Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Life of the Ancient Greek (1911) - Part One

[Image: Ganymede Holding a Hoop, Berlin Painter, ca. 500–490 BC, Photo by: Bibi Saint-Pol, 2007, Public Domain]

The University of Trento has access to JSTOR from its library, so I've been looking up some interesting articles. I came across an old article by David M. Robinson in The Classical Weekly, Volume 5, No. 8 (December 9th, 1911) called The Life of the Ancient Greek. The article is almost a hundred years old, and much of what it describes may have been revised by now, but it was nonetheless fascinating to read.

The article follows the life of a typical Athenian citizen (so, a "typical" life for somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of the population of Athens - the rest of the population being composed of slaves, foreigners and women). It talks about the birth, the naming ceremony, the toys and games and the education of a young Greek boy. Robinson mentions the life of girls in passing (saying that boys were much prefered over girls, and that unwanted baby girls were often exposed to the elements and eaten by wild animals). He also writes that some parents, unable to bear the thought of exposing their daughters, would leave them in a basket on the doorstep of a temple where the "tender mercies of the childless or of lovers of children prevailed to take it home and bring it up." I read a book recently on the subject which argued that abandoned baby girls were probably most valued by the owners of brothels, who would adopt them and raise them as prostitutes.

Despite this, much of what Robinson describes is still recognisable today - especially when he talks about the games children used to play and the toys they played them with. Hoop running, spinning tops, baby-rattles, dolls, hobby-horses, see-saws and swings were all used by Ancient Greek children - and their childhood games included varients of hide-and-seek and a version of blind-man's-bluff called "Chasing The Bronze Fly."

I would love to read a more up-to-date description of life in Ancient Greece, but Robinson's article - which was published in two parts (I have yet to read part two) - was still an excellent read. His language and style are modern for an article published almost a century ago, and if you have access to JSTOR it's certainly worth a look.

Rating - 7 out of 12
Review Criteria

No comments: