The Family in Greek History

The Family in Greek History

The Family in Greek History

The Family in Greek History

Synopsis

The family, Cynthia Patterson demonstrates, played a key role in the political changes that mark the history of ancient Greece. From the archaic society portrayed in Homer and Hesiod to the Hellenistic age, the private world of the family and household was integral with and essential to the civic realm.

Early Greek society was rooted not in clans but in individual households, and a man's or woman's place in the larger community was determined by relationships within those households. The development of the city-state did not result in loss of the family's power and authority, Patterson argues; rather, the protection of household relationships was an important element of early public law. The interaction of civic and family concerns in classical Athens is neatly articulated by the examples of marriage and adultery laws. In law courts and in theater performances, violation of marital relationships was presented as a public danger, the adulterer as a sexual thief. This is an understanding thatfits the Athenian concept of the city as the highest form of family. The suppression of the cities with the ascendancy of Alexander's empire led

Excerpt

The modern uses of the English word "family" are many and varied; although the "nuclear family" (husband, wife, and children) has a certain ideological and political priority in contemporary society, other kinds of family are readily recognizable. Not only can a single-parent or grandparent household be a family, but someone's "family" might have come to America on the Mayflower, while another's "family" might be arriving next week for a "family reunion." The term is clearly flexible and denotes not so much a certain group of people as a family of relationships that binds people together as "one's own."

The use of the term "family" in Greek history, however, has enjoyed neither this practical flexibility nor any clear and precise definition. The central problem is that although "family" has generally been taken by Greek historians to refer to "blood" relationships and lineage, as distinct from the practical relationships of the household, it has also been used as one standard translation of oikos, which specifically denotes that household and its relationships. So oikos/polis usually translates the "family/state" opposition into a Greek idiom, even though it tends to be "blood kin," rather than household relationships, that are seen as opposing those of the state or polis. The problem is further compounded when the term genos is added to the discussion. This word is related to the verb "to become" and has a large range of meanings, from "birth, origin, or natural type" to a composite sense of "kin," to a specific descriptive name for a fictive kin group organized around the management of a . . .

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