Coins, Bodies, Games, and Gold: The Politics of Meaning in Archaic Greece

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Overview

The invention of coinage in ancient Greece provided an arena in which rival political groups struggled to imprint their views on the world. Here Leslie Kurke analyzes the ideological functions of Greek coinage as one of a number of symbolic practices that arise for the first time in the archaic period. By linking the imagery of metals and coinage to stories about oracles, prostitutes, Eastern tyrants, counterfeiting, retail trade, and games, she traces the rising egalitarian ideology of the polis, as well as the ongoing resistance of an elitist tradition to that development. The argument thus aims to contribute to a Greek "history of ideologies," to chart the ways ideological contestation works through concrete discourses and practices long before the emergence of explicit political theory.

To an elitist sensibility, the use of almost pure silver stamped with the state's emblem was a suspicious alternative to the para-political order of gift exchange. It ultimately represented the undesirable encroachment of the public sphere of the egalitarian polis. Kurke re-creates a "language of metals" by analyzing the stories and practices associated with coinage in texts ranging from Herodotus and archaic poetry to Aristotle and Attic inscriptions. She shows that a wide variety of imagery and terms fall into two opposing symbolic domains: the city, representing egalitarian order, and the elite symposium, a kind of anti-city. Exploring the tensions between these domains, Kurke excavates a neglected portion of the Greek cultural "imaginary" in all its specificity and strangeness.

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Editorial Reviews

Journal of Economic Issues - L. Randall Wray
Eminently engaging . . . This is an important, fascinating book that should not be ignored by any monetary theorist.
American Historical Review - Sue Blundell
Kurke's book is lucidly and coherently written. . . . Even if we cannot unreservedly sign up to Kurke's thesis, we still feel that we have learned a great deal in following its progress.
From the Publisher
"An excellent monograph on several aspects of the varied culture of ancient Greece. Scholars and graduate students will applaud her study. . . ."—Choice

"Eminently engaging . . . This is an important, fascinating book that should not be ignored by any monetary theorist."—L. Randall Wray, Journal of Economic Issues

"Kurke's book is lucidly and coherently written. . . . Even if we cannot unreservedly sign up to Kurke's thesis, we still feel that we have learned a great deal in following its progress."—Sue Blundell, American Historical Review

Choice
An excellent monograph on several aspects of the varied culture of ancient Greece. Scholars and graduate students will applaud her study. . . .
Journal of Economic Issues
Eminently engaging . . . This is an important, fascinating book that should not be ignored by any monetary theorist.
— L. Randall Wray
American Historical Review
Kurke's book is lucidly and coherently written. . . . Even if we cannot unreservedly sign up to Kurke's thesis, we still feel that we have learned a great deal in following its progress.
— Sue Blundell
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691007366
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 8/9/1999
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 9.10 (w) x 6.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Table of Contents

Illustrations ix
Preface xi
Acknowledgments xiii
Abbreviations xvii
Introduction Toward an Imaginary History of Coinage 3
I. What Is Coinage for? Numismatic and Historical Debates 6
II. Literary Methodology 23
III. The Structure of the Argument 32
PART ONE: DISCOURSES
Chapter One The Language of Metals 41
I. Forging the Language of Metals 45
II. Metals and Others in Herodotus 60
Chapter Two Tyrants and Transgression: Darius and Amasis 65
I. Darius and the Daric 68
II. Darius Kapelos 80
III. Amasis the Vulgar Tyrant 89
Chapter Three Counterfeiting and Gift Exchange: The Fate of Polykrates 101
I. Counterfeiting and Violated Exchange 101
II. Cosmic Reciprocity ill
III. Gift Exchange as Civic Violence 121
Chapter Four Kroisos and the Oracular Economy 130
I. Kroisos in Epinikion 131
II. Gift Exchange, the Grotesque Body, and the Civic Norm 142
III. Competing Economies, Competing Epiphanies 152
IV. Lydians and Ludopatheis: The Gap between History and Ethnography 165
PART TWO: PRACTICES
Chapter Five The Hetaira and the Porne 175
I. Inventing the Hetaira 178
II. The Porne and the Public Sphere 187
III. Ideological Faultlines 199
Chapter Six Herodotus's Traffic in Women 220
I. Herodotean Pressure: Destabilizing the Terms 220
II. Herodotean Alternatives: Reimagining the Public Sphere 227
Chapter Seven Games People Play 247
I. Games and Other Symbolic Systems 248
II. Pessoi: The Mediation of the Game Board 254
III. Aristocratic Games: Embodiment, Chance, and Ordeal 275
IV. Herodotean Games 295
Chapter Eight Minting Citizens 299
I. The Two Sides of the Coin: Materiality as Ideology 301
II. Coins Are Good to Think with 316
III. Changing the Currency 328
Conclusion Ideology, Objects, and Subjects 332
Bibliography 337
Index Locorum 365
General Index 373

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