there and back again: shame and guilt in ancient greece

william hamilton wondered if renaissances/enlightenments happened in places roughly 800 years after some hardy altruism genes were introduced by barbarians into panmictic (really outbred) populations. i wonder instead if what happens is that renaissances/enlightenments occur after ca. 500 years or so of outbreeding which results in nepotistic altruism (or clannishness) being reduced or even mostly eliminated which, in turn, leads to greater cooperation and reciprocal altruism within the populations — conditions i think you might need to have a renaissance at all (see also here).

where intensive outbreeding (and manorialism) happened in medieval europe — and there is a lot of good, strong evidence for it — certainly seems to match well with where the european renaissance occurred. after some fits and starts in the 500s to 700s, the practice of avoiding close cousin marriages really took hold in exactly the areas where the renaissance/reformation/scientific revolution/enlightenment later happened — i.e. core europe — in short: england, france, the netherlands, germany, and northern italy. scandinavia a bit, too. oh…and the lowlands of scotland.

the evidence for outbreeding in ancient greece is much more tenuous. it appears fairly certain that the upper classes outbred during the archaic period in greece (800-480 b.c.). whether they outbred during the entire time period or began the practice sometime before or after 800 b.c., i don’t know. it may also be, judging by something hesiod said, that the lower classes followed suit, but it’s impossible to know for certain going by just one comment from one ancient writer.

some circumstantial evidence that might offer further support to the outbreeding-in-archaic-greece theory is that, in the 400s to 200s b.c., there was a shift in kinship terminology in ancient greece. the distinctions in the greek language between the paternal and maternal sides of the family began to disappear — for example, uncles on both sides came to be called just “uncle,” rather than there being specific words for paternal vs. maternal uncle, and so on and so forth. the same sort of linguistic shift happened in medieval europe. in germany, for instance, that shift happened between the 1100s and 1400s. at the end of the day, all cousins came to be called simply “cousin” rather than “father’s brother’s cousin” or “mother’s brother’s cousin.” the lesson seems to be: change the kinship structures and the long-term mating patterns in a society, and it shouldn’t be surprising that the kinship terminology will also change. no need to specify different sorts of cousins if all of them are off-limits as marriage partners.

michael mitterauer points out that there was a time lag in the linguistic shifts in medieval europe — the terminology changed ca. 300 to 600 years after the mating patterns began to change. perhaps something similar happened in archaic greece — the linguistic shift happened in ca. the 400s to 200s b.c. so perhaps we can infer that the mating patterns had changed to a more outbred form a few hundred years earlier. maybe right around the end of the greek dark ages and the beginning of the archaic period. dunno. complete speculation.

now i’ve come across another piece of circumstantial evidence that outbreeding may have been happening in archaic greece and that is that there was a(n incomplete) shift in the society during the time period from being a shame culture to being a guilt culture. i’m getting this from The Greeks and the Irrational, a book originally published in 1951 and written by classical scholar e.r. dodds (who was kicked out of oxford for supporting the easter rising — troublemaker! (~_^) ). presumably there have been works criticizing dodd’s thesis written since the 1950s, but i’m afraid i haven’t read any of them yet. i’m just going to run with dodd’s idea for now, but, please, consider this a sort-of thought experiment. more speculation.

first of all, in shame cultures, bad behavior is checked by the fear of being caught — of being shamed and embarassed. in guilt cultures, bad behavior is checked by one’s inner voice — feelings of guilt occurring before any action is taken. these are behavioral traits that must have been variously selected for in different human populations. secondly, shame cultures are all tied up with honor — especially family honor. japan — with its meiwaku and seppuku — is the classic example of a shame culture, but china with its confucian filial piety is not far behind. the arabized populations are definitely shame cultures with their honor killings and all their talk of respect. even european mediterranean societies are arguably more honor-shame cultures than guilt cultures [pdf].

if you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, you’ll recognize all of those shame cultures as having had long histories of inbreeding: maternal cousin marriage was traditionally very common in east asia (here’re japan and china); paternal cousin marriage is still going strong in the arabized world; and cousin marriage was prevelant in the mediterranean up until very recently (here’s italy, for example). it’s really, once again, the outbred northwest “core” europeans who are unique here with their guilt culture (although perhaps there are other guilt cultures out there as well). my guess is that long-term inbreeding tends to result in shame-honor cultures, while long-term outbreeding leads to guilt cultures. i’ve said so before.

