Restraining Rage: The Ideology of Anger Control in Classical Antiquity by William V. Harris (Harvard Univrsity Press) The angry emotions, and the problems they presented, were an ancient Greek preoccupation from Homer to late antiquity. From the first lines of the Iliad to the church fathers of the fourth century a.d., the control or elimination of rage was an obsessive concern. From the Greek world it passed to the Romans. Drawing on a wide range of ancient texts, and on recent work in anthropology and psychology, Restraining Rage explains the rise and persistence of this concern. W. V. Harris shows that the discourse of anger-control was of crucial importance in several different spheres, in politics--both republican and monarchical--in the family, and in the slave economy. He suggests that it played a special role in maintaining male domination over women. He explores the working out of these themes in Attic tragedy, in the great Greek historians, in Aristotle and the Hellenistic philosophers, and in many other kinds of texts. From the time of Plato onward, educated Greeks developed a strong conscious interest in their own psychic health. Emotional control was part of this. Harris offers a new theory to explain this interest, and a history of the anger-therapy that derived from it. He ends by suggesting some contemporary lessons that can be drawn from the Greek and Roman experience.
Ex crept: Author summary: Lifelong therapy, that was the only way to deal with emotions such as anger if one wanted to come through "safe and sound." This was the grim advice of the Hellenized Roman philosopher Musonius Rufus, as it is transmitted by Plutarch in his essay on the restraint of anger.' In his hostility towards anger Musonius was far from being alone. Many men of letters in classical antiquity favoured its control or elimina tion.$ Throughout the history of classical literature, from Homer and Hesiod to Libanius and Augustine, criticisms of anger make themselves heard. The theme first takes the form of direct advice in the verses of Sappho, and it appears to be remarkably persistent, even when one makes allowance for the fondness of the Greeks and Romans for topoi and familiar literary subject matter. Epic, lyric, tragedy, comedy, and satire‑among other genres‑all contribute. The great historians all seem to have views on the subject.
Philosophers, and others with philosophical interests, took up the theme, and from the fourth century B.C. they discussed it in numerous treatises about the emotions as well as, later, in monographs about anger itself. Two such monographs survive virtually intact, the younger Seneca's (probably written about 49 or 50 A.D.), and that of Plutarch (probably written about 100 A.D.); a third survives in part, the work of Philodemus of Gadara (written between about 70 and 40 B.C.), rather less than half of which has proved to be legible on a Herculaneum papyrus roll. Other works about the emotions, such as Cicero's Tasculan Disputations and Galen's essay On the Diagnosis and Care of the Passions of the Soul also gave anger plenty of space .
At first, criticisms of anger were limited in scope, concentrating in particular on the reining in of extreme or unrelenting anger, and in classical Athens anger had not only its place but its defenders, in particular Aristotle, who regarded aorgesia, which means roughly "habitual absence of vigorous anger," as no better than irascibility. But eventually a number of voices‑and not simply those of Stoics such as Musonius Rufus‑came to advocate nothing less than an absolute moral prohibition of anger.
We might imagine a four‑stage critical progression:
(1) reining in angry actions and speech, (2) eliminating angry actions and speech, (3) reining in angry feelings,
(4) eliminating angry feelings.
But we must not make such a scheme too definite, for while statements in favour of (2), (3) and (4) took some time to appear in classical antiquity, (1) is still commonly the primary aim, even when the subject has been under discussion for many centuries. Even after the invention of Stoicism, the majority of philosophers never truly endorsed objective (2), let alone (4). But removing anger, presumably in sense (4), became, ostensibly at least, a standard aim of Stoic and Stoicizing philosophers under the Roman Empire.
…What is anger? It will rapidly emerge that there is fairly ample disagreement (Chapter 2). Whether anger should be thought of as a physiological reaction or as a "social construction" may seem little more than a false dilemma, but it is important to show that anger‑like emotions vary from culture to culture, and that this is not inconsistent with current science, even though the latter sometimes insists on the physiological character of the emotions. We shall also see that the crosscultural study of emotions has suffered very severely, until recently, from the failure of psychologists to absorb the fact that most of the human race uses terms for its emotions that normally lack exact equivalents in English. Recent anthropological work, however, beginning with Michelle Rosaldo, has shown the way towards a general realization that emotional terms in different languages may radically fail to correspond with each other. Here the contributions of Anna Wierzbicka are especially stimulating.
