One
of the three members of the trivium of the liberal arts, along with grammar and dialectic,
rhetoric constituted the core of study for educated Romans by (at the latest) the first
century B.C.E. With the emergence of a cosmopolitan Greek- and Latin-speaking elite
Gaius Sallustius Crispus (86–34 B.C.E.), generally known simply as Sallust, was a famous Roman historian.
Publius Vergilius Maro (70–19 B.C.E.) later called Virgilius, and known in English as Virgil or Vergil, was a
classical Roman poet. He was the author of epics in three modes: the Bucolics (or Eclogues), the Georgics and the
substantially completed Aeneid, the last being an epic poem in the heroic mode, which comprised twelve books and
became the Roman Empire's national epic.
Titus Livius (59 B.C.E.– 17 C.E.), known as Livy in English, was a Roman historian who wrote a monumental
history of Rome, Ab Urbe Condita, from its founding (traditionally dated to 753 BC) through the reign of Augustus in
Livy's own time.
in urban centers across the empire, rhetoric formed the pedagogical and political
bedrock of a common imperial culture stretching from Spain to Syria and from southern
Britain to north Africa, creating a literal language of imperium that was preserved by
Rome‘s European and Byzantine descendants and their global colonies. Transmitted in
the form of technical handbooks of logic and composition, the study of classical rhetoric
spurred early modern practices of politics and political communication, and survives
today in literary criticism, writing manuals, and even self-help books on fashion and
public speaking.
Rhetoric arises from the practice of oratory, acts of formal speaking before citizens
gathered together – political orations, sermons, law court arguments – and also bears
the influence of artistic performances and casual exchanges of conversation. All these
practices, in different ways, influence the formation of civic identity and relate directly to
the exercise of popular sovereignty and the achievement of social justice. Not only will
we better understand classical Rome and the political work done by the spoken word in
the Senate and Forum185, we will also enrich our own political culture, I propose, if we
examine Roman rhetoric‘s contribution to ideals of civic identity – if we explore the
meaning, in rhetorical discourse, of dialogue, civility, and compromise, of the expression
and the critique of traditional authority, the limits of reason, and love of country.
However remotely we sense the connection, each of us is a member of a political
community. At the same time, we are all individual subjects, isolated bundles of
sensation, imagination, memory, and desire. What shapes us as subjects from without,
and enables us to reach out to other citizens from within, is language, the spoken word.
―There is no way we could be inducted into personhood except by being initiated into a
language,‖ Charles Taylor asserts, citing George Herbert Mead‘s contention that we
emerge as selves out of our common embedding in ―webs of interlocution.‖186
Concerned as they are with interlocution, rhetorical texts shed light on the process by
which language connects human beings within the community and effects change in the
world. Eloquence is power: the power to convey ideas and information, to persuade,
and to bring pleasure: docere movere delectare. ―It is easily understood how much we
owe to language,‖ Thomas Hobbes187 wrote in Man and Citizen, echoing Isocrates188
and Cicero,
The forum was the central area around which ancient Rome developed, in which commerce and the
administration of justice took place. The communal hearth was also located here.
Interlocution: conversation among two or more persons.
A late sixteenth and early seventeenth century an English philosopher, whose famous 1651 book Leviathan was
pivotal in th emergence of modern Western political philosophy. Hobbes was a critic of rhetoric, and an advocate of
the view that it was possible to have a purely logical discourse.
Isocrates (436–338 B.C.E.) was one of the ten Attic orators of ancient Greece and its most famed rhetorician.
by which we, having been drawn together and agreeing to covenants, live securely,
happily, and elegantly: we can so live, I insist, if we so will. But language also hath its
disadvantages; namely because man, alone among the animals, on account of the
universal signification of names, can create general rules for himself in the art of living
just as in the other arts; and so he alone can devise errors and pass them on for the use
of others... Therefore by speech man is not made better, but only given greater
No practice is more central to politics than communication, and to the Roman writers
that I discuss in this book, as to Hobbes, no act of communication exists in isolation
from moral judgment. If philosophy may be ―divided into three branches, natural
philosophy, dialectic, and ethics,‖ Cicero declares in his dialogue de Oratore (On the
Orator), ―let us relinquish the first two,‖ but, he continues, rhetoric must lay claim to
ethics, ―which has always been the property of the orator;... this area, concerning
human life and customs, he must master.‖ It is crucial to understand from the start that
Cicero is not principally concerned in his rhetorical writings with the ethical formation of
the private individual but with a civic ideal whose dynamic constitution reflects the
constitution of the republic, what I call the state of speech.
The resources rhetoric offers the republic are rich. Classical rhetoric nowhere offers a
robust theory of knowledge that can compete with the epistemologies189 of Plato and
other philosophers, but it seeks, in the competition it cultivates with philosophy, to
understand and refine the processes by which citizens make decisions and consensus
is forged – in short, the ways in which public knowledge, if not philosophical knowledge,
is determined. Roman rhetorical writings are also, of course, the textual articulations of
a particular political form: they constitute a theoretical and practical discourse of power
in the republic (res publica). The demanding blend of bodily and mental skills involved in
rhetorical training, which combined and mingled rival discourses of traditional senatorial
authority, logical reasoning, literary knowledge, deportment, theatrical strategies of
popular appeal, and sheer pleasure in the grain of the voice, prescribed normative
practices of identity formation designed to reflect the values of the Roman governing
class and reinforce its traditional dominance.
It is not surprising that Roman rhetoric has played a historically significant role in
welding what would come to be the Western ideal of civic identity, the vir civilis190, to
properties like glory-seeking and autonomy that are associated with masculinity – with
important consequences for the cultures of modern democratic republics and the
experiences of non-viri in them. Not every human being is a vir: all women stand outside
the circle, in the company of the poor, immigrants, and other classes legally or culturally
determined to lack the authority necessary to act in the political arena. What is
surprising, and what I seek to show, is how in its exposure of persuasive language‘s
power to sway, mislead, theatricalize, distract, and delight, rhetorical discourse reveals
Epistemology: the branch of philosophy which studies knowledge and how humans come to attain knowledge.
Vir civilis: in classical Rome, the free male citizen. Vir, or Latin for man, is the root of the word virile.
unexpected (if often explicitly disavowed) points of resemblance between the reason
and honorable authority of free citizen men and the confusion and abjection that is
supposed to be everyone else‘s lot.
Rhetoric‘s peculiar power to absorb the ‗other,‘ those who are not free male citizens,
renders it a useful lens through which to observe and understand the workings of
republican politics. Though it certainly seeks to discipline language and behavior
according to standards imagined to embody elite norms, its appropriation of purportedly
alien elements means that its prescriptions construct political power in terms of
communication – as fundamentally dialogic in nature – thus illuminating how authority,
resistance, and consent achieve expression and interact with one another in the world.
Rhetoric sets limits on the arbitrary exercise of authority (itself an object of republican
law, which protects citizens from arbitrary interference) by figuring it as a practice
constrained in part by ―natural law,‖ in part by the consensual standard of public
approval. Rhetorical discourse, I argue, directly reflects and mediates the historical
negotiation of power in the Roman republic among members of the elite senatorial order
and between that order and the citizenry, a relation expressed in the well-known formula
Senatus Populusque Romanus.191
Further, though it is constructed as an elite domain, rhetoric operates as a discourse of
citizenship in a broader sense, the collection of rights and obligations that endows
individuals with a formal legal identity as free, male, and Roman. The gap that exists
between the citizen-subject that rhetoric conceives and any identifiable person in the
real world is carefully fostered by writers who seek to preserve rhetorical training in the
elite domain, and in this effort they largely succeed. It is a peculiarity of Roman
education that many teachers were slaves or freedmen, but the enslaved and otherwise
disadvantaged people were excluded from the student ranks. One of my aims, however,
is to explore the ways in which the rhetoricians‘ ideas fail to make a perfect match with
their elite agenda, thus creating an opening that more than a few readers, centuries
later, would try to exploit.
After a century or so during which rhetoric took a back seat to other areas of Western
culture, classicists and scholars of early modernity have taken up its study with renewed
energy. Studies of Latin drama, elegy, and epic have shown how rhetorical strategies
originally designed for public persuasion seeped into literary texts, and vice versa.
Rhetoric‘s role in transmitting and inculcating masculinist and imperialist values, from
the infant‘s first controlled vocalizations to the adolescent‘s advanced exercises in
declamation, makes it a major resource for scholars seeking insight into the history of
notions of class, gender, and national identity. Cicero, always intensively studied for the
light his work sheds on the chaotic political developments of the 60s through the 40s
B.C.E. and on Hellenistic philosophy, has recently found more readers for his rhetorical
and political theory. He is being reread by scholars interested in the transmission of
Literally, the Senate and the Roman People. The phrase was used to refer to the government of the ancient
Roman Republic.
traditional ideology; his ―invention‖ of Roman high culture in his dialogues, especially
Brutus, a history of rhetoric, has played an important role in studies of intellectual life in
Rome; and his abiding interest in self-promotion through self-presentation, once the
object of withering accusations of self-importance, has enriched studies of Roman selffashioning.
While the story I want to tell about the political polyvalence 192 of rhetoric draws gratefully
on these developments, it is directly inspired by two different intellectual encounters with
Roman antiquity, one in early modernity and the other currently under way. When the
humanists of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries gradually uncovered and circulated
the full range of Cicero‘s and Quintilian‘s193 writings on rhetoric, their elation stemmed
not only from the philological194 and exemplary value of the works but also from their
obvious importance to developments in political thought that contemporary social and
political changes rendered urgent and necessary – the emerging understanding of
human social life ―as a universality of participation rather than a universal for
contemplation.‖ Classically educated men in early modernity viewed ancient rhetoric as
a way to reframe questions of citizenship and the aims of the political community in
terms of dialogue and persuasion rather than scripture or edict, and as a source of
practical techniques for life in a world where the paradigm and the vocabulary of
governance were undergoing radical change. From the medieval practice of teaching
secretarial skills (concentrating on the production of official documents), new genres
emerged, the most important being panegyric195 histories of city-states and political
advice manuals, that were heavily indebted to Cicero and Quintilian. Scholars seeking
to examine virtue outside the field of Catholic theology treated the rhetorical writings of
Aristotle and Cicero as practical manuals for the application of their moral philosophy. In
the 1260s, Brunetto Latini196 mixed Greek and Latin historical, philosophical, and
rhetorical traditions in his claim that of the three types of government, the popular is the
best, and ―the chief science in relation to the government of cities is that of rhetoric, that
is, of the science of speech.‖ Two centuries later, working within the classical tradition of
panegyric rhetoric, the Florentine Leonardo Bruni197 found linguistic and ideological
resources with which to bolster civic identity and to call citizens to take part fully in the
life of the city: this is the driving force behind his Laudatio Florentinae Urbis, modeled on
Aelius Aristides‘198 Panathenaic oration in the early years of the fifteenth century, and
his 1428 speech in praise of Nanni Strozzi.
Having many values or meanings.
Marcus Fabius Quintilianus (35–100 B.C.E.) was a Roman rhetorician from Hispania, widely referred to in
medieval schools of rhetoric and in Renaissance writing.
The study of language.
A formal speech or presentation of praise.
A thirteenth century Italian philosopher, scholar and statesman.
A leading humanist, historian and a chancellor of late fourteenth and early fifteenth century Florence.
A popular Greek orator who lived during the second century C.E. Roman Empire.
The old argument over the aims and sources of work like Latini‘s and Bruni‘s – whether
it should be given the political label of ―civic humanism‖ or the ideologically nonaligned
tag ―rhetorical humanism‖ – does not diminish the fact that the two men and their
contemporaries cast their revival of the classical rhetorical tradition as the reincarnation
of a certain kind of political knowledge. These intellectual developments, against the
turbulent background of papal, noble, and kingly conflicts, provided the foundation for
modern political thought. The self-contained, civil Roman of eloquence and reason
praised by Castiglione199, Puttenham200, Elyot201, Peacham202, and Vives203 is the direct
ancestor of the rational moral agent of Locke204 and Hobbes, Rousseau205 and Kant206.
The second encounter with Rome that shapes this study began in the middle of the
twentieth century, with the paradigm shift in American history and political thought that
has been described as having a Kuhnian207 scale and dynamics. At that time,
―republicanism‖ – variously referred to as a vocabulary, a concept, a style of thought, a
conception, a set of attitudes, a disposition – vaulted into dominance as a way of
explaining the war of independence and subsequent developments in the making of the
U.S. Constitution, and American political culture more generally. Early in the twentieth
century, American intellectual historians and political theorists had been split mainly
according to their stand on the interpretation of American political culture advanced by
Charles Beard208 just before and after World War I. Beard portrayed America as a
nation-state constituted through an ongoing conflict of class interests, founded by men
intent on warding off economic revolution and protecting their own extensive interests.
In subsequent decades, liberal historians seeking to do better justice to American
cultural identity – its individualism, ambition, legalism, moderation, and high valuing of
property and capital – enshrined John Locke as the source of American revolutionary
identity and the constitutional thinking of the founders. Republicanism seemed to offer a
third way between radical and liberal approaches; it explained much about the civic
culture of the early United States, particularly its habit of citing ancient Rome as a
model, and its persistent, paradoxical blend of tolerance and exclusionism, hopeful
optimism and fundamentalist fear. The paranoiac strains of Puritan oratory, the
Famed Italian Renaissance writer and diplomat, best known for The Courtier book.
The reputed English author of The Arte of English Poesie (1589).
Sixteenth century author of Boke named the Governour, dedicated to King Henry VIII.
An English curate, best known for his treatise on rhetoric titled The Garden of Eloquence (1577).
A sixteenth century a Spanish scholar and humanist.
A seventeenth century English philosopher, famous for his empiricism and social contract theory,
An eighteenth century French Enlightenment philosopher, famous for his Discourse on the Origins of Inequality
and Social Contract.
An eighteenth century German Enlightenment philosopher, famous for his moral philosophy and his Critique of
Pure Reason.
Thomas Kuhn was a philosopher and historian of science, famous for the idea that science progressed not
through gradual, incremental change, but through massive ‗paradigm‘ shifts that changed the way in which the
subject is viewed.
Charles Austin Beard is widely regarded as one of the two most influential American historians of the early 20th
century. While Beard published hundreds of monographs, textbooks and interpretive studies in both history and
political science, he is most widely known for his radical re-evaluation of the Founding Fathers of the United States,
whom he believed were more motivated by economics than by philosophical principles.
identification of white manly virtue with citizenship, institutionalizing prejudices against
women and people of color, and the stubborn national penchant for ―country‖ culture in
an increasingly urbanized and cosmopolitan society – these are examples of
phenomena that historians sought to explain by seeking the roots of the American
experiment in the republican theorists of an earlier modernity, from Machiavelli209 to
James Madison210.
The intensity of this debate in American historical studies has faded, but not before
exerting an enduring influence on political theory. Two issues of importance in the move
to recuperate the republican tradition are most relevant to this book: the intrinsic value
of political deliberation and civic virtue. Political theorists exploring a middle way
between liberalism and republicanism tend to be concerned with social fragmentation,
widespread apathy among citizens, and the general impoverishment of political
discourse, and they find an exemplary model of citizen activism in the classical
republican tradition‘s definition of active citizenship as the best pursuit in life. One
prominent advocate of democratic participation, Cass Sunstein, has blended the
language of classical republicanism with deliberative democracy theory in his argument
that the revolution in communication technologies makes possible new ―town halls,‖
flexible, virtual modes of political participation that bind citizens more tightly together in
the shared enterprise of democratic government. For deliberative democrats, civic
knowledge and communication among citizens has emerged as an important area of
study in its own right. The greatest potential of the classical rhetorical tradition lies in the
resources it offers citizens: strategies of ‗framing‘ issues and arguments appropriate to
various perspectives and experiences, moving citizens to action, and understanding
how communicative standards reinforce social inequalities.
The second issue of relevance in contemporary republican theory is its promotion of the
civic virtues of liberty, autonomy, tolerance, justice, and patriotism. If all but the last of
these call to mind liberal values, republican theorists argue, they are not identical. Philip
Pettit, a path-breaking voice in the field, has defined republican freedom not as the
absence of interference (the classical liberal definition) but as non-domination. What is
lacking in the liberal, rights-based definition of freedom, in his view, is that it overlooks
conditions of oppression, like those experienced by the underpaid factory worker or a
partner in a marriage with an unequal distribution of power (even if the employer or
spouse happens to be benign). Republicanism, by Pettit‘s lights, because it pays close
attention to the interactions between human beings, places a high moral and legal
standard on the bearer of power. In practice, this means reorganizing government
around practices of accountability and inclusive contestation, with a heavy emphasis on
popular deliberation. Patriotism – the answer to the puzzle of what binds citizens
An Italian diplomat, political philosopher, musician, poet, and playwright, known for his treatises on realist political
theory (The Prince) and republicanism (Discourses on Livy).
The fourth President of the United States (1809–1817), and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States.
Considered to be the "Father of the Constitution", he was the principal author of the document. In 1788, he wrote over
a third of the Federalist Papers, still the most influential commentary on the Constitution. As a leader in the first
Congresses, he drafted many basic laws and was responsible for the first ten amendments to the Constitution, and
thus is also known as the "Father of the Bill of Rights".
together in the political collective, what gives them the sense of actually belonging to a
polity – is a special case. No contemporary republican theorist would suggest that
chauvinistic nationalist patriotism of the kind perpetuated largely by the forces of
populism in modern nation states is desirable. One solution is to promote instead love of
the political values on which the state is founded, especially political liberty, tolerance,
personal commitment, and public accountability.
My belief that these virtues may be understood as resting on communicative practices,
and that speech must be a central concern of citizenship theory, informs my approach
to Roman rhetoric. Following Isocrates, both Cicero and Quintilian define rhetoric as a
normative system designed to produce the virtuous man through the practice of
eloquence. The best sort of virtue, in their view, is that which is devoted, however
indirectly, to regulating the res publica, especially in the microcosm of the law court, the
guardian of justice and equality before the law. Virtue is fully incarnated not in the
individual‘s mastery of selfhood in isolation but in interactive communicative
performances in the civic context.
Rhetoric emerges in Cicero as a practice of virtue located firmly in the political
community – a significant issue that should encourage us to think carefully about to
what degree the self in Cicero‘s work corresponds to modern liberal conceptions of what
it means to be a self. Moreover, ancient rhetoricians well understood the challenge
implicit in Hobbes‘s observation (quoted above), that mastery of language is no
automatic proof of virtue. Their insistence on the pursuit of oratorical perfection – an
always unfinished and indeed unfinalizable task – simulates the always imperfect
practices of citizenship and discloses the inconsistencies, gaps, and fissures in the
political system the rhetorical treatise itself is designed to uphold.
In Quintilian‘s Institutio Oratoria, written late in the first century C.E., this sense of
imperfection is tied to the new political conditions created by autocracy. This is
emphatically not to say that oratory fell silent under the Caesars211; the younger Pliny212,
Plutarch,213 Apuleius214, Philostratus215, and others testify that Tacitus216‘ report of
oratory‘s demise is greatly exaggerated. Rather, by the end of the first century C.E., the
network of dispositions and expectations underpinning republican oratorical practice,
which yoked public contests in the law court to electoral victory and status in the public
eye, and in which the rhetoric of liberty and popular will played out the dramatic
antagonism between senate and people that was the core trope of republican politics,
had begun to assume a new shape. If it retained a certain consistency with tradition –
The first Roman emperors, Julius Ceasar and Caesar Augustus.
A lawyer, a remarkable writer, an author and a natural philosopher of first century C.E. Ancient Rome.
A first century C.E. Greek historian, biographer, essayist, and Middle Platonist; author of Plutarch‘s Lives.
A romanized Berber who is remembered most for his bawdy picaresque Latin novel the Metamorphoses,
otherwise known as The Golden Ass.
A second century C.E. Greek author who wrote Life of Apollonius and Lives of the Sophists.
A first century C.E. Roman senator and historian of the Roman Empire.
and it is well-known that the empire‘s legitimacy lay substantially in its appropriation and
re-enactment of republican values and practices – these patterns were fundamentally
different in that they identified the emperor as the figure of intercession between
speaker and populus, and they derived the virtue and legitimacy of the res publica not in
the performances of many citizens over time but in the body of the ruler, a new, singular
body politic. Caesar is reported as having infuriated his contemporaries with his
observation that ―the republic was nothing, just a name with neither body nor form,‖ but
by the younger Seneca‘s217 lifetime the philosophical objections to engaging in political
life were helping to make sense of the new political ethic: ―What do you want, Cato? 218
Liberty is off the table: it decayed a long time ago. The question is whether Caesar or
Pompey219 will rule the republic.‖
As Livy observed in a phrase often repeated by early modern political theorists,
republican Rome was a self-governing community in which ―the power of the laws (is)
greater than that of men‖ (imperia legum potentiora quam hominum). But politics exists
in a space that is framed, not filled, by law. And for all the efforts to invent a civil science
over the past four centuries, politics is not necessarily rational. On the contrary, to
paraphrase Cicero, the nature of the republic defies reason (vincit ipsa rerum
publicarum natura saepe rationem). The space of politics is filled by dispute,
contingency, inconsistency, unreason, and passion: here the arts of persuasion rule.
Rhetoric is thus the key to untangling the legal and extralegal tensions shot through life
in the community, where the networks of identity that make up the civic self intersect
and blur together: the traits ―proper‖ to masculinity and femininity, nature and culture,
body and mind, obedience and autonomy, self-restraint and the rule of law, sincerity
and hypocrisy, the competing interests of individual and community. Rhetoric might be
said to make precise distinction between these terms impossible, resolving them as it
does through invocations of the corporeal and the . Rhetorical texts represent the
speaking body as the virtuous self, the highest fulfillment of human nature, an entity in
which inheres the essence of ―I‖ that we are now accustomed to imagine as our
―private‖ internal self, as well as the expressive index of character that presents our
selves to the world.
But this repository of virtue remains a living body, an entity always under construction
over time, the aestheticized, fetishized object of the gazes of other embodied selves – a
condition whose anxieties will claim my attention throughout the book. The rhetoricians‘
focus on identity formation through speech means that their imaginings of selfhood
always start from performative constraints, what we might call structures of discipline,
coercion, unfreedom, the Law. But like all performances, spoken language and its
effects are impossible fully to master, both in theory and in practice. The inevitable
A first century Roman Stoic philosopher, statesman, dramatist, and in one work humorist, of the Silver Age of Latin
A politician and statesman in the late Roman Republic, remembered for his lengthy conflict with Julius Caesar and
his moral integrity.
