Greeks, Romans, and Others: Concepts of the Cultural Outsider in the Ancient World
The Etruscans have sex in plain view of friends and family, not caring who sees them. The Persians won’t settle on an important decision until they have discussed it both drunk and sober. The Gauls are highly superstitious, treating serious illnesses by sacrificing human beings to the gods. And Egyptian women work in markets and in trade, while their men stay home and weave. These are just a few of the ideas the ancient Greeks and Romans had about the people who lived around them. But how much of this information is factual, and how much is based in misunderstanding or even fantasy? In this course, we will examine the Greeks' and Romans' representations of the people they called “barbarians” – that is, people who were not Greek or Roman. Using both art and literature as our primary sources, we will ask what these constructions of the barbarian tell us about the Greeks’ and Romans’ understanding of the world around them; we will also consider how these two cultures used ideas about the barbarian to construct identities for themselves. All readings are in English, and no prior knowledge of the Classical world is required.