Luuk Huitink

The Psychology of the Ancient World: cognition, social psychology, emotions

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The Psychology of the Ancient World: cognition, social psychology, emotions

This project comprises two parts. The first is the organisation of the conference ‘How to study the Social Psychology of the Ancient World’, the second is the research project described below:

‘Anchoring in Style’: The Case of Xenophon

My own project focuses on the style of Xenophon (early 420s – after 355 BCE). In particular, it is concerned with charting and explaining areas of stylistic change and innovation in Greek narrative prose for which the works of Xenophon (especially Anabasis and Cyropaedia) represent an important phase. Furthering research into Xenophon is itself an aim of the project (and a timely one, as Xenophon is increasingly recognized as one of the great generic experimenters of antiquity and one of the leading ‘voices’ in fourth-century thought), but the project also aims to further develop the concept of ‘anchoring’ and to expand the socio-cognitive linguistic and narratological aspects of the anchoring research agenda.

The main premise of the project is that literary traditions ‘learn’, i.e. become increasingly effective at achieving specific communicative aims by expanding the repertoire of stylistic devices (broadly understood and with due awareness to the problem of assuming a rigid dichotomy between form and content) or by assigning new functions to existing ones; they do so incrementally or suddenly (by the agency of individual authors). Processes of change are also conditioned by the fact that the aims themselves may alter under the influence of shifting ideologies and social contexts in which literary artefacts function.

It has often been thought that Xenophon’s literary merits fall short of those of Thucydides and Plato, while his language and style have been subject to even greater censure (Wackernagel famously called Xenophon a ‘Halbattiker’). The concept of ‘anchoring’ offers a focused and yet flexible way of approaching the questions raised by Xenophon’s language, style and narrative techniques anew. It helps bring out how Xenophon is in fact a conscious innovator, who develops Greek narrative prose style by anchoring it in diverse genres, registers and sociolects, maintaining recognizability and at the same time presenting something new. It also helps us determine the place of Xenophon in the development of Greek prose style, as he became an ‘anchor’ for later authors like Polybius and the Atticist movement. Two concrete examples, concerning narrative structure and vocabulary, respectively.

1) Incremental anchoring and Xenophon’s ‘arrival scenes’: one type of change is effected when disparate features are ‘pooled’ to produce a singular effect. As an illustration, consider how in Anabasis (but not in Cyropaedia) Xenophon is at pains to construct descriptions of landscapes as they are experienced by the Greek soldiers moving through them and, as an echo, by readers. Now Greek literature is full of landscape descriptions; Homer, Herodotus and Thucydides are important anchors. However, by far most descriptions are given in the author’s own voice and seem to be bound up with establishing poetic or historiographical authority. What Xenophon does, for the first time in a sustained way, is shifting the focus to experience, by bringing together in landscape descriptions many relevant devices (tense, inferential particles, deictics, expressive vocabulary, movement verbs, action/vision-integration) which we find scattered throughout earlier literature. In Xenophon’s hands, scenes at which the Greeks arrive in unfamiliar places becomes immersive and uncanny experiences, and apparently recognizably so, as Xenophon himself became an anchor for subsequent descriptions of this kind, notably in the novel.

2) Xenophon’s Attic and the diversification of registers: Xenophon’s vocabulary contains many words which are not found in other ‘proper’ Attic prose authors, and already in Antiquity such words were identified as dialectisms (Ioncisms, Doricisms) and poeticisms, and blamed on Xenophon’s long absence from Attica and cultural isolation. In actual fact, once it is understood that ‘pure’ Attic is a deliberate literary construct which cannot be equated with the Attic vernacular, it becomes plausible that the variety of registers and dialects X. employs marks an innovative step in the development of this artificial construct. Many ‘dialectisms’ in Xenophon in fact reflect the growing convergence of Ionic and Attic (owing to the years of the Athenian Empire); in this respect, Xenophon’s language is more Attic (reflecting certain tendencies in the spoken language) than that of the ‘purer’ authors. Many ‘poeticisms’ are in fact the sort of metaphorical vocabulary which characterize emerging technical languages of ‘jargons’. For example, in certain parts of Anabasis, Hellenica and Cyropaedia Xenophon avails himself of recognizably technical military terms, and in so doing opens up a new avenue in narrative historiography, which was taken further by, for instance, Polybius. At the background of this there must be strong ideological motivations for doing things one way or another, which need to be understood against the background of language as shaping, and being shaped by, social groups.