δOYλOσ OY BAσIσλEωδ The Politics of Translation

Classical Quarterly 43 (02):377- (1993)

Abstract

Students of the relations between Greeks and Persians in classical antiquity usually depend entirely on Greek authors, as there are no extensive narrative texts among the cuneiform inscriptions of the Achaemenid kings, our extant Oriental sources for the history of the Persian empire. Hence modern scholars have raised the question of the reliability of the Greek sources and emphasized the need to reveal the ideology and presuppositions of the Greek writers. For, if language embodies social reality, the assimilation of information is conditioned by the character of the mind, individual or collective, which comprehends the data within its own terms of reference, fits them into its own set of concepts and records them in that form. Thus, it has been argued that ‘the impression we get of the Persians in the Greek authors is in some ways a deceptive one. Too much emphasis is laid on what is pejorative’, that the labelling of Persia ‘as an Oriental Monarchy: a state and society ruled less by rational actions than by the writing and caprices of its king and court… is to be traced back directly to the Greek sources on Persian history’; and that the ‘discourse of barbarism’ which projected upon the Persians ‘the opposite of qualities admired’ in the Athenian society, ‘is ultimately to be referred to the ideology binding together democratic Athens and her empire’

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