Robin Wagner-Pacifici. Although the ancient Greeks did not have an anthropology as we know it, they did have an acute interest in human nature, especially questions of difference.
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What makes men different from women, slaves different from free men, barbarians different from Greeks? Are these differences visible in the body? How can they be classified and explained? Sassi demonstrates that in the Greek science of man, empirical observations were inextricably bound up with a prejudiced view of the free Greek male as superior to all others.
Thus, because women were assumed to have pale skin from staying indoors too much, Greek biology and medicine sought to explain this feature as an indication of the "cold" nature of women, as opposed to the "hot" constitution of men. For this English translation, Sassi has rewritten the introduction and updated the text and references throughout, and Sir Geoffrey Lloyd has provided a new foreword. Table of Contents.
The Colors of Humanity 2. The Physiognomical Gaze 3. Reality and Its Classification: Women and Barbarians 4. Prediction and Norm 5.
History of Humanism With Ancient Greek Philosophers
This model is helpful for describing the different ways in which a chromatic culture can segment the huge range of possible combinations of the three dimensions by privileging one or the other. A culture might emphasise hue or chroma or value, each with varying intensity. And so the Munsell model is useful in that it helps to demonstrate the remarkable Greek predilection for brightness , and the fact that the Greeks experienced colours in degrees of lightness and darkness rather than in terms of hue.
For the Greeks, colour was a basic unit of information necessary to understanding the world, above all the social world. The emotional and ethical values of colour cannot be forgotten in trying to discern Greek chromatic culture.
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Of use are two further parameters, in addition to the Munsell model and the subjective value of colour. There is the glitter effect of colour, which is produced by the interplay of the texture of the object and the light conditions, and there is the material or technological process by which a certain colour is obtained in the practice of painters and dyers.
The fact that the sea can appear purple at sunset is not sufficient to explain the frequency of this epithet in Greek literature. When the sea is called porphureos , what is described is a mix of brightness and movement, changing according to the light conditions at different hours of the day and with different weather, which was the aspect of the sea that most attracted Greek sensitivity.
As shown by the naval friezes and the aquatic animals painted inside many drinking vessels, vase painters turned the image around, so that the surface of the drink suggested the waving of the sea. Porphureos conveys this combination of brightness and movement — a chromatic term impossible to understand without considering the glimmer effect. The material effect of shimmering under the light rays is well-caught by Aristotle within a discussion on the colours of the rainbow one of them being violet.
In his Meteorology , he states:. The luminous quality of purple textiles is due to the particular manufacturing of porphura , the material from which the dye was drawn. Purple dye was produced as early as BCE in Phoenicia from urine, sea water, and ink from the bladder of murex snails.
Various nuances from yellow to green, to blue, to red could be obtained, depending on how much water was added and when the boiling process was stopped. The red and purple tones were greatly prized in antiquity because of the costliness of the process one mollusc providing just a few drops of undiluted juice and the colour did not easily fade — on the contrary, it became brighter with weathering and sunlight. This is why purple was associated throughout antiquity — and beyond — with power, prestige and glorious beauty, worn for centuries by Emperors and kings, cardinals and Popes.
So the curious case of porphura shows how the effects of movement, variation and luminosity went along with resonances of preciousness. Gold was also appreciated for similar reasons, and it is not by chance that the heroes and gods from Homer to Philostratus are often attired in gold and porphura. By moving beyond the Newtonian model, a clearer picture of the Greek chromatic world emerges. However, there is one lingering question about the Greek perception of colour: why, after all, did the Greeks value brightness so much?
The philosophers that inspired Goethe offer a clue. Then came Empedocles, with a fragment that compares the mixing of the four elements that build the sensible world to the work that painters do when mixing different pigments in variable proportions:.
During the second half of the fifth century BCE, Democritus argued that the nature of colours depends on the interaction between visual rays, daylight and the atomic structure of objects. He considered brilliance to be a factor as important as hue for defining colours. Aristotle differs from Plato on crucial points in metaphysics and psychology. In On Sense and the Sensible , he devotes a chapter to colour where he argues that the various colours arise from different proportions in the mixtures of white and black. These last two, moreover, correspond in his view to the fire and the water in the physical bodies, and determine the transparent medium as light and darkness respectively.
Red, purple, green and dark blue, kuanoun, are primary mixtures of white and black, the remaining colours resulting from mixtures of the primary ones. Aristotle elaborates on the aesthetic assumptions of his predecessors and makes explicit statements on colour being an indicator of vitality and vigour, both in the world and in painting which recalls the need to take into account the emotional meaning of a colour. It is most noteworthy that a similar attitude emerges from a number of ancient descriptions of the aesthetic effect produced by the colouring of statues, pervaded by the celebration of the brightening and enlivening properties of colour.
The Science of Man in Ancient Greece
The literary evidence has recently received striking corroboration on this subject from important archaeological reconstructions of ancient sculptural polychromy. The effect sought by applying the most brilliant and saturated colours was exactly one of splendour, along with energy, movement and life. So Goethe was right.
In trying to see the world through Greek eyes, the Newtonian view is only somewhat useful. Without this, the crucial role of light and brightness in their chromatic vision would be lost, as would any chance to make sense of the mobility and fluidity of their chromatic vocabulary. Kate Kirkpatrick. Nigel T Rothfels.
An Ancient Greek Philosopher Was Exiled for Claiming the Moon Was a Rock, Not a God
Become a Friend of Aeon to save articles and enjoy other exclusive benefits Make a donation. The Aegean Sea. Maria Michela Sassi is professor of ancient philosophy at Pisa University. Aeon for Friends Find out more. In his Meteorology , he states: The same effect [as in the rainbow] can also be seen in dyes: for there is an indescribable difference in the appearance of the colours in woven and embroidered materials when they are differently arranged; for instance, purple is quite different on a white or a black background, and variations of light can make a similar difference.
So embroiderers say they often make mistakes in their colours when they work by lamplight, picking out one colour in mistake for another. Painters, as we know, first of all outline the figure of the animal and after that go on to apply the colours. Beauty and aesthetics Cultures and languages Oceans and water.