Cultural Politics in Polybius's Histories

By Craige B. Champion | Go to book overview

Chapter 6
Collective Representations
and Ideological Contexts

The agent who “regularizes” his situation or puts himself in the right is simply beating the group at its own game; in abiding by the rules, falling into line with good form, he wins the group over to his side by ostentatiously honouring the values the group honours.

PIERRE BOURDIEU, Outline of a Theory of Practice

This chapter examines Polybius's narrative as indirect historiography. I argue that as indirect historian Polybius represents Roman collective character in ways that conform to the ideological predilections of his target audiences, both the Roman senatorial aristocracy and the political elite in Greece, many of whom harbored anti-Roman sentiments. First, I situate the narration of progressive Roman degeneration studied in part 2 within some available Roman aristocratic ideologies, arguing that here Polybius's representations conform to contemporary Roman aristocratic political ideas. Then, I argue that Polybius, indirectly but also on occasion in his own narrative voice, calls the Hellenism of the Romans into question, subverting the image of Romans as quasi Hellenes in the main lines of his narrative. Here the historian suggests that the Romans may indeed have been barbarians all along, and I shall argue that in so doing Polybius conforms to virulent antiRoman sentiment in Greece in general, and among his compatriots in the Achaean Confederation in particular.

Pierre Bourdieu's statement above is suggestive of my approach in the discussion that follows. In Polybius's case, however, the situation was complicated by the fact that he was writing for both Roman and Greek readerships, and his Greek and Roman audiences were themselves far from monolithic in their cultural politics. Polybius was “regularizing” his situation before multiple audiences: “philhellenic” Romans who embraced Hellenism; those who, like Cato, took a more reserved approach to Greek culture; and Greeks among whom opinions were very divided on the notion that Rome was a civilized, “Hellenic” city. A contextual approach, taking account of Polybius's readerships, helps resolve the tensions and seeming incongruities in Polybius's representations of Romans. Together the politics of cultural assimilation

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