Inventing the Individualby Larry Siedentop, Belknap Press, I lived in Morocco a few decades ago and needed some furniture for our apartment. A college student I had befriended, Hamid, offered to take my cash and negotiate with the dealer for me while I drank coffee in a nearby qahwa because, as he said, the price of the furniture would triple if the merchant glimpsed an American within a block of his store. So he assured me that he could not cheat me because I had eaten dinner with him and his family and therefore enjoyed a status similar to that of a family member.
Democracy and individualism The first foundation of Greek culture that we will look at is its politics. In the sixth century BCE, Greece launched an unprecedented political experiment in direct democracy, with its epicentre in the city-state of Athens.
This revolution had huge consequences for Greek art. Typically, the polis was a fortified town surrounded by land and villages. Even before the expansionism of Alexander the Great, there were about city-states scattered across the coast from Spain and France to the Black Sea and Asia Minor.
Few of them had a population of more than about 20, and the average was nearer Each was jealous of its independence and had its own constitution, leading to a great diversity of religious practice, culture and customs.
The small size of these Greek cities made their aristocracies more vulnerable, bringing the gulf between the rich and poor into a more intimate light.
The privileges of the kings and their families were resented by those whose wealth was based upon the revival of trade. The tyrants drew political power from mobilising the masses by making concessions on land and building public works, and in Athens and elsewhere this created the political opportunity for the first breakthrough for the masses in the class struggle of antiquity.
The first steps towards democracy were taken in BCE by Solon, an oligarch who introduced reforms designed to steer a course between debt-ridden peasants and disenfranchised traders on one hand, and the aristocracy on the other. But the decisive change came nearly a century later when the pro-aristocratic Isagoras invited the Spartan army into Athens to help push out his reform-minded rival Kleisthenes.
In response, Kleisthenes mobilised the masses, who laid siege to the Spartans and forced them out. The oppressed classes had acted, for the first time in recorded history, as a political agent. To Individuality in ancient greece down traditional clan affiliations, citizens would now register by their place of residence and were thus placed on a more equal footing.
The officials of legislative bodies were now chosen by lottery instead of being appointed by class or clan. Democracy, which survived for about years, was an astonishing development.
An estimated 40, citizens of the city of Athens out of a population of perhapsnow had a social power unprecedented in the ancient world. This was a limited suffrage compared to today, but it was a revolution compared to the despotisms of the Bronze and Iron Ages.
When the Assembly ekklesiathe main legislative body, met on a hillside near the Acropolis, 6, citizens were needed for the meeting to be quorate. Greek democracy therefore was participatory, not representative.
Checks and punishments for elected officials included, in the worst cases, exile for ten years known as ostracism. Democracy encouraged a plurality of views, a dialectic that encouraged public debate and transformed intellectual life.
Schools of philosophy arose from the desire to learn the nature of truth, the best ways to organise society, and the nature of the gods — if gods even existed at all. This process was assisted by the geography of the region. Unlike the civilisations in China and India, built in great river valleys and immense plains, land was scarce in mountainous Greece.
As a sea-trading people based in a series of mostly coastal towns and colonies, the Greeks would have encountered a great variety of religions, philosophies, languages, and arts.
An exposure to different worldviews can encourage, in the right conditions, an inquisitive mind: Unlike more centralised seafaring cultures such as the Carthaginians and Phoenicians, the Greeks could debate these things with a rare freedom.
Some of these views were startling: Diagoras and materialism e. Democracy caused consternation among privileged Athenians. Philosophers such as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, and playwrights such as Aeschylus and Aristophanes, are celebrated today as amongst the greatest products of Greek culture.
Socrates for example was associated with a group of conservative intellectuals who attempted to overthrow democracy in the late 5th century BCE.
Yet it was only because intellectual life in Athens was so open and critical that a figure like Socrates could exist at all. After Greece was conquered by the Romans, Athenian democracy died out. Democracy was not seen again in Europe until the advent of the bourgeoisie, who revived it years later, in their own forms, for their own reasons.
Individualism Unlike a great empire like Egypt, these relatively small, self-contained and democratic communities had no monarchy, bureaucracy and priest caste to insist upon a unity of cultural conventions. Artistic production was still dominated by the ruling class, but the ruling classes were more localised, less monolithic and, in democratic cities like Athens, constrained by the genuine political power of the masses.
This conjunction of elements brought something new to culture, in fact one of the most powerful ideas in history: Each citizen of the polis provided they were neither female nor slaves could make an individual contribution to society, and assert their own particular views in competition with those of others.
An individual, heroic human being could take control of their own destiny — human beings were the measure of all things. It is revealing that in the ancient world, it was highly unusual for artists to put their names to their work or become celebrated.
In Greece, however, even the creators of that mass-produced art form, pottery, are recognisable by their individual style and sometimes sign their work.
The Greeks consistently proclaim their identity as individual artists, lending history an unprecedented mass of named writers, architects, dramatists, poets and painters.Ancient Greece: Democracy and individualism The first foundation of Greek culture that we will look at is its politics.
In the sixth century BCE, Greece launched an unprecedented political experiment in direct democracy, with its epicentre in the city-state of Athens.
Individuality, as the Greeks viewed it, was the basis of their society. The ability to strive for excellence, no matter what the challenge, was what the Athenians so dearly believed in.
Ancient Greece was one of the largest contributors to present-day civilization. Democracy, philosophy, astrology, biology, mathematics, physics, and the.
The ancient Greeks left a wealth of knowledge through their surviving writings on a wide variety of themes, including science, logic, philosophy, literature, and the arts.
In addition, the city-state of Athens is considered the birthplace of intellectual freedom and democracy – lasting legacies. Individuality in Ancient Greece Whether a person sees himself as an autonomous individual or a subservient drone within a society is something that can influence the course of that particular culture.
Siedentop devotes just the first chapter to the culture of ancient Greece and Rome, but I think it’s the most important chapter because it forces the reader to face the stark contrast between that culture and the culture of the modern West.
History of the concept of the Individual and Individuality in Western Society by Augusto Forti “individuality” among cultures, for example, between India and Europe. In the ancient Greek and Roman world, dominated by the ideal of “aristocracy”, the status of a.