back to dodd, his thesis is that ancient greece went through something of a transition from a shame to a guilt culture, but that shift was incomplete. the trend may even have reversed in classical athens. dodd points to several thematic shifts in greek literature from the iliad to the writings of plato including: a move away from blaming human failings on atē or the direct, external influences of the gods to more personal “demons,” often seen only by the individual person; the gradual adoption of the idea that individual humans have “souls” or independent “personalities”; a move away from the idea that people’s failings are due to a lack of knowledge (again coming from outside the person) as opposed to, perhaps, their own culpability; that zeus over time becomes more and more a dispenser of justice rather than just a being who capriciously interferes in human affairs (justice being important in guilt cultures as opposed to revenge in shame-honor cultures); and that philosophers and thinkers increasingly complained that the inheritance of guilt down through a family line was unjust. here from dodd on that last point [kindle locations 669-671]:

“Solon speaks of the hereditary victims of nemesis as άυαίτιοι, ‘not responsible’; Theognis complains of the unfairness of a system by which ‘the criminal gets away with it, while someone else takes the punishment later’; Aeschylus, if I understand him rightly, would mitigate the unfairness by recognising that an inherited curse may be broken.”

the idea that only the transgressor should be punished (as in guilt cultures) as opposed to additional or all of his family members (as in shame-honor cultures) doesn’t actually occur to these writers, so they haven’t quite arrived fully into a guilt culture, but they do seem to have been on the way there. much more so than earlier writers anyway. again, dodd emphasizes that [kindle locations 587-588]:

“[M]any modes of behaviour characteristic of shame-cultures persisted throughout the archaic and classical periods. There is a transition, but it is gradual and incomplete.”

the transition may have been incomplete — in fact, may have even gone into reverse — because inbreeding (cousin marriage) became increasingly common in classical athens (see here). from “Agnatio, Cognation, Consanguinitas: Kinship and Blood in Ancient Rome” in Blood and Kinship: Matter for Metaphor from Ancient Rome to the Present [pgs. 24-26], we saw in a previous post that while “aristocrats in early [archaic] Greece…married beyond the limits of their *patris*”, in classical athens “members of the *anchisteia*, the legally defined kinship group including first cousins once removed, were the preferred marriage partners.” the ancient greeks might’ve gone from being a (presumably) inbred/shame culture in the dark ages, to an outbred/quasi-guilt culture in the archaic period, and back to an inbred/shame culture over the course of the classical period. maybe. Further Research is RequiredTM.

(yes, i know. it’s all very tenuous. i told you it was speculative!)

in any case, evolution is not progressive. (heh! i’ve just been dying to say that. (~_^) ) there’s nothing to say that evolution cannot go in reverse, although perhaps it wouldn’t go back down the exact same pathway it came up. there’s no reason why we — or, rather, our descendants — couldn’t wind up, as greg cochran says, back in the trees*.

i think the way to think of the evolution of behavioral traits like nepotistic and reciprocal altruism in humans — especially perhaps in recent human evolution — is like a big simmering cauldron of stew where bubbles of certain behaviors rise up in some places only to sometimes pop and deflate and almost disppear again. outbreeding appears to have occurred many places, although whether or not over the long-term is not always clear: archaic greece (maybe), ancient rome, the bamileke of cameroon, the igbo of west africa, the turkana of east africa, the semai of malaysia, the bushmen of southern africa (aka The Harmless People), and europeans since the early medieval period — especially northwest europeans. the ancient greek experiment seems to have run out of momentum and collapsed on its own; the roman example probably popped thanks to the barbarian invasions; and the northwest european one is…currently ongoing. for now.

previously: renaissances and the transition from shame to guilt in anglo-saxon england (and “core” europe) and archaic greek mating patterns and kinship terms and ελλάδα
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*“Many were increasingly of the opinion that they’d all made a big mistake in coming down from the trees in the first place. And some said that even the trees had been a bad move, and that no one should ever have left the oceans.”

(note: comments do not require an email. archaic greek dude.)

22 Comments

  1. Socrates had this Julian Jaynes-like relationship with what we would call his conscience. It was an inner voice, but it only told him what not to do, not what to do.

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  2. I’m thinking that 500 years of outbreeding leads to a renaissance as social bonds are loosened, but another 500 years of outbreeding leads to atomisation and collapse? >:)

    There seems to be something deeply wrong with NW European societies now. They seem incapable of self-perpetuation. There was something wrong 100 years ago too, but the decline seems to be accelerating, and they look likely to be largely replaced within the next 100 years through migration from more inbred societies.

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  3. I think you are missing the point. I mean, the problem is this simplistic biological determinism that seem to be trying to push. Obviously, I’m not saying that there is no behavioral or cognitive heredity. But I am saying that we have inherited, internal and limited behavioral plasticity, which I call the individual adaptability quotient. To explain what is happening in Europe now, you use only the inbreeding long term as justification, but I see that it looks like you’re counting intelligence and personality type as very important factors, perhaps as important as the mating patterns, to explain the collective and individual behaviors of the humans. I think when a society is very successful in its distribution of wealth and social security, the culture of honor will tend to be replaced by the culture of blame, because people develop a sense of confidence in the institutions. You also seem to be ignoring the importance and power of hierarchical social structures, that is, if the elite is the holder of the means of production, wish to mix the population that is under their authority, with foreigners, it will use its power of decision and veto to do it. Endogamous or not, the population will be forced to give the desires of its elite.

