Present Shock in Late Fifth-Century Greece
Francis M. Dunn
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Francis M. Dunn's Present Shock in Late Fifth-Century Greece examines the widespread social and cultural disorientation experienced by Athenians in a period that witnessed the revolution of 411 B.C.E. and the military misadventures in 413 and 404---a disturbance as powerful as that described in Alvin Toffler's Future Shock. The late fifth century was a time of vast cultural and intellectual change, ultimately leading to a shift away from Athenians' traditional tendency to seek authority in the past toward a greater reliance on the authority of the present. At the same time, Dunn argues, writers and thinkers not only registered the shock but explored ways to adjust to living with this new sense of uncertainty. Using literary case studies from this period, Dunn shows how narrative techniques changed to focus on depicting a world in which events were no longer wholly predetermined by the past, impressing upon readers the rewards and challenges of struggling to find their own way forward.
Although Present Shock in Late Fifth-Century Greece concentrates upon the late fifth century, this book's interdisciplinary approach will be of broad interest to scholars and students of ancient Greece, as well as anyone fascinated by the remarkably flexible human understanding of time.
Francis M. Dunn is Professor of Classics at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is author of Tragedy's End: Closure and Innovation in Euripidean Drama (Oxford, 1996), and coeditor of Beginnings in Classical Literature (Cambridge, 1992) and Classical Closure: Reading the End in Greek and Latin Literature (Princeton, 1997).
"In this fascinating study, Francis Dunn argues that in late fifth-century Athens, life became focused on the present---that moving instant between past and future. Time itself changed: new clocks and calendars were developed, and narratives were full of suspense, accident, and uncertainty about things to come. Suddenly, future shock was now."
---David Konstan, John Rowe Workman Distinguished Professor of Classics and the Humanistic Tradition and Professor of Comparative Literature, Brown University
"In this fascinating work, Dunn examines the ways in which the Greeks constructed time and then shows how these can shed new light on various philosophical, dramatic, historical, scientific and rhetorical texts of the late fifth century. An original and most interesting study."
---Michael Gagarin, James R. Dougherty, Jr., Centennial Professor of Classics, the University of Texas at Austin
"Interesting, clear, and compelling, Present Shock in Late Fifth-Century Greece analyzes attitudes toward time in ancient Greece, focusing in particular on what Dunn terms 'present shock,' in which rapid cultural change undermined the authority of the past and submerged individuals in a disorienting present in late fifth-century Athens. Dunn offers smart and lucid analyses of a variety of complex texts, including pre-Socratic and sophistic philosophy, Euripidean tragedy, Thucydides, and medical texts, making an important contribution to discussions about classical Athenian thought that will be widely read and cited by scholars working on Greek cultural history and historiography."
---Victoria Wohl, Associate Professor, Department of Classics, University of Toronto
of Euripides’ particular orientation, I shall conclude this section on time past by considering the use he makes of memory in Heracles. Memory and Identity Heracles begins with a complex account of the dramatic past by the protagonist’s father, Amphitryon. He describes his own past in Argos, that of Megara in Thebes, Megara’s marriage to Heracles, Amphitryon’s murder of Alcmene’s father, Heracles’ labors to appease Hera and recover Argos, and the rise to power of Lycus, who now threatens the
Hera or by necessity. He completed all the other labors and ‹nally went to Hades through the jaws of Taenarus to bring up to light the three-bodied dog. He has not returned. (13–25) The fact that the past cannot be undone is nowhere more true than in the famous labors of Heracles. Yet the past can always be revisited and revised in memory. Why exactly did Heracles undertake these labors? Amphityron prefers to think he did so to allow his family to return to Argos, but he admits there may have
Thucydides is much more circumspect, pointing backward from his own beginning (the breaking of the truce) to unspeci‹ed "ÆJ\"4. The war itself began when the Athenians and Peloponnesians broke the thirty-year truce that they made after the capture of Euboea. As for why they broke it, my account begins with the complaints and disagreements [JH "ÆJ\"H . . . 6"Â JH *4"N@DVH], so no one will ever need ask how such a war came upon the Greeks. (1.23.4–5) In the course of his exhaustive account,
understanding of time and the present are part of a development that was widespread in Greece, particularly in Athens. These reconstructions of civic time became more daring toward the end of the century. Second, important aspects of these new schemes for measuring time anticipate speci‹c features of the narratives I shall discuss in later chapters. They exhibit a desire for completeness, a focus less on singular, canonical points than on a continuum often ‹lled with mundane events. The new
Meier concludes his discussion of auxesis, “an ancient equivalent of the concept of progress,” by stating that “it received a considerable impetus from the immense dynamism that emanated from Athens in all spheres” and “evaporated when Athens was defeated in the Peloponnesian War.”38 Slightly different versions of this imperial model seem to be suggested by Sophocles and Democritus. Sophocles lets his chorus in Antigone voice a Periclean optimism in human nature that is potentially unbounded: new