Skip to Main Content
The Emotions of the Ancient Greeks

The Emotions of the Ancient Greeks: Studies in Aristotle and Classical Literature

  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Emotions of the Ancient Greeks
    Book Description:

    It is generally assumed that whatever else has changed about the human condition since the dawn of civilization, basic human emotions - love, fear, anger, envy, shame - have remained constant. David Konstan, however, argues that the emotions of the ancient Greeks were in some significant respects different from our own, and that recognizing these differences is important to understanding ancient Greek literature and culture.

    WithThe Emotions of the Ancient Greeks, Konstan reexamines the traditional assumption that the Greek terms designating the emotions correspond more or less to those of today. Beneath the similarities, there are striking discrepancies. References to Greek 'anger' or 'love' or 'envy,' for example, commonly neglect the fact that the Greeks themselves did not use these terms, but rather words in their own language, such asorgêandphiliaandphthonos, which do not translate neatly into our modern emotional vocabulary. Konstan argues that classical representations and analyses of the emotions correspond to a world of intense competition for status, and focused on the attitudes, motives, and actions of others rather than on chance or natural events as the elicitors of emotion. Konstan makes use of Greek emotional concepts to interpret various works of classical literature, including epic, drama, history, and oratory. Moreover, he illustrates how the Greeks' conception of emotions has something to tell us about our own views, whether about the nature of particular emotions or of the category of emotion itself.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7437-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-2)
  5. CHAPTER ONE Pathos and Passion
    (pp. 3-40)

    In an essay entitled ‘Is Compassion an Emotion,’ Georges Dreyfus observes: ‘[T]here Is, or I should say there was, no Tibetan word for our wordemotion. I said “there was” because by now Tibetan teachers have been exposed to this question so many times that they have created a new word (tshor myong) to translate ouremotion’ (Dreyfus 2002: 31). Whatever the case in Tibetan, ancient Greek had a word that, at least in certain contexts, is customarily rendered in English as ‘emotion.’ That word ispathos(pluralPathê), the root from which terms such as ‘pathology’ and ‘psychopath’ are...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Anger
    (pp. 41-76)

    One emotion that is included almost without exception in both classical and modern inventories of the passions is anger, and it may well seem to be a prime example of an innate and universal emotion. Nevertheless, there is reason to think that the ancient Greek concept is in fact significantly different from the modern. In this chapter, as in many of those that follow, I take as my point of departure Aristotle’s account in theRhetoric, which is the most sophisticated and detailed analysis of the emotions to come down to us from classical antiquity. Apart from Aristotle’s acumen as...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Satisfaction
    (pp. 77-90)

    The definition of the emotions that Aristotle gives in hisRhetoricruns, as we have seen, as follows: ‘Let the emotions be all those things on account of which people change and differ in regard to their judgments, and upon which attend pain and pleasure, for example anger, pity, fear, and all other such things and their opposites’ (2.1, 1378a20-3). The opposite of an emotion, it would appear, is itself an emotion, rather than, say, the absence of that emotion.¹ Having begun his analysis of the several emotions in theRhetoricwith anger ororgê,Aristotle in fact proceeds immediately...

    (pp. 91-110)

    Shame has had a bad press for the past century or so. As Thomas Scheff remarks (1997: 205): ‘Over the last 200 years in the history of modern societies, shame virtually disappeared. The denial of shame has been institutionalized in Western societies.’¹ Its status as a moral emotion has been impugned by critics, among them theologians and anthropologists, who consider it a primitive precursor to guilt: shame, the argument goes, responds to the judgments of others and is indifferent to ethical principles in themselves, whereas guilt is an inner sensibility and corresponds to the morally autonomous self of modern man.²...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Envy and Indignation
    (pp. 111-128)

    In this chapter, I discuss in tandem two emotions that Aristotle analyses in his treatise on rhetoric. The two are commonly translated as ‘envy’ (the Greek term isphthonos) and ‘indignation,’ and they have a good deal in common, on Aristotle’s description, though Aristotle insists that there is a fundamental difference between them. In what follows, I argue that historically they are even more closely related than Aristotle suggests, and I attempt to explain how and why they diverged to the extent of constituting two distinct sentiments in Aristotle’s catalogue. I also maintain that ‘indignation,’ as Aristotle defines it, was...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Fear
    (pp. 129-155)

    Of all the emotions analysed by Aristotle, fear would appear to be the most universal, identical, more or less, not only across human cultures but pertaining to the higher animals as well. We might doubt whether a charging bull is angry, at least on Aristotle's conception of anger as a response to a slight or, more generally, to injustice, which requires a capacity to evaluate the intentions of others in reference to a moral code. So too with shame and envy, which depend on complex cognitive judgments. We have little hesitation, however, about ascribing fear to a deer in flight....