A distinguished military and political leader of the late Roman Republic, who was first allied with and then a rival of
Julius Caesar.
failure of self-mastery and the hopeless, compelling fantasy of mastery that always
supplements it in rhetorical discourse forms the context in which each chapter
scrutinizes the various ethical and epistemological conflicts that arise from the Roman
coupling of virtue and performance.
Republican political ideology is both a product and a cause of the sense of failure
immanent in Roman rhetorical discourse. For those familiar with Roman history, the
most immediate failure that will come to mind in the context of the late republic is the
meltdown of law and order witnessed by the first century B.C.E.: the devastating Social
War between Rome and its Italian allies from 91 to 89, the struggle between Marius and
Sulla, then Cinna and Sulla, that peaked with massacres in Rome in 87 and 82,
Lepidus‘s brief revolution in 78–77, the slave revolt of Spartacus in 73, the Catilinarian
conspiracy during Cicero‘s consulship in 63, growing unrest and gang violence in Rome
through the 50s, and two brutal rounds of civil war: in Tacitus‘s words, ―the power of
Pompey and Crassus swiftly yielded to Caesar, the armies of Lepidus and Antony to
Augustus‖ (et Pompei Crassique potentia cito in Caesarem, Lepidi atque Antonii arma in
Augustum cessere).
A key insight into Roman rhetoric and the political ethos is this concern: the looming
awareness that the living web of communal virtue is always, somewhere, being torn
apart by human vice and mortality; that the basis for legitimacy is slowly eroding; that
the citizen and the state must die together. Rhetorical discourse enshrines the
impossible: most obviously, in its quest for the best orator, who for Cicero (and even
more so for Quintilian) remains eternally absent, inhabiting only the realms of the
hopeful imagination or death, as in Cicero‘s Brutus, a history of Roman rhetoric written
after the death of the great orator Hortensius220, which deals only with dead men. If the
impossible quest for moral perfection that characterizes rhetoric and republican political
thought alike is symptomatic of a weakness at the center of the republic, that quest also
keeps rhetoric sufficiently flexible for the distinctive demands of republican politics.
Eloquence, Cicero declares, is one of the greatest virtues (eloquentia est una quaedam
de summis virtutibus). By identifying eloquence as the key connection between civic
virtue and individual virtue, Cicero locks the future of the republic to the virtue of its
speaking citizens: speech simultaneously stabilizes the republic and spurs the dynamic
interactions of intra-elite competition and popular resistance.
By reading rhetoric in light of what Roman rhetoricians conceived as its natural arena,
the vita activa of politics, we can glimpse the logics structuring Roman political thought,
and to a certain degree its relevance for modernity... Today as in ancient Rome, talk is
the interface between our public and private faces; the modification of bodily behaviors
and attitudes remains a viable type of social resistance. Ancient rhetoric can help build
a model of ethics that draws on postmodern and poststructuralist insights into
performance and subjectivity, and sharpens our understanding of the extent to which,
historically, public speech has been conceived fundamentally as the proper tool of men
A first century B.C.E. Roman orator and advocate.
and of elites. Commitment to speech and shared debate – and to the right and ability for
all to engage in debate – is one nexus of values that cuts across the personal and the
civic, and it is central to many contemporary liberal projects, such as Habermas‘ effort to
reinvent national patriotism as constitutional patriotism.
A central methodological concern in the study of classical Roman rhetoric, and one that
holds profound implications for my historical analysis, is whether we should approach it
as a tool for those who seek power through emotional manipulation and misinformation
– what we might call the Weberian221 charismatic model of rhetorical performance – or
as a system of communicative practices intrinsically capable of escaping or
transcending elite claims of exclusive ownership. In addressing this issue, I hope to
enrich the current debate among Roman historians over what label to apply to the res
publica before the Caesars: oligarchy, democracy, or some variety of mixed regime.
Two additional questions are relevant. The first belongs to contemporary cultural
studies, especially the sociology of literature, and asks to what degree we may
accurately say that ruling elites master language, from educational practices to
literature, theater, and political communication in its conventional modes. Formalized
language – song and drama no less than oratory – is deeply implicated in the
maintenance of aristocratic hegemony, in Rome and perhaps in every human society.
Yet an excessively rigid view of language as the tool and property of the powerful
curtails exploration of the mechanisms of change and encourages a deformed, overly
static view of republican thought and practice. Here I am guided in part by work done in
the context of Athenian democracy, especially Josiah Ober‘s exploration of oratory as
the primary mechanism for airing tensions between mass and elite, as well as by
scholarship on tragedy and comedy that has clarified the role of speech in constituting
the polity and citizens‘ collective sense of belonging. By these lights, speech is never
simply an expression of dominance but an essentially dynamic interchange, a dialogue
that may not name itself as such but that retains its characteristics nonetheless.
The second question, related mainly to political theory, seeks to understand the
privileged place of reason in political communication. Since Plato, theorists have
appropriated rhetoric‘s structured modes of argumentation while seeking rational modes
of political discourse that are cleansed of what they take to be the stains of oratorical
performance, from passion to the ―cosmetics‖ of style.
Romans are quick to remind themselves that Greeks, not Romans, invented rhetoric
and imported it into the city and the culture of Rome. Despite such protests, the
combination of fear and fascination that colors Cicero‘s views of rhetoric has less to do
with his suspicion of rhetoric as a Greek invention per se than with his insight into the
conflicted nature of Roman civic identity, and the role of speech-making within it. In de
Oratore, Cicero suggests that Greek philosophers and rhetoricians speak an unnatural,
One of the central themes of the classic sociology of Max Weber was the contrast between traditional societies,
where the legitimacy of rulers was to be found in their personal charisma, and modern societies, where the legitimacy
of rulers was to be found in their position in a rational and legal system.
artificial language that bars them from the rolls of virtuous men and good citizens. He
seeks to make the difference between virtuous Roman rhetoric and other types of
speech an essential difference, one of nature rather than degree. As a result, his
strategy exploits essentialist222 notions of national and gender identity in order to
redescribe the artifices of trained eloquence as the quintessence of manly nature, which
in Cicero‘s always universalizing hands becomes assimilated to Roman citizenship and,
in turn, human nature. If Cicero aims to present his ideal orator and ideal citizen as
undifferentiated, whole, pure, and uncomplicated embodiments of Roman virtue,
however, these impressions are always undone from within. The good Roman, too,
must speak the unnatural language of artifice and spectacle. What unfolds is a portrait
of the orator as a man who embodies the central tensions of republican citizenship: a
construct of nature and culture, passion and restraint, emotion and reason, body and
mind, autonomy and interdependence, consent and coercion.
Is eloquence an acquired art or a natural talent? Or, to put the question in a more
practical vein, do eloquent men become so by means of innate character or external
training, by nature or culture? Socrates‘ opening gambit in Plato‘s Gorgias argues that
the importance of the nature versus culture debate in Cicero‘s rhetorical writings arises
from his understanding of certain related tensions in republican civic identity. In a close
reading of the interplay among Crassus223, Antonius224, and other interlocutors in
Cicero‘s de Oratore, I show how Cicero constructs ideal eloquentia as a hybrid of ars
and natura. In the dialogic conflicts of this work, Cicero‘s longest and most ambitious
rhetorical treatise, a strategy I call the rhetoric of naturalization unfolds. Its conceptual
progression is complicated and not without problematic inconsistencies, but in the end,
the logic of the argument from nature wins over even Crassus, the speaker who, in the
beginning, seemed to hold a different view. The chapter then turns to de Republica and
other works to show that the hybridization of nature and culture in Cicero‘s account of
the formation of the orator echoes his claim that nature forms the basis of the ideal
polity, which has already, if tautologically, been cast in the mold of Rome. The drive to
claim nature as both property and origin for the citizen orator grows out of a political
fantasy of Roman purity and power.
Notions that there is an essence, or fixed nature, to being a woman or a Roman, such as the idea that woman are
passive by nature.
A Roman general and politician who commanded Sulla's decisive victory at Colline gate, suppressed the slave
revolt led by Spartacus and entered into a secret pact, known as the First Triumvirate, with Pompey and Julius
Caesar. One of the richest men of the era, Crassus still hankered for recognition for military victories in the shape of a
triumph. This desire for a triumph led him into Syria, where he was killed after the disastrous Roman defeat at
Marcus Antonius, known in English as Mark Antony, was a Roman politician and general who was an important
supporter of Julius Caesar as a military commander and administrator. After Caesar's assassination, Antony formed a
political alliance with Octavian and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, known today as the Second Triumvirate. The Second
Triumvirate is the name historians give to the official political alliance of Caesar Octavianus (later Augustus), Marcus
Aemilius Lepidus, and Marcus Antonius. The triumvirate broke up in 33 B.C.E. Disagreement between Octavian and
Antony erupted into civil war, the Final War of the Roman Republic, in 31 B.C.E. Antony was defeated by Octavian at
the naval Battle of Actium, and in a brief land battle at Alexandria. He committed suicide, and his lover, Queen
Cleopatra VII of Egypt, killed herself shortly thereafter.
The key to the citadel of the self, for Cicero and centuries of republican theorists after
him, is oratory. But here an objection immediately interposes itself. Can a good orator
be a good man? Cicero insists that he can, but a long tradition, beginning with Plato‘s
Gorgias and Republic, stands against him. But where Aristotle, in his critical response to
Plato‘s approach to politics, turned back to the household to cement ―natural‖ channels
of domination that retained sharp distinctions between male and female, Cicero
chooses a more challenging course: the rewriting of masculine civic ideals in an ideal
republican sensibility that embraces many of rhetoric‘s potentially unmanly, unfree
aspects: its corporeality, its reliance on passion, and its fostering of multiple voices in
the eloquent citizen.
Decorum plays a central role in Ciceronian rhetorical and ethical discourse as the
quintessential virtue and practice, since it involves not only action, but reflection and
since it demands constant attention to communal norms as well as individual sensibility
and taste. Cicero‘s decorum is defined by an incompatible combination of the law of
nature and social custom. It offers non-arbitrary aesthetic criteria on which to judge
goodness as the visible enactment of the sociability that, in Cicero‘s Stoic view, makes
communal life both possible and rewarding. The link between decorum and affection
constitutes the emotional economy of the res publica. If the republican community is
glued together in part by emotional sensibility, decorum in oratory and poetry help direct
it, controlling the passions that in the wrong incarnation can destroy the state they make
possible. Ciceronian rhetorical training offers a stylistics of living based in natural law.
Republican political thought and republican rhetoric perpetuate and are perpetuated by
a complex, violent desire to define the natures and behaviors of the dominant against
those of the disenfranchised: male versus female, Roman versus Greek or Asiatic, free
versus slave, individual leader versus popular mass. Yet in practice, and even in theory,
these categories defy their own distinctions. The disempowered and the weak,
especially women, play a role in the formation of civic ethics. In the ancient world,
women did not possess full, autonomous political rights. Yet in more ways than ancient
political theorists are prepared to admit, the ideal citizen resembles the ideal woman,
and the bad citizen and the bad woman commit similar crimes. This explains the
shattering effect of a ―genuinely‖ perverted performance, the effeminate speech and
behavior that Cicero abhors both in formal speech and in daily conversation. But the
anxieties reflected in Cicero‘s gendered language, I argue, should be understood as a
symptom of deeper concerns about the necessary deceits of civility and the affectations
of oratorical style. Cicero‘s ideal orator is the ornate grand speaker, and there are
troubling implications to his vision of a listening community bound together by the
orator‘s passionate performance.
With Cicero‘s death comes the end of republican rhetoric, and the end of republican
political theory. His successors are interested in different problems, especially the
relation of elites to autocracy and the shifts in imperial governance that permanently
altered the economic and political structure in Rome. Early imperial rhetorical practice
begins with declamation, originally a school exercise involving arguments for fictional
cases and famous characters. In this changed world, imperial rhetoricians rework the
core of Ciceronian rhetoric, exploring rhetoric‘s capacity to prompt experiments with
language and values. Quintilian‘s twelve-book handbook on Ciceronian rhetoric, the
Institutio Oratoria, reveals the proximity of ideals of republican citizenship and imperial
courtly life – a proximity that unsettles Cicero‘s idealizing claims but helps explain the
persistence of rhetoric into late antiquity and beyond.
Why write a book about Roman rhetoric?... My answer to the question, briefly
elaborated in my conclusion, is that these writers, especially Cicero, helped shape our
world – our educational system, our mixed admiration and suspicion of eloquence, our
troubled relation to consensus and collective identity – and that the ways they wrestled
with the inconsistences and incoherences of what it means to be a citizen can still
enlighten us. Like the Renaissance readers who rediscovered these texts, we should
approach the rhetorical tradition not only as readers and scholars but as writers and
citizens, actors on a political stage both fractured and inspired by longing for full-fledged
HW # 38: The City of God of Augustine of Hippo
Read the below.
Answer the following questions.
1. Why does Augustine view the sack of Rome as a cause for heightened, rather than
diminished, respect for Christianity? Do you agree with him? Do you think that the
rise and fall of political regimes and governments can be attributed, in some way, to
divine will and divine pleasure/displeasure? Explain your reasoning.
2. Compare Augustine‘s apology for Christian rule in the Roman empire with the
Chinese idea of the ―mandate of heaven.‖ How are the two concepts different? How
are they the same?
3. Compare Kautilya's statement from the Duties of a King: "In the happiness of the
subjects lies the happiness of the king... " with Augustine's statement on the
happiness of Christian emperors. What should please Christian emperors, in
Augustine‘s view? Do you agree that the primary concern of the earthly ruler should
be spiritual in nature?
4. According to Augustine, what brings peace and order to the Earthly City? How does
this compare to the peace and order of the City of God, or the Heavenly City? Why is
a temporary peace observable between the City of God and the Earthly City?
5. Why does Augustine say that the City of God or the Heavenly City is in a state of
pilgrimage on earth
6. Much of the context of Augustine's discussion of just war in the final section is that of
wars waged at God's command in the Christian Old Testament. Why do many
modern people shy away from approving of wars because they are waged "at God's
command" or "in obedience to God"?
7. What are the four criteria that Augustine lays out for a ―just war?‖ Do you think these
are good criteria? Would you change any criteria? Add new criteria? How does
Augustine‘s theory of just war compare to the Sermon on the Mount?
From De civitate Dei [libri xxii], ed. Emmanuel Hoffman (Vienna: F. Tempsky 18991900), extracts from Books I-V and XIX, passim; and Contra Faustum [libri xxxiii],
ed.Josephus Zycha (Vienna: F. Tempsky 1891), extracts from Book XXII, Chs. 74-75.
Trans. Henry A. Myers.
In C.E. 410, the Visigothic armies of Alaric225 sacked Rome. Not only was this a major
military defeat for the Empire in the West, but the victory of Arian Goths also
undermined a basic doctrine widely held in Church circles since the time of
Constantine226: that people of the wrong religion could not prevail against orthodox
Christian rulers.
Augustine (354-430 C.E.) of Hippo in North Africa began the task of explaining the
Roman debacle in the first of what were to become twenty-two books of The City of
God. At the outset, he attempted to refute pagan claims that Rome had done better
under its old gods than under the Christian God by recalling positive experiences for the
empire under its Christian rulers and arguing that Christian morality led these emperors,
with God's aid and direction, to provide a happier life for Romans than their pagan
predecessors had achieved. At the same time, he stressed that true Christians lose
nothing of value in worldly calamities; this belief, of course, rendered the havoc of
barbarian invasions relatively unimportant.
For Augustine, the City of God, or the Heavenly City, includes God, the angels, and
mortals predestined for salvation among its citizens. Those citizens of the Heavenly City
who are making their way through earthly life pay no attention to material interests.
Consequently, if churchgoers show too much concern about loss of property and
physical suffering, they are probably citizens of the Earthly City in this life and doomed
to hell in the hereafter. Citizens of the Earthly City are identified through their interests,
which are limited to those earthly concerns that are insignificant to saved Christians.
Augustine was the first father of the church to develop the theory of the just war. His
ideas emerged in response to current events, as Christians were required to cope with
increasing threats to the security of the empire. Pieced together from numerous topical
writings he completed over the years, his theory can be presented in terms of four
characteristics that a just war must have: (1) It must be defensive in nature; (2) It must
not do more damage than it prevents; (3) Its aim must be the restoration of peace,
rather than the expansion of control; and (4) It must be waged only by constituted
These were Germanic tribes from the north of Europe, considered by the Romans to be barbarians.
The first Roman emperor to embrace Christianity, making it the state religion of the Roman empire.
The first four selections that follow are from the early books of The City of God; the
next two, from the much later Book XIX; the last selection, from the treatise Against
Faustus. Faustus was a leading Manichaean. The Manichaeans were Dualists who
considered the material world altogether evil, a doctrine which led them into a position
of total pacifism, since for them all war was waged for material aims.
It makes sense that if the true God is worshiped and served with true rites and good
morals, it will result in good men to have long reigns over great territories. This is
actually not of so much use to themselves as it is to their subjects, because as far as
they themselves are concerned their own true faith and righteousness, which are great
gifts from God, are enough to give them the true happiness that lets them live this life
well and attain eternal life afterwards. Thus the reign of good men here on earth does
not serve their own good so much as it does human concerns.
All the destruction, killing, looting, burning, and suffering which took place in the recent
sack of Rome happened in accordance with the customs of waging war. What was
altogether new and previously unheard of, however, was that the barbarian brutality [of
the Goths] was so tamed that they picked the largest of the basilicas and allowed them
to remain sanctuaries, where no one could be struck down and from which no one could
be dragged away. Many people were led there to freedom and safety by soldiers
showing sympathy for them... Anyone who does not credit this to the name of Christ –
yes, to Christian times – is blind. Anyone who sees this new turn of events but fails to
praise it is most ungrateful.
In the sack of Rome faithful and godly men. . . "lost everything they had." How about
their faith? How about their godliness? How about the goods of the inner being which
make a person rich before God? Listen to what the Apostle Paul says about the riches
of Christianity: "... Godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into
this world and certainly we can carry nothing out. If we have food and clothing, let us be
content with them. People who want to be rich fall into temptations and traps. They fall
into foolish and harmful desires which drown men in destruction and perdition."
Domestic peace is a harmonious arrangement in matters of command and obedience
among those of the same household, and the peace of a [normal] city is a similar one
among its citizens. The peace of the Heavenly City is the most perfectly and
harmoniously designed communal relationship in the enjoyment of God and in the
fellowship resulting from union with God. Peace for all beings is tranquility within order.
Order is the arrangement of equal and unequal things, with each assigned its proper
And so we see that miserable people [lacking faith and godliness]... in the very fact that
they justly deserve their misery are confined to a condition of misery by the principle of
order. This keeps them from being united with saved people. When they live without
obvious disturbances they adapt to their bondage, and so there is a bit of tranquil order
among them, and so they enjoy a peace of sorts. They still remain miserable, however,
since, in spite of not suffering constantly from a total lack of security, they are not within
that realm where there is no cause to worry about either suffering or security...
The Earthly City which does not live by faith, desires an earthly peace, seeking to bring
it about through harmony of command and obedience among citizens, even though its
scope is limited to uniting people's wills on matters pertaining to this mortal life.
The Heavenly City however, or, to be more precise, those of its members who are living
by faith during their mortal pilgrimages, must make use of this peace, although only until
they are through with their transient status on earth, which requires it. For this reason,
the Heavenly City sojourning either as a captive or a wandering stranger in the Earthly
City does not hesitate to obey earthly authority in matters required by the communal life
of mortals. With mortal life common to the people of both Cities, a certain harmony
between them may be maintained in relation to its requirements.
While the Heavenly City sojourns on earth, it recruits members from all peoples and
forms a pilgrim society of men and women speaking all different languages, which pays
no attention to the diversity of customs, laws, and institutions among them, by which
earthly peace is established and maintained.
Just what is wrong with war? Is it that some people will die in it-people who will die
sometime anyway – so that others may live in peace under authority? That is the
objection of cowards, not believers. The real evils in war are: a love of inflicting vio
lence, vengeful cruelty, raging and implacable hatred, ferocity in rebelling, lust for
power, and similar things. It is normally to punish under law these very things that, at
the command of God or some legitimate authority good men resort to war against
violent offenders... Much depends on the reasons for which and the authority by which
men commit themselves to waging war. The natural order among mortal men requires
the promotion of peace. It justifies the exercise of military force through the authority
and direction of the ruler when he decides it is necessary for soldiers to carry out their
duties on behalf of the peace and safety of the community. When men wage war in
obedience to God, it is not appropriate to doubt that it is waged justly either to deter, or
humble, or subdue the pride of men.
HW # 39: The Emergence of Islam
Read the below.
Answer the following questions.
1. What are the key duties – the five pillars of Islam – that a Muslim must perform to
receive the blessing of Allah? How difficult are they? Are they communal or
personal? How do they compare to the duties of a Christian or a Jew?
2. What are the blessings of Allah? What do they tell us of the concerns of the Arab
world at the time? What punishments are reserved for those who do not seek the
blessings of Allah?
3. What similarities and differences does Islam show as a salvation religion compared
with Hinduism, Judaism, and Christianity? What characteristics of Islam seem to
reflect its late entry into the field, and what characteristics seem to reflect the
particular historical circumstances that surrounded the emergence of Islam? In
particular, what do Judaism, Islam and Christianity share in common?
4. One of the greatest sins in Islam is worship of idols. How could this have influenced
Muslim art in the direction of "nonrepresentational" art, such as that of the Arab
calligraphy? What differences in the use of art in religion are implied by a
nonrepresentational artistic tradition?
5. Considering both the text of the Qur‘an and the calligraphy which is used to write it,
what strikes you as the central message of Islam? That is, what is the main avenue
to hope in Islam? What is the appeal of that message?
6. What is the source of the division between Sunnis and Shi‘ites? How did their origins
influence each major sect of Islam?
7. What are the similarities in the lives of Moses, Jesus and Mohammed? What are the
The Arabs who lived beyond the frontiers of the Sasanid227 Empire seldom interested
the Sasanid rulers. But it was precisely in the interior of Arabia, far from the gaze and
political reach of the Sasanid and Byzantine Empires228, that the religion of Islam took
form and inspired a movement that would humble the proud emperors.
The Arabian Peninsula Before Muhammad
Throughout history more people living on the Arabian peninsula have lived in settled
communities than as pastoral nomads. The highlands of Yemen, fertile and abundantly
watered by the spring monsoon, and the interior mountains farther east in southern
Arabia have supported farming and village life. Small inlets along the southern coast
favored occasional fishing or trading communities. However, the enormous sea of sand
known as the "Empty Quarter" isolated these southern regions from the Arabian interior.
In the seventh century, most people in southern Arabia knew more about Africa, India,
and the Persian Gulf than about the forbidding interior and the scattered camel- and
sheep-herding nomads who lived there.
The second Persian Empire, lasting from 226–651C.E.
