John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to jemcintyre@gmail.com, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog/ and now at www.baltimoresun.com/news/language-blog/.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Greeks started it

As with so much else in Western culture, the cult of the celebrity — its degenerate state deplored in yesterday’s post, “Who cares about Ashton Kutcher?” — had its origins in ancient Greece.

Robin Lane Fox, writing in The Classical World, says that the spirit of competition that led to the creation of multiple festivals in the sixth century B.C. also produced “a culture of the ‘celebrity,’ ... not a culture of great warriors but one of great sportsmen, poets and musicians. By contrast, there are no ‘celebrities’ in the world described in the Old Testament or in the Near Eastern monarchies.” Cities honored their champions with victory parades and celebrated their careers in stories. That tradition, too, lives on in what the 20th century called boosterism.



5 comments:

  1. A general warning rather than a specific traverse of your point: beware of Robin Lane Fox's conclusion-drawing.

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  2. Professor Fox makes free use of the "in my view" locution, so I can recognize at least a number of points to step widely around.

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  3. A Greek named Epicurus also recommended that you hide your life in obscurity. Lathein biosas.

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  4. Should be "lathe biosas." Imperative, not infinitive. Epicurus' maxim could be loosely translated "Avoid celebrity."

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  5. Avoiding celebrity is not much of a struggle for copy editors.

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