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Hall, Jonathan M. Hellenicity. Between Ethnicity and Culture.

HALL, Jonathan M. Hellenicity. Between Ethnicity and Culture. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2005. 312 pp. Paper, $29.00--Jonathan Hall's Hellenicity is an excellent book: thoroughly researched, cogently argued, and forcefully written. Hall lays out the scope of his study very clearly in an introductory chapter, in which he summarizes the main arguments of the book. These, briefly, are: (1) "that a subjective sense of Hellenic identity.., emerged in Greece rather later than is normally assumed" (p. 5); and (2) "that the definitional basis of Hellenic identity shifted from ethnic to broader cultural criteria in the course of the fifth century" (p. 7). The first argument takes up the core of the book (chaps. 2-5). After discussing definitions of ethnicity in the remainder of the first chapter, Hail turns to the thorny question of Greek origins, which he approaches both from the "internal" point of view (what the Greeks thought about their own origins) and through the lens of modern theories. The main point made in the chapter is that there was no sense of an ethnic unity in Bronze Age Greece. Chapter 3 argues that the identities of the main Greek ethnic groups emerges in the eighth and seventh centuries B.C. rather than that they are a remnant from a premigratory period. Hall even dismantles the historicity of the Dorian invasion and makes the intriguing suggestion that "Dorians" may be derived from doron, Greek for "gift," whereby the Dorians would be characterized as a chosen people (p. 88). Chapter 4 persuasively opposes the common beliefs that a sense of Hellenic identity developed as a consequence of the colonizing movements in the eighth century B.C., and that a strong distinction between Greek and Barbarian, with derogatory representations of the latter, existed already in the archaic period. The next chapter discusses the developments in the use of the terms "Hellas" and "Hellenes," continues with an informative survey of the provenance of Olympic victors in the archaic period, and concludes with a compelling analysis of the role played by Thessaly, with its hegemonic ambitions, in charging the terms "Hellas" and "Hellenes" with ethnic significance. Finally, chapter 6 discusses the sharpening of the opposition Greek/Barbarians in the fifth century. In addition to arguing for a transformation, in Greek perceptions of self-identity, from ethnic to cultural, Hail emphasizes the paramount role of Athens in these developments: "Panhellenism" is an Athenian phenomenon, and one which identifies "Hellenic" values with Athenian ones. The book also includes two appendixes (on the dating of archaic Greek poets and on the historicity of Olympic victors), a bibliography, and an index.

Hall's study is so rich in sharp insights that a short review cannot do justice to them. Let me mention just a few: in chapter 5, particularly interesting are the observations that the term "Panhellenes," which replaces "Hellenes" in the seventh century, points to ethnic diversity rather than unity, as is often believed (p. 132), and that the elites played a major role in creating a sense of common ethnic identity in the archaic period (p. 164). Hall's comment in chapter 4 on the "double standards" by means of which scholars speak of "Hellenized" for non-Greek people but of "Orientalizing" for the Greeks, thus emphasizing "the active nature of Greek initiative" (p. 107), is thought-provoking. In treating a subject that lends itself to ideological bias, Hall is admiringly balanced: while protesting against the "unashamed Hellenocentrism" of an approach such as the one described above, he also makes a strong case for the importance of filiation or common ancestry in perceptions of identity, thus challenging weaker, and meeker, definitions of ethnicity. One observation in this regard deserves quoting in full because of its perceptiveness and vividness: "it is not by accident that the national anthems of 'ethno-nations'--i.e. states where political boundaries are ideally (if not actually) coterminus with ethnic boundaries--are peppered with kinship terms. So, the French anthem begins "Allons enfants de la patrie" ("Onward, children of the fatherland"), while the opening lines of the Italian anthem are "Fratelli d'Italia, l'Italia s'e desta" ("Brothers of Italy, Italy has awakened"). By contrast, those national anthems that avoid kinship references generally belong to countries such as the United States or Switzerland where statehood is not predicated on the myth of ethnic homogeneity" (pp. 15-16).

Hall's scholarship and versatility are impressive: he is at home among literary texts (including several Platonic dialogues concerned with the representation of Greek ethnic identity, which are discussed in chap. 6) as well as material artifacts; he masters the techniques of historiography as well as of anthropology, linguistics, archaeology, and epigraphy. He is well informed about modern theories but does not let them take over the discussion. The richness and depth of his knowledge are reflected in the bibliography, which extends over forty-four pages. Finally, Hall's writing style is engaging, with plenty of elegant touches such as Homeric or Shakespearean allusions in the titles ("Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea" [p. 91]; "What's in a Name?" [p. 123]). This book is a pleasure to read, and we welcome its re-edition in paperback.--Silvia Montiglio, University of Wisconsin-Madison.
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Author:Montiglio, Silvia
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 1, 2006
Words:852
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