Thursday, November 19, 2009

An Integrated History of the Ancient Mediterranean - A lecture series by Robert Garland (Part Two).

During my Scottish sojourn I managed to listen to the next chunk of my Robert Garland lecture series (lectures 12-19, although personally I think 20 should be included too), which focus on the consequences of Roman hegemony over Greece for both cultures, and ergo that's what I'm going to ramble on about today.

Like I mentioned in a post below, I lost my notes for this post on a Prague to Paris flight, so it will be somewhat briefer than I had initially envisaged.

In many respects this part of the series is where it all really get's going - the entire premise can finally be fully discussed. The lectures preceding number 12 take a very wide view of Greek and Roman history (linking them together almost from the off), leading right up until the Roman conquest but this, though, naturally precludes the period of full blown Philhellenism that comes after said occupation. This is where an understanding of Greco-Roman culture can really begin, I think.

Garland covers a range of topics, starting with philhellenism and hellenophobia (literally love for all thinks Greek and fear of those things), before covering the two languages, leisure, sex, religion, Greeks in Rome and Romans in Greece and the Hellenism of Augustus.

Like the previous lectures, Garland retains a depth of analysis and thickness of research that makes for wonderful listening. I especially liked his discussion of various concepts such as "leisure" and "work" and how they differed between Greece and Rome, but also how the very nature of the words in their respective languages mean very different things than they do to us today. It really allows one to get "inside the head" of a Roman or Greek, and that's no mean feat.

The topical nature of each lecture gives a really great overview of Rome and Greece as now integrated cultures, and how they influenced each other in quite profound ways. That said, one of the central thrusts of the lectures is that despite their history being integrated, they are vastly different. The typical flow of each lecture discusses how it's topic relates to Greece and how it then relates to Rome, and the passing of cultural information between them.

In some respects I think the term "Greco-Roman" undermines the idea of an entirely integrated history, for it has a clear division within it.

For me the best lecture in the series is the final one (that I've added to this chunk of lectures myself, although I don't recall that Garland does) on the Hellenism of Augustus. Garland argues that Augustus (when he took that moniker) "ruled" in a manner very similar to the Greek dynasts of the past, insomuch as he needed Greek models for his autocracy (the Romans had none), and he copied Greek forms of artistic representation (the Augustus Prima Porta is a far cry from the somewhat weedy, spotty Augustus we hear of).

In this way, Augustus was the full genesis of Hellenism - he took Greek ideas and Romanised them (or vice versa - how the cultures interacted truly is rather complex), and from his reign forward, I think it's fair to really consider them integrated cultures rather than merely closely related.

To use Garland's terminology, those living under Augustus could be considered "Mediterranean Men" - that is to say "people with a shared vision and living under similar conditions". This notion is one that only really begins to make sense under the rule of Augustus and afterwards, and I think it certainly has a great deal of mileage.

These lectures, then, take us from the Roman conquest until a point where Greece and Rome are intricately connected as one entity (although with distinct parts, so to speak), and the form a central part of Garland's arguments - that the two cultures should be studied together, not in isolation. Thus far, I agree with him. The series has been incredibly interesting, and considering Rome and Greece together in the same story very worthwhile.

The next part of the series covers the full birth of Greco-Roman culture after the reign of Augustus, and I'll be posting about it in the future sometime.

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