December 09, 2010

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.

October 25, 2010

The crass jokes, they write themselves

Benedict Anderson takes time out of his discussion of the Cuban Revolution in Under Three Flags to tell us that:

With the help of two Asturian anarchists, a young Cuban nationalist called Armando Andre hid a bomb in the roof of the ground-floor toilet of the Captain-General's palace. The device was supposed to explode when Weyler sat down on the pot, bringing the whole second floor down on his head. The plotters were unaware, however, that Weyler suffered so severely from haemorrhoids that he almost never used the facility, preferring an earthenware field-potty when he had to relieve himself. The bomb went off, but no one was hurt, and Weyler decided to inform Madrid that the explosion had been caused by stoppages which prevented the latrine's gases from escaping normally.

I am sure that Anderson's discussion on the same page of how the Captain-General was "partly relieved" and of the "diehard colons" of the Revolution, have absolutely nothing to do with this footnote.