Has There Ever Been a Non-Religious Civilization?

I was mostly kidding when I asked whether you were Harrison. There's much in my reddit history that I wouldn't want to attach to my professional identity, so you don't need to apologize for evasiveness. I hesitated to tell you even as much as I did about what I do. I've certainly divulged enough, and there's enough in my reddit history, for you to figure out exactly who I am. But I'm likely on my way out of the field (voluntarily, I hasten to add), so I'm less concerned about that than I might otherwise be.

Anyhow, getting back to your question, I don't tend to read the Greek orators in terms of morality. That's partly because the word "morality" has, to my ear, uncomfortably Christian associations. Certainly Isocrates and Xenophon care about morality (esp. moral development), but in their cases the context isn't really oratory. It's rhetoric/education, right?

Even when guys like Lysias and Demosthenes do their best to tar their (clients') opponents, the substance of their attack seems rarely, if ever, to be "this guy is an asshole" or "this guy's rotten to the core." It's more "you don't owe this guy anything" or "he hasn't shown himself to be deserving of your trust" or "by his actions he has made patently evident his contempt for your democracy" or "he sold his body and cavorted with long-haired youths so obviously he is barred from speaking publicly and unqualified to steer the ship of the city" or "the absurdity of his arguments show his incompetence as a prosecutor and his dishonesty reveals him as nothing more than a sycophant and proxy for my enemies." But I don't know my Demosthenes nearly as well as I should, and, again, my brain is dusty and full of cobwebs.

My intuition is that moral matters are much more natural and appropriate to a Roman setting. When I try to imagine it coming up in ancient oratory, my mind leaps to Cicero. When I try to imagine it in a Classical Athenian oratical context (apologies for the ugly wording; I have to write this quickly), even if I try to imagine the issue coming up just implicitly or buried under other ideas, that kind of thinking sounds wrong, out of place -- too Platonic, too 'interior.'

But it's also possible that when I use the word "morality" I'm not using it the way you use it. How does any/all of that strike you?

Agreed, feedback from people who don't know me or my work sometimes seems to benefit from the lack of personal, intellectual and professional entanglements.

Kudos to you for doing impact work. The field needs more people like you.

/r/history Thread Parent