The angry emotions, and the problems they presented, were an ancient Greek preoccupation from Homer to late antiquity. From the first lines of the Iliad to the church fathers of the fourth century A.D., the control or elimination of rage was an obsessive concern. From the Greek world it passed to the Romans.
Drawing on a wide range of ancient texts, and on recent work in anthropology and psychology, Restraining Rage explains the rise and persistence of this concern. W. V. Harris shows that the discourse of anger-control was of crucial importance in several different spheres, in politics--both republican and monarchical--in the family, and in the slave economy. He suggests that it played a special role in maintaining male domination over women. He explores the working out of these themes in Attic tragedy, in the great Greek historians, in Aristotle and the Hellenistic philosophers, and in many other kinds of texts.
From the time of Plato onward, educated Greeks developed a strong conscious interest in their own psychic health. Emotional control was part of this. Harris offers a new theory to explain this interest, and a history of the anger-therapy that derived from it. He ends by suggesting some contemporary lessons that can be drawn from the Greek and Roman experience.
Harris is known for ground-breaking books on Roman imperialism and on literacy in the ancient world. His new book, a vastly ambitious attempt to cover nearly every aspect of anger in antiquity from Homer to early Christianity, breaks fresh ground again.
Harris’s thoughtful, massively documented book is a major contribution to our understanding of the classical world… Harris is excellent on the kinds of therapy that ancient thinkers proposed and applied to excessive rage… His book will be a major resource for anyone concerned with the history of the emotions, whether in antiquity or beyond. It is a great achievement.
Why did the ancient Greeks and Romans find fault with anger? Why did they so insistently advocate the reining in or the elimination of angry emotions? Rather than offering a mere analysis of arguments presented in our primary texts, Harris’s study undertakes to provide an answer from a social-anthropological perspective, taking due cognizance of the groups whose interests were served by the discourse of anger control in Greco-Roman antiquity. Most importantly, he demonstrates the relevance of his historical enquiry by relating it to discussions on the subject in our contemporary culture.
In this comprehensive exploration of anger and self-understanding in the classical world, Harris…endeavors to show that ancient discourses on anger control were responses to political and social conditions. Since the Iliad, the oldest work in Western literature, has as its theme the anger of Achilles, Harris has astutely hit upon a fascinating theme… Highly recommended.
This book by a leading ancient historian is bound to become a standard reference point for anyone interested in the history of emotions in antiquity. It draws together a range of texts from Homer to Post-Constantinian Christianity, showing how they approach the common problem of anger control and how the ‘solution’ changes over time. There is no book on this central issue in ancient culture that matches Restraining Rage’s breadth and scope.
A remarkable book. Harris uses anger as a focal point for an examination of a very wide range of intellectual activity and social practices. The work ranges over theories of the emotions and the soul, the nature of civic life and politics, intra-familial conflict, marriage and attitudes toward women, slavery, and more. It is the most interesting, stimulating, and important book about ancient social and intellectual history that I have read in many years.
Harris’s new book focuses upon a central feature of the ancients’ understanding of themselves, their obsession with anger in all its forms and their attempts to restrain at least its outward expression. Restraining Rage is brilliantly written, full of mordant insights, vastly and diversely erudite, and deeply committed not only to understanding the ancient world, but also our modern one. All in all, a marvelous book.
- 2002, Winner of the James Henry Breasted Prize
- 480 pages
- 1-3/8 x 5-3/4 x 8-15/16 inches
- Harvard University Press
From this author
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