Cast your mind back to the history books you read in school, the ones that covered classical Greece and Rome, and you’ll probably find yourself thinking about people like Pliny and Plato, Seneca and Socrates, men who seemed to spend the bulk of their days orchestrating epic battles and formulating complicated theories about shadows in caves.
It seems less likely that you’ll recall the anonymous Athenian who, some 1,500 years ago, snuck out in the middle of the night to inform the world that a certain Sydromachos had a backside “as big as a cistern.” Likewise, the fact that someone named Titas was “a lewd fellow” will almost certainly have passed you by.
I read this article in the Globe this morning and thought it was very interesting.
Taylor and Baird don’t quite fit with what we know about classical scholars. They occupy the sharp end of a small but enthusiastic group of academics who argue that the “Great Men” approach to history has left a gaping hole in our understanding of the ancient world. The stuff that ordinary people scratched on their city walls, the argument goes, can be far more illuminating than yet another account of the Battle of Corbione.
While there is tremendous value in studying prominent citizens of the day, I can imagine that they hardly represent the culture that existed in any particular civilization. It certainly makes me wonder what future anthropologists would think of us today if they only had a few representatives of our culture to study. It’s something to keep in mind as we begin our study of ancient civilizations this week.