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Echos du Monde Classique/Classical Views XXXVI, n.s. 11, 1992, 309-31 THE USES OFCROSS-CUL1URAL COMPARISON IN ANCIENT SOCIAL HISTORY* MARK GOLDEN In the course of his praise of Socrates at Agathon' s drinking party, Alcibiades recounts tales of his fortitude and presence of mind during the Potidaea campaign (PI. Symp. 219E-221C). As a Winnipegger, I am most interested in Socrates' reported ability to withstand the cold. As a social historian, however, what attracts my attention is the chance detail that Socrates and Alcibiades were messmates. This datum sets off a series of reflections, each in its own way involving a comparison. The two men belonged to different tribes, Socrates to Antiochis and Alcibiades to Leontis, and the tribes were the basic organizational unit of the Athenian army (among much else). So it was that Athenian festivals often featured boys competing in dithyrambic choruses or in Pyrrhic dancing, tribe against tribe; in preparing for and participating in these contests, they might forge early bonds with fellow tribesmen who would one day be their comrades in arms, and might also establish the association of the tribe with struggle and conflict against outsiders. That tribesmen need not eat together on campaign suggests that the Athenians did not regard meal times (as opposed to festivals) as a necessary or appropriate locus for forming and reinforcing aggressive impulses. But another context for this practice comes to mind as well. At Sparta the common messes, one of the central institutions of the social system for men of fighting age, were somehow connected to the organization of the army; we may surmise that soldiers ate with their messmates on campaign.' This looks, at first sight, like one of those handy ways to illustrate the gulf between Athens and Sparta. At Athens, social bonds were multifaceted and multiple, as likely to run at right angles as parallel, or even to conflict with each other; Spartans were members of a society much more focused on one endeavour, success in war, and less likely to encourage social patterns which might contradict or undercut solidarity on campaign. And yet such a contrast, however appealing, would be too stark. Spartan warriors chose * I am grateful to all the participants in the colloquium, including the energetic members of the audience, for their reactions to the original version of this paper; Judy Hallett, Virginia Hunter, Michael Wahn and Mac Wallace made comments on a later draft, Paul Cartledge offered some Laconic advice. 1 Cf. S. Hodkinson, "Social order and the conflict of values in classical Sparta", Chiron 13 (1983) 239-281 (at 258): "It seems certain that the men who dined together in the syssitia also fought together in the enomotiai": 309 310 MARK GOWEN their messmates, voted them in or blackballed them like Tories at a country club, just as Alcibiades and Socrates chose to eat together. In both communities, whatever its other functions, sharing food was a way friendships, even alliances, were shaped and shown. There is nothing startling in this conclusion; nor is there anything remarkable about the way it was reached-by comparing different institutions within one society or similar ones in two. To quote one sociologist, "Sociological research, in one form or another, is comparative research'l .? Another goes further: "Thinking without comparisons is unthinkable . And, in the absence of comparisons, so is all scientific thought and all scientific research"." Yet discussions of comparative methods are less common than we might think. A British anthropologist suggests that an avoidance taboo applies to the subject, and that his colleagues (who use comparison but don't discuss it) behave a lot like a class of informants well known to students of ethnography: they do one thing, and say another." And John Porter once remarked, apropos of sociology , "It is surprising, for all that has been said about the value of comparison, that a rigorous comparative methodology has not emerged . The reason for this lack might be the very great difficulties that a rigorous comparative methodology would impose't.>It is not my intention here to propose such a thing-only fools (and perhaps psychologists) rush in where sociologists fear to tread-but merely to raise some questions...


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