Social Justice in the Ancient World

By K. D. Irani; Morris Silver | Go to book overview

4
KHRĒMATA: Acquisition and Possession in Archaic Greece

THOMAS J. FIGUEIRA

My purpose in this chapter is to explore archaic attitudes toward affluence and poverty and toward upward and downward social mobility, using a semantic approach in which the evidence for the deployment of a characteristic terminology will be evaluated. First, it is necessary to delimit the subject chronologically and from the standpoint of the socioeconomic orientation of the sources. By archaic Greece, I denote the period beginning between ca. 750 B.C., when most Greeks began to live in poleis or city-states, and ending in 480-479 B.C., when the invasion of Greece by the Persians was repelled. Therefore, my primary focus will not fall on hexametric poetry, which, either necessarily or conventionally, describes a Dark Age, pre-polis society. We may need to have Homer and (especially) Hesiod in the back of our minds in understanding our sources, but my preoccupation here will be with those poetic traditions that are pervaded by a consciousness of the form of the polis and of its systemization of articulated relations between social groups.

It is also essential to emphasize that the ethos of subsistence farmers is not a central concern here. Low-grade, autarkic cultivation supported the vast majority throughout the period, dominating many economies. Yet, its characteristic semantics, at least as may be discerned from Hesiod Works and Days, do not differentiate individuals and groups analogously to the terminological systems exhibited below. Instead, we must grapple with one of the most prominent and stark of the archaic polarities, wealth and poverty. The actual distribution of assets and incomes in many poleis may have approximated a continuum, with both the level of discontinuity and the placement of sharper gradations differing from city to city. The wealth and poverty occupying our attention were marks

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