Roman opinions of Greeks

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Roman opinions of Greeks

Postby Lucius Tyrrhenus Garrulus on Sun Sep 14, 2003 6:46 am

Salvete omnes! S.V.B.E.V.

I just finished Pliny's Natural History. What a wealth of information. Some of the most interesting parts I thought were Pliny's opinion of the Greeks:

"...we are swept along by the empty words of Greek intellectuals."
"They are a worthless and intractable lot."
"...when the Greeks give us their literature it will undermine our whole way of live..."
"The Greeks, progenitors of all vices..."
"It is astonishing how far Greek gullibility will go."
"Amber provides an opportunity for exposing the false accounts of the Greeks..."
..."not everything handed down by the Greeks merits admiration."

My question is, was Pliny's opinion of the Greeks common to Roman citizens? If not, what was the general Roman opinion of the Greeks? Or vice versa?

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Postby Gnaeus Dionysius Draco on Mon Sep 15, 2003 8:00 pm

Salve Garrule,

Some Romans hated the Greeks because they actually felt a culturally inferior to them, even though they had conquered them. Originally, as someone once said, Romans were military farmers. They were good organisers, planners, politicians, soldiers, merchants and generals but most ancient philosophers, artists and writers are Greek, and if they are Latin they have Greek examples or counterparts. Most Latin writers or members of the high society in Rome were also bilingual. Speaking Greek was considered to be a sign of class, like, for a long time and still to some extent today, speaking French was in the UK (or the US).

So the reason why some Romans so fiercely opposed the Greek was born out of frustration. Part of it also had to do with the age-old cliché that if you are unfamiliar with something, you'll be predisposed to dislike or dismiss it, especially when it begins to pervade your own culture en masse (a lot of Greeks came to Roman cities to look for work, or simply captured as slaves).

There were also those who really liked the Greek and Greek culture and were organised in circles of philhellenes. The anti-hellenism gradually faded as the empire became increasingly multi-ethnic and it appeared that Latin (culture) had not been undermined by Greek influence* at all, but rather strengthened.

Vale bene,

* Some also considered any and all influence from the East to be effiminate. Funny to remark is that the Greeks thought the same: to them the Persians were a bit effiminate, and probably to the Persians the Indians were weak as well ;).
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Postby Marcus Pomponius Lupus on Tue Sep 16, 2003 4:15 pm


The Romans were divided on the matter as is best shown by the bitter rivalry between the Scipiones and the Catones. The Scipiones admired the Greek culture and often came together to talk only Greek and discuss Greek art. Hundreds, if not thousands, of statues have been deported from Greece to Rome and many more copies have been made of the famous statues.

(That is why some people believe that Greek statues were mostly made in marble instead of bronze, when we see a portrait of for example Myroon's Diskoboulos (the disc thrower) then we see a marble statue, though the original was in bronze)

And let's not forget that the Christian Church was mainly against the Greeks (and thus against their art) as well, so when they copied manuscripts or decided which works to keep and which to throw away, they mostly chose to keep the ones that talked bad about Greeks. I'm not sure from who it was, someone from the early days of the Christian Church it was, but the phrase "Graecae sunt, non leguntur" illustrates this pretty well.

But as Draco already said, some liked them, some didn't.

Vale bene
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Postby Quintus Pomponius Atticus on Tue Feb 24, 2004 2:18 pm


An addition to an old topic again. Perhaps the most virulent hater of Greeks, Iuvenalis devoted most of his third satire to the pernicious influence of foreigners, especially Greeks and others from the east :

You can read the text in Latin, with the English translation next to it, at, but here is a little foretaste already :

I cannot abide, Quirites, a Rome of Greeks; and yet what fraction of our dregs comes from Greece? The Syrian Orontes has long since poured into the Tiber, bringing with it its lingo and its manners, its flutes and its slanting harp-strings[6]; bringing too the timbrels of the breed, and the trulls who are bidden ply their trade at the Circus. Out upon you, all ye that delight in foreign strumpets with painted headdresses! Your country clown, Quirinus, now trips to dinner in Greek-fangled slippers,[7] and wears niceterian[7] ornaments upon a ceromatic[7] neck! One comes from lofty Sicyon, another from Amydon or Andros, others from Samos, Tralles or Alabanda; all making for the Esquiline, or for the hill that takes its name from osier-beds[8]; all ready to worm their way into the houses of the great and become their masters. Quick of wit and of unbounded impudence, they are as ready of speech as Isaeus,[9] and more torrential. Say, what do you think that fellow there to be? He has brought with him any character you please; grammarian, orator, geometrician; painter, trainer, or rope-dancer; augur, doctor or astrologer:-

'All sciences a fasting monsieur knows,

And bid him go to Hell, to Hell he goes! ' [10]

In fine, the man who took to himself wings[11] was not a Moor, nor a Sarmatian, nor a Thracian, but one born in the very heart of Athens!


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