The eastern half, Greek speaking of the Roman empire during the European Middle Ages. Although there is no
consensus on the date of origins, some historian trace it to 324 C.E. when the Emperor Constantine moved the
capital of the Roman Empire from Rome to Byzantium, refounded as Constantinople.
Exceptions to this pattern mostly involved caravan trading. Several kingdoms rose and
fell in Yemen229, leaving stone ruins and stone-cut inscriptions to testify to their bygone
prosperity, horn these commercial entrepôts came the aromatic resins frankincense and
myrrh. Nomads derived income from providing camels, guides, and safe passage to
merchants wanting to transport incense northward, where the fragrant substances had
long been burned in religious rituals. Return caravans brought manufactured products
from Mesopotarnia and the Mediterranean.
Just as the Silk Road enabled small towns in Central Asia to become major trading
centers, so the trans-Arabian trade gave rise to desert caravan cities. The earliest and
most prosperous, Petra in southern Jordan and Palmyra in northern Syria, were
swallowed up by Rome. This, coupled with an early Christian distaste for incense, which
seemed too much a feature of pagan worship, contributed to a slackening of trade in
Sasanid times. Nevertheless, trade across the desert did not lapse altogether. Camels,
leather, and gold and other minerals mined in the mountains of western Arabia took the
place of frankincense and myrrh as exports. This reduced trade kept alive the relations
between the Arabs and the settled farming regions to the north, and it familiarized the
Arabs who accompanied the caravans with the cultures and lifestyles of the Sasanid
and Byzantine Empires.
ln the desert, Semitic polytheism, with its worship of natural forces and celestial bodies,
began to encounter other religions. Christianity, as practiced by Arabs in Jordan and
southern Mesopotamia, and Judaism, possibly carried by refugees from the Roman
expulsion of the Jews from their homeland in the first century CE., made inroads on
Mecca, a late-blooming caravan city, lies in a barren mountain valley halfway between
Yemen and Syria and a short way inland from the Red Sea coast of Arabia. A nomadic
kin group known as the Quraysh settled in Mecca in the fifth century and assumed
control of trade. Mecca rapidly achieved a measure of prosperity, partly because it was
too far from Byzantine Syria, Sasanid Iraq, and Ethiopian-controlled Yemen for them to
attack it.
A cubical shrine called the Ka'ba, containing idols, a holy well called Zamzam, and a
sacred precinct surrounding the two wherein killing was prohibited contributed to the
emergence of Mecca as a pilgrimage site. Some Meccans associated the shrine with
stories known to Jews and Christians. They regarded Abraham (Ibrahim in Arabic) as
the builder of the Ka'ba, and they identified a site outside Mecca as the location where
God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son. The son was not Isaac (Ishaq in Arabic), the
son of Sarah, but Ishmael (Isma'il in Arabic), the son of Hagar, cited in the Bible as the
forefather of the Arabs.
On the southern coast of the Arabian peninsula.
Muhammad in Mecca
Born in Mecca in 570, Muhammad grew up an orphan in the house of his uncle. He
engaged in trade and married a Quraysh widow named Khadija, whose caravan
interests he superintended. Their son died in childhood, hut several daughters survived.
Around 610 C.E. Muhammad began meditating at night in the mountainous terrain
around Mecca. During one night vigil, known to later tradition as the "Night of Power and
Excellence" a being whom Muhammad later understood to be the angel Gabriel (Jibra'il
in Arabic) spoke to him:
Proclaim! In the name of your Lord who created.
Created man from a clot of congealed blood.
Proclaim! And your Lord is the Most Bountiful.
He who has taught by the pen.
Taught man that which he knew not.230
For three years he shared this and subsequent revelations only with close friends and
family members. This period culminated in Muhammad's conviction that he was hearing
the words of God (Allah in Arabic). Khadija, his uncle's son Ali, his friend Abu Bakr, and
others close to him shared this conviction. The revelations continued until Muhammad's
death in 632 C.E.
Like most people of the time, including Christians and Jews, the Arabs believed in
unseen spirits: gods, desert spirits called jinns231, demonic shaitans232, and others.
They further believed that certain individuals had contact with the spirit world, notably
seers and poets, who were thought to be possessed by jinns. Therefore, when
Muhammad began to recite his rhymed revelations in public, many people believed he
was inspired by an unseen spirit even if it was not, as Muhammad asserted, the one
true god.
Muhammad's earliest revelations called on people to witness that one god had created
the universe and everything in it, including themselves. At the end of time, their souls
would be judged, their sins balanced against their good deeds. The blameless will go to
the sinful would taste hellfire:
By the night as it conceals the light:
By the day as it appears in glory;
Qur‘an, Sura 96, Verses 1-5.
Genie is the English term for the Arabic jinnie. The word ―jinn‖ literally means anything which has the connotation
of concealment, invisibility, seclusion, and remoteness. In pre-Islamic Asian-Mid Eastern folklore and in Islamic
Culture, a jinni (also ―djinni‖ or ―djini‖) is a member of the jinn (or ―djinn‖), generally thought to be a race of
supernatural creatures.
In Islam, Shaytan is an entity analogous to Satan in Christianity.
By the mystery of the creation of male and female:
Verily, the ends ye strive for are diverse.
So he who gives in charity and fears God,
And in all sincerity testifies to the best,
We will indeed make smooth for him the path to Bliss.
But he who is a greedy miser and thinks himself self-sufficient,
And gives the lie to the best,
We will indeed make smooth for him the path to misery233
The revelation called all people to submit to God and accept Muhammad as the last of
his messengers. Doing so made one a muslim, meaning one who makes "submission,"
Islam, to the will of God.
Because earlier messengers mentioned in the revelations included Noah, Moses, and
Jesus, Muhammad's hearers felt that his message resembled the Judaism and
Christianity they were already somewhat familiar with. Yet his revelations charged the
Jews and Christians with being negligent in preserving God's revealed word. Thus, even
though they identified Abraham/Ibrahim, whom Muslims consider the first Muslim, as the
builder of the Ka'ba, which superseded Jerusalem as the focus of Muslim prayer in 624
C.E., Muhammad's followers considered his revelation more perfect than the Bible
because it had not gone through an editing process.
Some non-Muslim scholars maintain that Muhammad's revelations appealed especially
to people distressed over wealth replacing kinship as the most important aspect of
social relations. They see verses criticizing taking pride in money and neglecting
obligations to orphans and other powerless people as conveying a message of social
reform. Other scholars, along with most Muslims, put less emphasis on a social
message and stress the power and beauty of Muhammad's revelations. Forceful
rhetoric and poetic vision, coming in the Muslim view directly from God, go far to explain
Muhammad's early success.
Mecca's leaders feared that accepting Muhammad as the sole agent of the one true
would threaten their power and prosperity. They pressured his kin to disavow him and
persecuted the weakest of his followers. Stymied by this hostility, Muhammad and his
followers fled Mecca in 622 C.E. to take up residence in the agricultural community of
Medina 215 miles to the north. This hijra234 marks the beginning of the Muslim calendar.
Prior to the hijra, Medinan representatives had met with Muhammad and agreed to
accept and protect him and his followers because they saw him as an inspired leader
Qur‘an, Sura 92, Verses 1-10.
An Arabic word meaning migration.
who could calm their perpetual feuding. Together, the Meccan migrants and major
groups in Medina bound themselves into a single umma, a community defined solely by
acceptance of Islam and of Muhammad as the "Messenger of God," his most common
title. Three Jewish kin groups chose to retain their own faith, thus contributing to the
Muslims' changing the direction of their prayer toward the Ka'ba, now thought of as the
"House of God."
During the last decade of his life, Muhammad took active responsibility for his umma.
Having left their Meccan kin groups, the immigrants in Medina felt vulnerable. Fresh
revelations provided a framework for reg ulating social and legal affairs and stirred the
Muslims to fight against the still-unbelieving city of Mecca. Sporadic war, largely
conducted by raiding and negotiation with desert nomads, sapped Mecca's strength and
convinced many Meccans that God favored Muhammad. In 630 C.E. Mecca
surrendered. Muhammad and his followers made the pilgrimage to the Ka'ba
Muhammad did not return to Mecca again. Medina had grown into a bustling city-state.
He had charged the Jewish kin groups with disloyalty at various points during the war
and had expelled or eliminated them. Delegations from all over Arabia came to meet
Muhammad, and he sent emissaries back with them to teach about Is lam and collect
their alms. Muhammad's mission to bring God's message to humanity had brought him
un challenged control of a state that was coming to dominate the Arabian peninsula. But
the supremacy of the Medinan state, unlike preceding short-lived nomadic kingdoms,
depended not on kinship but on a common faith in a single god.
In 632 C.E., after a brief illness, Muhammad died. Within twenty-four hours a group of
Medinan leaders, along with three of Muhammad's close friends, determined that Abu
Bakr, one of the earliest believers and the father of Muhammad's favorite wife A‘isha,
should succeed him. They called him the khalifa, or "successor," the English version of
which is caliph. But calling Abu Bakr a successor did not clarify his powers. Everyone
knew that neither Abu Bakr nor anyone else could receive revelations, and they likewise
knew that Muhammad's revelations made no provision for succession or for any
government purpose beyond maintaining the umma. Indeed, some people thought the
world would soon end because God's last messenger was dead.
Abu Bakr continued and confirmed Muhammad's re ligious practices, notably the socalled Five Pillars of Islam: (1) avowal that there is only one god and Muhammad is his
messenger, (2) prayer five times a day, (3) fasting during the lunar month of Ramadan,
(4) paying alms, and (5) making the pilgrimage to Mecca at least Once during one's
lifetime. He also reestablished and expanded Mus lim authority over Arabia's nomadic
and settled commu nities. After Muhammad's death, some had abandoned their
allegiance to Medina or followed various would-be prophets. Muslim armies fought hard
to confirm the au thority of the newborn caliphate. In the process, some fighting spilled
over into non-Arab areas in Iraq.
Abu Bakr ordered those who had acted as secretaries for Muhammad to organize the
Prophet's revelations into a book. Hitherto written haphazardly on pieces of leather or
bone, the verses of revelation became a single document gathered into chapters. This
resulting book, which Muslims believe acquired its final form around the year 650 C.E.,
was called the Qur‘an, or the Recitation. Muslims regard it not as the words of
Muhammad but as the unalterable word of God. As such, it compares not so much to
the Bible, a book written by many hands over many centuries, as to the person of Jesus
Christ, whom Christians consider a human manifestation of God,
Though united in its acceptance of God's will, the umma soon disagreed over the
succession to the caliphate. The first civil war in Islam followed the assassination of the
third caliph, Uthman, in 656. To succeed him, his assassins, rebels from the army,
nominated Ali, Muhammad's first cousin and the husband of his daughter Fatima. Ali
had been passed over three times previously, even though many people considered
him to be the Prophet's natural heir. Ali and his supporters felt that Muhammad had indi
cated as much at a place named Ghadir al-Khumm when in the course of a dispute over
distributing booty he took Ali's hand and declared: "Am I not nearer to the believers than
their own selves? Whomever I am nearest to, so like wise is Ali. O God, be the friend of
him who is his friend, and the foe of him who is his foe."
When Ali accepted the nomination to be caliph, two of Muhammad's close companions
and his favorite wife A'isha challenged him. Ali defeated them in the Battle of the Camel
(656 C.E.), so called because the fighting raged around the camel on which A‘isha was
seated in an enclosed woman's saddle.
After the battle, the governor of Syria, Mu'awiya, a kinsman of the slain Uthman from the
Umayya clan of the Quraysh, renewed the challenge. Inconclusive battle gave way to
arbitration. The arbitrators decided that Uthman, whom his assassins considered
corrupt, had not deserved death and that Ali had erred in accepting the nomination. Ali
rejected the arbitrators' findings, but before he could resume fighting, one of his own
support ers killed him for agreeing to the arbitration. Mu'awiya then offered Ali's son
Husayn a dignified retirement and thus emerged as caliph in 661 C.E..
Mu'awiya chose his own son, Yazid, to succeed him, thereby instituting the Umayyad
Caliphate. When Hasan's brother Husayn revolted in 680 C.E. to reestablish the right of
Ali 's family to rule, Yazid ordered Husayn and his family killed. Sympathy for Husayn's
martyrdom has since characterized the religious sect called Shi'ism, whose followers
are called Shi'ites.
Several variations in Shi‘ite belief developed, but Shi'ites have always agreed that Ali
was the rightful successor to Muhammad and that God's choice as Imam, leader of the
Muslim community, has always been one or another of Ali's descendants. They see the
office of caliph as more secular than religious. Because the Shi'ites seldom held power,
their religious feelings came to focus on outpourings of sympathy for Husayn and other
martyrs and on messianic dreams that one of their Imams would someday triumph.
Those Muslims who supported the first three caliphs gradually came to he called
"People of Tradition and Community-in Arabic, Ahl al-Sunna wa'l-Jama'a, Sunnis for
short. Sunnis consider the caliphs to be imams. As for Ali's followers who had abhorred
his acceptance of arbitration, they evolved into small and rebellious Kharijite sects (from
kharaja meaning "to secede or rebel") claiming righteousness for themselves alone.
These three divisions of Islam, the last now quite minor, still survive. Today the umma
numbers more than a billion people.
The Qur'an is the Holy Scripture and basis of the Islamic religion. The work is made up
of 114 chapters (or suras) arranged according to their length, running from the longest
to the shortest. The Qur'an is believed to he the word of God, transmitted by the
Archangel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad. The Prophet, in turn, preached these
messages, first in Mecca, then in Medina, to his small group of converts (Muslims). Only
after Muhammad's death were the messages gathered together and given their final
arrangement by the third caliph235, Othman.
The basic beliefs of Islam are drawn from contacts with both Jews and Christians and
then adapted for the Arab peoples. Essential to the religion is the need for each person
to submit to the one and only god, Allah. According to this religion, Allah knows and
sees everything. He has determined each person's fate; however, lest one fall into
fatalism, each person must account for his or her actions on the Day of Last Judgment.
Drawing upon the scriptures of the "Peoples of the Book" (Jews and Christians),
Muhammad preached that Allah had described to his twenty-eight prophets – including
Adam, Noah, Moses, John the Baptist, and Jesus-the method in which He was to be
worshiped. However, Muhammad thought that the Jews and Christians had deliberately
distorted the original messages. Muhammad claimed that the Qur'an was the most
perfect guide for worshiping Allah, and that he was the final prophet or "Seal."
In the following Qur'anic selections, note the descriptions of Muhammad's call to God's
Word, the Last Judgment, the Islamic view of the "Peoples of the Book," and the duties
that each Muslim must follow. Today the Qur'an governs approximately 800 million
The Blood Clot
Caliph means "Successor of the Apostle of God (Muhammad)." A caliph was the head of state, a judge, leader in
worship, and commander of the army.
96:1 Recite in the name of your Lord who created,
Created man from clots of blood!
Recite! Your Lord is the Most Bountiful One,
Who taught the use of the pen;
Taught man what he did not know.
Nay, surely, Man is insolent,
Because he sees himself possessed of riches.
Truly, to your Lord is the return of all.
5:97 God has appointed the Kaaba, the sacred house, to be a maintenance for
mankind, and the sacred month, and the offering, and its ornament. Thus, you
may know that God loves all that is in the heavens and on the earth, and that God
has knowledge of everything. Know that God is severe in punishing, and that God
is For giving, Merciful.
The Great Event
56:1 When the day that must come shall have come suddenly,
None shall treat that sudden coming as a lie:
Day that shall abase? Day that shall exalt!
When the earth shall be shaken with a shock,
And the mountains shall be crumbed with a crumbling,
And shall become scattered dust,
And into three bands shall you be divided:
Then the people of the right hand – Oh! How happy shall be the people
of the right hand!
And the people of the left hand – Oh! How wretched shall be the people
of the left hand!
And they who were foremost on earth – the foremost still.
These are they who shall be brought close to God,
In gardens of delight;
A crowd of the former
And a few of the latter generations;
On decorated couches
Reclining on them face to face:
Never changing youths go round about to them
With goblets and ewers and a cup of flowing wine;
They shall not suffer headache from it, nor shall they be exhausted:
And with fruits as shall please them best,
And with flesh of birds, as they shall desire:
And they shall have Virgins, with large dark eyes, like
Pearls hidden in their shells,
In recompense of their past labors.
No vain discourse shall they hear, nor talk of sin,
But only the cry, Peace! Peace!
And the people of the right hand-Oh! how happy shall the people
Of the right be!
But the people of the left hand-oh! how wretched shall the people
Of the left hand be!
Amid scorching winds and in scalding water,
And in the shadow of a black smoke,
Not cool, and horrid to behold.
For they truly, formerly, were blessed with worldly good,
But persisted in terrible sin,...
62:9 O you who believe! When you are called to prayer on Friday hasten to the cornmemoration of God, and quit your business. This, if you knew it, will be best for
The Family of Imram
97:40 Remember when the angel said, "O Mary! Truly God announced to you the
Word from Him? His name shall be the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, illustrious in
this world, and in the next, and one of those who have near access to God;
And He shall speak to men alike when in the cradle and when grown up:
And he shall be one of the just."
She said, "How O my Lord! Shall I have a son when man has not touched
me?" He said, "Thus: God will create what He wills; When he decrees a thing. He
only says, 'Be' and it is."
And He will teach him the Book (Torah), and the Wisdom, and the Law, and
the Gospel: and He shall he an apostle to the children of Israel. "Now have I
come," he will say "to you with a sigh from your Lord; Out of clay I will make for
you the figure of a bird: and I will breathe into it, and it shall be by God's leave, a
bird. And I will heal the blind, and the leper; and by God's leave I will raise the
dead; and I will tell you what you may eat, and what you should store up in your
houses! Trimly this will be a sign for you, if you are believers.
And I have come to uphold the law (Torah) which was before me; and to
allow you part of that which had been forbidden to you; and I have come to you
with a sign from your Lord: Fear God, then, and obey me; in truth God is my
Lord, and your Lord: Therefore worship Him. This is a right way."
And when Jesus saw unbelief on their part, He said, "Who are my helpers
with God?" The apostles said, "We will be God's helpers! We believe in God, and
bear you witness that we are Muslims.
O our Lord! We believe in what you have sent down, and we follow the
apostle; write us up, then, with those who hear witness to him.
And the Jews planned, and God planned: But of those who plan, God is the
Remember when God said, "O Jesus! I will cause you to die, and will take
you up to myself and deliver you from those who do not believe; and I will place
those who follow you above those who do riot believe, until the day of
resurrection. Then to rue you will return, and where you differ I will decide
between you.
And as to those who are not believers, I will chastise them with a terrible
punishment now and in the next life; and they shall have no one to help them."
But those who believe, and do good things, He will reward them. God does not
love the evildoers.
These signs, and this wise warning we remind you.
Truly, Jesus is as Adam was in the sight of God. He created him of dust: He
then said to him, "Be"-and he was.
O people of the Book! Why dispute about Abraham, when the Law (Torah)
and the Gospel were not sent down until after him? Do you not understand?
Abraham was neither Jew nor Christian; but he was sound in the faith, a Muslim:
and not of those who add gods to God.
A party among the people of the Book would mislead you: but they only
mislead themselves, and do not understand.
O people of the Book: Why disbelieve the signs of God when you have
been witnesses?
O people of the Book! Why do you hear false witness? Why knowingly hide
the truth?
4:34 Men are superior to women because of the qualities, which God has placed one
above the other because of the expenses they make from their property for them.
Good women are obedient, careful, during the husband's absence, because God
has guarded them. But punish those whom you fear might desert; remove them to
other beds and scourge them; But if they are obedient to you, then do not seek a
way against them; surely God is High, Great!
The Light
24:31 And say to believing women that they cast down their eyes, and that they do not
show their ornaments, except those which are external; and that they throw their
veils over their bosoms, and do not display their ornaments, except to their
husbands or their fathers, or their brothers, or their brothers' sons, or their sisters'
sons, or their women, or their slaves, or male domestics who have no natural
force, or to children who do not know women's nakedness. And do let them strike
their feet together, so as to show their hidden ornaments. And all of you turn to
God, O you Believers! That it may he well with you.
And marry those among you who are single, and your good servants, and
that are maidens. If they are poor, God in His bounty will enrich them. God is allbounteous, Knowing.
The Cow
2.2 This Book, there is no doubt in it, is a guide to those who guard (against evil).
2.3 Those who believe in the unseen and keep up prayer and spend out of what We
have given them.
2.4 And who believe in that which has been revealed to you and that which was
revealed before you and they are sure of the hereafter.
2.5 These are on a right course from their Lord and these it is that shall be successful.
2.6 Surely those who disbelieve, it being alike to them whether you warn them, or do
not warn them, will not believe...
221 O men! serve your Lord Who created you and those before you so that you may
guard (against evil).
2.22 Who made the earth a resting place for you and the heaven a canopy and (Who)
sends down rain from the cloud then brings forth with it subsistence for you of the
fruits; therefore do not set up rivals to Allah while you know.
2:169 Truly they who hide the Book which God has sent down, and sell it for a small
price – these shall swallow into their bellies naught but fire. God will not speak to
them, or purify them, on the day of Resurrection: and theirs shall be a grievous
There is no piety in turning your faces toward the East or the West, but he
is pious who believes in God, and the Last Day, and the Angels, and the Book,
and the Prophets; who for the love of God gives his wealth to his kinfolk, and to
the orphans, and the needy, and the wayfarer, and those who ask, and for
ransoming; who observe prayer, and pay the legal alms and who is faithful to
their promises.
When they have promised, and patient under ills and hardships, and in
tune of troubles: those are they who are just, and these are they who fear the
O believers! Retaliation for bloodshed is prescribed to on: the free man for
the free, and the slave for the slave, and the woman for the woman: but he to
whom his brother shall make any admission, is to be dealt with equitably; and to
him should he pay a fine with liberality.
This is a relaxation from your Lord and a mercy. For him who after this shall
transgress, a harsh punishment!
O believers! A Fast is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before
you. that you mav fear God,
For certain days. But he among you who shall be ill, or on a journey, shall
fast that same number of other days: and as for those who are able to keep it
and yet break it, the expiation of this shall be the keeping of a poor man. And he
who of his own accord performs a good work, shall derive good from it: and good
shall it be for you to fast – if you knew it.
As to the month Ramadan in which the Koran was sent down to be man‘s
guide, and an explanation of that guidance, and of that illumination, as soon as
any of you observes the moon, let him set about the fast; but he who is sick, or
on a journev shall fast a like number of other days. God wishes you ease, but
wishes not your dis comfort, and that you fulfill the number of days, and that you
glorify God for his guidance, and that you be thankful
You are allowed on the night of the fast to approach your wives: they are
your garment and you are theirs. God knows that you delude yourselves, so He
turns unto you and forgives you! Now, therefore, go into them full of desire which
God has or dained for you; and eat and drink until you can discern a white thread
from a black thread at daybreak; then fast strictly till night, and do not go to them,
but rather pass the time in the Mosques. These are the bounds set up by God:
there come not to them. Thus God makes his signs clear to men that they may
fear Him. .
