Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘slavery’

Aristotle dreamed of the robot revolution. A slave is a living tool that serves multiple purposes; likewise a craftsman’s assistant (Politics 1253b). This is demonstrated by the fact that, if every tool could perform its own work when ordered, or by seeing what to do in advance, like the statues of Daedalus or the self-moving tripods of Hephaestus, craftsmen would have no need of assistants or masters of slaves. Tools are an essential component of the state; workers, maybe not so much. (more…)

Read Full Post »

The seminar text for my Roman History course over the last fortnight has been the opening of the third book of Varro’s Rerum Rusticarum, the convoluted argument about the nature of the ‘true’ villa and the disputed legitimacy of pastio villatica. It’s a great passage for opening up questions about the nature of the work – the unexpected use of dialogue in a supposedly practical handbook of agriculture, as a means of raising problematic ethical and political questions (ancient sock puppets!) without necessarily trying to resolve them – and about how Roman aristocrats thought about the world at the end of the first century BCE; in particular, how one negotiates tensions between inherited values (the ‘farmers are the best citizens and soldiers’ ideology offered by e.g. Cato, harking back to exemplary early Romans like Cincinnatus) and the realities of a globalised economy in which money pervades every area of society and politics. Pastio villatica – the raising of bees, birds, snails, dormice, game etc. in the vicinity of the villa – is good insofar as it’s productive (rather than the purely consumptive villas where the wealthy relax and show off their wealth), but it’s bad insofar as it’s intimately bound to the development of luxurious tastes in the city, founded on the corrupting influx of wealth from the acquisition of empire – and hence involves precisely the sort of risky pursuit of profit that Cato had condemned in merchants and money-lenders. (more…)

Read Full Post »

RIP Ellen Meiksins Wood (and see also here)

A week and a half into term, and I am already being forcibly reminded of why I didn’t manage to post more than once or twice a month for much of 2015. It’s not as if I don’t have a load of stuff I’d like to write about – not least because Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister of Australian, has just produced a load more Thucydides references in a recent speech, on the (not unreasonable) assumption that this is how to communicate with US foreign policy types these days (cf. Xi Jinping) – it’s just the quantity of other stuff that has to take precedence. But some things do deserve recognition and comment, above all – despite the fact that this blog has started to look like an obituary column – the passing of yet another significant figure in my intellectual pantheon. I have got to find some younger, healthier people to get influenced by… (more…)

Read Full Post »

Who works in the text? According to Tom Geue, in an excellent paper in the Bristol Classics Research Seminar last week, this question is at least as important for our understanding of Roman culture as the more familiar “Who speaks in the text?”. He took as his case study Georgics IV, a poem ostensibly devoted to old-fashioned Italian small-holding in which remarkably little real work gets done. Slavery is of course more or less invisible throughout the Georgics, with the slave treated as a mere prosthesis so that his labour is credited to the owner, but the fourth book takes things still further. Half of it is devoted to bee-keeping: a gift of heaven, a slight field of toil bringing great reward, in which the owner’s labour is limited to tearing off the wings of the ‘kings’ so that the bees are not inclined to give in to their tendencies to idleness… (more…)

Read Full Post »