Cultural Politics in Polybius's Histories

By Craige B. Champion | Go to book overview

Chapter 7
Practical Contexts
and Political Realities

By the indirect approach you must seek and strive to the best of your power to handle matters tactfully. What you cannot turn to good you must at least make as little bad as you can.

THOMAS MORE, Utopia

The objective of this chapter is to situate Polybius's collective representations, especially those of Romans, in the political circumstances from which they arose. We have seen two strongly divergent Polybian images of Romans—now quasi Hellenes, now barbarians. Romans participate in Polybius's Hellenism insofar as they participate in Hellenic logismos (see appendix C). But they have been subjected to the degenerative historical forces to which all states are susceptible; and the ultimate danger to the Roman state, as for all Polybian states, is the rise of the demagogic leader and the reign of the ochlos, or mob. We have also seen both how these ideas conform to Roman aristocratic ideologies and how contrary suggestions of Roman barbarism conform to an anti-Roman Greek ideological position. It remains to consider Polybius's pragmatic circumstances and his collective representations in the Histories as a response to political realities. This chapter situates Polybius's text within dramatic historical changes Rome was undergoing in the period of Polybius's stay there, and Roman politicians' reactions to them, Greek and Roman diplomatic and political interactions, and Achaean factional politics before the Senate.


Hellenism, Turbulence, and Change: Polybius in Rome

Paramount among the political realities Polybius faced at Rome were Roman reactions to Hellenism and the bearings these reactions had upon Polybius's identity as Greek resident in Rome. Although Rome was witnessing a rapidly increasing inffux of Greek culture, the Roman aristocracy had long enjoyed Greek cultural productions. Indeed, as early as 282 a Roman legate to Tarentum, L. Postumius Megellus, had made his address in Greek, but with

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