December 08, 2006

Kristeva On ‘The Greeks Among Barbarians, Suppliants, and Metics’

Kristeva wonders how one becomes a foreigner and she notes that the term, foreigner, is now connected to legal jargon and the status of a person who exists in a country where he or she is not a citizen. Kristeva believes that the legal means by which citizens can solve difficulties with the foreigner does not resolve the issues of how to approach its otherness.

Moreover, by explicitly, obviously, ostensibly occupying the place of the difference, the foreigner challenges both the identity of the group and his own—a challenge that few among us are apt to take up. A drastic challenge: “I am not like you”. An intrusion: “Behave with me as you would among yourselves”. A call for love: “Recognize me”. (42)

Kristeva now challenges us to leave modern notions of the foreigner behind and to study instead ‘the foreigners of ancient tragedy’ (42).

The First Foreigners: Foreign Women (From Io to the Danaïdes)
Kristeva begins by discussing the Danaïdes, who were descendents of Io, one of Zeus’ lovers. Io was turned into a heifer by the jealous Hera, but Zeus transformed himself into a bull and continued to make love to Io. Hera responded by sending a gadfly to torment Io and as a heifer, Io travelled many lands pursued by that biting fly which Kristeva sees as a symbol of sexual passion. Later Zeus relieved of this curse and Io gave birth to a son, Epahus.

The story of the Danaïdes revolves around Epaphus’ great grandsons: Danaüs and Aegyptus, because Aegyptus wanted to forcibly marry Danaüs’ fifty daughters (the Danaïdes) to his fifty sons. However, the Danaïdes fled to Argos making themselves exiles from their native land (Egypt) and from marriage: ‘Warlike cold virgins, they retained only a cold passion from Io, which drew them in a different but sympathetical fashion, outside wedlock and outside the law’ (44). In some versions of the story, the Danaïdes murder their proposed husbands wither by their accord or in deference to their father’s will, yet there are two sisters who refrain: Amymone becomes a hydrophoran married to Poseidon and Hypermnestra marries the husband proposed for her rather than strangling him. The other Danaïdes murder their husbands and Kristeva suggests that in their case, ‘[f]oreignness is carried to forbidden revolt, a hubris giving rise to abjection’ (45).

Kristeva sees the story of the Danaïdes as displaying a movement in society from being endogamous (marrying within a tribe or social unit) to exogamous. To make new alliances, one must move beyond one’s clan and Kristeva states: ‘Such is the dark passion between husband and wife who are, after all, strangers to each other’ (46). The unit of the family is based on a ‘wrenching away’ (46).

Interestingly, Kristeva notes the war of the sexes that is explicit in the story of the Danaïdes:

Even more so, the foreign aspect of the Danaïdes also raises the problem of antagonism between the sexes themselves in their extramarital alliance, in the amatory and sexual “relation”. In shirt, what is the “relation” between the “population” or “race” of men and the “population” or “race” of women? The sexual difference, which has been in the course of time either erased or overemphasised in turn, is certainly not destined to be frozen into antagonism. The fact remains that in Greece the bride was thought of as a foreigner, a suppliant. (46)

Suppliants and Proxeni
Kristeva explores the status of the Danaïdes as suppliants who are advised by their father in Aesychlus’ The Danaïd to lay wreaths to the foreign gods and to express themselves modestly. Initially the Danaïdes are resented by the Argives for their foreign dress and manner, but they resolve the situation through the use of a proxenus, a representative who had the charge of showing hospitality to those who came from a foreign state. The Danaïdes’ proxenus was the king of Argos and his responsibility was to represent the views of the foreigners while maintaining the rights of the natives, so the Danaïdes become ‘citizens and foreigners at the same time’ (48).

The Status of Foreigners in Homeric Times
Proxeny was presided over by the god, Hermes, and Kristeva notes that ‘proxenus’ can mean ‘one who seeks’. Kristeva describes the proxenus as ‘the middleman between the polis and those belonging to a foreign community, providing the remedy to their statuatory incapacity’ (49). According to Homer, those interested in travel and voyaging were close to the fringes of society such as illegitimate sons and Kristeva notes that this assumption about foreigners created ‘prejudice against those foreign to the group’ (49).

