Friday, 28 June 2013

Who were the Greeks? Unsatisfactory title, unsatisfactory programme

Above is the first part in a two-part series presented by classicist Michael Scott that started showing on the BBC last night, called Who were the Greeks? It’s not great, but not awful either and I suppose the most noteworthy thing about it is that it went out on BBC Two in prime time (9:00 pm), indicating a continuing public appetite for Greek history and culture. 

Regarding the programme itself, it’s the usual fare, nothing to surprise or inform anyone with a reasonable acquaintance with the subject matter. I did have a brief exchange with Michael Scott on Twitter about the title of the programme – Who were the Greeks? – because it seemed to me to imply that the Greeks were extinct, which clearly, on any number of levels, they are not. Scott rather lamely replied: ‘We’re looking at ancient Greece – find me a live ancient Greek to talk to and we'll change the title!’ In that case, since you are looking not at Greeks but at the ancient Greeks, I told him, then the programme should have been called ‘Who were the ancient Greeks?’

Indeed, after watching the programme, because its main focus of attention was almost exclusively on the practices of the Athenians – and, in fact, the practices of the Athenians in the fifth century BC – which Scott unjustifiably conflates with the entire Hellenic world, over centuries, making no distinction, for example, between the practices of the Athenians in the fifty century BC with the Ionians of the 6th century BC or the Macedonians of the 4th century BC or the Alexandrians of the 3rd century BC and so on – then the title of the show should really have been ‘Who were the Athenians in the fifth century BC?’

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