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Forum LockedQuick question about Ancient Greek variants of ele

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tullyccro View Drop Down
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    Posted: 25-Feb-2009 at 08:04
Have a question about usage and I would greatly appreciate any comments, suggestions, tips, or information.

I'm investigating the origins of the word "liberal," specifically how the the concept of liberalism has evolved since the classical era.

From English, we go to French, and then obviously this leads to the Latin root liber which most linguists trace to the Greek word eleutheroi.

I understand the majority opinion in ethno-linguistics is that eleutheroi is a derivative of the PIE root leudh which has counterparts in german and other IE languages, and means something like "to grow" or "to arrive." I've seen a lot of contradictions here.

First question. Does anyone know which noun phrase/word is more common in philosophic or political texts from the era: anthropoi eleutheroi or simply eleutheros or is the frequency about the same?

Second question. No doubt a lot of multi-lingual people who visit these forums appreciate the idea that even supposing one can translate any word into another language is "the very height of superficiality," as it has been put before.

After researching the late republican era of Roman history, and in trying to understand that process of diffusion, I'm starting to suspect that the word which the Romans used to refer to men with a Greek education, or the word these people used to describe themselves, was later vulgarized, and in the process the original concept or semantics of the word were forgotten entirely, or else they were referring to a different type of worldy education altogether, with religious/metaphysical connotations, and perhaps purposely did so to mystify their rather superstitious inferiors. The "other" education they might have been suggesting would have been initiation into the cult at Eleusis, of course.

No conspiracy theory story at work here, I just want to flesh out whether or not the bi-Lingual Roman nobility of the 3rd and 2nd cetury BCE were calling themselves "liberals," or "initiates" or if they were purposefully punning on the word "free men" or "freed men" or "initiated" in order to inspire awe or respect. Were they being intellectual or mystical? That's my question.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25-Feb-2009 at 11:10
You first, I think, have to establish that the Roman patricians of the period were bilingual. It seems unlikely they called themselves 'liberi' since in classical Latin it means 'children', especially 'boys'.
It isn't much more likely they called themselves 'liberati' from the verb 'libero' which means to make free in the sense of manumit or unshackle, with some metaphorical usages (like acquit in court) which would imply they saw themselves as having been unfree at some point - i.e. they were not born free  but freed slaves.  
 
'Liberalis' originally meant associated with Liber, a Sabine god equivalent to Bacchus, and has more to do with 'liberal' in the modern sense of 'plentifully giving'. Which is also why 'Liber' is sometimes a poetic word for 'wine'. However it also means something like 'gentlemanly' in the Aristotelian sense.
 
And of course 'liber' also means 'book', so there is probably some derivative meaning something like 'bookman' or 'scribe', which might well be something used primarily to refer to Greek slaves.
 
All in all there are several Latin roots masked by 'liber' and since one (from which the others could all derive) goes back to Sabine times I don't see why they would be seen as derived from Greek (as opposed to possibly sharing a common IE ancestry) or therefore from Greek mysticism.
 
Incidentally I always thought 'eleutheroi' was cognate with IE words like 'Leute' or 'Liudi' meaning people, and having nothing to do with growth.


Edited by gcle2003 - 26-Feb-2009 at 14:57
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote tullyccro Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25-Feb-2009 at 18:18
Thanks for the response. I'll try to keep this short and to the point.

As of the 1st century BC a Roman patrician was viewed as uneducated if he did not have command of Greek, both written and verbal. We are certain of this if only because it was common in both ostentation and correspondence during this time. (Caesar's quoting Menander, Cicero translated copious amounts of Greek, Brutus spoke with a Laconic dialect, etc...)

The trend seems to be, as I see it, that the more conservative Romans, or at least those who were more staunch constitutional structuralists or simple moralists, had been tutored by Greek teachers who had come to Italy, while some of the more populist elements (the inheritors of the Marian faction) had all gone to parts of Greece for a few years in order to study directly in Greek academic circles. Many were also initiated into mystery cults while they were there, which is where I'm trying to draw the line.  Did they view themselves as mystery initiates, or as an enlightened elite, or were they truly more liberal humanists after their contact with Greek systems? I think the clues to this can be found in the way they communicated their education to their common Roman counterparts, i.e. how that education was perceived and in reference to other Roman cultural practices.  