Other disagreements‑as to whether, for example, anger is typically of short duration‑are also of fundamental importance for the study of anger control. On this point, a number of ancient writers tell a more coherent story than is usually told by contemporary psychology.
Not that coherence about anger‑like emotions is easy to obtain, since there is such a rich variety of them (and new mutations continue to appear). It will also be essential to consider modern ideas about the desirability on various grounds of limiting anger, or alternatively of letting it come out and express itself.
But the most vital preliminary‑obvious, but often neglected‑is to ask what the Greeks and Roman meant by the terms which they used for anger‑like emotions (Chapter 3). The effects of Wierzbicka's work on our understanding of Greek and Latin anger discourse are likely to be crucial. It has long been realized that menis, the word used for the wrath of Achilles in the first line of the Iliad, does not correspond closely to English "anger"; the important point is that neither cholos nor orge (the key word in ancient philosophizing about anger) nor thumos (these are the commonest Greek words which are habitually translated as "anger") mean precisely "anger" either. These are the names of anger‑like emotions, of course, but the differences from English may be crucial. If, in particular, it turns out that orge is a more passionate or more violent emotion than typical "anger," that will have a significant effect on our understanding of the classical discourse of anger control.
How can we find out what the Greeks and Romans thought and said on this subject? We must recognize at once that we are, generally speaking‑not entirely‑confined to the mental and psychological world of the social elites. That is a largely insurmountable problem. As for what the written works of the educated are trying to tell us, the philosophical texts are complex, but at least the philosophers instruct us overtly. What is exceedingly difficult is the interpretation of texts and images that are not explicitly didactic. To meet this challenge, a historian has to consider each text according to the circumstances of its production, and that is going to take the whole of this book; we shall constantly be looking for our authors' imagined audiences. But some general hermeneutic principles are worth discussing first (Chapter 4).
It will already have occurred to many readers that anger control was part of a larger Greek and Roman project of emotional self‑control or moderation. Chapter 5 will begin to develop this theme by attempting to show how anger control differed from other kinds of striving for self‑control, and by speculating briefly about the wider ideology of selfcontrol in the ancient world. Anger control as a doctrine had a longer and more intense history than attempts to control any other emotion, but there was a much wider pattern. Anger control was not merely part of a general desire to impose sophrosune (approximately "self‑restraint") or enkrateia ("self‑control") ‑for it had its own specific justifications; but if we pay attention to what created the wish for sophrosune and enkrateia we may find out more about the wish to control orge and ira.
It is one of the main contentions of this book that many Greek intellectuals other than philosophers held views about the limitation of rage, and expressed them. But it was by and large philosophers, professional or, like Cicero, Seneca and Galen, amateur, who set out detailed and explicit views. (Not that there was ever a hermetic division between philosophers and general intellectual trends). It therefore seems advisable to describe these views (Chapter 6) before we fit them into their wider circumstances. The main lines of division need to be set out, especially the line between the moderate moralists of various kinds who admitted the propriety of anger‑like emotions on certain conditions, and those whom I shall call the "absolutists"‑those, that is, who at least ostensibly disapproved of all orge whatsoever. This was a characteristic Stoic view, though the Stoics had some forerunners (in Chapter 8 we shall encounter some unexpected evidence of that), and eventually the "absolutist" view was embraced by a number of those, such as Cicero, who were by no means orthodox Stoics.
All that having been said, we shall finally be ready to consider the ideology of anger control with respect to society and the state (Chapters 7 to 11), the family and slaves (Chapters 12 and 13), and the individual (Chapters 14 and 15), taking into account not only the anger which was criticized but also the anger which was accepted or approved.
Anger‑like passions are the central abstract theme in the Iliad, and the poet represented as disastrous Achilles' unwillingness to dampen down his rage, his minis or cholos, against Agamemnon. An epic‑singer of 700 B.C. might have decided to include disastrous heroic rage in his composition for any of several reasons‑because of tradition, perhaps, or simply because such anger could contribute to a powerful narrative. But if we think of the Iliad and other archaic Greek texts that were directed towards the control of anger in their original contexts, insofar as that is feasible, another possibility arises, that the texts in question were part of a struggle to create and foster polis government and the rule of law‑"civil society" in the early‑modern sense of that expression. It will be argued that some of our authors aimed at diffusing doctrines of restraint in a period in which Greek cities were developing stable political institutions and extending the use of fixed laws. In this period a substantial part of Greek discourse about anger functioned as a means of helping citizens to live together in the polis.
