Aidos: The Psychology and Ethics of Honour and Shame in Ancient Greek Literature

By Douglas L. Cairns | Go to book overview
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Introduction

0.1. GENERAL

This study takes as its starting-point an examination of the usage in Greek authors of the cluster of terms centred on aidōs, notoriously one of the most difficult of Greek words to translate. Von Erffa rightly insists that aidōs is 'eine eigene Kraft, für die uns das Wort fehlt',1 yet the significance of this observation is all but ignored in the remainder of his account, in which he is constantly concerned to identify separate meanings and persists in the separate treatment of nouns, verbs, compound verbs, adjectives, and adverbs which are derived from the same root and which obviously operate in the same general area, as if there were some methodological advantage in regarding data on (say) aidoios as of a different order from that offered by the usage of aideomai In what follows, by contrast, I treat the concept of aidōs as a whole, and I have no qualms about using instances of the various cognate terms as evidence for the significance of the central concept to which they refer. Thus, while a certain amount of attention is accorded the usage of the various individual lexical items, far more time is spent on the attempt to identify the essence of aidōs by the delineation of the linguistic, psychological, social, and ethical contexts in which it operates. Throughout, aidōs is used as shorthand for the concept under investigation, and while this usually, though not always, indicates that some term belonging to the aidōs-group occurs in the passages under discussion, it should not be assumed that the reader will necessarily find the noun itself in the text. Such a procedure, it seems to me, avoids the dangers of dividing the inseparable that are inherent in the 'separate meanings' approach,2 but it will no doubt disappoint anyone in search of a neat classification of senses.

To consider the concept of aidōs as a whole, however, is not to hold a priori that aidōs-terms cannot be used in different, more or less distinct senses, or that, because the Greeks used one word, aidōs, for which we have to use several, they therefore could not distinguish between these different senses. Even the most conceptually unified set of terms can manifest a range of distinguishable senses through its

____________________
1
( 1937),9.
2
On the dangers of this approach, cf. Adkins ( 1970), 2-6; Scott ( 1980), 13.

-1-

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