Comic Aischrology and the Urbanization of Agroikia

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In the preceding chapter, Helen Cullyer has lucidly shown just how complex, even contradictory, the concept of agroikia was in ancient Greek culture. On the one hand, the harsh realities of a rural life in antiquity often gave rise to the notion that agroikoi were perennially dyspeptic and incapable of experiencing pleasure; on the other hand, lacking the kind of education and socialization of their urban counterparts, the agroikos was often conceptualized as lacking self-control and so prone to vices of an opposite kind, such as unrestrained indulgence in bodily pleasures or shameful speech. Cullyer is certainly correct, therefore, to see agroikia as a multivalent term that could connote quite different things depending on who was using it, and for what purpose. But one point is perfectly clear: whether the agroikos was conceptualized as a pleasure-seeking rustic boor, or a humorless misanthrope broken by the harshness of rural life, the term itself was rarely actively positive. The word belongs predominantly to the vocabulary of opprobrium and mockery, especially, as Cullyer has shown, among ancient ethicists such as Aristotle and Theophrastus, who found little philosophically or aesthetically appealing about a rustic life.

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Reprinted from <em>City, Countryside, and the Spatial Organization of Value in Classical Antiquity</em>, edited by Ralph M. Rosen and Ineke Sluiter (Leiden: Brill, 2006), pages 219-238.
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