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
solar calendar around the time when their city was defeated by the Spartans, the Long Walls destroyed, and their empire and navy disbanded. With no empire to administer and no military procurements to pay for, the precision and regularity of the council’s calendar would fade in importance. Under these circumstances, the public mood apparently swung in the other direction. In 403, the people of Athens charged Nicomachus with drawing up a list of traditional public sacri‹ces; this list was arranged
the polis alike reexamined time in profound, if not always similar, ways. If we choose to abstract from their efforts a narrative of intellectual history, we can point to two separate revolutions. The ‹rst revolution was broadly temporal, replacing the authority vested in the atemporal worlds of myth and being with the temporal worlds of the polis and its human inhabitants. Crucial moments in such a change were the dating of mythical events by archons and priestesses and the recognition that a
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
in the plot are not easily managed, and one of the more effective devices is also the most arti‹cial— the deus ex machina who prohibits a certain course of events. More subtle false leads involve not an actual course of events but a character’s potential to follow more than one path. Undecidedness By referring to “undecidedness” in Euripidean tragedy, I mean the capacity of characters to cause surprise, to act in ways that might not have been antici- Present Situations 93 pated. This is not
larger story of human development is made up of incremental developments derived from individual situations and responses: over a long period of time, humans ‹rst discovered techniques to cook and process food and tried various ways of combining foods (3), with each new discovery building on those that went before. It follows from these three factors that Ancient Medicine fully embeds events in time in a way that other narratives of human development do not. The succession of events forms a