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN Gratitude
    (pp. 156-168)

    In the chapters of the second book of theRhetoricthat are conventionally numbered two to eleven, Aristotle analyses, as we have seen, the several emotions orpathêthat an orator should be able to arouse and assuage. In chapter 2, he treats anger, ororgê, in 3 what I have called satisfaction, in 4 love and hate, in 5 fear, in 6 shame, in 8 pity, in 9 indignation (to nemesan), in 10 envy, and in 11 the emulous impulse he callszêlos. Chapter 7 (1385al6-b11) too examines apathos- but which? This is the question that occupies...

    (pp. 169-184)

    Classical Greek is rich in words signifying love or affection. Passionate sexual attraction is denoted by the termerȏs(verberan, whence ‘erotic’), the love of parents for children bystorgê(verbstergein).Agapanmeans ‘to like or be fond of,’ although the noun agape, sometimes rendered ‘brotherly love/ first occurs in the New Testament. But the most general and widely used term for ‘love’ isphilia,with the associated verbphilein(cf. ‘philhellene,’ ‘anglophile’). This idea, together with its opposite, hatred or enmity (which we shall treat in the following chapter), is the subject of section 4 of book...

  13. CHAPTER NINE Hatred
    (pp. 185-200)

    Aristotle draws a sharp distinction, as we have observed (chapter 2, p. 47), between anger, which is provoked uniquely by a slight, and enmity or hatred, which is a response to something bad or harmful (kakon, as in ‘cacophony’). Since Aristotle’s account of hatred is relatively brief, we may quote it almost in full (Rhetoric2.4, 1382al-14): Concerning enmity [ekhthra] and hating [to misein], one can understand them on the basis of their opposites. Anger, spite, and slander are productive of enmity. Anger, however, derives from what happens to oneself, whereas enmity arises also without [the offence] being directed at...

  14. CHAPTER TEN Pity
    (pp. 201-218)

    Although pity figures centrally in all ancient lists of the emotions, it is remarkably absent from modern inventories (e.g., Plutchik 1991: 117-18). In part, pity has been displaced by neighbouring ideas such as sympathy, empathy, and compassion, all of which bear some relationship to pity, no doubt, but also differ in important ways, and more especially from the classical Greek concept represented by the termeleos(from which the English words ‘eleemosynary’ and, by a more circuitous route, ‘alms’ are derived). For one thing, Greek pity was not an instinctive response to another person's pain, but depended on a judgment...

  15. CHAPTER ELEVEN Jealousy
    (pp. 219-243)

    The cross-cultural study of the emotions requires a special kind of self-awareness on the part of the scholar. For we tend to think of our own emotional repertoire as natural and to assume, consequently, that it is universal. Pity, which, as we have seen, was included among the basic emotions in classical antiquity, today often signifies something more like charity or a dutiful disposition to help another person in distress, a sense thateleoswas already acquiring in ancient Christian texts; so conceived, pity seems out of place in the company of such visceral passions as anger, love, and fear...

    (pp. 244-258)

    In the previous chapter, I argued that the Greeks of the classical period had no term signifying romantic jealousy as it is understood today. In this, the final chapter, I take up another sentiment that poses a classificatory problem, namely grief. I do not propose to make the case that grief too was unknown to the Greeks, of course. It was known, and named by a variety of terms, such aslupêandpenthos;still other words denoted various manifestations of grief and mourning, including lamentation in various forms, from sobs and ululation to ritualized actions such as the tearing...

  17. Conclusion
    (pp. 259-262)

    The world that Aristotle evokes in his account of the emotions is competitive. It would appear that the Greeks were constantly jockeying to maintain or improve their social position or ones, and were deeply conscious of their standing in others. When ordinary people stepped out of the house the streets of Athens, they must, on the basis of the Aristotle draws, have been intensely aware of relative power and their own vulnerability to insult and injury. of the ancient Greeks, in turn, were attuned to demands.¹

    It was understood that people naturally strive to have the goods that others – or...

  18. Notes
    (pp. 263-364)
  19. Bibliography
    (pp. 365-410)
  20. Index
    (pp. 411-422)