Accomplish the Pilgrimage and the Visitation of the holy places in honor of
God: and if you are stopped by foes, send whatever offering shall be the easiest;
and do not shave your heads until the offering reaches the place of sacrifice. But
if you are ill, or have an ailment of the head, (you) must satisfy (the requirement)
by fasting, alms or an offering; then when you are secure from foes, he who
combines the visit to the holy places with the pilgrimage, shall bring whatever
offering is the easiest; but he who can not find anything to offer, shall fast three
days in the pilgrimage, and seven days when you return: they shall be ten days
in all. This is binding on him whose family shall not be present at the Sacred
Mosque. And fear God, and know that God is terrible in punishing...
They will ask you about wine and games of chance. Say: In both of them
there is great sin, and a means of profit for men; but their sin is greater than their
advantage. They will ask you also what they shall give in alms (charity). Say:
what you can spare. Thus God shows you his things that you may ponder.
About this present world and the hereafter. They will also ask you
concerning orphans. Say: Fair dealing with them is best. But if you mix
yourselves up (in their affairs) – they are your brethren: God knows the evil
dealer from the fair; and if God pleased, he could indeed afflict you!. Truly, God is
Mighty Wise. .
Satan, Who Refused
"Adam," We said, "Satan is an enemy to you and to our wife. Let him not turn you out of
Paradise and plunge you into affliction. Here you shall not hunger or be naked; you shall
not thirst, or feel the scorching heat."
But Satan whispered to him, saying: "Shall I show you the Tree of Immortality and
an everlasting kingdom?
They both ate of its fruit, so that they beheld their nakedness and began to cover
themselves with leaves. Thus Adam disobeyed his Lord and went astray.
The Night
17:8-15. This Koran will guide men to that which is most upright. It promises the
believers who do good works a rich reward, and threatens those who deny the
life to come with a grievous scourge. Yet man prays for evil as fervently as he
prays for good. Truly, man is ever impatient...
The fate of each man We have bound about his neck. On the Day of
Resurrection We shall confront him with a book spread wide open, saying:
"Here is your book: read it. Enough for you this day that your own soul should
call you to account.‖
17:21. Serve no other gods besides Allah, lest you incur disgrace and ruin. Your Lord
has enjoined you to worship none but Him, and to show kindness to your
17:30. Be neither miserly nor prodigal, for then you should either he reproached or be
reduced to penury.
17:32. You shall not kill any man whom Allah has forbidden you to kill, except for a just
cause... Do not interfere with the property of orphans except with the best of
motives, until maturity. Keep your promises; you are accountable for all that you
Give full measure, when you measure, and weigh with even scales. That
is fair, and better in the end.
The Heights
71:199. Show forgiveness, speak for justice, and avoid the ignorant. If Satan tempts
you, seek refuge in Allah; He hears all and knows all.
The Bee
16:115. He has forbidden you carrion, blood, and the flesh of swine; also any flesh
consecrated other than in the name of Allah. But whoever is constrained to eat
of any of these, not intending to sin or transgress, will find Allah forgiving and
9:59. Alms shall be used only for the advancement of Allah's cause, for the ransom of
captives and debtors, and for distribution among the poor, the destitute, the
wayfarers those that are employed in collecting alms, and those that are
converted to the faith.
The Cow
2:178. Believers, retaliation is decreed for you in bloodshed: a free man for a free man,
a slave for a slave, and a female for a female. It is decreed that when death
approaches. those of you that leave property shall bequeath it equitable to
parents and kindred.
2:184. In the month of Ramadan the Koran was revealed, a book of guidance with
proofs of guidance distinguishing – right from wrong. Therefore whoever of you
is present in that month let him fast. But he who is ill or on a journey shall fast a
similar number of days later on...
2:186. ...Eat and drink until you can tell a white thread I rom a black one in the light of
coming dawn. Then resume the amass till nightfall and do riot approach them,
but stay at your prayers in the mosques.
2:196. Make the pilgrimage and visit the Sacred House (the Kaaba) for His sake
2:197. Make the pilgrimage in the appointed months. He that intends to perform it in
those months must abstain from sexual intercourse, obscene language, and
acrimonious disputes while on pilgrimage...
2:219. They ask you about drinking and gambling. Say: "There is great hann in both, al
though they have some benefit for men; but their harm is far greater than their
2:225. Those that renounce their wives on oath must wait four months. If they change
their mind, Allah is forgiving and merciful but if they decide to divorce them,
know that He hears all and knows all.
2:228. Women shall with justice have rights similar those exercised against them,
although men have a status above women. Allah is mighty and wise.
4:34 Men have authority over women because Allah has made the one superior to the
others, and because they spend their wealth to maintain them. Good women are
obedient They guard their unseen parts because Allah has guarded them. As for
those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and send them to beds
apart and beat them. The if they obey you, take no further action against them.
Allah is high, supreme.
The Table
5:96. Allah has made the Sacred House of the Kaaba, the sacred month, and the sac
rificial offerings with their ornaments, eternal values for mankind; so that you may
know that Allah has knowledge of all that the heavens and the earth contain; that
He has knowledge of all things.
22:25. When We prepared for Abraham the site of the Sacred Mosque We said:
Worship none besides Me. Keep My House clean for those who walk around it
and those who stand upright or kneel in worship."
The Imrans
3:19. The only true faith in Allah's sight is Islam. Those to whom the Scriptures were
given disagreed among themselves through jealousy only after knowledge had
been given them. He that denies Allah's revelations should know that He is a
swift in reckoning.
3:45. The angels said to Mary: "Allah bids you rejoice in a Word from Him. His name is
the Messiah, Jesus the son of Mary. He shall be noble in this world and in the
next, and shall be favored by Allah. He shall preach to men in his cradle and in
the prime of manhood, and shall lead a righteous life."
3:55. They plotted, and Allah plotted. Allah is the supreme Plotter. He said: Jesus, I am
about to cause you to die and lift you up to Me. I shall take you away from the
unbelievers and exalt your followers above them till the Day of Resurrection; then
to Me you shall all return and I shall judge your disputes. The unbelievers shall
be sternly punished in this world and in the world to come: there shall be none to
help them. As for those that have faith and do good works, they shall be given
their reward in full. Allah does not love the evildoers."
3:67-70. Abraham was neither Jew nor Christian. He was an upright man, one who had
surrendered himself to Allah. He was no idolater. Surely the men who are
nearest to Abraham are those who follow him, this Prophet, and the true
believers. Allah is the guardian of the faithful. Some of the People of the Book
wish to mislead you; but they mislead none but themselves, though they may
not perceive it.
People of the Book! Why do you deny Allah's revelations when you know
that they are true?
3:84. Say: "We believe in Allah and what is revealed to us; in that which was revealed to
Abraham and Ishmael, to Isaac and Jacob and the tribes; and in that which Allah
gave Moses and Jesus and the prophets. We discriminate against none of them.
To Him We have surrendered ourselves."
3:115. Yet they are not all alike. There are among the People of the Book some upright
men who all night long recite the revelations of Allah and worship Him; who
believe in Allah and the Last Day; who enjoin justice and forbid evil and vie with
each other in good works. These are righteous men: whatever good they do, its
reward shall not be denied them. Allah know the righteous.
3:158. If you should die or be slain in the cause of Allah, His forgiveness and His mercy
would surely he better than all the riches they amass. If you should die or be
slain, before Him you shall all he gathered.
3:161. No prophet would rob his followers; for anyone that steals shall on the Day of
Resurrection bring with him that which he has stolen. Then shall every soul be
paid what it has earned: none shall be wronged.
3:180. Let no misers who hoard the gifts of Allah think that their avarice is good for
them: it is nothing but evil. The riches they have piled up shall become their
fetters on the Day of Resurrection. It is Allah who will inherit the heavens and
the earth. He is cognizant of all your actions.
6:103. No mortal eyes can see Him, though He sees all eyes. He is benignant and all
6:112. Thus We have assigned for every prophet an enemy: the devils among men and
jinn who inspire one another with vain and varnished falsehoods
6:146. We forbade the Jews all animals with undivided hoofs and the fat of sheep and
oxen, except what is on their backs and intestines and what is mixed with their
bones. Such is the penalty with which We rewarded them for their misdeeds.
HW # 40:
The fountainhead of any Islamic theory is the Qur'an. In the Qur'an, the Prophet
Muhammad sanctioned warfare as one form of jihad or the struggle to establish and
spread the peace and justice of an Islamic community. By the time of the Crusades,
Islamic jurists had developed the tenets of an Islamic theory of Just War. In this view,
the world was divided into Dar al-Islam the realm of peace and justice, and Dar al-Harb
the realm of chaos and war that brings misery to its inhabitants and whose continued
existence poses an ongoing threat to the security of Dar al Islam. It was the duty of true
Islamic states to expand the realm of Dar al-Islam by preaching, writing, and if
necessary conquest, so as to bring Muslim law and its benefits of peace and justice to
the whole world. But certain conditions had to be met before a jihad was justified. There
had to be a just cause for starting the war – note the essentially defensive injunction in
Sura 2 of the Qur‘an in the reading. The targets of the jihad had first to he invited to
convert or to pay tribute to the Islamic authority. A properly constituted Islamic authority
had to declare the jihad (though what constituted a "proper Islamic authority" was open
to dispute). Finally, the war had to be conducted according to broader Islamic values.
The selections from the Qur'an presented here are the key ones relating directly to
warfare. As you read them, bear in mind the passages from the Qur'an in last night‘s
homework that define those broader Islamic values.
Sura 2. The Cow
In the name of God,
Most Gracious, Most Merciful
190 And fight in the way of Allah with those who fight with you, and do not exceed the
limits, surely Allah does not love those who exceed the limits.
191 And kill them wherever you find them, and drive them out from whence they drove
you out, and persecution is severer than slaughter, and do not fight with them at
the Sacred Mosque until they fight with you in it, but if they do fight you, then slay
them; such is the recompense of the unbelievers.
192 But if they desist, then surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.
193 And fight with them until there is no persecution, and religion should be only for
Allah, but if they desist, then there should be no hostility except against the
Sura 9: The Repentance
5 So when the sacred months have passed away, then slay the idolaters wherever you
find them, and take them captives and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every
ambush, then if they repent and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, leave their
way free to them; surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.
6 And if one of the idolaters seek protection from you, grant him protection till he hears
the word of Allah, then make him attain his place of safety; this is because they are a
people who do not know.
Sura 22: Pilgrimage
In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful
78. And strive hard [jihad] in the way of Allah, (such) a striving [jihad] a is due to Him;
He has chosen you and has not laid upon you an hardship in religion; the faith of
your father Ibrahim; He named you Muslims before and in this, that the Apostle may
be a bearer of witness to you, and you may be bearers of witness to the people;
therefore keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate and hold fast by Allah; He is your
Guardian; how excellent the Guardian and how excellent the Helper!
Sura 25: The Criterion
In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful
47 And He it is Who made the night a covering for you, and the sleep a rest, and He
made the day to rise up again.
48 And He it is Who sends the winds as good news before His mercy; and We send
down pure water from the cloud,
50 And certainly We have repeated this to them that they may be mindful, but the
greater number of men do not consent to aught except denying.
51 And if We had pleased We would certainly have raised a warner in every town.
52 So do not follow the unbelievers, and strive against them [jihad] a mighty striving
[jihad] with it.
Sayings (Hadith) Ascribed to the Prophet: Jihad
Hadith, or sayings, are one source of Islamic law. They are stories or sayings connected
with Muhammad's life, which were, and are, used to justify actions in the past and
present. Each hadith is connected with the Prophet or one of his Companions through a
narrative story that passed from one person to another over the centuries.
The following selection concerns the undertaking of a Jihad in which every amir (a
political-military leader) should participate. It describes the motivations for the
undertaking, the duties and actions of a good warrior, and prohibitions against certain
unacceptable actions in warfare.
Jihad is incumbent upon you with every amir, whether he be godly or wicked and even if
he commit major sins. Prayer is incumbent upon you behind every Muslim, be he godly
or wicked and even if he commit major sins. Prayer is incumbent upon you for every
Muslim who dies, be he godly or wicked and even if he commit major sin.
Paradise is under the shadow of swords.
Where the believer's heart shakes on the - of God, his sins fall away from him as the
fruit falls off a date palm.
If anyone shoots an arrow at the enemy on the path of God and his arrow reaches his
enemy, whether it hits him or misses, it is accounted equal in merit to liberating a slave.
He who draws his sword in the path of God has sworn allegiance to God.
If anyone ransoms a prisoner from the hands of the enemy, I am that prisoner.
He who fights so that the word of God may prevail is on the path of God.
He who dies fighting on die frontier in the path of God, God protects hint from the testing
of the tomb.
The unbeliever and the one who kills him will never meet in Hell.
God sent me as a mercy and a portent; He did not send me as a trader or as a
cultivator. The worst of the community on the Day of Resurrection are the traders and
the cultivators, except for those who are niggardly with their religion.
A day and a night of fighting on the frontier is better than a month of fasting and prayer.
The best thing a Muslim can earn is an arrow in the path of God.
He who equips a warrior in the Holy War for God has the same reward as he, while the
warrior's reward is not diminished.
He who when he dies has never campaigned or even intended to campaign dies in a
kind of hypocrisy.
Fight against the polytheists with your property your persons, and your tongues.
Swords are the ken of Paradise.
A sword is sufficient witness.
God wonders as people who are led to Heaven in chains.
A campaign by sea is like ten campaigns by land, and he who loses his bearings at sea
is like one who sheds his blood in the path of God.
Every prophet has his monasticism, and the monasticism of this community is the Holy
War in the path of God.
If a campaigner by sea is seasick, he has the reward of a martyr; if drowned, of two
In Islam there are three dwellings, the lower, the upper, and the uppermost. The lower is
the Islam of the generality of Muslims. If you ask any one of them he will answer, I am a
Muslim." In the upper their merits differ, some of the Muslims being better than others.
The uppermost is the jihad in the cause of God, which only the best of them attain.
Will you riot ask me why I laugh? I have seen people of my community who are dragged
to Paradise against their will. They asked, "O Prophet of God, who are they?" He said,
"They are non-Arab people whom the warriors in the holy War have captured and made
to enter Islam."
Shoot and ride! Of the two, I would rather have you shoot than ride. Anything in which a
man passes his time is vain except for shooting with his bow training his horse, or
dallying with his wife. These three things are right. He who abandons archery after
having learned it is ungrateful to the one who taught him.
Accursed be he who carries the Persian bow. Keep to the Arab bow and to the lances
by which God
gives you power in these lands and gives you victory over your enemy.
Learn to shoot, for what lies between the two marks is one of the gardens of Paradise.
Warfare is deception.
The Muslims are hound by their stipulations.
The Muslims are bound by their stipulations as long as these are lawful.
Of any village that you come to and stay in, you have a share, but of any village that is
disobedient to God and His Prophet, one-fifth of it belongs to God and His Prophet and
the rest is yours.
Treat an Arab as an Arab and a half-breed as a half-breed. The Arab has two shares
and the half-breed one.
Kill the old polytheists, but spare the young ones.
If you find a tithe collector, kill him.
Go in the name of God and in God and in the religion of the Prophet of God! Do not kill
the very old, the infant, the child, or the woman. Bring all the booty, holding back no part
of it. Maintain order and do good, for God loves those who do good.
Why are some people so bent on killing today that they even kill children? Are not the
best of you the sons of idolators? Do not kill children! Do not kill children Every soul is
born with a natural disposition [to the true religion] and remains so until their tongue
gives them the powers of expression. Then their parents make Jews or Christians of
Expel the Jews and the Christians from the Arabian peninsula.
Accept advice to treat prisoners well.
Looting is no more lawful than carrion.
He who loots is not one of us.
He has forbidden looting and mutilation.
He has forbidden the killing of women and children.
He who flees is not one of us.
The bite of an ant is more painful to the martyr than the thrust of a weapon, which is
more desirable to him than sweet, cold water on a hot summer clay.
Read WH, pp. 242-247 and the below.
Answer the following questions.
1. How was Shari‘a, Islamic religious law, compiled? What problems result from basing
Shari‘a on hadith? What difficulties would a devout Muslim have in following the
2. What role did Muslim scholars play in the transmission of literature and philosophy
from ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome? Would a scholar be justified in saying that it
was classical Muslim scholars who preserved the knowledge of antiquity for the
modern world?
3. Because of its moral, we can assume that this story of Ali Cogia "encodes" certain
social messages about proper behaviors and values in Muslim society of that era. By
examining the actions of both Ali Cogia and the man with whom he left the jar of
"olives," describe how a merchant should behave in Muslim society. How does it
compare with contemporary American values concerning merchants?
4. One element that the anthropological interpretation of art insists on is "play." How is
play incorporated into the story of Ali Cogia?
5. Consider the way that political authority is represented in the Ali Cogia story. How
many different instances can you identify in which authority is represented as
responsive and legitimate? How do the political concerns presented here compare
with the ideal behavior expected of a merchant?
6. How do the caliph and his subordinates compare with the political elite in our own
society? What do Ali Cogia's travels tell us about the nature of Islamic society in that
Law and Dogma
Though increasingly unsettled in its political dimension and subject to economic
disruptions caused by war, the ever-expanding Islamic world underwent a fruitful
evolution in law, social structure, and religious expression. Religious conversion and
urbanization reinforced each other to create a distinct Islamic civilization. The immense
geographical and human diversity of the Muslim lands allowed many "small traditions"
to coexist with the developing "great tradition" of Islam.
The Shari'a, the law of Islam, provides the foundation of Islamic civilization. Yet aside
from certain Qur‘anic verses conveying specific divine ordinances most pertaining to
personal and family matters, Islam had no legal system in the time of Muhammad. Arab
custom and the Prophet's own authority offered the only guidance. After Muhammad
died, the umma tried to follow his example. This became harder and harder to do
however, as those who knew Muhammad best passed away, and many Arabs found
themselves living in far-off lands. Non-Arab converts to Islam, who at first tried to follow
Arab customs they had little familiarity with, had an even harder time.
Islam slowly developed laws to govern social and religious life. The full sense of Islamic
civilization, however, goes well beyond the basic Five Pillars. Some Muslim thinkers felt
that the reasoned consideration of a mature man – women had little voice in religious
matters – offered the best resolution of issues not covered by Qur‘anic revelation.
Others argued for the sunna, or tradition, of the Prophet as the best guide. To
understand that sunna they collected and studied the thousands of reports, called
hadith, purporting to convey the precise words or deeds of Muhammad. It gradually
became customary to precede each hadith with a statement indicating whom the
speaker had heard it from, whom that person had heard it from, and so on, back to the
Prophet personally.
Many hadith dealt with ritual matters, such as how to wash before prayer. Others
provided answers to legal questions not covered by Qur‘anic revelation or suggested
principles for deciding such matters. By the eleventh century most legal thinkers had
accepted the idea that Muhammad's personal behavior provided the best model for
Muslim behavior, and that the hadith constituted the most authoritative basis for Islamic
law after the Qur‘an itself.
Yet the hadith themselves posed a problem because the tens of thousands of
anecdotes included not only genuine reports about the Prophet but also invented ones,
politically motivated ones, and stories derived from non-Muslim religious traditions. Only
a specialist could hope to separate a sound from a weak tradition. As the hadith grew in
importance, so did the branch of learning devoted to their analysis. Scholars discarded
thousands for having weak chains of authority. The most reliable they collected into
books that gradually achieved authoritative status. Sunnis placed six books in this
category; Shi'ites, four. The Shari'a grew over centuries, incorporating the ideas of
many legal scholars as well as the implications of thousands of hadith.
The Shari'a embodies a vision of an umma in which all Muslims subscribe to the same
moral values. In this vision, political or ethnic divisions lose importance, for the Shari'a
expects every Muslim ruler to abide by and enforce the religious law. In practice, this
expectation often lost out in the hurly-burly of political life. Even so, it proved an
important basis for an urban lifestyle that varied surprisingly little from Morocco to India.
Arabian Nights
With the possible exception of the Qur'an itself, no other work of Arabic and Muslim
culture is as widely known in the west as is the Arabian Nights. The story told here, "The
Story of Ali Cogia, a Merchant of Bagdad," is included to represent the culture of the
Arab Muslim world before 1000 C.E. This era is one of the golden ages of the Arab
Islamic zone, a time when a sophisticated, vibrant, and cohesive culture permeated
much of the Muslim world, the dar al-Islam. Within a hundred years of the death of
Muhammad in 632 C.E., the region from Persia across North Africa to Spain, was under
the control of Muslim rulers. Most of the former Persian and Byzantine empires were
Islamic in faith and governance, and Islamic thinkers absorbed the Persian and Greek
intellectual and cultural legacies. its dynamic economy included some of the richest and
most productive portions of the Persian and Mediterranean worlds, and the Islamic
world enjoyed high levels of both urbanization and literacy. The region was far in
advance of western Europe. Caliph Harun al-Rashid, who figures prominently in many
of the stories in the Arabian Nights and who is famous for a magnificent and enlightened
reign in the late 700s and early 800s, is emblematic of the brilliant, culturally synthetic
intellectual life of medieval Islam.
The history of the text of the Arabian Nights is a long, complex story in it self. By 1000
C.E. a version of the Arabian Nights existed, though we do not know what its exact
contents were. The current version consists of stories that were versions of older, preIslamic tales and some that were added after the year 1000 and even from other
collections. As a result, it has been called a "book without authors," and we cannot
assert with any certainty either the individual author or in many cases even the origin of
many stories in the Arabian Nights. Hence, there is no biography of an author on the
basis of which we can conjecture about authorial intent or the process of selfexpression. What we can say about the Arabian Nights is that a variety of genres is
represented, such as heroic epics, fables, and humorous tales. Many of the stories,
such as those involving Aladdin, Ali Baha, and Sinbad, are already well known in the
west. The pretext for the telling of these diverse tales is the story of the narrator herself,
Sheherazade. The story is that a cruel king, Shariyar, had women killed after he had
slept with them one time. When it was her turn, Sheherazade told him an unfinished
story, and he put off having her killed in order to hear the end of it. This story telling
cycle continued for the thousand and one nights, after which Shariyar had decided not
to have her beheaded. As regards the overall explanation for a se ries of unrelated tales
and in terms of the use of narratives within narratives, the Arabian Nights resembles
Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales.