    I’m not denying his hypothesis, but it does not explain everything. And more, you always say the same that different populations are different. The parsee seem to be almost as unique as the northern Europeans, because they meet a set of characteristics that (apparently) contradict some of their assumptions, as they were inbred throughout its history, with obvious cases of mating outside the tribe as Muslims also did.

    His theory seems to contradict the Darwinian natural selection. A natural variation types, a variety. If you select a group of altruistic people and make them procreate only among themselves, that is, inbreeding, they become more or less like the parsee. If they have low intelligence, walk to the classic type redneck.

    It seems logical to me that the factor ” intelligence ” is fundamentally important because the classic tribalist behavior, unconscious, resembles stupidity.

    Generally, the most stupid people have less cognitive resources to understand and accept novelty. It seems that his theory is a bit more correlative than causal. The most stupid people tend to mate endogamicaly more than smart people. Perhaps, as has been shown by iq differences, this difficulty to understand the complexity, novelty and less ambition, do some people prefer the closest cousin.

    The natural cycle of inbreeding obviously must have had a beginning. For example, the Amish by all appearances have low behavioral plasticity, ie cultural. They are not stupid, but can not interact more than by the limits of their culture (adaptability).

    The power of the elite AND the psychological predispositions of domesticated populations (even in less domesticated populations, such as those in Africa, see South Africa, dominated by 20% of the white population for over half a century), can be key to explaining modern behavior of Europeans. That is, the circumstantial complexity, since most of them never accepted mass immigration.

    Another factor, again related to level and type of intelligence. Most people have been and are still being deceived. So it was given them wrong information or super summarized and manipulated. Looks like it’s cultural placebo.

    The fact that I have captured a set of useful information on racial differences in intelligence, behavior (and indeed, instinctively, as they had already noticed the differences in behavior before) makes me more cautious about mating with a woman of another ”race” especially those of lower cognitive scale. This is not necessarily inbreeding behavior. The mirror genes are important, but they are one of the ingredients of this recipe.

    The main byproduct of inbreeding may be the reduction of behavioral plasticity (cultural) but not altruism.

    The comment got too big, sorry.

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  4. I think the correlation between shame cultures with inbreeding and guilt cultures with outbreeding [relatively speaking] makes sense from a gene-culture coevolutionary perspective. In a highly inbred society, the behavior of one family member strongly implicates the genes of other family members in that same behavior, and so punishing the family, which acts to effectively prune those genes, is socially adaptive. In a more outbred culture, family members are less genetically implicated by a relative’s behaviors.

    This could be figured out with math. If cost of leaving criminal’s relatives alive > benefit of sparing criminal’s relatives, then you have an effective selection mechanism.

    On the question of archaic Greek outbreeding, this is the likely inference given the social collapse that had occurred to the Mycenean culture c. 12th century BC. Such a culture was very cosmopolitan, had a lot of trade between other East Mediterranean kingdoms such as the Hittites and Egyptians [and there’s evidence the Amenhotep line had non-Semitic genes http://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/read/GENEALOGY-DNA/2010-02/1266516728%5D. What usually takes place following social collapse is a rapid merging of racially distinct populations, which gets you some of the outbreeding you’re looking for and also sets a precedent for the establishing of cousin-marriage prohibitions. [Again, consider the Egyptian nobility genetic disaster that would’ve been witnessed by the East Mediterranean civilization… see Leviticus 18 for a classic example of a prohibition on sexual relations with relatives. This was only one of other classical prohibitions that were a likely development of the East Mediterranean civilizational collapse in the 12th century BC.]

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  5. You might find some interesting support in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. The Greeks were the first people to speak — or, rather, write — in a “modern” way, that is, the way we write and think today. Compare the Bible, for example, which is thoroughly “pre-modern” — there are aphorisms and metaphors, but nothing approaching a rational argument.

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  6. I am specifically thinking (as I remember from 50 years ago!) of Aristotle arguing that individuals are morally responsible only for those actions which they deliberately and voluntarily commit.

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  7. @steve – “Socrates had this Julian Jaynes-like relationship with what we would call his conscience. It was an inner voice, but it only told him what not to do, not what to do.”

    it was very hard not to think of jaynes when reading dodd! (not that i’ve read jaynes.) maybe he was onto something. (i also wondered if jaynes had read dodd at all.)

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  8. @simon – “…but another 500 years of outbreeding leads to atomisation and collapse?”

    well, that was thomas aquinas’ thoughts on the matter, too. mind you, i think he was trying to come up with a reason to justify rolling back the cousin marriage bans from 6th cousins to 3rd (i.e. to something more doable), but maybe he also thought it was a problem as far as too much atomization goes.