The Romans were clearly pantheists, and religious histories are fairly common among early Roman historians, so we know a great deal about their religious rites, rituals, and perspectives. The Etruscan god of wine, Pater Liber, which you also mentioned, certainly adopted many Bacchanalian aspects, but it wasn't always so, as I understand that the Romans had vulgarized a lesser God associated with Demeter, Iakos, a corn god who is not of Thrako-Phyrgian origin, and not a god of resurrection and rebirth, or eternal life, and I think the Romans were aware of, from an early time, this tendency towards syncretism of religious figures. But self-references of liber or liberati could have also meant that one had undergone an additional rite of passage, a rite of growth, and had not been freed in a political sense.

I think the connotations associated with Liber and Iakos point more towards the word "cultivated" as I've read it, but I think popular elements in Roman society would have interpreted the more simplistic view of Bacchus which was, as you say, the god of "giving" as well as the god of drunken excess, who later absorbed or rather dominated the characters of Liber and Iakos.

But you're onto something here, because we also know that Romans celebrated the liberalia in the spring, and that this festival was conjoined with the coming of age festival, when a boy put on his adult toga and was escorted into the city center by his family.

The difference is between the connotations associated with a man being "freed by a higher authority" in the sense of manumission, or in the sense of being "freed from necessity," i.e. not literally freed by the particular personage of a deity but from labor, or a man being "grown" in the sense of having cultivated his understanding of what it is to be "free" from necessity, or a man being "initiated" and reborn, again under the patronage of a god, specifically by enjoying a bounty given from a God, that is, by indulging excessively in wine and food.

So I suppose my question would be this: Was the Roman word for a "liberal" man, a liberalis, an indication that they had "come of age" or "grown up," was it an adjective describing a certain state of existence, or was it a word describing, as you said, a past action, as in "they were unshackled?" or they had "enjoyed excess?" I understand that the same root lib-, gives us the words libidinous, and other such adjectives that imply desire. In this sense, this lib- root, if it does have PIE or IE counterparts, would mean, "being able to satisfy one's desires" in an earthly sense, or it would be referencing human desire, and would not be subject to divine intervention.  

As for the Greek word eleutheroi, and it's counterpart leudh, it appears to have originally been used to mean "free men" in the sense that one enjoys "leisure" or bountiful harvests, so that one is not bound by necessity. The proper study or perspective of an eleutheros in this sense, the "liberal arts," would be those things which human beings enjoy when they're not living a hand-to-mouth existence, especially if they are extravagantly rich. This is satisfactory but too easy.

The root leudh- means "a people" as you say, but in the Greek it becomes a much more complex term, since the Greeks had other words for "citizen," "soldier," common cultural groups, hellens, and freed men, anthropoi eleutheroi, yet they still used the word eleutheros, often in strange ways. There also appears to be another word for gentlemen, if understood as landed, rich men of leisure, which was kompsos.

I think what I'm getting at in terms of understanding the Greek concept, is going farther back than Aristotle's conception of a "gentleman" and understanding what Plato, Xenophon and others would have meant when they said a man or a city was eleutheros, or that "Pericles attacked the eleutheros of the city." 

The search continues.  


Edited by tullyccro - 25-Feb-2009 at 18:32
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 26-Feb-2009 at 15:03
Originally posted by tullyccro tullyccro wrote:

Thanks for the response. I'll try to keep this short and to the point.

As of the 1st century BC a Roman patrician was viewed as uneducated if he did not have command of Greek, both written and verbal.
But you were talking about the 3rd and 2nd centuries BCE. That's what I responded to. The 1st century is very different.
Quote
We are certain of this if only because it was common in both ostentation and correspondence during this time. (Caesar's quoting Menander, Cicero translated copious amounts of Greek, Brutus spoke with a Laconic dialect, etc...)

The trend seems to be, as I see it, that the more conservative Romans, or at least those who were more staunch constitutional structuralists or simple moralists, had been tutored by Greek teachers who had come to Italy, while some of the more populist elements (the inheritors of the Marian faction) had all gone to parts of Greece for a few years in order to study directly in Greek academic circles. Many were also initiated into mystery cults while they were there, which is where I'm trying to draw the line.  Did they view themselves as mystery initiates, or as an enlightened elite, or were they truly more liberal humanists after their contact with Greek systems?
I don't see why contact with Greek systems would make them liberal humanists. Materialist maybe. Many of them probably were influenced by Platonists of some kind or another, and you can't get more illiberal than that. Stoics and Epicureans weren't particularly liberal either as I recall. Aristotle might be considered liberal, but generally their focus made them vaguely Confucian - not that I'm suggesting any historical connection, just a similar response to similar social situations.
 
