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Coming of Age in Ancient Greece
composes an extraordinarily rich work of scholarly collaboration. Its
production involved years of extensive research begun with travel across Europe
and the United States to a plethora of museums of art and history. The book's
authors, Jenifer Neils and John H. Oakley, examined and selected objects of art
from antiquity that express, from a wealth of perspectives, what it was like to
be a child growing up in the Greek world in classical times.
The work began as an exhibition in the Hood Museum
of Art at Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire (August to December, 2003).
The exhibition was the first of its kind, a unique collection of artifacts that
offered insight into such questions as: what activities and games did ancient
Greek children play? What was the nature of their schooling? How were the roles
of girls and boys in classical society related and distinguished? What
ceremonial and religious rites of passage did children undergo and how were
they figured in mythical articulations? How were these ritual and mythical
practices crucial to children's development into citizens and parents?
From the Hood Museum exhibition,
251 black-and-white, and 170 color illustrations of the exhibition artifacts
were assembled. Neils and Oakley supply both the seminal essays of the book, as
well as descriptive contributions they had written for the exhibition
catalogue. Renowned scholars, Lesley A. Beaumont, Helene Foley, Mark Golden,
Jill Korbin, Jeremy Rutter and H. A. Shapiro, join Neils and Oakley in
assembling a collection of meditations on ancient Greek representations of
children, as depicted in literature and art. The work maps the shifting
lifeworlds and social status of children in the Greek world, and charts the
evolving attitudes toward children and their changing relations with parents
and other adults.
Coming of Age in Ancient Greece
unfolds the evolving realities of childhood life from Stone and Early Bronze
Ages through the classical period and into the Hellenistic Era, and its meditations
stretch geographically across the city-states of mainland Greece--Corinth,
Athens, Sparta--to Greek colonies in Southern Italy and along the coast of Asia
Minor. The book features and discusses in vivid detail how the Greeks
understood their children and how their children understood their roles in
This work composes a fascinating
collection of illustrations worthy of any coffee table. But Coming of Age in
Ancient Greece is so much more than a pretty book. Its analyses offer
groundbreaking interpretations of child life in the ancient Greek world. The
book argues a novel artistic thesis: that Greek depictions of children
demonstrate that the ancient Greeks were the first culture to represent
children and their activities in a naturalistic form. It also argues for a new
interpretation of the ritual and mythical lives of Greek children, claiming the
extensive participation of children in the ritual life of the society, as well
as illuminating the plethora of childhood imagery in mythical articulations of
the Greek world.
Coming of Age in Ancient Greece
offers an entirely innovative explication of artistic representations of
childhood in the Greek world. The most innovative argument raised in the work,
however, is the introduction of the paradoxical notion that, though children
across the ancient world enjoyed a lowly social status, children in the Greek
world imposed a significant influence on their society. This paradox
illuminates the perennial truth that, though attitudes toward children in the
Greek world are specific to their time and place, there is something universal
about children in all human societies: that children, however insignificant
they may appear and however lowly their social station, across all human time,
human lives and human cultures, have profound effects upon their social worlds.
© 2005 Wendy Hamblet
Wendy C. Hamblet,
Ph.D., Philosophy Department, Adelphi
York, author of The Sacred Monstrous: A
Reflection on Violence in Human Communities (Lexington Books, 2003).
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