The Nights is a very useful source for the social history of the Islamic Middle East in that
era. Thus we can examine material from the Nights as both shaping and reflecting
Muslim social values. The story presented here involves a Baghdad merchant and his
search for justice from the caliph for a wrong done to him while he is on an extended
journey that includes his pilgrimage to Mecca. Learning of other trading opportunities,
he travels widely in the Islamic world and is away for several years, during which time
his supposed friend steals some gold from him. The story involves the social status and
values of the merchantry in Islamic society, an Islamic religious element, and a
representation of governmental authority. It is important to note that the merchantry
enjoyed a higher status in Islamic so ciety than was true of the Christian West until
relatively recent times. Both the Prophet Muhammad himself and many of his leading
early followers came from trading families. At the time of this story, 'Abbasid Baghdad
was the economic, political, and cultural center of Islam, and the apex of 'Abbasid power
and eminence occurred under Caliph Harun al-Rashid (786-809), who is also known as
a great patron of the arts. Finally, the practice of taking items to sell in order to fi nance
the pilgrimage, or hajj, to Mecca was considered quite acceptable. Ali Cogia was
following good Muslim practice.
In reign of the caliph Haroun Alraschid, there lived at Bagdad a merchant, whose name
was Ali Cogia, that was neither one of the richest nor meanest sort. He was a bachelor,
and lived master of his own actions, in the house which was his father's, very well
content with the profit he made of his trading; but happening to dream for three nights
together that a venerable old man came to him, and, with a severe look reprimanded
him for not having made a pilgrimage to Mecca, he was very much troubled.
As a good Muslim, he knew he was obliged to undertake a pilgrimage; but as he had a
house, shop, and goods, he always believed that they might stand for a sufficient
reason to excuse him, endeavoring by his charity, and good deeds, to atone for that
neglect. But after this dream, his conscience was so much pricked, that the fear lest any
misfortune should befall made him resolve not to defer it any longer; and, to be able to
go that year, he sold off his household goods, his shop, and with it the greatest part of
his merchandises; reserving only some which he thought might turn to a better account
at Mecca; and meeting with a tenant for his house, let [rented] that also.
Things being thus disposed, he was ready to go when the Bagdad caravan set out for
Mecca; the only thing he had to do, was to secure a sum of a thousand pieces of gold,
which would be troublesome to carry along with him, besides the money he had set
apart to defray his expenses. To this end he made choice of a jar, of a proportionable
size, put the thousand pieces of gold into it, and covered them over with olives. When
he had closed the mouth of the jar, he carried it to a merchant, a particular friend of his,
and said to him, ―You know, brother, that in two or three days time I set out with the
caravan on my pilgrimage to Mecca; and I beg the favor of you, that you would take
upon you the charge of keeping a jar of olives for me till I return.‖ The merchant
promised him he would, and in an obliging manner said, ‗Here, take the key of my
warehouse, and set your jar where you please; I promise you shall find it there when
you come again.‘
On the day the caravan was to set out, Ali Cogia added himself to it, with a camel,
(loaded with what merchandises he thought fit to carry along with him,) which served
him to ride on, and arrived safe at Mecca, where he visited, along with other pilgrims,
the temple so much celebrated and frequented by all Muslims every year, who come
from all parts of the world and observe religiously the ceremonies prescribed them; and
when he had acquitted himself of the duties of his pilgrimage, he exposed the
merchandises he had brought with him, to sell or exchange them.
Two merchants passing by, and seeing Ali Cogia's goods, thought them so fine and
choice, that they stopped some time to look at them, though they had no occasion for
them; and when they had satisfied their curiosity, one of them said to the other, as they
were going away,‖If this merchant knew to what profit these goods would turn at Cairo,
he would carry them thither, and not sell them here, though this is a good market.‖
Ali Cogia heard these words; and as he had often heard talk of the beauties of Egypt,
he was resolved to take the opportunity of seeing them, and take a journey thither;
therefore, after having packed up his goods again, instead of returning to Baghdad, he
set out for Egypt with a caravan to Cairo; and when he came thither, he found his
account in his journey, and in a few days sold all his goods to a greater advantage than
he hoped for.
[Using his profits to buy goods for sale back in Baghdad, he journeys homeward, but is
lured into visiting other places by curiosity and business opportunity. Hence, he is gone
from Baghdad for a long time.]
All this time, his friend, with whom he had left his jar of olives, neither thought of him nor
them; but... one evening, when this merchant was supping at home with his family, and
the discourse happening to fall upon olives, his wife was desirous to eat some, saying,
that she had not tasted any for a long while. ―Now you talk of olives,‖ said the merchant,
―you put me in mind of a jar which Ali Cogia left with me seven years ago, when he went
to Mecca, and put it himself in my warehouse, for me to keep it for him against he
returned; and what is become of him I know not; though, when the caravan came back,
they told me he was gone for Egypt. Certainly he must he dead, since he has not
returned in all this time; and we may eat the olives, if they prove good. Lend me a plate
and a candle, and I will go and fetch some of them, and we will see.‖
―For God's sake, good husband,‖ said the wife, ―do not commit so base an action; you
know that nothing is more sacred than what is committed to one's care and trust: you
say Ali Cogia has been gone to Mecca, and is not returned; and they say, that he is
gone to Egypt; and how do you know but that he may be gone farther? As you have no
news of his death, he may return to-morrow, for any thing you can tell; and what a
disgrace would it be to you and your family, if he should come, and you not restore him
his jar in the same condition he left it? I declare I have no desire for the olives, and will
not taste of them; for when I mentioned them, it was only by way of dis course; besides,
do you think that they can be good, after they have been kept so long? They must be all
moldy, and spoiled; and if Ali Cogia should return, as I have a great fancy he will, and
should find they have been opened, what will he think of your honor? I beg of you to let
them alone.‖
The wife had not argued so long with her husband, but that she read his obstinacy in his
face. In short, he never regarded what she said, but got up, took a candle and a platter,
and went into the warehouse. ―Well, husband,‖ said the wife again, ―remember I have
no hand in this business, and that you cannot lay any thing to my charge if you should
have cause to repent of this action.‖
The merchant's ears were deaf to these remonstrances of his wife, and he still persisted
in his design. When he came into the warehouse, he opened the jar, and found the
olives all moldy; but, to see if they were all so at the bottom, he turned the jar topsyturvy upon the plate; and by shaking the jar, some of the gold turn.
At the sight of the gold, the merchant, who was naturally covetous, looked into the jar,
and perceived that he had shaken out almost all the olives, and what remained was
gold coin fast wedged in: he immediately put the olives into the jar again, and returned
to his wife. ―Indeed, my dear,‖ said he, ―you were in the right to say that the olives were
all moldy; for I have found it so, and have made up the jar just as Ali Cogia left it; so that
he will not perceive that they have been touched, if he should return.‖ ―You had better
have taken my advice,‖ said the wife, ―and not meddled with them: God grant that no
mischief may come of it.‖
The merchant was not in the least affected with his wife's last words, but spent almost
the whole night in thinking how he might appropriate Ali Cogia's gold to his own use, in
case Ali Cogia should return, and ask him for the jar. The next morning he went and
bought some olives of that year, took out the old, with the gold, and filled the jar with the
new, covered it up, and put it in the same place.
About a month after the merchant had committed so base an action, (for which he ought
to pay dear,) Ali Cogia arrived at Bagdad...
The next morning, Ali Cogia went to pay a visit to the merchant his friend, who received
him in the most obliging manner imaginable, and expressed a great deal of joy at his
return, after so many years absence; telling him that he had begun to lose all hopes of
ever seeing him again.
After the usual compliments on such a meeting, Ali Cogia desired the merchant to
return him the jar of olives which he had left with him, and to excuse the liberty he had
taken in giving him so much trouble.
―My dear friend, Ali Cogia,‖ replied the merchant, ―you are to blame to make all these
apologies on such an occasion; I should have made as free with you; there, take the
key of the warehouse, go and take it; you will find it in the same place where you left it.‖
Ali Cogia went into the merchant's warehouse, took his jar, and after having returned
him the key, and thanks for the favor he had done, returned with it to the inn where he
lodged; and opening the jar, and putting his hand down to the bottom, to see for his
gold, was very much surprised to find none. At first he thought he might perhaps be
mistaken; and, to discover the truth, poured out all the olives, without so much as
finding one single piece of money. His astonishment was so great, that he then stood
for some time motionless: lifting up his hands and eyes to heaven, he cried out, ―Is it
possible that a man whom I took for my very good friend, should be guilty of so base an
Ali Cogia, cruelly frightened at so considerable a loss, returned immediately to the
merchant. ―My good friend, said he, do not be surprised to see me come back so soon: I
own the jar of olives to be the same put into your magazine; but with the olives I put a
thousand pieces of gold into it, which I do not find: Perhaps you might have had an
occasion for them, and used them in your traffic: if so, they are at your service; only put
me out of my pain, and give me an acknowledgment, and pay me them again at your
own convenience.‖
The merchant, who expected that Ali Cogia would come with such a complaint, had
meditated upon a ready answer. ―Friend Ali Cogia,‖ said he, ―when you brought your jar
of olives to me, I never touched it, but gave you the key of my warehouse, whither you
carried it yourself; and did not you find it in the same place, and covered in the same
manner as when you left it? And if you put gold in it, you have found it again: You told
me that they were olives, and I believed so. This is all I know of the matter; and you may
believe me, if you please, for I never touched them.‖
Ali Cogia made use of all the mild ways he could think of, to oblige the merchant to do
him right. ―I love peace and quietness, said he to him, and shall be very sorry to come to
those extremities which will bring the greatest disgrace upon you: Consider, that
merchants, as we are, ought to forsake all interest to preserve a good reputation. Once
again, I tell you, I should be very much concerned, if your obstinacy should oblige me to
force you to do me justice; for I would rather, almost, lose what is my right, than have
recourse to law.‖
―Ali Cogia,‖ replied the merchant, ―you agree that you left the jar of olives with me; and
now you have taken it away, you come and ask me for a thousand pieces of gold. Did
you ever tell me that such a sum was in the jar? I knew nothing but that they were
olives. I wonder you do not as well ask me for diamonds and pearls: Be gone about
your business, and do not raise a mob about my shop.‖
These last words were pronounced in so great an heat and passion, as not only made
those who stood about the shop already, stay longer, and created a great mob, but
made the neighboring merchants come out of their shops to see what was the
difference between Ali Cogia and the merchant, and endeavor to reconcile them; and
when Ali Cogia had informed them of his grievance, they asked the merchant what he
had to say.
The merchant owned that he had kept the jar for Ali Cogia in his warehouse, but denied
that ever he meddled with it, and swore, that he knew nothing but that it was full of
olives, as Ali Cogia told him, and hid them all bear witness of the insult and affront
offered him. ―You bring it upon yourself,‖ said Ali Cogia, taking him by the arm; ―but
since you use me so basely, I cite you according to the law of God: Let us see whether
you will have the assurance to say the same thing before the cady.‖236
An Islamic judge.
The merchant could not refuse this summons, which every good Muslim is bound to
observe, or be declared a rebel against his religion; but said, ―With all my heart, we shall
soon see who is in the wrong.‖
Ali Cogia carried the merchant before the cady, before whom he accused him of
cheating him of a thousand pieces of gold, which he had left with him. The cady asked
him if he had any witnesses; to which he replied that he had not taken that necessary
precaution, because he believed the person he trusted his money with, to be his friend,
and always took him for an honest man.
The merchant made the same defense he had done before the merchants his
neighbors, offering to make oath that he never had the money he was accused of, and
that he did not so much as know there was such a sum; upon which the cady took his
oath, and afterwards dismissed him.
Ali Cogia, extremely mortified to find that he must sit down with so considerable a loss,
protested against the sentence the cady gave, declaring that he would appeal to the
caliph Haroun Alraschid, who would do him justice; which protestation the cady only
looked upon as the effect of the common resentment of all those who lose their cause;
and thought he had done his duty, in acquitting a person accused without witnesses.
While the merchant returned home, triumphing over Ali Cogia, and overjoyed at his
good fortune, Ali Cogia went to get a petition drawn up; and the next day, observing the
time when the caliph came from prayers in the afternoon, he placed himself in the street
he was to pass through; and holding out his hand with the petition, an officer appointed
for that purpose, who always goes before the caliph, came and took it from him.
As Ali Cogia knew that it was the caliph's custom to read the petitions as he went into
the palace, he went into the court, and waited till the officer came out of the caliph's
apartment, who told him the hour the caliph had appointed to hear him; and then asking
him where the merchant lived, he sent to him to signify the caliph's pleasure.
The same evening, the caliph, the grand visier Giafar237, and Mesrour, the chief of the
eunuchs238, went all disguised through the town, as... it was usual so to do; and passing
through a street, the caliph heard a noise, and mending his pace, he came to a gate
which led into a little court, where, through a hole, he perceived ten or twelve children
playing by moonlight.
A grand vizier was a sort of prime minister.
Eunuchs were castrated men who were frequently employed as servants in palaces because they had no family
interests, and were presumably dedicated to the cause of their master.
The caliph, who was curious to know at what play these children played, sat down upon
a bench which he found just by; and still looking through the hole, he heard one of the
briskest and liveliest of the children say, ―Come, let us play at the cady. I will be cady;
bring Ali Cogia and the merchant who cheated him of the thousand pieces of gold
before me.‖
These words of the child put the caliph in mind of the petition Ali Cogia had given him
that day, and made him redouble his attention. As Ali Cogia's affairs and the merchant's
made a great noise, and were in everybody's mouth in Bagdad, it had not escaped the
children, who all accepted the proposition with joy, and agreed on the parts each was to
act; not one of them refused him that made the proposal to be cady; and when he had
taken his seat, which he did with all the seeming gravity of a cady, another, as an officer
of the court, presented two before him; one as Ali Cogia, and the other as the merchant
against whom he complained.
Then the pretended cady, directing his discourse to the feigned Ali Cogia, asked him
what he had to say to that merchant's charge?
Ali Cogia, after a low bow, informed the young cady of the fact, and related every
particular, and afterwards begged that he would use his authority, that he might not lose
so considerable a sum of money.
Then the cady, turning about to the merchant, asked him why he did not return the
money which Ali Cogia demanded of him.
The young merchant alleged the same reasons as the real merchant had done before
the cady himself, and proffered to confirm it by an oath, that what he had said was truth.
:Not so fast,‖ replied the pretended cady; ―before you come to your oath, I should be
glad to see the jar of olives.‖ ―Ali Cogia,‖ said he, addressing himself to the lad who
acted that part, ―have you brought the jar?‖ ―No,‖ replied he. ―Then go and fetch it
The pretended Ali Cogia went immediately, and returning as soon, feigned to bring a jar
before the cady, telling him, that it was the same he left with the accused person, and
took away again. But to omit no part of the formality, the supposed cady asked the
merchant if it was the same; and as, by his silence, he seemed not to deny it, he
ordered it to be opened. He that represented Ali Cogia, seemed to take off the cover,
and the pretended cady made as if he looked into it. They are fine olives, said he; let me
taste them; and then pretending to eat of them, added, they are excellent:
But, continued he, I cannot think that olives will keep seven years, and be so good:
Send for two olive merchants, and let me hear what is their opinion. Then the two boys,
as olive merchants, presented themselves. ―Are you olive merchants,‖ said the sham
cady? ―Tell me how long olives will keep to he fit to eat.‖
―Sir,‖ replied the two merchants, ―let us take what care we can, they will hardly be worth
any thing at the third year; for they have neither taste nor colour.‖ ―If it be so,‖ answered
the cady, ―look into that jar, and tell me how old those olives are.‖
The two merchants pretended to examine and to taste the olives, and told the cady they
were new and good. ―You are deceived,‖ said the young cady; ―there is Ali Cogia, who
says they were put into the jar seven years ago.‖
―Sir,‖ replied the merchants, ―we can assure you they are of this year's growth; and we
will maintain, there is not a merchant in Bagdad but will say the same.‖
The sham merchant that was accused would fain have objected against the evidence of
the olive merchants; but the cady would not suffer him. ―Hold your tongue,‖ said he;‖
you are a rogue, and ought to be hanged.‖ Then the children put an end to their play, by
clapping their hands with a great deal of joy, and seizing the criminal, to carry him to
I cannot express how much the caliph Haroun Alraschid admired the wisdom and sense
of the boy who had passed so just a sentence, in an affair which was to he pleaded
before him the next day; and rising up off the bench he sat on, he asked the grand
visier, who heard all that passed, what he thought of it. ―Indeed, Commander of the True
Believers,‖ answered the grand visier Giafar, ―I am surprised to find so much sense in
one so young.‖
―But,‖ answered the caliph, ―dost thou know one thing? I am to pronounce sentence in
this very cause tomorrow, and that the true Ali Cogia presented his petition to me today:
And do you think, continued he, that I can judge better?‖ ―I think not,‖ answered the
visier, ―if the case is as the children represented it.‖ ―Take notice then of this house,‖
said the caliph, and bring the boy to me tomorrow, ―that he may judge of this affair in my
presence; and also order the cady who acquitted the roguish merchant to attend, to take
example by a child: Besides, take care to bid Ali Cogia bring his jar of olives with him,
and let two olive merchants be present.‖ After this charge, he pursued his rounds,
without meeting with anything worth his attention.
The next day, the vizier went to the house where the caliph had been the witness of the
children‘s play, and asked for the master of it; but he being abroad, his wife came to
him. He asked her if she had any children. To which she answered, ―she had three‖;
and called them. ―My brave boys,‖ said the visier,‖ which of you was the cady, when you
played together last night?‖ The eldest made answer, he was: But not knowing why he
asked the question, colored [blushed]. ―Come along with me, child,‖ said the grand
visier, ―the Commander of the Faithful wants to see you.‖
The mother was in a great fright when she saw the grand visier would take her son with
him, and asked him upon what account the caliph wanted him. The grand visier
promised her that he should return again in an hour's time, when he would tell her;
assuring her he should come to no harm. ―But pray, sir,‖ said the mother, ―give me leave
to dress him first, that he may be fit to appear before the Commander of the Faithful‖;
which the visier readily complied with.
As soon as the child was dressed, the visier carried him, and presented him to the
caliph, at the time he had appointed Ali Cogia and the merchant. The caliph, who saw
that the boy was dashed [awed], to encourage him, said, ―Come to me, child, and tell
me if it was you that determined the affair between Ali Cogia and the merchant that
cheated him of his money. I saw and heard you, and am very well pleased with you.‖
The boy answered modestly, that it was he. ―Well, my dear,‖ replied the caliph, ―come
and sit down by me, and you shall see the true Ali Cogia and the true merchant.‖
Then the caliph set him on the throne by him, and asked for the two parties. When they
were called, they came and prostrated themselves before the throne, bowing their
heads quite down to the tapestry. Afterwards, the caliph said to them, ―Plead both of
you your causes before this child, who shall do you both justice; and if he be at any
loss, I will rectify it.‖
Ali Cogia and the merchant pleaded one after the other, as before; but when the
merchant proposed his oath, the child said, It is too soon; it is proper that we should see
the jar of olives.
At these words, Ali Cogia presented the jar, placed it at the caliph's feet, and opened it.
The caliph looked upon the olives, and took one, and tasted of it. Afterwards the
merchants were called, who examined the olives, and reported that they were good,
and of that year. The boy told them, that Ali Cogia assured him that it was seven years
since he put them up; and they returned the same answer as the children who
represented them the night before.
Though the merchant who was accused saw plainly that these merchants' opinion
would condemn him, yet he would say something in his own justification: When the
child, instead of ordering him to be hanged, looked upon the caliph, and said,
―Commander of the Faithful, this is no jesting matter; it is your majesty that must
condemn him to death, and not me, though I did it yesterday in my play.‖
The caliph, fully satisfied of the merchant's villainy, gave him into the hands of the
ministers of justice, to be hanged; which sentence was executed upon him, after he had
confessed where he had hid the thousand pieces of gold, which were restored to Ali
Cogia. Then the monarch, who was all just and equitable, turning to the cady, bid him
learn of the child how to acquit himself of his duty; and embracing the boy, sent him
home with a purse of a hundred pieces of gold, as a token of his liberality.
HW # 42: Women In Islam
Read the below.
Answer the following questions:
1. What was the status of women in early Islamic society? How were they dominated by
men? In what ways was the status of women in early Islamic cultures superior to that
of woman in Jewish and Christian cultures of the same era?
2. What reasons could there be for classical Islamic cultures, like classical Christian and
Jewish cultures, to seclude women from the public world? Could the wearing of a veil
– a practice in all three cultures during this era – be seen as a way of secluding
women from the public gaze of men? What meaning could one find in the wearing of
the veil in Christian marriage ceremonies, the wearing of the veil by Christian women
religious [a practice largely discontinued after the late 1960s] and the covering of hair
by orthodox Jewish women?
3. Does the veil today symbolize the oppression of women? Or is it a more complicated
symbol? Are there feminist arguments in favor of permitting young Muslim girls to
wear a veil as well as feminist arguments against? What should be made of the
statement by the French school mistress that forbidding the veil is necessary for
Muslim girls to have ―the choice to be free young women?‖ What should we make of
the fact that young Muslim girls in France are willingly adopting the veil?
4. In your view, does the Qur‘an demand that observant Islamic women wear a veil, or
does the fact that Muslim women in Mohammed‘s era wore a veil reflect a cultural,
rather than a religious, practice? How difficult is it to separate the cultural and
religious? What do you make of the fact that the Muslim Berbers of North Africa have
not worn veils for centuries? What should be made of the fact that among some
French Islamic fundamentalists, female genital mutilation – the excision of the clitoris
– is now considered to be a duty of Islam, even though there is no Qur‘anic basis for
such a practice?
5. At one point in the essay, the author talks of a cultural war between fundamentalist
Islam and fundamentalist secularism? What do you think she means by this formula?
Do you think there should be freedom from religion as well as freedom of religion? Is
it possible to simultaneously honor both freedoms? What is the right balance
between having a public sphere which is religion neutral and the right of individuals to
practice their religion?
6. During the national liberation struggle in which Algeria sought its independence from
France, the Algerian nationalist revolutionary Frantz Fanon wrote that the French
campaign to have Algerian women remove their veils was not, despite the rhetoric of
liberating women from oppressive men, an act of freeing Algerian women, but rather
an uncovering that made them accessible to the gaze – and more – of French man.
Would it be right to see the French law banning veils in French public schools as an
act of colonialism? Does it make any difference that it is French – not Algerian –
public schools in question?
7. Would you support a law which forbade the wearing of religious symbols – not simply
veils, but also skullcaps, turbans and crosses – in American public schools?
Women and Islam
In classical Islamic society, women seldom traveled. Those living in rural areas worked
in the fields and tended animals. Urban women, particularly members of the elite, lived
in seclusion and did not leave their homes without covering themselves completely.
