Cosmopolis: Imagining Community in Late Classical Athens and the Early Roman Empire

Cosmopolis: Imagining Community in Late Classical Athens and the Early Roman Empire


By (author) Daniel S. Richter


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  • Publisher: Oxford University Press Inc
  • Format: Hardback | 304 pages
  • Dimensions: 165mm x 236mm x 28mm | 567g
  • Publication date: 26 May 2011
  • Publication City/Country: New York
  • ISBN 10: 0199772681
  • ISBN 13: 9780199772681

Product description

This is a book about the ways in which various intellectuals in the post-classical Mediterranean imagined the human community as a unified, homogenous whole composed of a diversity of parts. More specifically, it explores how authors of the second century CE adopted and adapted a particular ethnic and cultural discourse that had been elaborated by late fifth- and fourth-century BCE Athenian intellectuals. At the center of this book is a series of contests over the meaning of lineage and descent and the extent to which the political community is or ought to be coterminous with what we might call a biologically homogenous collectivity. The study suggests that early imperial intellectuals found in late classical and early Hellenistic thought a way of accommodating the claims of both ethnicity and culture in a single discourse of communal identity. The idea of the unity of humankind evolved in the fifth and fourth centuries as a response to and an engine for the creation of a rapidly shrinking and increasingly integrated oikoumene . The increased presence of outsiders in the classical city-state as well as the creation of sources of authority that lay outside of the polis destabilized the idea of the polis as a kin group (natio). Beginning in the early fourth century and gaining great momentum in the wake of Alexander's conquest of the East, traditional dichotomies such as Greek and barbarian lost much of their explanatory power. In the second-century CE, by contrast, the empire of the Romans imposed a political space that was imagined by many to be coterminous with the oikoumene itself. One of the central claims of this study is that the forms of cosmopolitan and ecumenical thought that emerged in both moments did so as responses to the idea that the natio - the kin group - is (or ought to be) the basis for any human collectivity.

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Author information

Daniel S. Richter is Assistant Professor of Classics, University of Southern California.

Review quote

"This complex and stimulating book breathes life into old questions and sheds new light on deceptively familiar texts."--Felix Racine, The Classical Review"This is a sophisticated study that engages a considerable number of different texts with intellectual vigor and depth of argumentation, proposing new readings and drawing innovative connections."--Paul Dilley, Bryn Mawr Classical Review"This is an important book, and one that will be read profitably by scholars and advanced students interested in the intellectual and cultural history either of the Greek world in the fifth and fourth centuries BCE or of the Roman Empire in the second century CE."--David Cherry, History: Reviews ofNew Books"This is an outstanding synthesis of dazzling intellectual range and temporal sweep that teems with original apercus. Tracing the development of ancient ideas about the community of mankind, Richter shows how Greekness evolved from an ethnic and regional category in self-conscious opposition to 'barbarian' into a potentially universal form of cultural identity that even ethnic 'barbarians' might claim."--Maud W. Gleason, Stanford University "Richter's Cosmopolis changes the way we see identity and community in ancient Greece. Where most studies begin from the premise that Greeks were perpetually obsessed with excluding 'others, ' Richter describes the emergence of the idea of a human community, and its development in the more expansive and interconnected Hellenistic and Roman worlds. This is important, progressive work, which any cultural historian of the ancient Mediterranean will read with pleasure and profit."--Tim Whitmarsh, Corpus Christi College, Oxford

Table of contents

Introduction ; Chapter One Nature, Culture, and the Boundaries of the Human Community ; Chapter Two After Ethnicity: Zeno as Citizen ; Chapter Three The Rhetoric of Unity ; Chapter Four "A Pure World of Signs": Language and Empire ; Chapter Five The Origins of Human Wisdom ; Chapter Six The Unity of the Divine ; Conclusion ; Bibliography