Magazine article The Spectator

A Touch of Class

Magazine article The Spectator

A Touch of Class

Article excerpt

Class is back in the news, and the BBC's online do-it-yourself 'class calculator' confirms that wealth is the overriding determinant of class status. No change there, then.

The Athenians had a term for a member of the upper class: he was (pl. ) kalos kai agathos (shortened to kalos kagathos), 'handsome and good in action'. It implied inherited wealth, good looks and a good education (the last available only to the rich, who had the leisure to indulge in it), which therefore qualified them for military and political leadership.

But there was little class strife.

Since, in that results-conscious world, it was felt that such a family must have been doing something right to have reached that position, the ideology behind the kalos kagathos seems not to have been questioned. Further, the notion of the exploitation of labour was non-existent, because nearly all Athenians worked for themselves, trying to earn a living on the land or by making and selling goods they had produced. So they could not feel that others were enriching themselves at their expense. …

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