Kristeva mentions the ‘parity’ of Sparta’s social organization. Here is what Cartledge, Hodkinson and Spawforth say about Sparta in The Oxford Companion to Classical Civilization:

The result was the creation of the famous eunomia (‘good order’), admired by both contemporaries and later generations for its long-term stability. Few of its specific institutions were in themselves unique; many were transformations of earlier institutions or were paralleled elsewhere in Greece. What was distinctive was their combination into a coherent structure which attempted to produce a unified citizen body of homoioi (‘Peers’ rather than ‘Equals’) whose subservience to collective interests and military training would ensure effective policing of the helots. The reorganization had its limits. The cultural impact was gradual: Olympic athletic victories continued until c.550, and Laconian painted pottery and bronze vessel production until a generation later. Several spheres of Spartiate society were only partially affected, especially the strength of family allegiances and more independent role of citizen women. Although the subject is controversial, land tenure probably remained essentially private and its distribution very unequal. (“Sparta”)

Kristeva notes that there were different kinds of foreigners in Sparta:
• foreigners passing by regarded with suspicion (‘might those migrating birds not be birds of prey?’ (49);
• and foreigners who settled in the region and became metics.

Metics sometimes had to pay a residency tax, except in Athens. Athens metics also received the protection of a politician, the prostates . Prostasia and proxeny are two forms of protection then for the foreigner in a new society. Yet Kristeva quotes Maric-Francoise Baslez who notes like Cartledge, Hodkinson and Spawforth above that property rights were more ambiguous.
The Danaïdes then were actually well-incoroprated into the community of Argos: ‘at the same time citizens because of their Argive descent [Io was from Argos] and foreigners because they came from Egypt (as they are bestial and feminine—in the likeness of Io—initiated into the cult of Demeter and servants of Hera, criminal killers of men and brokers of the marriage contract)’ (50).

Barbarians and Metics During the Classical Age
Kristeva now considers the Median Wars with Persia (490-478) and she suggests that it ‘changed the relationships between the polis and the foreigner’ because it was then that idea of the ‘barbarian’ developed (50). This was not an internal war of city states and it dictated a confrontation moving beyond the recognition of Greek foreigners. In Athens, koinonia was developed, an idea of civic fellowship based on the citizen’s contribution to political life rather than on race or any other factor. However, Kristeva notes that Pericles law of 451 dictates that the citizen must have a dual Athenian descent and other persons are illegitimate.

The word, barbarian, was used in a number of ways:
• as a response to other languages being created from onomatopoeic interpretations (‘bla-bla, bara-bara);
• to describe non-Greeks in general;
• to describe specific groups e.g. Homer uses ‘barbarophone’ to describe fighters from Asia Minor;
• and to describe Greeks and foreigners ‘having a slow, thick or improper speech’ (51).

Kristeva suggests that the Median Wars raised awareness concerning the figure of barbarian and she gestures towards Greek philosophy and its foundation on logos , the cosmic principle that gives order and rationality to the world, in a way analogous to that in which human reason orders human action: ‘The barbarian are outside this universe on account of their outlandish speech and dress, their political and social peculiarities’ (51). By the time Euripides uses the term, barbarian, it has taken on ‘a more pejorative sense’ while for Euripides, Aeschylus and Sophocles, barbarian signifies incomprehensibility, strangeness, eccentricity and inferiority (although it is not until the Roman Empire that it takes on connotations of cruelty). The inferiority of the barbarian ‘includes moral inferiority’ and Kristeva concludes that to be a barbarian is no longer simply to be foreign but to belong to the sphere of ‘evil, cruelty, and savageness’ (51-52). In Euripides’ The Trojan Women, Andromache calls the Greeks barbarians as a result of their immoral actions, while in Aeschylus’ The Danaïd, the strange behaviour of an Egyptian herald is described as barbaric. For the most part, Barbarism is used as a contrast to the democracy of Greek society. The liberal views of Socrates concerning origins suggest some cosmopolitanism in intellectual circles, but mainly the eccentricity and incomprehensibility of foreigners meant that they were excluded.

