Scholia Reviews ns 12 (2003) 17.
William V Harris, Restraining Rage: The Ideology of Anger Control in Classical Antiquity. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2002. Pp. xii + 468. ISBN 0-674-00618- 6. US$49.95/ UKú34.50.
Classics, University of South Africa
Why did the ancient Greeks and Romans find fault with anger? Why did they so insistently advocate the reining in or the elimination of angry emotions? Rather than offering a mere analysis of arguments presented in our primary texts, Harris' study undertakes to provide an answer from a social-anthropological perspective, taking due cognizance of the groups whose interests were served by the discourse of anger control in Greco-Roman antiquity. Most importantly, he demonstrates the relevance of his historical enquiry by relating it to discussions on the subject in our contemporary culture.
The book consists of four parts, which focus on 'Approaches' (pp. 1-128), 'Anger in Society and in the State' (pp. 129-282), 'Intimate Rage' (pp. 283-336), and 'Anger and the Invention of Psychic Health' (pp. 337-99) consecutively, and concludes with a comprehensive bibliography and less comprehensive index. References to scholars with whom Harris engages in debate are unfortunately indexed selectively. Nussbaum, for example, whose Therapy of Desire is frequently the subject of apt criticism in the footnotes, is not listed in the index at all. Neither is Sorabji, whose Emotion and Peace of Mind receives favourable mention in several footnotes. Peter Brown, on the other hand, who appears only in one footnote, or Paul Veyne, who is mentioned only once in the text of the book, are listed.[]] A clearer indexing of primary texts discussed would have enhanced the usefulness of the work.
In Part I ('Approaches') Harris not only discusses the anthropological approach in some detail, but also applies it to his analysis of Greco-Roman anger terminology. Cross-cultural studies of the emotions emphasize that emotional terms may not fully overlap in different languages. This means that we should not simply assume that English 'anger' is an exact equivalent for Greek orge. Harris concludes that orge-terms (and thumos when it refers to anger) refer, in classical Greece at least, specifically to intense anger -- a fact that should be taken into account when examining the classical critique of orge. Latin ira, on the other hand, according to Harris, had a broader meaning and could include intense as well as less intense forms of anger. Harris insists that the primary sources to be examined should include not only philosophical but also non- philosophical texts on the angry emotions, and that these should be analysed while constantly keeping the audiences in mind.
Further, although it is imperative that the subject of anger control be related to the broader discussion of the control of emotions and the virtue of sophrosune and enkrateia in Greco- Roman antiquity, Harris emphasizes that the Greeks did not have a word to refer to the emotions as an inclusive category before the fourth century BCE. Since it is only then that pathe came to be used in this sense, it will not suffice to explain the archaic and classical Greek critique of anger in terms of a general admiration of emotional control at that time. We should rather, he maintains, look for very specific social and political forces that brought about and sustained the archaic and classical discourse on anger control.
Before continuing his ambitious project which will consider also non-philosophical texts within their social-political contexts, Harris concludes the first part by surveying explicit philosophies about the angry emotions, beginning with Plato. Plato portrays his hero Socrates as being superior to anger and apparently does not admit the possibility of just orge. Thumos, on the other hand, needs to be ruled but can be noble. Unfortunately Plato does not define the difference between the two terms. Aristotle and the Peripatetic tradition differ from Plato in that they defend the importance of appropriate orge directed at the right people at the right time for the right reasons and in the right manner (the doctrine of the mean). But, like Plato, Aristotle does not clearly define the difference between orge and thumos. Although some Hellenistic philosophers tried to clarify the distinction, they did not really succeed in doing so, in Harris' view. The Stoics initially condemned all passions (the 'absolutists'), but the criticism was sometimes softened -- a course that is charted with reference to Chrysippus, Panaetius, Poseidonius, Seneca, Epictetus and their influence on non-Stoic absolutists or near absolutists like Cicero, Plutarch and Galen.
Having dealt with these preliminaries, Harris now turns to a discussion proper of the ideological reasons for Greco-Roman disapproval of anger. Part II focuses on politics, Part III on the family and slavery. Harris' basic argument in Part II is that the constantly negative attitude towards anger displayed in public, from archaic Greece to Rome, served definite ideological purposes: it helped to create a stable political and legal system. In the Iliad the harmful effects of Achilles' unrelenting anger (his menis) are appropriately taught in an age of Greek state formation -- a lesson that is adapted by Solon for citizen government in early sixth-century Athens. On Harris' reading of the evidence (drama, speeches, historians), Athenian citizens became more critical about public orge towards the final years of the Peloponnesian War -- an attitude which is to be ascribed to the thought that it brought on stasis. In the next century Aristotle's argument for appropriate anger did not legitimate the expression of strong anger in the political sphere, and Polybius and Philodemus are shown to be even more hostile to it. At Rome provincial governance and the reputation of Caesar made the issue particularly important. The Roman governor who behaved like a tyrant would create risks for himself, and in the case of Caesar and later imperial rulers -- at least during their lives -- the reputation of being even-tempered and exercising clementia became a standard part of image propaganda.
