Cultural Politics in Polybius's Histories

By Craige B. Champion | Go to book overview

Conclusion

We wanted to delve as deeply as possible into the creative matrices of particular historical cultures and at the same time we wanted to understand how certain products of these cultures could seem to possess a certain independence.

CATHERINE GALLAGHER AND STEPHEN GREENBLATT, Practicing New Historicism

This study has attempted to understand Polybius as individual statesman and historian through his uses of one of the dominant themes of his cultural heritage, the Greek politico-cultural grammar of Hellenism. The methodology has been to track Polybius's narrative representations of Roman, Achaean, and other collective group characters and to situate these in the ideological and political contexts in which he worked. The framework within which Polybius worked out his collective representations was the Greek cultural construction of the Hellenic-barbarian bipolarity, and throughout I have tried to locate the Romans on a Polybian Greek-barbarian grid. I have argued that Polybius was not some sort of automaton in this regard, that he did not merely reffect the dominant language of Greek politico-cultural discourse; rather I have maintained that Polybius ingeniously manipulated the politico-cultural language of Hellenism in response to his own political circumstances and to the realities of Roman power. I have also maintained that we can discern the political meaning of Polybius's collective representations by establishing historical contexts for them, without unduly concerning ourselves with recovering the historian's subjective operations and conscious intentions in writing his history. In our search for the Romans on a Polybian Hellenic-barbarian continuum, we have found that the Romans do not occupy a fixed position; rather they slide between the poles of Hellenism and barbarism. I have maintained that this ambiguity was a response to political circumstances.

In Polybius's day Roman power had overcome the Greek world. Greek politicians in Polybius's lifetime had had to come to terms with that harsh fact, and the cultural politics of Hellenism proved to be a powerful tool in coping with the Roman hegemony. Greek statesmen used the Greek-barbarian dichotomy instrumentally in an attempt to ameliorate their subjected

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