However, the metic remained a fixture in the polis. The metic’s conditions of life dictated:
• the payment of a of a monthly residence tax (a day’s wages) (Athens had particularly high taxes);
• career choices such as being an artisan, farmer, banker, owners of personal property or shippers;
• the possibility of being capitalists or intellectuals;
• the possibility of achieving ‘fiscal equality with citizens, but never[…] the ownership of goods’ (53);
• and scant participation in competitions, choruses or national defence.

Kristeva concludes: ‘When all is said and done, it would appear as though the establishment of a metric class was conceived as a moderate political and demographic device, avoiding cosmopolitanism as well as xenophobia’ (54). Kristeva notes that the economic weighing of the foreigner’s worth still happens in modern society: ‘Economic necessity remains a gangplank-or a screen-between xenophobia and cosmopolitanism’ (54).

Commercialism is a factor of great importance in one’s relation to the foreigner as Kristeva notes in her analysis of ports of emporiums:

When business is booming and merchants sweep into ports, when tourism develops and people travel out of intellectual curiosity, at the same time as professors infiltrate among the amateurs of culture, one feels the need to confine foreigners. Beginning with the fifth century, passing foreigners seldom go beyond the limits of ports. Although not a true ghetto, the emporion, a port authority, was a commercial (stores, markets wharfs) and sexual (brothels) area that was distinguished from the agora, the center [sic] of political and military life. (54)

Kristeva enlarges her comments on the place of the passing foreigner, noting that Aristotle demanded that the agora be divided into two zones, one for civic and political life and the other for commercial exchange.
Commercialism is a factor of great importance in one’s relation to the foreigner as Kristeva notes in her analysis of ports:

When business is booming and merchants sweep into ports, when tourism develops and people travel out of intellectual curiosity, at the same time as professors infiltrate among the amateurs of culture, one feels the need to confine foreigners. Beginning with the fifth century, passing foreigners seldom go beyond the limits of ports. Although not a true ghetto, the emporion, a port authority, was a commercial (stores, markets wharfs) and sexual (brothels) area that was distinguished from the agora, the center [sic] of political and military life. (54)

Kristeva enlarges her comments on the place of the passing foreigner, noting that Aristotle demanded that the agora be divided into two zones, one for civic and political life and the other for commercial exchange.

However the phenomenon of the proxenus suggests that at least for foreigners who became part of a homogenised culture, integration was possible. Kristeva is particularly impressed by the fact that proxeny was available for both Greeks and non Greeks, for citizens and foreigners. Here Kristeva quotes Plato’s description of the need to accept foreigners in Laws as a means to earn a good reputation amongst other nations. However, Kristeva notes that Plato advises caution and he describes a number different types of foreigners.
• summer visitors, described as migrating birds following winds of commerce and who can be accepted in public buildings outside the city limits, but cannot contribute in any major way to society;
• spectators, who come to view religious ceremonies and who must be judged by priests and wardens of the city;
• dignitaries;
• and the most unusual type, a foreigner who arrives in a new land out of curiosity and the desire ‘to see something that is far superior to what exists elsewhere or to tell about something similar elsewhere’ (56).


- 3 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. lemagdi

    Because we are living the macabrous senariot of attempting to write a story that is not my story but his story. No historical (fact) can explain actual behavior. Aren’t we all kind of foreigner?
    http://lemagdi.blogspot.com/2006/12/maniaka.html#links
    thanks for the thought

    08 Dec 2006, 19:44

  2. Sandra Simonds

    Zoe,
    I met you in Scotland last summer—-I doing some research to write a paper and your blog came out of nowhere….which is great news for me. Keep up the great work.

    Sandra

    12 Dec 2006, 17:13

  3. Great to hear from you Sandra!! Do keep me up to date about your poetry and prose projects. Would love to hear more about what you have been up to!

    14 Dec 2006, 16:19


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