Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

THE Secretary of State for Education, David Blunkett, has decreed that failing schools shall be named. `Naming and shaming', screamed the headlines the next day, as if 'shame' were somehow a wicked emotion to make people feel. On the contrary, it is, like guilt, an excellent response to induce, as any Homeric hero would have told you.

Aidos, the ancient Greek word for 'a sense of shame', covered a wide range of feelings, including awe, fear (particularly of punishment) and respect. It was generated by acting wrongly, or below one's best, in front of friends or gods.

For example, Homeric heroes urge on their men to stand firm, or reproach them in retreat, by saying, `Put aidos in your hearts.' They urge on themselves in precisely the same way. When the Trojan hero Hector is standing outside the gates of Troy awaiting Achilles' attack, he admits he should have taken earlier advice to lead a retreat back into the city. As it is, he says to himself, 'I have destroyed my people by my rash actions, and now feel aidos in front of the Trojan men and women in case someone more cowardly than I shall say of me, "Hector, trusting in his strength, destroyed his people. …

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