Thursday, October 23, 2014


A Life Without Theoria

Robert Parker, Polytheism and Society at Athens (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), p. 44:
'A life without theoria is a life not worth living’: here is a proposition on which the most philosophical Athenian and the least would have been able to agree. But whereas for a philosopher theoria was contemplation, for unreformed man it meant attendance at a festival where there was plenty to see. In Aristophanes' Peace Theoria appears on stage in female form as one of the delights of peace from which the Athenians have been shut off for so long. The most familiar application of the nouns theoria and theoros relates to state delegations sent to the panhellenic festivals, and at this level they represent a privilege open to few citizens. But the journey to Artemis' festival at Brauron too was a theoria, and the 'theoric fund' subsidized attendance at festivals even within the city: theoria is simply 'going to a (religious) show'.28 Like sharing in sacrifices, 'going to festivals together', συνθεωρεῖν, is a symptom and a reinforcement of close social bonds.29

28 See I. Rutherford, CQ 50 (2000), 133–8; Hdt. 6.87 speaks of a πεντητερίς at Sunium, with a θεωρὶς ναῦς. Female form: Ar. Pax 713, 871–6 (with ribald jokes about the Brauron theoria); εἰς πανηγύρεις θεωρεῖν is an ideal already, ibid. 342.

29 [Lys.] 8. 5; Isoc. 19.10, 'we were more than brothers to one another, and there was no sacrifice or theoria or other festival which we did not share'; Isae. 8.15–16 (cf. 9. 30); Pl. Ep. 7, 333e. For friends arranging to process together at the Dionysia see Aeschin. 1.43.

Michael Hendry, "Macaulay On Grote," Curculio (August 14, 2005):
Macaulay used to say that a lady who dips into Mr. Grote's history, and learns that Alcibiades won the heart of his fellow-citizens by the novelty of his theories and the splendour of his liturgies, may get a very false notion of that statesman's relations with the Athenian public.
                  George Otto Trevelyan, The Life and Letters of Lord Macaulay, i.411, note 1.

I suppose Macaulay mentions "a lady" because any man likely to read Grote would know enough Greek to distinguish between Greek theoría and leitourgía and their English cognates.

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