Reconstructing the Slave: The Image of the Slave in Ancient Greece
by Kelly L. Wrenhaven, published by Bloomsbury, (2013), 9781472504425
In this book, Wrenhaven presents a clear outline of the ideology that the Greeks used to justify slave-owning. The Greeks used four different words to describe enslaved people and linked them to Aristotle’s definition of a free man: one who does not live under the control of another. Though Aristotle’s ideas are not definitive, they are the only comprehensive treatment of slavery that has survived from ancient Greece. A good way to explore that in a lesson would be to look at the portrayal of slaves in Aristophanes and Euripides. Athenian comedy was characterised by slaves who shirked their duty and were untrustworthy. The Greeks believed that a slave’s lack of autonomy was demonstrated by his hurried movement, drunkenness and violence. Wrenhaven shows these plays on ‘othering’ the character of the slave (lazy, barbarian, servile, inferior) as well as constructing the ideal Greek (free, beautiful, intelligent and civilised). I would then use some of the details about the role of ‘good’ slaves in Chapter 3 to assess the accuracy of these portrayals. The evidence of the role of public slaves as well as the ‘unmistakeable affection’ for wet-nurses, as demonstrated on Athenian tombstones, suggests that the Greek view of their slaves was much more nuanced than it might at first have appeared.