Seclusion of women in their houses and veiling in public already existed in Byzantine
and Sasanid times. Through interpretation of specific verses from the Qur‘an, these
practices now became fixtures of Muslim social life. Although women sometimes
studied and became literate, they did so away from the gaze of men who were not
related to them. Although women played influential roles within the family, any public
role had to be indirect, through their husbands. Only slave women could perform before
unrelated men as musicians and dancers. A man could have sexual relations with as
many slave concubines as he pleased, in addition to marrying as many as four wives.
Muslim women fared better legally under Islamic law than did Christian and Jewish
women under their respective religious codes. Because Islamic law guaranteed
daughters a share in inheritance equal to half that of a son, the majority of women
inherited some amount of money or real estate. This remained their private property to
keep or sell. Muslim law put the financial burden of supporting a family exclusively on
the husband, who could not legally compel his wife to help out.
Women could also remarry if their husbands divorced them, and they received a cash
payment upon divorce. Although a man could divorce his wife without stating a cause, a
woman could initiate divorce under specified conditions. Women could practice birth
control. They could testify in court, although their testimony counted as half that of a
man. They could go on pilgrimage. Nevertheless, a misogynistic tone sometimes
appears in Islamic writings. One saying attributed to the Prophet observed: "I was raised
up to heaven and saw that most of its denizens were poor people; I was raised into the
hellfire and saw that most of its denizens were men." In the absence of writings by
women about women from this period, the status of women must be deduced from the
writings of men. Two episodes involving the Prophet's wife A'isha, the daughter of Abu
Bakr, provide examples of how Muslim men appraised women in society. Only eighteen
when Muhammad died, A'isha lived for another fifty years. Early reports stress her
status as Muhammad's favorite, the only virgin he married and the only wife to see the
angel Gabriel. These reports emanate from A'isha herself, who was an abundant source
of hadith. As a fourteen-year-old she had become separated from a caravan and
rejoined it only after traveling through the night with a man who found her alone in the
desert. Gossips accused her of being untrue to the Prophet, but a revelation from God
proved her innocence. The second event was her participation in the Battle of the
Camel, fought to derail Ali's caliphate. These two episodes came to epitomize what
Muslim men feared most about women: sexual infidelity and meddling in politics. Even
though the earliest literature dealing with A'isha stresses her position as Muhammad's
favorite, his first wife, Khadija, and his daughter, Ali's wife Fatima, eventually surpassed
A'isha as ideal women. Both appear as model wives and mothers with no suspicion of
sexual irregularity or political manipulation.
As the seclusion of women became commonplace in urban Muslim society, some
writers extolled homosexual relationships, partly because a male lover could appear in
public or go on a journey. Although Islam deplored homosexuality, one ruler wrote a
book advising his son to follow moderation in all things and thus share his affections
equally between men and women. Another ruler and his slave-boy became models of
perfect love in the verses of mystic poets.
Islam allowed slavery but forbade Muslims from en slaving other Muslims or so-called
People of the Book – Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians, who revered holy books
respected by the Muslims – who were living under Muslim protection. Being enslaved as
a prisoner of war constituted an exception. Later centuries saw a constant flow of slaves
into Islamic territory from Africa and Central Asia. A hereditary slave society however,
did not develop. Usually slaves converted to Islam, and many masters then freed them
as an act of piety. The offspring of slave women and Muslim men were born free.
Jane Kramer
From The New Yorker, November 22, 2004
Not long ago, in Paris, I met a young Muslim woman named Djamila Benrehab, who, at
the age of twenty, had donned not only a black head scarf but a billowy black abaya
and, under it all, a tight black bandanna to her eyebrows that left only the circle of her
face exposed. Djamila is a big, apple-cheeked, endearing person. She speaks a
beautiful lilting French, and is intelligent and quite charming. Her dream is to leave Paris
and go to Brooklyn, where, she has heard, Muslim girls go veiled and nobody minds,
and, in any case, "it can't be worse than here." She wants to study international
relations at Brooklyn College, and to qualify she is learning English at the University of
Paris 13, six and a half miles from the housing projects of Garges-les-Gonesse, where
she lives with her parents, her two brothers, and a teen-age sister. But when she "made
my choice . . . to announce my identity," she wasn't thinking of Brooklyn. She was
married to a Muslim boy whom she knew from high school--and will not discuss except
to say that his behavior was "not with God." She was so unhappy, she says, that she
bought her first Qur‘an and started to read, nights, while he was out drinking. It wasn't
long before she left him and moved back to her parents' apartment. But she kept on
reading. When she came to one of the passages about veils – which many Muslim
feminists maintain do not so much prescribe veils as record that the wives of the
Prophet went veiled and in this way were able to recognize one another and to be
honored by other women for their distinction--she prayed and fasted and decided to
wear one, too. Her mother, who comes from Algeria and had never been veiled, was
horrified by her new clothes. "You'll waste your youth," she kept saying. But Djamila
persisted. "I just said to my mom, 'I'm going to wear them.' I was attached to my
decision. She didn't deter me, and now she's veiled, too."
It hasn't been easy for Djamila. She left her first job, as a teacher's aide, after parents
complained that a woman in veils was not a good role model for little girls. She asked
for a week off to think this over, and then offered to compromise by wearing a high
rolled collar and her scarf, "just something that would cover my neck and hair," but the
complaints continued and she had to quit. She went for job interviews and was always
turned down. But her robes got longer and more concealing. People swore at her in the
Metro. Strangers accused her of carrying bombs in her book bag. ("I said to myself,
'Tant pis! I am not a terrorist.' ") Once, when we were leaving a Paris cafe, a man at the
next table reached up and stroked her robe, though, it being a Left Bank cafe, he said
"Chic!" and she said, "Thank you." The only job she could get, finally, was with a
telemarketing service – where, of course, she was simply a nice French voice selling
something on the phone.
By last year, she was going to mosque several times a week, and her life, by her own
admission, was narrowing. The police told her that they couldn't renew her identity card
with her head covered in the picture. (She uncovered it, crying, but, like the Strasbourg
schoolgirl, much featured in the French press, who shaved her head rather than show
her hair, she had taken the precaution of clipping hers so that no one who checked the
card would see it.) Then the amateur theatre company where only a few years earlier
she had starred as Andromache in Racine's tragedy and as Desdemona, in "Othello,"
said that she couldn't continue acting if she was veiled onstage. (She says that Othello,
being a Moor in Venice, might easily insist that his wife be veiled and that Desdemona,
being a loving, dutiful wife, might just as easily want to prove her loyalty by obliging him;
it is, at the very least, an interesting interpretation.) Then the women's basketball team
in her neighborhood said that she couldn't play unless she put on a uniform of shorts
and a T-shirt. And then she heard that you couldn't marry in city hall in Muslim clothes,
and that distressed her, too, although she has no plans for getting remarried. The men
she sees are her imam and the men in her family, and I suspect that any marriage she
makes now will be arranged. She has found a Muslim women's basketball team and
even a Muslim women's karate group, but she misses acting. She still rehearses in her
sleep. "We are not the same as other people," she said, when I asked how she felt
"excluded," but the truth is that, from the perspective of most other Frenchmen and
Frenchwomen, she has excluded herself.
What does a secular Western society like France do with a woman like Djamila? The
French tell you, as President Jacques Chirac told me when we talked at the Elysee last
spring, that it begins with school, that "France" is an idea of citizenship, an identity
forged in the neutral space of its public schools--in what Jules Ferry, the nineteenth288
century father of French secular education, is said to have called the "ecole sanctuaire."
There is really no place for religious expression or exceptionalism in those public
schools, but this is precisely what many of the country's Muslims – and there are five to
six million of them, nearly a tenth of the population – are demanding. Muslims today are
part of the biggest labor migration in Europe since the great migrations of the Roman
Empire; some analysts at the European Union say that in fifteen years they could
account for twenty per cent of its population. They are part of a vast post-colonial
diaspora – uprooted, often recruited, and for the most part unwelcome, unassimilated,
and poor – and in France today they are also part of a social revolution: "the war
between Islamic fundamentalism and secular fundamentalism," as people on both sides
Four years ago, when Djamila began to follow Sharia, or traditional Islamic law, she
was, according to French law, an adult, capable of choice. Her sister, who is seventeen,
is by law a child. She isn't veiled, but she goes to high school with girls who have been
since the age of twelve, and who see no reason that they shouldn't stay veiled in a
French classroom. By last year, as many as two or three thousand girls were said to be
going to school veiled in one manner or another in Islamic head scarves, and as often
as not were told to remove them or be sent home. France's public-school teachers had
been complaining for years about veils, and Chirac himself – normally a cautious
President – was getting impatient. In August of 2003, he asked a highly respected
former cabinet minister by the name of Bernard Stasi, who serves as his official
ombudsman in matters involving French secularism, to put together a commission on
what the President called "the application of the principle of laicite in the Republic."
Stasi selected nineteen members, among them three Muslims, three Jews, and six
women. (Djamila's last mayor, Nelly Olin, was one of them.) What they had in common
was a belief in the separation of church and state; they were chosen to determine
whether the laws on that were sufficient or needed to be clarified.
Chirac clearly felt that the time had come to make a tough, resoundingly "French"
statement on secularism. He wanted to seal his leadership in the spring elections
(regional in March, European in June; both routs, as it happened). And he wanted to do
it well before the school year that began this fall, with hundreds of thousands of Muslim
children enrolled in the country's public-school system--if for no reason other than that
the school year will end on the centenary of the law that formally and, everyone then
assumed, irrevocably established the separation of church and state in France. Of
course, in 1905 it was also assumed that the only possible challenge to the "sacred
secularism" of a French public education lay not in the cut of a Muslim's scarf but in the
size of the cross on a Catholic schoolgirl's gold chain.
The politicians of 1905 had celebrated the end of a long struggle for reconciliation
between the values of a republican state and its mainly Catholic citizens. When they
thought about Muslim schoolgirls – assuming they thought about them at all – they kept
those girls at some safe, imaginary remove, studying their Voltaire and their Balzac and
their French rivers in the public schools and Catholic mission schools of the country's
North African empire. (Most French Muslims are North African in origin.) No one then
expected that by the turn of another century there would be millions of Muslims at home
in France. Or that a lot of those Muslims would be young, angry, alienated,
impressionable, and demanding their particular French "identity" in ways that not even
the great prestidigitator of French identity, Charles de Gaulle, would have been able to
accommodate. Or that a French President called Jacques Chirac – who got his start in a
Gaullist cabinet and went on to become a Gaullist prime minister and then a Gaullist
mayor of Paris, and was even now conducting a very Gaullist war of words with his
American counterpart on just about every subject from the war in Iraq to the size of the
European Union – would sponsor a ban on veils in French schools. But this is precisely
what the President did. On March 15, 2004, he signed into law two sentences culled
from the Stasi Commission's report, passed by both houses of France's parliament, and
known officially as Article 141-5-1 of Law No. 2004-228 of the national Code
d'Education: "In public elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools, it is
forbidden to wear symbols or clothes through which students conspicuously" –
ostensiblement – "display their religious affiliation. Internal rules require that a dialogue
with the student precede the enforcement of any disciplinary procedure."
With those two sentences, as short and slippery as the Second Amendment, the French
opened a box of troubles that flew onto the front page and the evening news. The
British, congenitally anti-French, were pleasantly horrified by the law. The Germans –
for years France's closest European allies – were embarrassed by it. Some Americans
assumed that Satan was involved. Antonin Scalia, writing the dissent in a U.S. Supreme
Court decision, in February, to uphold the right of states to deny public scholarship aid
to Bible-ministry students, took the occasion to add that the French were "invoking
interests in secularism no less benign than those the court embraces today." Not long
afterward, Attorney General John Ashcroft, pointedly challenging France's godless
example, filed an amicus curiae on behalf of a veiled Muslim twelve-year-old who had
recently been suspended from an Oklahoma elementary school.
In France itself, there were demonstrations of veiled women, demonstrations of unveiled
women, endless television debates, rap wars on the Muslim hip-hop circuit, and windy
discussions in all the important papers. (Liberation, on the left, and Le Figaro, on the
right, were for the law; Le Monde, always contrarian, was against it.) The arguments
began months before the law was passed and went on long after the President signed
it. They made for a good deal of inadvertent comedy, most notably from a couple of
adolescent schoolgirls – daughters of an agnostic Jewish father and a Berber mother –
who had scrabbled together a book of their own pensees [thoughts] and were making
the talk-show rounds wrapped up in color-coordinated pastel scarves, cashmere
cardigans, and cowl-neck sweaters. But there was also a good deal of defiance. There
were threats of schoolgirl strikes, threats of huge sympathy strikes, threats of mass
lawsuits, and, with them, of years of judicial snarl. And there were serious threats of
violence – terrorist threats, threats of Islamist reprisals – as well as warnings that came
in the form of carefully coded messages to the country's Muslim women's-rights
activists. One was an open letter from Hani Ramadan, the head of a Geneva group that
tracks the heresies and blasphemies of the Islamic diaspora in Europe. Ramadan is the
grandson of the Egyptian cleric Hassan Al-Banna, who founded the Muslim
Brotherhood, and, as it happens, the brother of Tariq Ramadan, a celebrity scholar who
travels the European lecture circuit promoting what could be called Islamism Lite for the
Western world. (Tariq is best known in the United States as the professor whose visa to
teach at Notre Dame was revoked by the Administration, for reasons suggesting that
the government got the two Ramadan boys confused.) Hani Ramadan's letter was
addressed to Nadia Amiri, a French feminist and former nurse with a master's degree in
sociology. It said that a Muslim who forgets her duty to "submit entirely to God and only
to God... turns ineluctably toward idolatry." Amiri was already on a police hot line.
Today, when she gets a message like that, a police car patrols her street.
Still, despite, or maybe because of, the reactions, there turned out to be a genuine, if
fairly conflicted, desire on the part of the French to affirm the principle of secularism in
their public schools. (And the law is only about those schools. It isn't about people on
the street, or people at work, or people praying, or, for that matter, about people at
universities, where all but a handful of students are over eighteen and, legally, adults,
and perfectly free to come to class in anything they like; it is about minors who, by law,
enter the protective custody of the secular state when they walk into a public-school
classroom.) At least, enough people thought that an affirmation was necessary. Maybe
the timing was wrong. Maybe the law was cynical. Certainly, it touched on only the
surface of France's problems, doing nothing at all to redress a long history of
indifference to the millions of French Muslim citizens still referred to mainly as "the
immigrants." Even some Stasi Commission members complained that, of the twenty-six
proposals in their report, many addressing significant social and economic inequities
that Muslims in France face, only the one about head scarves was actually adopted.
"There was this rush to implement," one of them told me. "We'd seen all the notables,
and all the people with problems, but most of the real people, the real part of our work –
that was shrunk to the minimum. We had proposals on teaching religion in schools, on
hospitals, on jobs. We weren't in such a hurry to focus on the veil." The "rush to
implement" a veil law had effectively tabled those other proposals, but the
commissioners also knew that passing along to the legislature a package of twenty-six
complicated, costly proposals would mean a debate that could last for years, and
nobody wanted that.
In the end, people said: Do it. Ninety-four per cent of the deputies who voted said yes to
the new law, if not with enthusiasm then with a certain relief in being able to slip under
the cover of such huge numbers. "We are world champions at lawmaking," Christine
Ockrent, who has anchored the evening news on two channels, run the weekly
L'Express, and, as she says, "seen everything," told me a few days after the law was
signed. "We proceed not by consensus but by crises and fake collective agreements. . .
. Yes, nearly everyone voted for the law, but the most lucid said, 'This law only revealed
the basic incapacity of the system to integrate our immigrants.' "
To say that France rejects what it sees as America's persistent impulse toward a
theocratized state – and even regards the rhetoric that drives our policy today as
unnervingly close to the rhetoric of jihad – is merely to say that France was savaged by
wars of religion for hundreds of years and that those wars have left most of the French,
the President among them, with a dread of mixing government and God. Not that this
guarantees fraternite, or even egalite, but it does go some way toward explaining the
peculiarities of French public life, such as the fact that political candidates do not make
speeches or pose for campaign posters in front of a church (or for that matter a
synagogue or a mosque); or that state funerals take place in deconsecrated churches,
like the Pantheon, and not in Notre-Dame; or that the state absorbs eighty-five per cent
of the costs at qualifying parochial schools precisely in order to keep the church out of
the public classroom. "I'm not saying to export it, but laicity is part of the social contract
in France," President Chirac said, simply, when I first asked him about the veil law. "The
state does not put a foot in any belief. It is a very French conception, and we hold to it...
Religion is not a subject we impose on French children. The law is because of that."
Most French people – including mainstream French Muslims – would agree, at least in
principle. It is mainly foreigners who are mystified that a country which has tried as
single-mindedly as France to avoid any unnecessary confrontations with the Muslim
world would risk its obvious advantage with a law essentially about scarves on
In a way, Chirac personifies that inscrutable French logic with which his countrymen
have identified so often and so predictably that it's almost redundant to state it. He is a
prickly nationalist who, at the same time, wants to set the agenda, and reap the
benefits, of Europe. He is an internationalist who nevertheless believes that "the world is
little by little evolving into grands blocs," each of them utterly and perhaps irremediably
itself – which is to say not French. He is a very successful politician with no notable
achievements beyond the remarkable one of building the machine that has kept him at
the center of power for nearly forty years, and President for nearly ten. He is an
eloquent, agile, and frequently moving statesman who has nurtured an idea of France –
an idea of high civilization and moral purpose – while fielding accusations of the most
venal sorts of corruption at home, and who will in all likelihood be indicted for some of
them once he is out of office and no longer immune from prosecution. (One accusation
had to do with his padding the family food bills when he was mayor of Paris by what
amounts to more than a quarter of a million dollars a year.) He anoints dauphins, then
turns on any of them who presume that they might succeed him. He is thick-skinned,
seemingly impervious to attack, but unforgiving in matters of deference and respect.
(One minister, none too useful to begin with, mentioned a Presidential hearing aid and
was out of the cabinet in a matter of months.) He is personally quite appealing. Women
like him, the possible exception being his wife, Bernadette, who talks wryly to reporters
about her husband's infidelities, and told the Times that she turns off her cell phone on
busy days, to keep the President from disturbing her "every fifteen minutes."
And Chirac is full of surprises, as his veil law proved. One diplomat told me about the
"hidden" Chirac, a man who slips off to Japanese digs and is an enthusiast of Taino art
and corresponds with Jiang Zemin on the subject of classical Chinese poetry. Never
mind if the Chirac most people see is an old fox who thrives on the exasperation he
inspires, especially if it involves the United States. His distaste for George W. Bush is
shared. Two years ago, with an Iraq weapons-inspection extension on the Security
Council table, he dispatched his Foreign Minister, Dominique de Villepin, to the United
Nations to tell a startled Colin Powell that, inspections or not, there were never going to
be French soldiers fighting in Iraq unless the U.N. sent them, thus forcing the Security
Council stalemate that ended with America's invasion. This summer, he sent Michel
Barnier – the man who took over at the Quai d'Orsay when Villepin left to become
Interior Minister – to call on Yasir Arafat at his compound at a moment when most
European leaders had joined America in trying to replace him.
The French, however grudging, do not misread their President. Nor do they find him
inconsistent. They may not love him. They may consider him imperious or ineffectual or
wrong. But most of them raise a glass when he takes the high ground and scores a
point for France, as he did at the D Day ceremonies this summer, welcoming Bush to
Normandy with such cool good manners and gracious solemnity that Bush was reduced
to a kind of glazed rage in his eyes and clenched fists. The French do not expect their
Presidents to be honest or good, only that they be Presidential.
"To give you my vision of France, it's necessary first to give you my vision of the world,"
Chirac told me, when I asked him about French secularism. He wanted this clear: he
does not believe that the world can be remade in France's image (and certainly not in
anyone else's image), and this wasn't an unreasonable assessment, since France does
not own large chunks of the world anymore or, indeed, have anything like the power to
remake it. Nor does he doubt that most of the world holds values that are radically and
perhaps irrevocably different from Western values. "The time when we imposed our
values is over," he said, when I asked about his ongoing argument with America, and
America's with him. He talked about the lessons of colonialism. "We made bad
mistakes, we did many good things, but it's over." Given his map of the world as grands
blocs with little in common except an urgent need to avoid collision, and given the
tensions among them now – with America, to his mind, playing the rogue bloc – he
clearly feels that France's, and indeed Europe's, historical role will be to mediate those
tensions. (He thinks that America would also do well, as he put it, somewhat more
grandly, "to privilege dialogue over force.") The bottom line is that he will not bend
France to anybody else's values, either. He is very precise about that. A Frenchman,
and this means also a Muslim Frenchman, accepts that at home the values of France,
and certainly its secular imperatives, are not up for negotiation – which is why, now that
the veil has come to be what he calls "the siege of a politics of Islamization," it has no
place in a French public classroom.
Most people in France know Article 141-5-1 simply as the veil law – la loi contre le voile-or as the head-scarf law, or the chador or burka or hejab or jalabib or abaya or nikab or
even bandanna law, or anything else they choose, mostly inaccurately, to call the
clothing with which an increasing number of French Muslim schoolgirls had been
covering their heads, and often their faces and bodies, and attempting to come to class.
("Veil," in France, is the catchall word.) And never mind that, as of the latest
hermeneutical negotiations, the veil law also applies to the Jewish skullcap, the Sikh
turban, and to any cross that looks ostensiblement religious – a term that could be said
to describe any religious symbol that's simply visible, or there.
"It is a small price to pay for tranquillity" is how Michael Williams, the chief rabbi of the
Synagogue Copernic, the oldest reform synagogue in France – and, in 1980, the first to
be bombed by extremists – explains the fact that most French Christians and Jews,
while not precisely in favor of laws like that, were quite willing to accept one. In much of
Europe today, a veiled girl in a public-school classroom is considered a provocation,
and not always by her own choice. In the French Republic, with its huge Muslim
population, she also stands for a very particular contemporary Islamic-diaspora politics
having to do with the application of Qur‘anic law (which is to say one narrow
interpretation of Qur‘anic law) to the comportment and rights of minors in the public
spaces of a secular state. Ten years ago, young French-born Muslim women were
seldom veiled, and the few who were veiled were often, like Djamila, expressing nothing
more political than piety or modesty or virtue. Today, they are more apt to be expressing
subservience to (or fear of) the radical indoctrination of young French-born Muslim men.
The politicians call it the "communitarian recruitment" of those young men – many of
them born and raised in the huge housing projects, just across the ring roads of central
Paris and the big industrial towns of the northeast, that the French call les cites – by
Islamist provocateurs, protection racketeers, and preachers.