To set out the case in favour of this interpretation (Chapters 7 and 8) will require the careful examination of a set of texts ranging from Homer and Hesiod to Solon and eventually as far as Polybius and the monographs of Philodemus and Plutarch. We must consider the circumstances in which these texts were produced: what was the original audience, and what was the author's relationship to that audience? It will also be necessary to examine some possible counter‑arguments about the meanings of texts and their authors' intentions. The purpose here, in any case, is to relate the texts about the control of anger to the historical process of state building and state consolidation.
In archaic times, in both Greece and Rome, powerful men had sometimes ignored with impunity such public authority as existed. With the growth of criminal and civil law between the seventh and fourth centuries B.C. in Athens, and between the fifth and first centuries B.C. in Rome, the authority of the state grew stronger. The belief spread that punishment inflicted by the state should for the most part take the place of privately inflicted physical vengeance. This meant that a lot of serious anger was now supposed to be expressed by means of formal procedures and under public surveillance.
Less is really known about how government came into being at Rome, because much of the process took place in an era when the Romans were not yet producing literary texts of their own that have survived. But questions about how citizens should live with each other continued to arise in later ages, and hence there is Roman discourse, too, about anger control (Chapter 9). It owes many of its peculiarities to the fact that it was often produced under an absolute or nearly absolute monarchy, and sometimes by men who were within the emperor's immediate sphere of activity‑a dangerous if interesting place to be.
The fearsomely angry individual in Greek and Roman literature is often a king or emperor (Chapter 10), though he can be any kind of monarchical or quasi‑monarchical ruler, including the governor of a Roman province. The anger of the ruler, and his subjects' ability to. limit it, could sometimes be matters of considerable importance, lifeand‑death importance. The most intriguing part of this story, at least as far as it can be told from the surviving evidence, concerns Roman emperors and provincial governors. But from Homeric times onwards there is a continuous tradition. In spite of its repetitiveness, this tradition is worth studying. For one thing, it is not to be taken absolutely for granted that repetitive ancient texts were nothing but futile verbiage: there must, after all, have been some reason or other why it was thought worthwhile to compose such texts. And the figure of the furiously irate ruler contributed to the formation of the image of the angry man as it is to be found in all the main texts about anger from the fifth century B.C. onwards. Monstrous monarchs from Cambyses to Caligula could be instrumentalized to show that the effects of anger were appalling.
Anger, cholos, is offhandedly stigmatized in Homer as a vice of women, and this was a traditional Greek slander. Many men repeated that rage was typical of women, also of children and the weak in general (the economically weak or those in ill health), those, in other words, who did not have a full role to play in the body politic. Thus a negative character trait is attributed to the excluded, and their exclusion is implicitly justified. It may in fact be possible to explain this negative stereotype more precisely`(see Chapter 11). The special negativity which attaches to women's anger finds many forms of expression (low humour, for instance, in Herodas 5), but it has a particular and serious point. The stereotype in question implies that there was simply no legitimate place for women's anger in the classical city. This was one part of the Greek, and especially Athenian, method of perpetuat
ing a degree of female subordination which was high even by the standards of traditional society. Yet there were complications, in the first place because there were some unorthodox texts, such as Euripides' Medea and Hecuba, and in the second because there seems to have been a certain development in Graeco‑Roman thinking about the anger of women, mainly in the period from Philodemus to Plutarch.
The previous discussion will lead to a more detailed account of anger within the family (Chapters 12 and 13)‑the family, that is, in the sense of the Greek oikos or the Roman familia, which included the family's slaves. What could be more obvious than that blood relationships and marriages are spoiled by excessive anger? "This warrior irascibility of yours," Cicero asks sarcastically‑he is addressing the Peripatetics, who thought that anger assisted courage‑"when it has come back home, what is it like with your wife, children and slaves? Do you think that it's useful there too?" The classical Greek family sometimes and in some places seems perilously close to being dysfunctional, and that obviously makes the discourse of anger control easier to comprehend, all the more so since in the classical world the economic and social functions of the family were more essential to human existence than they are often considered to be in the modern west.
