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Rethinking the Other in Antiquity (Martin Classical Lectures) Hardcover – November 21, 2010

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Editorial Reviews


Shortlisted for the 2012 Runciman Award, Anglo-Hellenic League

"[T]he range of research, and the depth of thought, are extraordinary. Gruen has taken on a massively important subject, and he has brought a genuinely new perspective to the scholarly conversation."--Emily Wilson, New Republic

"[Gruen] is at his best when he dissects Greco-Roman perceptions of the Jews and the Jewish reception of Greco-Roman culture and accommodation with the world of the goyim."--Choice

"Rethinking the Other in Antiquity, by Erich S. Gruen, out this month from Princeton University Press, like all excellent scholarship massages the mind in useful new directions. . . . Gruen's mission . . . is to unpack the contrary story, far less told: 'that Greeks, Romans, and Jews (who provide us with almost all the relevant extant texts) had far more mixed, nuanced, and complex opinions about other peoples.' In the main text and many useful footnotes of this info-packed but never boring study, Gruen accomplishes that."--Carlin Romano, Chronicle Review

"Anthropologists should seriously consider Gruen's case, and it would be wonderful if this appreciation of and openness to different peoples and cultures could somehow enter into contemporary politics and culture."--Jack David Eller, Anthropology Review Database

"Rethinking the Other is an extremely valuable departure from a scholarly viewpoint that has threatened to become ossified of late, and as such is very worthwhile to everyone involved in the study of ancient conceptions of foreignness and belonging."--Antti Lampinen, ARCTOS

"Erich Gruen's Rethinking the Other in Antiquity is a book that, for one reason or another, desperately needed to be written, ideally by someone possessing G.'s authoritative command of the vast array of sources indicative of ancient knowledge of, and interest in, foreign peoples. . . . The result is a provocative, wide-ranging and thoroughly engaging volume that is both beautifully produced--with copious footnotes, helpful indices and handsome book-jacket featuring a (highly apposite) janiform vase--and (very) reasonably priced. The latter is fortuitous since it will automatically become a set text for courses touching on ancient self-conception and relations with foreign peoples and mandatory reading for anyone researching these and cognate fields."--Joseph Skinner, Journal of Roman Studies

"Rethinking the Other in Antiquity amounts to a major reassessment of an important topic. In light of the voluminous evidence Gruen assembles, it seems untenable to contend that Greek, Roman, and Jewish views of other cultures can be reduced to self-serving stereotypes and denigrations. Hopefully his book will help usher in more nuanced and charitable perspectives."--Eric Adler, European Legacy

From the Back Cover

"This erudite and lucid treatment of the limits of tolerance and open-mindedness toward the Other in ancient Greece, Rome, and the Jewish world deals with a topic central to our evaluation of any society. The book will be an all-important source of information and will stimulate renewed discussion of the moral standards of the ancients in their attitudes toward foreigners. This absorbingly written work will lead to a reconsideration of questions regarding ethnic identity in the ancient Mediterranean world."--Benjamin Isaac, Tel Aviv University

"Gruen has produced an original and learned book that gives fresh insight into the complex issues of race in the ancient world and offers a more nuanced understanding of the interactions of ancient cultures that will hopefully enable us all to view the interactions between cultures in today's world with greater sensitivity."--David Potter, University of Michigan

"Did ancient Greeks regard Persians and Egyptians as servile 'barbarians,' by way of indicating their own superiority? Did Romans believe that Carthaginians were essentially perfidious, Gauls and Germans primitive, Jews weird and despicable? With deep learning and a graceful style, Gruen shows that these modern generalizations are wide of the mark, and that ancient attitudes toward foreigners were nuanced and by and large positive. The book invites us to inquire whether scholars have projected onto the classical world a sense of ethnic 'otherness' more characteristic of our own."--David Konstan, Brown University

