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

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

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

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

Synopsis

This is the first study in English to examine across the range of Greek literature one of the most crucial terms in Greek ethical and social discourse, aidos. Commonly rendered `shame', `modesty', or `respect', aidos is also notoriously one of the most elusive and difficult Greek words to translate. In this book Dr Cairns discusses the nature and application of aidos and other relevant terms in a number of authors, with particular emphasis on their manifestations in epic, tragedy, and philosophy. He shows that the essence of the concept is to be found in its relationship with Greek values of honour, in which context it can recognize and respond to the honour of both the self and others. It thus involves both self- and other- regarding behaviour, competitive and co-operative values. Despite this crucial relationship with systems of honour, however, the possession of aidos at no stage rules out the sort of commitment to internalized standards or ideals which we might associate with conscience.

Excerpt

There is clearly a great need for a comprehensive study of the concept of aidōs in Greek literature; the importance of the concept is apparent to anyone who has read at all widely in epic or tragedy, yet understanding of its essence is hindered, even among specialists, by the complexity which emerges once one appreciates the range of situations in which the relevant terms occur and the range of attitudes and responses which they are able to convey. While there does exist a number of limited studies, particularly of aidōs in Homer and of its meaning in crucial passages of Hesiod and Euripides, which are often very useful, the only comprehensive study made in the present century is that of von Erffa (1937), and, in spite of the merits of this work in many of its interpretations of individual passages, its overall approach is too disjointed to be helpful.

My aim, then, has been to provide the comprehensive overview which would assist as many as possible of those who might wish to gain some understanding of this important concept. In the absence of any other full and detailed modern study, I felt it best not just to concentrate on the isolation of generic characteristics of aidōs, but to investigate in detail the work of the concept in individual passages of individual works by individual authors, both in order that the work should be of use as a work of reference to students and scholars of Classics, who might wish to discover what I have to say about aidōs in some important passage or in some work in which it plays a significant role, and in order that a work which, I hope, will lay the groundwork for future studies of aidōs could not be accused of over-simplification or of glossing over the details. The book, however, is not solely or even principally intended as a work of reference, but as a contribution to the major areas of study in which an understanding of aidōs is important, and so I have tried, as far as possible, to keep in mind the interests of students and scholars in the fields of Greek intellectual history, Greek popular morality or values, Greek literature, and Greek philosophy. Accordingly, while the work as a whole addresses questions of interest to those Greek scholars of an intellectual-historical, social anthropological bent, it is to be hoped that its parts may be useful in more diverse ways, as limited contributions to, say, literary interpretation of Homer or tragedy, or philosophical interpretation of Plato and Aristotle.

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