I saw my first Islamist recruitment in the mid-eighties in Dreux, a town near Chartres
with a small but decent measure of assimilation. Dreux was losing its factories to the
long attrition of a global oil crisis about twelve years earlier, and to the end of another
kind of recruitment – the recruitment of unskilled labor that had already brought some
six thousand Muslim workers to a town of twenty-four thousand people. With steadily
rising unemployment, Dreux was having to deal with what amounted to an angry
redneck generation of men thrown up by the seemingly unstoppable drift of labor from
farm to factory. And this meant dealing with incursions not only of radical Islamist
preachers but also of anti-immigrant agitators, from Jean-Marie Le Pen's National Front
party, into the projects where most of Dreux's workers, Christian and Muslim, lived. One
of the North Africans I knew there was recruited by an itinerant holy man, a Muslim
Brother who appeared one day at the gate of his factory. In no time at all, he had
forsworn his chess nights, and even his nights out at the local cafe, for a men's group
then devoted to studying the Qur‘anic criteria for cutting off robbers' hands, and he was
making plans to send his wife and three small daughters back home to a town in the
Algerian desert, out of the way of wanton Western influence, their own small freedoms,
and, of course, the National Front.
The Islamist network was fairly simple then. Saudis funded the Brotherhood through its
leadership in Egypt; the Brotherhood, in turn, trained Algerian and Moroccan preachers
and sent them off to conquer the diaspora in towns like Dreux. Those preachers were
self-styled vigilantes. They stalked the North African schoolboys, demanding recruits for
their after-school Qur‘an classes – threatening and often beating the ones who refused,
but always offering free textbooks to the ones who came and "protection" to their
parents. Within a few months, those boys were the vigilantes, exhorting their
classmates to embrace the kind of Islam they had always mocked as something that, in
France, only illiterate peasants from Anatolia practiced. The recruitment spread,
acknowledged but as often as not ignored, since, from the point of view of the
government, and certainly of the police, the preachers seemed to be serving a useful
purpose: policing their own neighborhoods, keeping them quiet, and keeping violence
contained and crime "disciplined." The veil made an easy symbol, perhaps because
only women would have to wear it. And it represented another kind of discipline--the
discipline of a profound revolt. In 1989, when no more than a few hundred schoolgirls
were reported by their teachers or principals to be wearing head scarves, three Muslim
girls were put on probation and sent home from a middle school in the working-class
cite of Creil, north of Paris, for refusing to remove them. Their fathers, backed by the
local Islamists, went to court. The court ruled for them. But the case itself, the first of its
kind in France, got so much lurid attention – one manifesto, published in Nouvel
Observateur, called the ruling "a scholastic Munich" – that Lionel Jospin, then the
Education Minister in a Socialist cabinet, asked the Conseil d'Etat for teachers'
"guidelines," thus sidestepping the problem of setting some himself or embarrassing his
President, Francois Mitterrand, by demanding that he set them. The Conseil tossed the
problem back to the schools, telling the principals to address the problem case by case,
saying that it all depended on whether a principal found the clothes in question to be
acceptable or defiant. (The term used then was ostentatoire, or ostentatious.)
No one was much guided by those guidelines. The left, whatever its old claims to being
the guarantor of a secular state, was adrift in a sea of unforeseen (and almost comically
unsettling) new imperatives having to do with multiculturalism and diversity and political
correctness, unable to decide the relative merits of freedom of religious expression and
freedom from religious expression. (Louisa Ferhat, an actress who tours the country
speaking for an organization of French Berber women, told me that whenever friends on
the left would say, "Ah, but we must understand the culture of the veil," she would have
to remind them that nearly two million of France's Muslims were Kabyle Berbers, not
Arabs, and that Kabyle women were "culturally" never veiled in their own villages in
Algeria, and only occasionally in the Arabs' cities.) Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a former
Socialist Finance Minister and a shrewd observer of his party's wafflings, describes this
now as a kind of Sophie's choice between "the democracy solution," which
acknowledges differences, and "the republic solution," which says that when you're a
citizen you behave like one. He told me that even in those comparatively tranquil days
you were never going to be able to solve the problem of social neglect and Islamist
subversion by reducing it "to a matter of a few thousand schoolgirls with a little piece of
cotton on their heads."
No one, of course, knows what would have happened if a law like Article 141-5-1 had
been proposed and debated and passed in 1989, though it's probably safe to say that
the scarf in France was then the sign of a local problem, not a global one. France had
lost thirteen people to terrorist bombings in the mid-eighties, and had since put a frankly
self-serving – and fairly successful – purchase on safety, infuriating its European allies
by negotiating that safety with Muslim groups and even Muslim governments. It was no
secret that France was courting Middle Eastern clients, though the preference was
clearly for states like Algeria and Iraq, where the power, however despotic, was secular,
and where France had had a historical influence. Its dealings in the Middle East were
hardly savory (though it has to be said that no one's were). By the first Gulf War, in the
winter of 1990-91, the French had built a nuclear reactor for Iraq (Israel bombed it in
1981), and had sold Saddam Hussein more than twenty-three billion dollars' worth of
arms and a fleet of Mirage bombers (including the intercept codes, a gesture of
friendship which kept France's own bombers off the ground for the critical first two
weeks of that war). By the time the current war in Iraq started, Saddam's debt to France
amounted to upward of four billion dollars--one obvious reason for Chirac's reluctance to
join it, as he had joined the first one and the war in Afghanistan in 2001. (There is now a
French commander of NATO's Afghan occupation forces.)
I was in France during the first Gulf War, and the remarkable thing then was how calm
the country stayed--which is to say how calm its Muslims stayed, how French their
loyalties were, how marginal the Islamist preachers still seemed. That changed. In
December of 1991, France stood by while its old colony of Algeria, a police state by
anybody's standards, cancelled the results of elections that would have put a coalition of
imams and Islamist parties in power – and then, covering its bases, accepted the
Algerian Islamists who fled to France as religious refugees under the Geneva
Convention. They arrived just as a new generation of French Algerians were starting
high school in the cites where they were born – young citizens with French expectations
and, maybe because of this, not much patience for French promises and French
intolerance and French exclusion camouflaged by a very French rhetoric of equality and
integration. That generation had no claims on a colonial past. What they inherited were
the bitter myths of their parents' past, untempered by any of their parents' nostalgia or
desperate gratitude. What they lived were the bitter realities of the present.
The cites themselves were a failed fantasy of a new life, a misbegotten experiment in
social planning that began with Le Corbusier's famous Unite d'Habitation, in Marseilles,
and spread through France and into the rest of northern Europe. Nothing that should
have happened in the cites happened. Big businesses did not arrive; bourgeois families
did not build housing estates next door; the projects themselves deteriorated, victim to
construction boondoggles. The children of immigrants who had moved in, expecting a
new life, became the prisoners of that life. The future they wanted shimmered across
the ring roads of urban France, always receding into someone else's neighborhood. In
their own neighborhoods, there was not much to look forward to besides a thwarted
education (only four per cent of them make it to university) and no jobs (sixty per cent
unemployment in some of the cites today) and the strained services of the welfare state
and, of course, the immigrant imams with their new promises, telling them that the world
was theirs. They were going to take back their communities "for God," starting with the
community of their own families – with the women, with the veil. As an exercise, it was
not so different from what the Marxist psychiatrist Frantz Fanon described, forty-four
years ago in French-colonial Algeria, when he wrote that the last "property" of a
desperate man, a man who had lost everything, was his family--that to own a family was
to own something. Fanon's patients, in the middle of another revolution against the
French, had recurring nightmares of their wives and daughters and sisters spinning out
of the orbit of their control, and it was nightmares like those that the Islamists tapped in
Then, of course, September 11th happened and, more to the point, the invasion of Iraq.
It didn't matter that France stayed out of the war; France was the West, regardless. This
was when the recruitment of young French Muslim men into the terror network feeding
the Chechen and Afghan and Iraqi insurgencies picked up in earnest, with Osama
making his debut as a start-up image on cell phones and Islamist Web sites--an action
hero brandishing a Kalashnikov. It was also when an increasing number of Muslim
schoolgirls started attempting to enter classrooms draped in clothing that had less to do
with the places their families came from than with a kind of global ur-Islam, which may
be why it was dismissed, for a while, as some sort of adolescent fad. Sometimes it was.
But more often those girls were under orders from their fathers and uncles and brothers
and even their male classmates. For the boys, transforming a blue jeaned teen-age
sister into a docile and observant "Muslim" virgin was a rite de passage into authority,
the fast track to becoming a man and, more important, a Muslim man. For the girls
themselves, it was the beginning of a series of small exemptions from Frenchness – no
sports, no biology, no Voltaire – that in the end had nothing to do with diversity and
everything to do with isolation. It was also a license for violence. Girls who did not
conform were excoriated, or chased, or beaten by fanatical young men meting out
"Islamic justice." Sometimes, the girls were gang-raped. In 2002, an unveiled Muslim
girl in the cite of Vitry-sur-Seine was burned alive by a boy she had turned down.
Jacques Chirac turns seventy-two this month and will be nearly seventy-five when the
next Presidential election is held. But, by all evidence, he is determined to run for what
would be his third term, and many of the people who swept him into office last time now
feel that his last dauphin and latest rival, Nicolas Sarkozy – a self-made lawyer who
claims to come from "reality," which is to say not from the icy heights of the Ecole
Nationale d'Administration, where most French leaders, including the President, are
groomed and stamped "ruling class" – would do much better at maneuvering the
country through its new Islamist thickets. Sarkozy was, at any rate, the one government
minister to speak publicly against the veil law, perhaps because he was already courting
the Muslim vote in his own Presidential bid. That vote has been pretty much untapped
since the end of the Algerian War, in 1962, brought the first great wave of North African
immigrants to France. No Muslim candidates from any of the big parties have been
given a shot at election districts they might actually win; there still isn't a French Muslim
in the National Assembly or the Senate. And, given the alienation of the Muslim poor,
not to mention the fact that French law forbids census questions about religious or
ethnic affiliation, it is impossible for anyone (except, presumably, the secret services) to
know how many Muslims vote anyway.
Sarkozy spent two years as Minister of the Interior, and it was from that post that he
started his run for the Presidency, in 2003, sponsoring and then accrediting a Muslim
umbrella group called the French Council of the Muslim Religion. He argued, with some
justice, that French Catholics were already represented by the Church hierarchy, and
that Protestants and Jews had independent consistories to represent their interests,
whereas French Muslims had been represented, if at all, only by Dalil Boubakeur, the
aging rector of Paris's Grand Mosque, and a group of state-vetted imams. (Within the
government, he argued that this was really a way to monitor Islamist activity.)
Boubakeur, as France's senior Muslim cleric, became the titular president of the new
council. Not much later, he testified to the Stasi Commission on behalf of "school
peace." (When I visited him at the mosque, he told me, "I see these girls in veils, I ask
them, 'What do you know of Islam? Nothing? Not even the Islamic dates?' I say to them,
'Learn something about all this. Learn your religion before you go out and make a
spectacle of yourselves in the streets.' ") But Boubakeur was not a neutral party. He
owes his job to the government in Algiers, which supports the Grand Mosque and
underwrites his salary. He is paid to be diplomatic and accommodating in Algeria's
interests, and from the point of view of the Islamists – and not only the Islamists – that
compromised whatever claim he had to authority over the Muslim community in France.
The real power in the new Muslim council was easily seized by a French-educated
Islamist named Fouad Alaoui, the secretary-general of a large, well-financed
fundamentalist group, the Union of French Islamic Organizations, which was planning to
support the lawsuits of veiled schoolgirls. Alaoui called for a moratorium on defiance a
few days after two French journalists – Georges Malbrunot, of Le Figaro, and Christian
Chesnot, of Radio France – and their Syrian driver were kidnapped on the road to
Falluja, on August 20th, by Islamists demanding the revocation of the veil law in
exchange, presumably, for their lives. And he was much in the news in September,
when he joined a delegation of French Muslim clerics sent to Iraq to try to free them. But
there is not much doubt about Alaoui's agenda. "The French have always had a
problem with religion – it's a reflex action," he told me when I visited him at his offices,
above a La Courneuve mosque, off a long hall full of men waiting around, talking, and
secretaries in long gray head scarves moving silently past them, taking orders and
running errands, never smiling, their eyes trained on the ground. "And they have a huge
problem with women. They think that their model of emancipation is the emancipation.
But girls who want to stay in school, girls who want to be doctors--that's not the only
model." Alaoui has followers all over France. He claims that a hundred thousand people
came to the last yearly meeting of his Islamic union, in Le Bourget, and that both men
and women had been invited to participate. But the women who did come were seated
apart from the men, and most of them were enveloped in caftans and shawls.
Alaoui is not a particularly pleasant character. He is a French Moroccan with none of the
grace or humor of a Moroccan host and most of the arrogance of a French bureaucrat.
He had a list of grievances, some of them true, and some of them shared by other
Frenchmen: Chirac, before putting together his commission with Bernard Stasi, had
essentially cancelled funding for the part-time high-school jobs that thousands of
students counted on for a small salary (true); the commission itself had called a hundred
and sixty-nine witnesses, but "only ten or fifteen were against the veil law" (false). He
neglected to mention that when one veiled woman was called to testify a man in her
family whispered instructions in her ear, insulted the commissioners, and then accused
them of harassment. And Alaoui had nothing at all to say on the subject of veil
enthusiasts like the French-Tunisian writer Fawzia Zouari, who maintained, improbably,
that the veil wasn't a sign of religious submission but an emblem of feminism, a way of
saying "Je m'en fou d'hommes!" and "like Islamic architecture, a way you can see out
but no one can see in." Or, you could say, the veil as a bad hair day. A month later, she
insisted to me that there were no laws forcing women to veil in Iran, only "advisories."
There has been a good deal of discussion about the veil law among women who
consider themselves to be strong French feminists. Segolene Royal is a popular
Socialist deputy and the new governor of Poitou-Charentes, and a refreshingly
outspoken presence in the sniffy male sanctum of French politics. She has reservations
about the new law, although she voted for it. She says she is more concerned about the
effect of pornography on children than she is about scarves (which, to her mind, can be
"very pretty... like the bonnets in Africa"). She told me, "Yes, I would say that the veil is
a symbol of the oppression and segregation of women, but how do you resolve the
problems of Muslim women in a society like this, where all the bus kiosks have
advertising posters with naked women on them?" She worries about what will happen to
those Muslim women if there is a blanket enforcement of sexual integration. But many
feminists would argue that the Islamist obsession with covering up women's bodies is a
deeper form of pornography than an obsession with uncovering them.
Anne Hidalgo, the deputy mayor of Paris, whose portfolio includes women's rights (the
French say "equality between men and women"), has no reservations about the law.
She told me about some of the storefront prayer rooms she has helped open in
immigrant neighborhoods – neighborhoods where Muslims had nowhere to pray but the
sidewalks – and said that she worries about new preachers coming in and trying to
undermine the law, and even preventing girls and women from taking part in mosque
activities. She and the mayor, Bertrand Delanoe, are Socialists, though they have been
much more inventive than most politicians in their party in making French Muslims feel
welcome. They sponsor Friday lunches at high schools in Muslim neighborhoods, so the
girls and their teachers can get together and talk things over. They throw a big party at
city hall to celebrate the end of Ramadan each year. But they believe that head scarves
in schools are only the beginning of Islamist demands for exceptional status within
French law. (Hidalgo's friend Martine Aubry, the Socialist mayor of Lille, has stretched
the law to meet Islamist sensibilities by closing municipal pools to men for several hours
a week so that Muslim women can bathe alone.)
Hidalgo, who is the daughter of Spanish Republican immigrants, said, "We've been very
perturbed about the veil. To see those very young girls veiled... The 'evolution' of the
veil here isn't about choice, or religion. Perhaps the veil once said something religious,
but now it's a sign of oppression. It isn't God, it's men who want it." Last year, Hidalgo
had to suspend a Muslim woman who worked at city hall and was not only demanding
to wear her Islamist robes and head scarves but refusing to shake hands with or even
look at any of the men she was supposed to greet and help. "There are rules about
public space," Hidalgo told me. "It was unthinkable that a person representing the
collectivity go veiled."
On the other hand, Francoise Gaspard, a former Socialist deputy who is now France's
representative for women's rights at the United Nations, came out publicly against the
veil law, claiming that it would keep the daughters of Islamist families from getting to go
to school at all, and they would end up "martyrs" to the Islamist cause. Her companion,
the feminist writer Claude Servan-Schreiber, talks about visiting schools and being told
by one Muslim girl after another: If you forbid the veil, my parents send me away to
North Africa to be married off. (Those girls are much in demand among older men
looking for access to French visas and work permits.) "It changed my mind completely,"
she said. "I decided we had to fight so that those girls were not excluded." Other
feminists point to the alternatives. There are accredited correspondence courses. There
is monitored homeschooling. There is the possibility of Muslim parochial schools – Lille
now has one – which by meeting state education standards would be eligible for state
support. Most feminists acknowledge that, whatever the law, there will always be some
attrition in an education system. Gaspard shocked those feminists by militating against
the veil law, especially because she had been the driving force behind a political parity
law that went into effect in France in 2000. "I was very alone," Gaspard said, when I
asked about the reaction, adding that France's own record on women's rights was
hardly splendid, and that even the Jacobins of the French Revolution had outlawed
pants on women. Other feminists reminded me that Frenchwomen couldn't open bank
accounts or apply for passports until the late thirties, and couldn't even vote until 1945.
For a long time in France, le citoyen meant mainly the rights of men.
The feminist philosopher Sylviane Agacinski, who wrote a book about parity and lobbied
for it (she is married to Lionel Jospin, who was Prime Minister when the parity law
passed), told me that, unlike Gaspard or Servan-Schreiber, she had become convinced
that a veil law was necessary. "Today, clearly, the criteria of the rights of man are the
rights of women," she told me. "The law was made to protect the bodies of girls, of
minors. It's easy to be against it in retrospect, and to say that now those girls will be
'twice victims' – victims of Islam, victims of French exclusion. But the veil here isn't
Islam, it's politics." One extremely exercised Muslim feminist had told the Stasi
Commission that the parents of veiled schoolgirls deserved to be put in jail for child
abuse, and Agacinski thinks that, however egregious arguments like that are, especially
when no serious attempt has been made to integrate those parents, there is an
argument to be made that the veil is as much a challenge to France's laws on human
rights as it is to France's laws on secularism. She finds it a sad irony that, at a time
when Muslim women are claiming, and winning, some of those rights in countries like
Morocco – even in the face of a harsh Islamist revival – French Muslim women have
been sacrificing theirs to archaic religious strictures. "All fundamentalisms pretend that
religion is ahistoric, but religions evolve," she said. "Islamist boys today come to school
in blue jeans." Agacinski counts as something of an expert on what people, in the name
of religion, wear. She has been writing about veils--beginning with the Christian women
who wore them for five hundred years, long before there were any Muslim women to put
them on – and has spent the past four years reading Augustine, Tertullian, Paul, and all
the other Christian fathers who demanded that women wear them, as a sign of their
subordination to men. The wedding veil, of course, began as an oblation – a ritual
offering of bride to husband. Today, not even most nuns, perpetual brides of Christ,
wear them. In Germany, nuns are now forbidden to wear their wimples if they are
teaching in a public school.
The veil, of course, is only one skirmish in the battle between Muslim practice and
French law. There is the problem of divorce, consensual in France but, for some
Muslims, simply a matter of a man repudiating a wife. There is the problem of polygamy,
illegal in France but often, in older Muslim families, a social given. There are the welfare
laws requiring the state to maintain poor households at acceptable French family
standards – which, in the case of a Muslim polygamist, can mean four households, four
wives, four sets of children. Then there is the problem of female genital mutilation. In
France, the exciseuses – women who traditionally remove the clitoris and labia from
little girls – are illegal, but many still practice secretly. Most of their clients are African
Muslims, and the operation has come to be incorporated into "acceptable" Islamist
practice – which, of course, it's not. A feminist lawyer named Linda Weil-Curiel has
argued more than thirty excision cases as a partie civile before the Cour d'Assises. And
in the process she has managed to get the practice reclassified as a high crime,
carrying a prison term for the exciseuses and often a damages penalty of thirty
thousand dollars for the fathers – who invariably pay for the operation but whose liability
had almost always been waived on their claim that excision was "women's business."
(Genital mutilation used to be handled by local correctional courts.) Weil-Curiel began
her crusade in the early eighties, after a baby girl bled to death from the operation
because her father refused to call an ambulance for two days. The baby arrived at the
hospital, Weil-Curiel said, without a drop of blood in her body. That was one of her first
cases, though by no means the first death. Most genital mutilations go unreported;
damaged children are rarely brought to hospitals unless they are quite sick. And Muslim
women often suffer the same neglect, either because they are not brought to a hospital
at all or are quickly removed from the hospital if no female doctors can see them. Alaoui
had told me, "A patient has the right to refuse and choose her doctor. A hospital is a
public service." Weil-Curiel said, "I'm for the veil law because it all starts there, it
indicates a comportment. . . . And I'll take Chirac, with all his casseroles, because his
position on that" – on the veil – "has been, well, noble. The women I see in court, the
African women, were never veiled. They are now."
It's clear to anyone, after a certain amount of time in France, that the veil involves a
much broader politics than French domestic politics. It has to do with the Middle East
and the war in Iraq and the Palestinian intifada. People in France have come to regard
the veil through the lens of their own response to conflicts having very little to do with
schoolgirls. There have been at least three hundred attacks on Jews and Jewish
property in France this year, many of them said to involve Muslims, and Chirac has had
to walk a tightrope between Jewish fears and Muslim sensitivities. Some six hundred
thousand French citizens are Jews – roughly one-tenth the Muslim population – and it is
to Chirac's credit that there has been no "Jewish" position on the veil or, for that matter,
on the Middle East, or on France's role in the Middle East. (Many prominent Jews have
come out against the veil law and against the President's Iraq policy, most notably
Bernard Kouchner, the founder of Medecins du Monde and today one of the country's
most popular Socialists.) But the attacks on Jews have continued, to the extent that the
Interior Ministry now calls this wave of anti-Semitism a threat to French society. And, in
part because of the attacks, some Jewish boys and girls have begun reclaiming their
"identity" with as much intensity as the Muslim schoolchildren, though arguably with less
violence. If you go to the bottom of the Champs-Elysees – the Haagen-Dazs stop, kids
call it – at noon on Saturday, when school gets out, you will sometimes see the boys
from Betar, which is a kind of Jewish Defense League, and the Muslim boys from the
cites squaring off on opposite sides of the avenue, shouting insults at each other and
sometimes flinging themselves into a brawl in the middle of the punishing traffic. The
Jewish boys are performing for the Jewish girls – known, in the argot of the day, as
chales, or shawls – who stand on the Haagen-Dazs side of the street, licking their icecream cones and flaunting enormous designer scarves. The Muslim girls are not invited,
but that, along with the sadly obvious poverty of most of the Muslim kids, is the only
difference. The hatred is now the same.
