William St Clair


William St Clair (7 December 1937 – 30 June 2021) was a British anthropologist and author, whose research interests lay in the history of books and reading, ancient Greece and biography.

Quotes edit

That Greece Might Still be Free (1972) edit

William St Clair (1972). That Greece Might Still be Free: The Philhellenes in the War of Independence. Open Book Publishers. pp. 15-16. ISBN 1906924007. 

  • A society in whose culture the Ancient Greeks played such an important part was bound to have a view about the Modern Greeks. The inhabitants of that famous land, whose language was still recognizably the same as that of Demosthenes, could not be regarded as just another remote tribe of natives or savages. Western Europe could not escape being concerned with the nature of the relationship between the Ancient and the Modem Greeks. The question has teased, perplexed, and confused generations of Greeks and Europeans and it still stirs passions to an extent difficult for the rational to condone.
    • p. 15-16.
  • Whether the present inhabitants of Greece are descended from the Ancient Greeks is a profoundly unsatisfactory question. No method of subdividing the question makes much sense. On the one hand, one can attempt to trace the numerous incursions of immigrants to Greece and try to assess the extent to which the ‘blood’ of the Ancients has been diluted by outside races, Romans, barbarians, Franks, Turks, Venetians, Albanians, etc. On the other hand, one can point to the remarkable survival of ideas and customs and, in particular, to the astonishing strength of the linguistic tradition.
    • p. 15-16.
  • But neither approach seems to lead to the kind of answer which those who ask the question are seeking. What they seem to want to know is—Are the Modern Greeks the same as the Ancient Greeks? Are their racial and national characteristics the same? Do the Modern Greeks behave in the same kind of way as the Ancient Athenians, Spartans, and Corinthians behaved? If one looks among the Modem Greeks will one find the equivalents of Pericles and Sophocles and Plato? By their nature such questions are vague and contain within them a host of assumptions—about human nature, genetics and race, the influence of environment on behaviour, and the reliability of our knowledge of ancient history—all of which are questionable and some of which are simply unfounded.
    • p. 15-16.
  • During the hundreds of years since the glorious age of Greece, various views have been held about the Modern Greeks. Europeans of the Middle Ages and Renaissance times may have assumed that the Modern Greeks were the descendants of the Ancients hut they were far from regarding this as implying any continuity of character, let alone imposing any obligation. To be Greek was to be a drunkard, a lecher, and, especially, a cheat, It never seems to have occurred to the men who issued the calls to join in the defence of Byzantium, for example, to suggest that they were aiding the descendants of Pericles. Nor as Christians did the Western Europeans (of whatever sect) feel any instinctive sympathy for the schismatic Christians of the Orthodox Church.
    • p. 15-16.

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