Slavery: Antiquity and Its Legacy

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Thomas Jefferson's momentous words are closely related to the French concept of 'liberté, égalité, fraternité'; and both ideas incarnate a notion of freedom as an inalienable human right that in the modern world we expect to take for granted. In the ancient world, by contrast, the concepts of freedom and equality had little purchase. Athenians, Spartans and Romans all possessed slaves or helots (unfree bondsmen), and society was unequal at every stratum. Why, then, if modern society abominates slavery, does what antiquity thought about serfdom matter today?

Page duBois shows that slavery, far from being extinct, is alive and well in the contemporary era. Slaves are associated not just with the Colosseum of ancient Rome, and films depicting ancient slaves, but also with Californian labor factories and south Asian sweatshops, while young women and children appear increasingly vulnerable to sexual trafficking. Juxtaposing such modern experiences of bondage (economic or sexual) with slavery in antiquity, the author explores the writings on the subject of Aristotle, Plautus, Terence and Aristophanes. She also examines the case of Spartacus, famous leader of a Roman slave rebellion, and relates ancient notions of liberation to the all-too-common immigrant experience of enslavement to a globalized world of rampant corporatism and exploitative capitalism.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This volume ushers in a fascinating new series from Oxford, "Ancients and Moderns" designed to introduce undergraduates and general readers to the reception and influence of antiquity in modern institutions and concepts. The topics planned for the series, including, religion, sex, and war, are bound to pique interest and debate among students of both contemporary and ancient society, and this first volume on slavery certainly establishes the precedent. Recommended." —CHOICE
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195380859
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 1/28/2010
  • Series: Ancients & Moderns Series
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Page duBois is Distinguished Professor of Classics and Comparative Literature at University of California, San Diego.

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Table of Contents

Preface ix

Chapter I Living Slaves 1

Slavery Defined 3

Numbers and Places 6

The Poetics of Slavery 7

Slavery in the Media 9

Slavery and 'Race' 11

Abolition: Or, What is to be Done? 12

Differences 17

Chapter II Racialised Slavery 23

Sherley Anne Williams' Dessa Rose 25

The Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, Written by Himself 27

The History of Racialised Slavery 30

Slaves in America 37

Frederick Douglass 43

Legacies of Racialised Slavery 45

Chapter III Ancient Ideologies 50

Slavery in the Hebrew Bible 51

Slavery in Ancient Greek Political Theory 54

Slavery in the New Testament and in Christianity 66

Ante-bellum Arguments for Slavery in North America 69

Chapter IV Ancient Slavery 76

Slavery in Israel 77

Slavery in Greece 78

Slavery in Rome 94

Chapter V Spartacus and Gladiator: Slaves in Film 109

The Ten Commandments 113

Spartacus 120

Gladiator 131

Epilogue 140

Some Suggestions for Further Reading 145

Notes 146

Index 153

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