"Greeks often referred to other peoples as 'barbarians,' while Romans considered themselves destined to rule the world, and viewed many of their subjects and adversaries (Greeks, Jews, Persians) with distrust or contempt. 'Otherness' can seem an ineradicable element of Greek, Roman, and Jewish thought. But Erich Gruen urges us to 'rethink the Other,' arguing with his customary verve and erudition that ancient attitudes were more nuanced than has often been supposed."--Christopher Jones, Harvard University

"This is an excellent and timely book on an important topic. Gruen persuasively argues that the model of the Other does not work for antiquity. Instead of consistently negative stereotypes he finds complexity and nuance, negative stereotypes being balanced by positive images, a willingness to acknowledge foreign influence on one's own culture, and, particularly striking, widespread desire to claim kinship relationships."--Stanley M. Burstein, professor emeritus, California State University, Los Angeles

"Gruen offers a defense of many prominent cultures--including the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Jews, Gauls, and Carthaginians--against overextended charges of polarizing worldviews of each other. He looks at hundreds of examples and finds that the ancient sources' discussions of difference also recognize sameness, borrowing, relatedness, and indebtedness. The entire book is magnificently documented. The range of scholarship is very impressive."--Donald Lateiner, Ohio Wesleyan University

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Product Details

  • Series: Martin Classical Lectures
  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (November 21, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 069114852X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691148526
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.8 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,838,754 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Remus on April 3, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Gruen's The Last Generation of the Roman Republic (1995) was a painstakingly thorough examination of our sources for the political currents and conflicts of the late Republic. Since then, he's published books on Hellenism and the status and self-image of the Jews in the Greek and Roman World. His wide-ranging interest in cultural identity across the ancient Mediterranean now gives us this latest work, which seems part of a natural progression for the author: Rethinking the Other in Antiquity.

Gruen, UC Berkeley Emeritus, investigates as amazing array of sources to give insight into how the Romans, Greeks and Jews viewed each other as well as "barbarian" outsiders. Whereas the recent trend in scholarship has been to emphasize the tendency of the Romans, Greeks and Jews to alienate and dehumanize the "Other", Gruen provides counter-arguments to show how interlinked the various groups actually were, as they co-opted ideas, gods, and ancient ancestors from each other. Rather than a starkly delineated world divided between "us" and "them", the picture that emerges is a complex patchwork of relationships that span continents and centuries. As Gruen himself acknowledges in his summation, the thesis he presents is not conclusive, but it's certainly stimulating.

One of Gruen's strengths is his ability to write clearly and succinctly without sacrificing the complexity of his ideas. There is very little esoteric academic-speak here. The result is not only an engaging work of historical investigation, but a darn good read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Robert Lebling on March 9, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This work challenges conventional notions about how peoples of classical antiquity - Greeks, Romans, Jews - viewed their enemies, adversaries, conquerors and conquests.

The traditional view is that the ancients kept their distance from the "Other" through stereotypes, disdain and mockery. Gruen looks at these relationships and discovers surprising results.

He examines classical Greek views of the Persians, Egyptians and Phoenicians, the Romans' perspectives on the Carthaginians, Celts, Germans and Jews, and even Greek and Roman opinions of "people of color." While hostile views of the Other of course existed, he finds a surprising amount of tolerance, constructive interaction, even empathy.

Some ancients even sought their origins among their enemies. Greeks believed they were parents of the Persians through their legendary ancestor Perseus, and Achaemenid Persians accepted and reshaped the same legend.

Gruen delves deeply into a wealth of ancient tales and histories, and draws a vivid portrait of a truly multicultural world.

[A version of this review appeared in Saudi Aramco World, Sep/Oct 2011.]
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3 of 6 people found the following review helpful By ROROTOKO on October 8, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This book is on the Rorotoko list. Professor Gruen's interview on "Rethinking the Other in Antiquity" ran as the Rorotoko Cover Feature on September 21, 2011 (and can be read in the Rorotoko archive).
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