Harris concludes Part II with a thesis about women and anger. He argues that throughout Greco-Roman antiquity anger was associated with women (to name just two examples: Medea and Galen on his mother), and that this stereotype and the critique of anger functioned as an instrument of male domination. However, he points out that in our times some feminists consider anger essential to women's struggle for liberation, while others claim that it is largely counter-productive.
In Part III Harris argues that Greco-Roman criticism of anger within the family (oikos/familia) and towards one's slaves facilitated the smooth functioning of society. It would be in the interest of husbands to restrain their anger towards their wives, of fathers towards their sons, and of slave-owners towards their slaves. Rage towards the latter could provoke them to murder or make them less inclined to work. Harris notes that the last quarter of the fourth century (Menander being the prime evidence) marks an important point in the disapproval of anger towards philoi (family and close friends), and that Philodemus and Cicero were particularly concerned about the anger of fathers towards children and of husbands towards wives. The advice that one should avoid showing anger towards one's slaves is first encountered in Xenophon and Plato, loftier theorizations are found in Seneca, and some emperors introduced modest reforms concerning the treatment of slaves (motivated mostly by practical considerations, but in the case of Antoninus Pius also due to philosophical influence).
When Harris turns to anger control as an objective of the individual's psychic health (Part IV), he admits that it is more difficult to explain the reasons for the emergence of this introspective concern, according to which it would be in the interest of the individual's health to rule his/her own passions. What is clear is that the control of anger came to be regarded during the Hellenistic period (with definite antecedents already towards the end of the fifth century) as part of the larger problem of the individual's need to control his/her own emotions (enkrateia of one's pathe). Within this broader argument emotions came to be regarded as illnesses in need of therapy which philosophy could offer in the individual's interest. Epicureans promised partial and Stoics total tranquillity by rational means (ataraxia or apatheia by means of persuasive arguments). Although these methods show remarkable similarities with contemporary psychotherapies (notably with cognitive psychology), Harris points out that ancient theories placed more emphasis on habit (the importance of establishing habitual control over one's angry emotions) and on the total elimination of orge. In contrast modern therapies stress the dangers of bottling-up angry emotions and the need to vent them.
The ambivalent view which Christianity held on the matter of anger control is discussed in a brief chapter, 'From Sickness to Sin: Early Christianity and Anger' (pp. 391-99). Although in Harris' view Christianity generally disapproved of orge and took this message to a wider audience than had previously been the case, some ambiguity remained on account of certain Jewish and Christian traditions. Not only was God portrayed as angry, but so was Jesus on several occasions. The question of justified anger in the Hebrew Bible and earliest Christianity -- whether in historical fact or apocalyptic fantasy -- is of paramount importance here, and deserves a fuller discussion than the one offered by Harris. It is also remarkable that Harris shows, in his discussion of Paul, no awareness of the crucial distinction between Pauline and Deutero- Pauline material (he treats Ephesians, for example, simply as authentically Pauline).
In a concluding chapter (pp. 401-18) Harris offers a summary of his arguments, and indicates some hermeneutical t implications of his study. In answering the question whether we would benefit from living without anger, he insists that any such evaluation of the angry emotions should not only distinguish between the different types and forms of anger (annoyance versus intense rage, angry feelings versus angry speech and action, for example) but should also consider both the merits and demerits of these in our private and public lives -- whether the level of anger is bad for our health, harmful within our families and workplace, counterproductive to social-political and psychological liberation, or not. Harris holds that civilized local and international governance will create and maintain 'institutions which will limit the harmful actions of anger (terrorists, ethnic cleansing) without taking away people's opportunities of expressing anger over communal causes' (p. 417).
Recent studies on the emotions in Greco-Roman antiquity have fruitfully focused on the argumentative structure underlying ancient philosophical discourse on the topic. With this monograph Harris makes an important contribution to the current debate about the emotions, specifically anger, in antiquity by offering a convincing social- anthropological explanation for this pervasive interest in the Greco-Roman world. In addition, his constant engagement with modern psychological and social debates on the topic undoubtedly adds to the value of the study. A translation of Latin texts in the footnotes would, however, have made the work more accessible to a broader audience of anthropologists and psychologists with limited or no classical background.
[] M. Nussbaum, The Therapy of Desire: Theory and Practice in Hellenistic Ethics (Princeton 1994); R. Sorabji, Emotion and Peace of Mind: From Stoic Agitation to Christian Temptation (Oxford 2000); P. Brown, Power and Persuasion in Late Antiquity: Towards a Christian Empire (Madison 1992); P. Veyne, Le pain et le cirque (Paris 1976).