Remy Schwartz, the conseiller d'etat who in effect ran Stasi's commission and oversaw
its hearings, told me about the first veil hearings, in 1989. "There was one common
thread," he said. "We were there to judge law, not souls. But this time I was reinforced
in my conviction that a new law was necessary. The older laws were not applicable to
the situation now. What we have now is part of a global politics of anti-Semitism, and it
had to be limited." Schwartz reminded me that in six years the majority of citizens in
Holland's four biggest cities will be Muslim, and even so there is still no common policy
on secularism in Europe. There is not even a common policy on schools. (Germany, like
France, wants the veil out of public schools, but, unlike France, permits religious
education in those schools; Britain, where the majority of Muslim families are Pakistani,
allows the veil as traditional dress.) Schwartz thought it was time for France, at least, to
determine its own policy. My friend Tahar Ben Jelloun, the French-Moroccan writer, told
me about being invited to speak at a Muslim public high school in Amsterdam – the
Dutch, resolute multiculturalists, have opened thirty-two – and arriving to find that all the
girls and teachers in the room were wrapped in scarves. "When I protested, one girl said
to me, 'I've come back to God. Don't you believe in God?' I said, 'My beliefs are private.'
" Ben Jelloun thinks that all those veils are really "a transfer of the Palestinian drama to
the schools and the cites," where the Islamists can exploit a confusion of anti-Semitism
and anti-Israeli sentiment that is by no means limited to teen-age children. He worries
that those children will exhaust themselves in Islamic politics and that, if nothing
changes, the exclusion they suffer now in France will only get worse.
Ghislaine Hudson, who sat on the Stasi Commission, is the principal of the Lycee JoliotCurie, a few miles from both a large cite and a middle-class suburb, about an hour and
a quarter from Paris. It is really two lycees--a vocational high school with eight hundred
students, about half of them children of North African immigrants, and a classical lycee
with eight hundred students, nearly all of them "French" – and she and her husband live
in an apartment above the administrative offices. "This is a tough school," she told me,
when I drove out to see her. It was an understatement. Last year, somebody tossed a
homemade Molotov cocktail into the vocational dean's office in the middle of the night,
destroying most of the building. (There was no arrest, and Hudson is glad about that.)
Hudson was sleeping next door when the explosion came, but it left her, if anything,
more determined to stay in a job that she finds at least as gratifying as her last one; she
used to be headmistress at the Lycee Francais, in Manhattan. Hudson is a beloved
educator. Her teachers have presented her with a homemade legion d'honneur (she has
a real one) commending her for her "contributions" to the cause of French education –
yellow curtains in the reception room, flowers, plants, Christmas decorations, beds for
teachers between apartments. It hangs in her office, along with a list of professors'
birthdays and a big poster called "Intolerance," which is half black, half white, with a pair
of scissors ripping through the middle. Her twin schools are like that poster. The
students do not – she says will not – mix. Not at all. It was obvious when we walked
through the two buildings, and even more obvious when a buildings inspector turned up
for a surprise visit. The lycee students filed out, talking. The vocational students milled
about in their corridor, sullen and even hostile, and some of the boys stood their ground
when Hudson tried, smiling, to shoo them out. One gave her the finger and swore. She
kept on smiling.
"The problem is I don't see a difference in France since I came home," she told me,
back in her office. "Not in France, not in the police. These children are not integrated. I
see the veil as more about social exclusion than about this revival of 'communities.'
We've had veils, but our rule has been that once children come into the administration
buildings and the schoolrooms – no veil. Occasionally, you bump into a girl who's kept it
on. It's hard to convince her. She'll take it off, and there's a bandanna under it." Hudson
voted for the veil law. "School, at least, should be free," she said. "The time you're in
school should be free. Muslim girls should be given the choice to be free young women.
And the law was aimed at protecting the minds of those girls."
In some ways, it protects more. For girls, the burden of choosing not to veil is gone, too,
and with it the fear of punishment at home. ("We had this fear of our brothers," a French
Muslim woman who fled Lille for New York at eighteen, once told me. "There were a lot
of murders in my city.") For teachers and principals like Hudson, another burden is
gone: the decision to say yes or no to a veiled girl is no longer in their hands. Hudson is
pleased, though, that the law will come under review at the end of the school year – the
Socialists' condition for supporting it – and be open to revision. She thinks that it needs
review. She thinks that questions of what is or is not ostensible belong as much in the
talks you have with students as in the middle of a statute. "We've always managed to
solve the problem with dialogue, with talking," she told me, but she sounded uncertain,
saying it. As it turned out, only about two hundred and fifty girls defied the veil ban after
public schools opened in the fall (along with a handful of Sikh boys who arrived in
turbans). And, at any rate, none of those girls came veiled to Joliot-Curie. For a while,
Alaoui's moratorium on defiance held. By mid-October, after some seven hundred
"dialogues," fewer than eighty girls were still arriving at school in head scarves. Sixtytwo of them were spending their schooldays sitting alone in empty offices or unused
classrooms. Nine had been expelled.
France's Islamists, faced with the kidnapping of French journalists by other Islamists,
were clearly worried about reprisals, given the kidnappers' demand. Their moratorium
was about that. But by late October, with the hostages still missing, the moratorium was
over. Alaoui's Union of French Islamic Organizations had cancelled it, announcing that
the country's Muslims would no longer be "blackmailed" into silence. The group took up
where it had left off, urging schoolgirls to defy and sue. Guy Canivet, the president of
the Cour de Cassation and, as such, France's senior jurist, had told me when the law
was signed, "With the fixation on veils" – he meant on both sides – "we will not come
out of this easily." He said that there were bound to be legal questions raised, questions
of prejudgment – the prejudgment, say, that every scarf is a religious symbol – and that
from the point of view of French law those questions were important. Most people
expect that, one way or another, the veil will be back at the door to the classroom and
the court.
HW # 43: Muslim Civilization in Western and Eastern Africa
Read WH, pp. 369-380 and the below.
Answer the following questions:
1. How did the spread of Islam to western and eastern Africa differ from its spread
through the Middle East, northern Africa and western Asia? Did these differences
influence the way in which Islam was adopted in sub-Saharan Africa?
2. How did the practice of Islam in western Africa and eastern Africa differ from the
practice of Islam in Arabic countries? What, if anything, should we conclude about
the nature of Islam from these differences?
3. What role did the Sahara play in the development of Muslim civilization in western
Africa? How did trade in gold and salt led to the rise of the empires of Ghana, Mali
and Songhai? Salt is a common mineral, which is inexpensive today. It was common
enough in western Africa that Ibn Battuta reported an entire city, Taghaza, built out of
slat blocks. Why would salt be a valuable commodity in west African trade?
4. What role did the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea play in the development of
Muslim civilization in eastern Africa? How did trade in gold and ivory lead to the rise
of the Swahili city-states along the east African coast, and the dominance of Kilwa?
5. What about the peoples of Muslim east and west Africa impressed Ibn Battuta the
most? What does Ibn Battuta‘s travel reports tell us about the cultural differences
between the Muslims of Arabic origins and west African Muslims? What values and
assumptions did he bring to his observations of Muslims in West Africa? Is it possible
to be an ―objective‖ world traveler, or must one, like Ibn Battuta, see the new culture
through the prism of one‘s own culture?
Ibn Battuta239, a fourteenth century world traveler from Tangier [in modern day northern
Morocco], traveled to the west African Muslim empire of Mali. He wrote:
The blacks are of all people the most submissive to their king [sultan] and the most
abject in their behavior before him. They swear by his name, saying "Mansa Sulayman
ki" [in Mandingo, "the Sultan Sulayman has commanded"]. If he summons any of them
while he is holding an audience in his pavilion, the person summoned takes off his
clothes and puts on worn garments, removes his turban and dons a dirty skullcap, and
enters with his garments and trousers raised knee-high. He goes forward in an attitude
of humility and dejection and knocks the ground hard with his elbows, then stands with
bowed head and bent back listening to what he says. If anyone addresses the sultan
and receives a reply from him, he uncovers his back and throws dust over his head and
back, for all the world like a bather splashing himself with water...
The blacks possess some admirable qualities. They are seldom unjust, and have a
greater abhorrence of injustice than any other people. The sultan shows no mercy to
anyone who is guilty of the least act of it. There is complete security in their country.
Neither traveler nor inhabitant in it has anything to fear from robbers or men of violence.
They do not confiscate the property of any white man who dies in their country, even if it
be uncounted wealth. On the contrary, they give it into the charge of some trustworthy
person among the whites, until the rightful heir takes possession of it. They are careful
to observe the hours of prayer, and assiduous in attending them in congregations, and
in bringing their children to them. On Fridays, if a man does not go out early to the
mosque, he cannot find a corner to pray in, on account of the crowd. It is a custom of
theirs to send each men his boy [to the mosque] with his prayer-mat; the boy spreads it
out for his master in a place befitting him [and remains on it] until he comes into the
mosque. The prayer-mats are made of the leaves of a tree resembling a date-palm, but
without fruit.
Another of their good qualities are is their habit of wearing clean white garments on
Fridays. Even if a man has nothing but an old worn shirt, he washes it and cleans it, and
wears it to the Friday service. Yet another is their zeal for learning the Qur‘an by heart.
They put their children in chains if they show any backwardness in memorizing it, and
they are not set free until they have it by heart. I visited the Qadi [judge] in his house on
the day of the festival. His children were chained up, so I said to him, ―Will you not let
them loose?‖ He replied, ―I shall not do so until they learn the Qur‘an by heart.‖
Abu Abdullah Muhammad Ibn Battuta (1304 to 1368 or 1377 C.E.) was a Berber Sunni Islamic scholar and
jurisprudent from the Maliki Madhhab (a school of Fiqh, or Sunni Islamic law), and at times a Qadi or judge. However,
he is best known as a traveler and explorer, whose account documents his travels and excursions over a period of
almost thirty years, covering some 73,000 miles. These journeys covered almost the entirety of the known Islamic
world and beyond, extending from North Africa, West Africa, Southern Europe and Eastern Europe in the west, to the
Middle East, East Africa, Indian subcontinent, Central Asia, Southeast Asia and China in the east, a distance readily
surpassing that of his predecessors and his near-contemporary Marco Polo.
Among their bad qualities are the following. The women servants, slave-girls and young
girls go about in front of everyone naked, without a stitch of clothing on them. Women
go into the sultan‘s presence naked and without coverings, and his daughters also go
about naked. Then there is their custom of putting dust and ashes on their heads, as a
mark of respect, and the grotesque ceremonies we have described in which the poets
recite their verses. Another reprehensible practice among them is the eating of impure
meat – carrion, dogs and asses.
Ibn Battuta also visited the east African Muslim city-states of Mogadishu [the capitol of
modern day Somalia], Mombassa [the major port city of modern day Kenya] and Kilwa
[a minor city in modern day Tanzania, it was the most powerful Islamic city-state in east
Africa]. He wrote of Mogadishu, and then of Kilwa:
[Mogadishu] is a town endless in its size. Its people have many camels, of which they
slaughter hundreds every day and they have many sheep. Its people are powerful
merchants. In it are manufactured the cloths named after it which have no rival, and are
transported as far as Egypt and elsewhere.
One of the customs of the people of this city is that when a ship arrives at the
anchorage, the sunbuqs (these are small boats) come out to it. In every sunbuq is a
group of young people of the town, and every one of them brings a covered dish with
food in it. He offers it to one of the merchants of the ship and says, "This is my guest."
Each one of them does similarly. When the merchant disembarks from the ship, he
goes nowhere but to the house of his host from among these young people. But a man
who has frequented the place a good deal and obtained a knowledge of its people may
lodge where he wishes. When he lodges with his host, he [the host] sells his goods for
him and buys on his behalf. [Anyone] who buys from [the merchant] at too low a price or
sells to him without the presence of his host-that transaction is considered as rejected.
There is a profit for them in this custom.
When the young people came to the ship on which I was, one of them came to me. My
companions told him, "This is not a merchant but a Faqih [legal scholar]." He shouted to
his companions and said to them, "This is the guest of the Qadi [Islamic judge]." One of
the Qadi‘s people was among them and he informed him of that. The Qadi came to the
shore of the sea with a group of students and sent one of them to me. I disembarked
with my traveling companions and saluted the Qadi and his company. He said to me, "In
the name of God, let us go to greet the Sheikh." And I said: "Who is the Sheikh?" He
said, "The Sultan." And it is their custom to speak of the Sultan as the Sheikh...
When I arrived with the Qadi... at the house of the Sultan, one of the young men came
out and greeted the Qadi who said to him, "Take this message with which you are
entrusted and let the Mawlana [our master] the Sheikh know that this man has come
from the land of al-Hijaz [in Arabia]." He did so, then returned bringing with him a dish
with some betel leaves and areca nuts on it. He gave me ten leaves and a small
quantity of nuts. He gave similarly to the Qadi and what remained on the dish to my
traveling companions and the students of the Qadi. And he brought a sprinkler of
Damascene rose water which he sprinkled over me and the Qadi. And he said,
"Mawlana commands that he lodge in the Scholars' House." (This is the house prepared
for students of Religious Studies.)
We stayed three days and food was brought to us thrice a day, for that is their custom.
When it was the fourth day, a Friday, the Qadi and the students and one of the Wazirs
of the Sheikh came to me. They brought me a suit of their clothing-a silk wrapper to tie
around the middle instead of trousers (which they do not know), an upper garment of
Egyptian linen with markings, a lined gown of Jerusalem material, and an Egyptian
turban with embroideries. They also brought garments for my companions befitting their
circumstances. We went to the grand mosque and prayed behind the maqsura [private
box for the Sultan]. When the Sheikh came out of the gate of maqsura, I greeted him
together with the Qadi. He welcomed me and spoke in their language to the Qadi. Then
he said [to me] in the Arabic language, "You are most welcome. You have honored our
country and given us pleasure."...
We... then pursued our journey to Kilwa, which is a large town on the coast. The
majority of its inhabitants are Zanj, jet-black in colour, and with tattoo marks on their
faces. I was told by a merchant that the town of Sufala lies a fortnight's journey [south]
from Kulwa and that gold dust is brought to Sufala from Yufi in the country of the Limis,
which is a month's journey distant from it. Kulwa is a very fine and substantially built
town, and all its buildings are of wood. Its inhabitants are constantly engaged in military
expeditions, for their country is contiguous to the heathen Zanj.
The sultan at the time of my visit was Abu'l-Muzaffar Hasan, who was noted for his gifts
and generosity. He used to devote the fifth part of the booty made on his expeditions to
pious and charitable purposes, as is prescribed in the Qur‘an, and I have seen him give
the clothes off his back to a mendicant [beggar] who asked him for them.
HW # 44: Ethiopia: Indigenous Jewish and Christian Civilization in Africa
Read the below.
Answer the following questions:
1. How do Ethiopian Jews trace their origins to biblical Judaism? Do you think that
Ethiopian Judaism is an authentic version of Judaism? Who – if anyone – should
decide what is authentic Judaism, and what criteria should they use? Do you think it
was right to require Ethiopian Jews to undergo a formal orthodox conversion to
become citizens of Israel?
2. How do Ethiopian Christians trace their origins to biblical Christianity? Do you think
Ethiopian Christianity is an authentic Christianity? Who – if anyone – should decide
what is authentic Christianity, and what criteria should they use? What do you make
of the fact that Ethiopian Christianity incorporates so many Jewish religious rituals
and practices?
3. Why do you think that the dominant American view of Judaism and Christianity as
western/European religions plays so little attention to the Ethiopian experience?
What do you make of Ethiopian icons which portray Moses, David, Jesus and Mary,
among other biblical figures, as African Ethiopians? Are they any different than
western religious arts which portrays these figures as Europeans? Does the ethnicity
of biblical figures, or that of Augustine of Hippo, matter? Why or why not?
4. What do you make of the fact that Ethiopian Christians believe that one of their
churches holds the Ark of the Covenant, and that many locations named in the Bible
are actually in Ethiopia? What does the fact that the Ark is a special symbol for the
Jewish people‘s belief that they were the ―chosen people‖ of God and the fact that
every Ethiopian Christian church has a replica of the Ark, tell us about how Ethiopian
Christians understand themselves? What, if anything, from the belief that the Ark of
Covenant is in Ethiopia can we conclude about the relationship between actual
history and religious narrative?
5. What accounts for the initial Ethiopian interest in a Jesuit brand of Roman
Catholicism in Ethiopia, and what proved to be its ultimate undoing?
6. Why do you think that African-American Christian churches often put the name
African, Ethiopian and Abyssinian [another name for Ethiopia] into their titles, even
though they have virtually no historical relationship with the Ethiopian Orthodox
Tewahedo Church?
There are those who believe that Judaism and Christianity in Ethiopia undoubtedly goes
back into very ancient times. In an Ethiopian book titled Kebra Nagast [Book of the
Glory of Kings], there are several references to Biblical verses about King Solomon and
Queen Sheba. The Hebrew Bible also has various references [1 Kings 10:1-13 and 2
Chronicles 9:1-12]. Precisely what its early history was, however, remains obscure.
The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church claims it originated from the visit of the
Queen of Sheba to King Solomon back in the tenth century B.C.E. This visit is
mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures (I Kings 10:1). Moreover, the details of the queen's
visit, including the alleged theft of the Holy Ark as well as Solomon getting her pregnant
with a child who established the "Solomonic" lineage in Ethiopia, as given in Christian
Ethiopian tradition, are not in the Bible. They instead developed in the Middle Ages, first
written down in full in the 13th century Kebra Nagast, inspired partly to legitimize the
Solomonic dynasty as compared to the previous Zagwe dynasty of Agaw descent
(Cushitic240, not Semitic-speaking, though passionately Christian).
The kingdom of Kush, located in Nubia, in what is modern-day Sudan.
The chief Semitic languages of Ethiopia may also suggest an antiquity of Judaism in
Ethiopia. There still remains the curious circumstance that a number of Abyssinian
words connected with religion – such as the words for Hell, idol, Easter, purification, and
alms – are of Hebrew origin. These words must have been derived directly from a
Jewish source, for the Abyssinian Church knows the scriptures only in a Ge'ez version
made from the Septuagint.241
Beta Israel
The tradition of Ethiopian Jews, known as Beta Israel242, is that they descend from the
lineage of Moses himself, some of whose children and relatives are said to have
separated from the other Children of Israel after the Exodus and gone southwards, or,
alternatively or together with this, that they are descended from the tribe of Dan, which
fled southwards down the Arabian coastal lands from Judea at the time of the breakup
of the united Kingdom of Israel into two kingdoms in the 10th century B.C.E.
(precipitated by the oppressive demands of Rehoboam, King Solomon's heir), or at the
time of the destruction of the northern Kingdom of Israel in the 8th century B.C.E.
Certainly there was trade as early as the time of King Solomon down along the Red Sea
to the Yemen and even as far as India, according to the Bible, and there would
therefore have been Jewish settlements at various points along the trade routes. There
is definite archaeological evidence of Jewish settlements and of their cultural influence
on both sides of the Red Sea well at least 2,500 years ago, both along the Arabian
coast and in the Yemen, on the eastern side, and along the southern Egyptian and
Sudanese coastal regions.
According to Jacqueline Pirenne243, the spread of Sabeans244 across the Red Sea to
Ethiopia began in the 8th or 7th centuries B.C.E. when considerable numbers of
Sabeans crossed over to Ethiopia to escape from the Assyrians 245 who had already
devastated the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, and were extending their raids further
south. She further states that a second major wave of Sabeans crossed over in the 6th
The Septuagint is a collection of Jewish scriptures, largely the Hebrew Bible, written in Koine Greek, translated in
stages between the 3rd and 1st centuries B.C.E. in Alexandria. It incorporates the oldest of several ancient
translations of the Hebrew Bible into Greek. The word septuaginta means "seventy" in Latin and derives from a
tradition that seventy-two Jewish scholars (seventy being the nearest round number) translated the Pentateuch (or
Torah) from Hebrew into Greek for one of the Ptolemaic kings, Ptolemy II Philadelphus, 285–246 B.C.E.
Ethiopian Jews are sometimes called Falashas, the Amharic word for ‗stranger‘ or ‗exile.‘ This term is usually
considered derogatory.
A French archaeologist Jacqueline Pirenne who spent much of her career excavating in South Arabia, especially
in Yemen and Ethiopia. She is best known for proposing that the spread of proto-South Semitic language came from
Ethiopia to South Arabia, rather than the other way around, basing her theories on excavations at Qatabân, Yemen
and the writings of Periplus of the Erythraean Sea.
The Sabaeans were an ancient people speaking an Old South Arabian language who lived in what is modern-day
Yemen, in the south west Arabian Peninsula; in the 8th century B.C.E. some Sabaeans also lived in D'mt, located in
northern Ethiopia and Eritrea, due to their hegemony over the Red Sea.
A nation and empire that came to control all of the Fertile Crescent, Egypt and much of Anatolia.
and 5th centuries B.C.E. to escape Nebuchadnezzar 246; this wave included Jews fleeing
from the Babylonian takeover of Judah too.
It also appears that there was a significant movement of Jews into the Sudanese and
Eritrean-Somali coastal areas, and the Arabian and Yemeni coastal areas, following the
Roman repression of the various messianic movements that culminated in the
destruction of the Second Commonwealth of Judea in the first century C.E. There is
also evidence from the second century C.E. of Jewish flight southwards from the
Fayyum247 of Egypt. Survivors fled up the Nile, perhaps to the general region of the
Though the 13th century Kebra Nagast and some traditional Ethiopian histories have
stated that Yodit (or "Gudit"), a 10th century usurping queen, was Jewish, it's unlikely
that this was the case and it's more likely that she was an animist southerner or a
usurping Christian Aksumite Queen.
According to the Kebra Negast, the Jewish rulers traced their lineage back to Moses
and the tribe of Dan, just as the Beta Israel continue to do to this day. The 9th century
Jewish traveler Eldad ha-Dani248 also claimed descent from this tribe and commented
about Jewish Kingdoms around or in East Africa existing during his time. Some see his
writings as the first mention of the Beta Israel, but his accuracy is uncertain, however,
and others doubt his work, pointing to a lack of firsthand knowledge of Ethiopia's
geography and any Ethiopian language, the area that he claims as his homeland.
Beta Israel in the Middle Ages
The first relatively certain reference to the Beta Israel, however, comes only in the early
14th century during the reign of Emperor Amda Seyon. During his reign, probably in
early 133