In fact I'm a bit lost as to why you see the Romans as liberal, even in the 1st century.
Quote
 I think the clues to this can be found in the way they communicated their education to their common Roman counterparts, i.e. how that education was perceived and in reference to other Roman cultural practices.  

The Romans were clearly pantheists, and religious histories are fairly common among early Roman historians, so we know a great deal about their religious rites, rituals, and perspectives. The Etruscan god of wine, Pater Liber, which you also mentioned, certainly adopted many Bacchanalian aspects, but it wasn't always so, as I understand that the Romans had vulgarized a lesser God associated with Demeter, Iakos, a corn god who is not of Thrako-Phyrgian origin, and not a god of resurrection and rebirth, or eternal life, and I think the Romans were aware of, from an early time, this tendency towards syncretism of religious figures. But self-references of liber or liberati could have also meant that one had undergone an additional rite of passage, a rite of growth, and had not been freed in a political sense.

I think the connotations associated with Liber and Iakos point more towards the word "cultivated" as I've read it, but I think popular elements in Roman society would have interpreted the more simplistic view of Bacchus which was, as you say, the god of "giving" as well as the god of drunken excess, who later absorbed or rather dominated the characters of Liber and Iakos.

But you're onto something here, because we also know that Romans celebrated the liberalia in the spring, and that this festival was conjoined with the coming of age festival, when a boy put on his adult toga and was escorted into the city center by his family.

The difference is between the connotations associated with a man being "freed by a higher authority" in the sense of manumission, or in the sense of being "freed from necessity," i.e. not literally freed by the particular personage of a deity but from labor, or a man being "grown" in the sense of having cultivated his understanding of what it is to be "free" from necessity, or a man being "initiated" and reborn, again under the patronage of a god, specifically by enjoying a bounty given from a God, that is, by indulging excessively in wine and food.

So I suppose my question would be this: Was the Roman word for a "liberal" man, a liberalis, an indication that they had "come of age" or "grown up," was it an adjective describing a certain state of existence, or was it a word describing, as you said, a past action, as in "they were unshackled?" or they had "enjoyed excess?"
The literal meaning of a word like 'liberatus' must mean someone who was not free, but has become so. Literally it probably applied to manumission originally. I can see however that it would get a metaphorical usage in religion, akin to that of the sinner in Amazing Grace who 'once was lost but now is saved'.
 
Lewis and Short give numerous examples of metaphorical use of the verb libero at:
 
Quote
 
 
I understand that the same root lib-, gives us the words libidinous, and other such adjectives that imply desire. In this sense, this lib- root, if it does have PIE or IE counterparts, would mean, "being able to satisfy one's desires" in an earthly sense, or it would be referencing human desire, and would not be subject to divine intervention.  
I'm not sure the root is common. I'm sure there were frequent cases in PIE where the same word stood for different concepts, just as there are in the descendent languages today.
Quote
As for the Greek word eleutheroi, and it's counterpart leudh, it appears to have originally been used to mean "free men" in the sense that one enjoys "leisure" or bountiful harvests, so that one is not bound by necessity. The proper study or perspective of an eleutheros in this sense, the "liberal arts," would be those things which human beings enjoy when they're not living a hand-to-mouth existence, especially if they are extravagantly rich. This is satisfactory but too easy.

The root leudh- means "a people" as you say, but in the Greek it becomes a much more complex term, since the Greeks had other words for "citizen," "soldier," common cultural groups, hellens, and freed men, anthropoi eleutheroi, yet they still used the word eleutheros, often in strange ways. There also appears to be another word for gentlemen, if understood as landed, rich men of leisure, which was kompsos.

I think what I'm getting at in terms of understanding the Greek concept, is going farther back than Aristotle's conception of a "gentleman" and understanding what Plato, Xenophon and others would have meant when they said a man or a city was eleutheros, or that "Pericles attacked the eleutheros of the city." 

The search continues.  
I can't help you with the Greek language. Unhappy With the last, however, I would have thought Pericles was more the model of the modern sense of a 'liberal'. The people he attacked were the aristocrats - Cimon, the traditional Areopagus - so if 'eleutheros' were to mean 'liberal' in a modern sense it couldn't be applied to Pericles' opponents.
That's especially true of the modern use of 'liberal' in US politics, if not elsewhere.


Edited by gcle2003 - 26-Feb-2009 at 15:12
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