Ancient Greece, early China: Sino-Hellenic studies and comparative approaches to the classical world. A review article*
Published online by Cambridge University Press: 13 January 2010
Classicists have long been wary of comparisons, partly for ideological reasons related to the incomparability of ‘the Classical’, partly because of the often problematic basis and limited illumination afforded by such efforts as have been made: the (non)-reception of the work of the Cambridge ritualists — such as J.G. Frazer and Jane Harrison — is a case in point in both respects. Interestingly, even the specifically comparative interests of the much more rigorous projects of the Paris School, at the Centre Louis Gernet, have not had much resonance outside France, notwithstanding the enormous influence of their work concerning purely Greek subject matter. In part, perhaps, this was a result of the shift from Vernant's originally Marxist framework, in which societies were comparable in terms of an evolutionary sociological scheme, to a structuralist one, entailing an emphasis on the uniqueness of different cultural traditions. The emphasis on the uniqueness of the Classical world was only reinforced by post-structuralism and post-modernism, which in their strongest forms suggested that cultures, like languages, were fundamentally incommensurable, and thus not accessible to outsider knowledge, let alone comparable. Indeed, so virulent was the post-structuralist virus that disciplines to which we might have expected to be able to turn for guidance, like comparative religion, are only now recovering the courage ‘to compare religious phenomena, theologies or artefacts outside of footnotes or less heavily policed epilogues’.
- Research Article
- The Journal of Hellenic Studies , Volume 129 , November 2009 , pp. 89 - 109
- Copyright © The Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies 2009