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coming of age in ancient greece

Post #285 • May 26, 2004, 6:23 AM • 1 Comment

This review of "Coming of Age in Ancient Greece" by Victor Davis Hanson for the New Criterion was an interesting article, a thoughtful analysis, and a nuanced challenge to academic postmodernism rolled up in one. Go have a look.

Purportedly locked away in their northern European Victorian studies so far from the dust and stones of Greece, so ignorant of the new Cambridge anthropology, were our nineteenth-century classicists all that far off in thinking that the founders of Western civilization were familiar and approachable to us precisely because we as Westerners were their spiritual and intellectual successors? This feeling of a shared and common human experience is exactly what we receive from a wonderful new exhibition of classical Greek art depicting children and adolescents through gravestones, red- and black-figure vases, and terracotta miniature sculptures.

Ponder the title of this fascinating exhibition currently at the Cincinnati Art Museum... "Coming of Age in Ancient Greece: Images of Childhood from the Classical Past." The phraseology is derived from Margaret Meads own famous (and flawed) anthropological study of adolescent sexuality among Samoan teenagers that sought to introduce Westerners to an unfathomable alternate universe of young female ritual among third-world peoples, who were purportedly much more relaxed about their sexual needs and desires. Thucydides may have reminded us that human nature is unchanging across time and space, but contemporary classical scholars have countered that ancient Athens would seem a very bizarre place to us today - witness the current popularity by classical scholars of quoting the poet Louis MacNeices famous lines, "And how one can imagine oneself among them/ I do not know;/ It was all so unimaginably different/ And all so long ago."

The effect of viewing some 126 displays from American, Canadian, and European museums is an almost eerier resonance between past and present not discernible even through close reading of Greek literature. Greek children in a variety of contexts in the current exhibition are shown playing with familiar household pets like cats, small birds, and geese. Their toys seem to have come right out of small-town America of the 1940s - spinning-tops, hoops and sticks, jointed dolls, even seesaws. Greek moms, we learn, had their potties and training chairs - and rooms full of assorted cluttered junk such as mechanical toy rollers, pig-rattles, and wheeled horses. If we think clay for plastic, the experience is not much different from strolling through the aisles of Toys-R-Us. One terracotta spherical ink-well is identical to a Voit soccer-ball - even down to the familiar pattern of stitched ridges.




May 26, 2004, 8:57 PM

Thanks for the tip on this New Criterion article. I had a post on this exhibit on Ionarts back in December, when it was at Dartmouth. I still haven't been able to see it, but I will add this article to my list of Internet information on it.



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