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G.E.M. De St. Croixe on pride in workmanship

It would be absurd to suggest that the lower classes as a whole dutifully accepted the social snobbery and contempt for the 'banausic' that prevailed among the well-to-do. Many Greeks (and western Romans) who might be called 'mere artisans' by superior people even today were evidently very proud of their skills and felt that they acquired dignity by the exercise of them: they referred to them with pride in their dedications and their epitaphs, and they often chose to be pictured on their tombstones in the practice of their craft or trade, humble as it might be in the eyes of their 'betters.' To say that 'the ancient Greeks' despised craftsmen is one of those deeply misleading statements which show blindness to the existence of all but the propertied Few. It might have shocked even the humble Smikythe, who, in an inscription of four words accompanying an early-fifth-century dedication at Athens, took care to record her occupation: she was a plyntria, a washerwoman. It would certainly have shocked the families of Mannes the Phrygian, who was made to boast on his tombstone in late-fifth-century Attica, 'By Zeus, I never saw a better woodcutter than myself,' and of Atotas the Paphlagonian, whose fine Attic monument of the second half of the fourth century, describing him as 'Atotas, miner' (metalleus) bears two elegant couplets advertising the Selbstbewusstein of the proud technician, with not only a convential claim to distinguished heroic ancestry but also the boast that no-one could compete with him in techne.

G.E.M. De St. Croixe, The Class Struggle in the Ancient World.


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