We shall also try to find out when the less predictable kinds of anger control within the family began to gain some ground: the notion that husbands should restrain their anger towards wives, and fathers their anger towards their sons.
As for slavery, there were plenty of reasons for owners to be angry with their slaves, and vice versa. The owners were subject to pathetically little outside restraint: this was the extreme case of the "intensely personal nature of power in ancient society. 11711 But slave‑owners should restrain their anger towards their slaves, so it was commonly said. From Theophrastus onwards, slave‑owners were told that they should never punish slaves or others while they were angry, but wait until their an ger had departed and punish coldly. The origins and the prudentia logic of this approach to slave management will be investigated it Chapter 13. The slave‑owners were subject to two conflicting impera tives: they had no intention of giving up harsh methods, and it would have been difficult for them to do so without imperilling the entire sys tem, a system which was based on rationally administered brutality. A1 the same time, the more intelligent ones realized that they needed to be moderate, and also tried to retain the sometimes precarious dignity which was so essential to their authority over resentful and often alarmingly numerous slaves.
By the time of Aristotle, however, an entirely new type of reason had arisen for emotional self‑control and in particular for the control of anger, namely psychic health (Chapters 14 and 15). But how did anger first come to be thought of as a suitable object of treatment or therapy, whatever those terms may mean in the context of classical Greece? A momentous change occurred in the cultural history of the Athenians in the last decades of the fifth century and the first decades of the fourth, spreading eventually to educated people all over the Greek world: a greatly increased interest in inner experience and in the wellbeing of the individual's soul. Introspection became more popular. This new preoccupation with what Plato called "the city within" led many to see anger, among other ills, as a failing of the individual as much as, or more than, a menace to society or to other people. It was also of course part of the inheritance of the Hellenistic philosophers.
This interest in inner experience, which lasted for the rest of antiquity (and has indeed in various forms lasted down to the present), is a historical phenomenon and deserves explanation (Chapter 15). But there were cures as well as a disease. What did Hellenistic and Roman thinkers propose to do about the psychic condition of the angry? What therapies did philosophy devise for the passions and in particular for the angry passions? Thinking about one's anger, keeping it within reasonable bounds (whatever they might seem to be), and justifying one's own anger to oneself became quite common activities among educated Greeks and Romans. How were they supposed to do it? We may be little inclined to think that the ancients practised psychotherapy, but that may be because the lay public still has a Freudian or neo-Freudian image of what psychotherapy consists of. Meanwhile the contemporary psychotherapy of anger has taken quite other turns, which, as it happens, make the ancient remedies more relevant and easier to evaluate. These remedies vary from the fatuous to the extremely sensible, but in any case, in spite of the repetition of banalities, they have a history. It begins, I think, with music. It passes through many philosophical variations, both before and after Chrysippus wrote the first book devoted explicitly to the therapy of the passions. This history will require us to consider the role of the philosopher in Hellenistic and in Roman society, and the acceptance of philosophy as a guide to lifealso the derision which philosophers sometimes incurred. It will also require us to explain the surprising popularity among Greek and Roman thinkers of the paradoxical or at least rather peculiar "absolutist" view that one should avoid anger altogether in all circumstances‑if that is indeed what they meant.
A rival guide to life, Christianity, cast its shadow over the Roman Empire. It also offered teachings about anger, and this book would not be complete if it did not inspect them. Both the text (Matthew 5:22) and the implications of what Jesus said on the subject are open to dispute. Furthermore, as we have already noted, there seems to be a stark contradiction between what the sacred texts said about the anger of God and a powerful pagan intellectual tradition about divine impassibility. These matters will be examined in Chapter 16.The overarching design, then, is to locate texts and images in society and, as far as possible, to explain. This is not a reductive attempt to explain works of literature and philosophy as mere responses to the imperatives of political or social life, but rather an attempt to explain processes of cultural history which included all of our anger control texts. The aim is to trace the origins and significance of a particular theme without eliminating the autonomy of authors or of any particular kind of intellectual activity‑but without exaggerating that autonomy either.
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