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CELTIC-L  February 2003

CELTIC-L February 2003

Subject:

Re: (Repost) Re: colonialism,borderlands and other thoughts to de...

From:

Raimund Karl <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

CELTIC-L - The Celtic Culture List.

Date:

Wed, 12 Feb 2003 14:49:14 +0000

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (116 lines)

Hi Croman,

Croman mac Nessa schrieb:

>In a message dated 2/2/03 8:55:39 AM Central Standard Time, 
>[log in to unmask] writes:
><< > Greek "polis" and Latin "civitas" mean "city," literally. 
>> No, literally they both mean "policy", or rather, more precisely,"a
>> number of people bound together by a socio-political organisation that
>> allows them to act as a group in matters that might affect every single
>> one of them". They have been identified with "cities" most often, as -
>> in the earliest stages that we can see those groups in action, they seem
>> to have - most commonly - been centred around population agglomeration
>> in places we refer to as cities, places that functioned as a central
>> place for the community in question (i.e. where people would meet to
>> decide the communal actions of the policy). >>
>Madainn mhath, Ray.
>Are you sure you are not confusing Greek "polis" with Greek "politeia"?
>  
>

Yes, I am perfectly sure that I'm not confusing anything here. You do 
give nice dictionary entries here, but, as often the case with 
dicitonaries, the entry is misleading, as it gives a "general" 
translation for a term, rather than a sociological analysis of its 
meaning. You write:

>"Polis," according to Thayer, is from 'pelomai," "to dwell [or rather 
>denoting originally 'fulness,' 'throng' ;  allied with Lat. pleo, plebs, 
>etc.' ...] ... a city;  a. ... one's native city ... or the city in which one 
>lives ... b. used of the heavenly Jerusalem ... c. polis by meton. for the 
>inhabitants ..."
>  
>

Which very nicely describes how the term polis could be translated and 
would, most commonly, be translated nowadays, but it does not give the 
full usuage in ancient sources. And if you look into the ancient 
sources, it is pretty clear, that polis is used to describe something 
which I above did describe as "a number of people bound together by a 
socio-political organisation that allows them to act as a group in 
matters that might affect every single one of them". Now, you can't 
translate a term with a long sentence (which still is too short to 
really catch all the intricacies of the actual useage of the term polis 
in early Greek sources, as it can, and often does, also describe the 
polis proper, the central place of that policy, i.e. the "city", and a 
huge number of nuances refering to a number of associated meanings). Of 
course, due to the specific development of Greek settlement structure 
following the Greek Dark Ages, the typical early greek polis has a 
central place of some sort that we can refer to as a city, but the term, 
except where it is used specifically to describe the central settlement 
(i.e. the physical parts that constitute buildings, places, walls etc.), 
almost always refers to the sociopolitical unit of people (i.e. everyone 
who identifies himself with others living near him as belonging to the 
same group of people), not to the city. As such, the early Greek polis 
never is understood as just consisting of a physical city (except for 
the physical description of the city), but always also of the 
surrounding lands and the people inhabiting that land.

Politeia, on the other hand, where you again give the translation:

>"Politeia" means "commonwealth," "res publica," "republic," "citizenship," 
>"civic life," etc.  For "politeia," Thayer has "1. the administration of 
>civil affairs ... 2. a state, commonwealth ... 3. citizenship, the rights of 
>a citizen [some make this sense the primary one] ..."  While it's obviously 
>derived from "polis," it's not exactly the same thing.
>  
>

specifically refers to the activities of the citizens of the polis (the 
demos, which does not include slaves, women, children etc., but only 
adult, legally and politically competent males, which, however, need not 
necessarily live within the "boundaries" of the central place i.e. city, 
but which - for the greater part - live in the surrounding countryside 
and only come to the city when they either have to meet to come to 
political decisions, or when they want to go to the market to buy or 
sell goods) to govern the policy.

Polis, as such, is the "passive" term for a socio-political unit ("the 
state", specifically in the Greek context, "the city-state") and it's 
central place (the polis proper, i.e. the city itself), while politeia 
is the "active" term ("the participation in affairs concerning the 
polis" - here clearly referring not only to the polis proper, but to the 
polis as the state).

Now, the etymology of polis allows to derive it from an IE root 
*pel[schwa]3- (Pokorny, Indogermanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch. 
Tübingen und Basel 1959: 798), which probably could be translated as 
something like "citadel, fortified high place", but again, you have to 
keep the specific historic development of the classical Greek polis as a 
city-state in mind to avoid jumping to quick conclusions. The term polis 
as such may be derived from the central place, but as early as we have 
it attested, it usually refers not to the polis proper alone, but to the 
policy. Thus, if Athens and Sparta are described as being at war with 
one another, you will find the term polis used for each of the two 
opponents, not the term politeia, even though, of course, it were not 
only the cities which were at war with one another, but the states.

All the best,

RAY 

-- 
________________________________________________________________________

Mag.phil. Raimund KARL 
Österreich: <mailto:[log in to unmask]>
Lektor für kulturwissenschaftliche Keltologie
Univ.Wien, Inst.f.Alte Geschichte, A-1010 Wien, Dr. Karl Lueger Ring 1
United Kingdom: 
Lecturer in Heritage and Archaeology
Department of History and Welsh History, University of Wales Bangor
Ogwen Building, Siliwen Road, Bangor, Gwynedd LL57 2DG
ffôn: (+44 781) 6464861
________________________________________________________________________

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