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  9. @santoculto – “I think when a society is very successful in its distribution of wealth and social security, the culture of honor will tend to be replaced by the culture of blame, because people develop a sense of confidence in the institutions.”

    well, the thing is, there seems to be an awfully strong correlation between inbreeding (specifically cousin marriage) and shame cultures (and vice versa between outbreeding and guilt cultures). there’s undoubtedly more to it than just the mating patterns, but i think having the “right” mating pattern is necessary to get to one or the other cultural types.

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  10. @bryce – “I think the correlation between shame cultures with inbreeding and guilt cultures with outbreeding [relatively speaking] makes sense from a gene-culture coevolutionary perspective. In a highly inbred society, the behavior of one family member strongly implicates the genes of other family members in that same behavior, and so punishing the family, which acts to effectively prune those genes, is socially adaptive. In a more outbred culture, family members are less genetically implicated by a relative’s behaviors.”

    yes. i was thinking something along the same lines, too. oftentimes, the punishment comes from within the family (eg. honor killings), so there’s a sort-of self-regulation here.

    @bryce – “What usually takes place following social collapse is a rapid merging of racially distinct populations, which gets you some of the outbreeding you’re looking for and also sets a precedent for the establishing of cousin-marriage prohibitions.”

    maybe. i shall have to think about this…and keep an eye out for any real-world examples of this. thanks!

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  11. @luke – “I am specifically thinking (as I remember from 50 years ago!) of Aristotle arguing that individuals are morally responsible only for those actions which they deliberately and voluntarily commit.”

    yes! that’d be the sort of thing that would fit the picture. and, of course, aristotle comes toward the end of the period.

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  12. I think what santoculto may be saying is that, sure, culture can affect reproduction patterns, as those with traits favored by the culture are allowed to reproduce more. Then the people with those traits affect the culture itself, insofar as the culture is determined by those biological traits. But the genetic change itself can only be explained by the culture: it’s not changing on its own without direction.

    So that means that culture has to be able to act on people’s behavior independently of genetics, i.e. people in a shame culture at least have to have the potential to behave in a more guilt-culture way in order to create the conditions that favor guilt-culture traits. For example, if an inbred society is going to start outbreeding, they need to be already susceptible to new cultural norms that prohibit inbreeding, even though presumably they still have “inbreeding” genes. In conclusion, some acknowledgment of a certain plasticity in human nature needs to be made.

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  13. Can you define “marriage pattern”? “Marriage pattern” sounds very general, but it seems to be used to mean something very specific here. Which dimension or variable are you looking at specifically?

    If we can define the variable as a measurable quantity, then we could test it. For example, if we defined it as average age of husband and wife, then we could test and it make predictions. We might say that if average age goes up, then X happens, etc.

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  14. jtgw,

    Accept the behavioral plasticity need not mean ” deny the role of genetics ”. If we are individually adaptive beings, and adaptability means plasticity, the ability to change (adapt) their behavior, or at least accept certain standards that go against their way of life, as a means of adaptive survival, then there is no doubt about that.

    I think the inbreeding can reduce behavioral plasticity, because when people from completely different strains will be married, more individualized combinations of behavioral predispositions will be produced. If the line is always the same, there will be a tendency to cut these predispositions in common.

    As I tried to explain earlier. The cultural co-evolution, happens first when the similarity between culture and biological behavioral plasticity of the population is lower. For example, liberalism correlates 0.2 with behavioral predispositions of American Caucasians. But when the Amish decided to separate, the correlation between behavior and biology among them was already high.

    Inbreeding occurs when a group of similar people to each other, decide to close the cultural flow of new ideas, is the ossification of creativity that needs this fluidity.

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  15. I think when people are happy, they will worry less about behavioral diversity. If everything is going well, the tolerance increases. People more classically instinctive as the inbred types, will be used much less certain types of behaviors that relate to their predispositions as honor. Clearly I do not mean to criminal types.

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  16. @brian – “Can you define ‘marriage pattern’? ‘Marriage pattern’ sounds very general, but it seems to be used to mean something very specific here. Which dimension or variable are you looking at specifically?”

    not sure if you were asking me this question or not, but if so, by “marriage patterns” or “mating patterns,” i’m usually referring to whether a population practices some form of close marriage (inbreeding) including second cousin marriage or closer. specifically over the long-term. needs to be pretty frequent in the population, too. a rate that’s something like 5% or lower is probably too low.

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  17. You have no information on the Ottomans, who conquered Greece in the 1400s, that changed the country’s culture and its people genetically.

    Furthermore, what about Spain and its paucity of achievements, despite their low levels of inbredness? Its inhabitants are the product of the different invasions that occur throughout the different periods. Jews intermarried with Christians in the Middle Ages and those who remain after the Reconquest, were fully absorbed by the Christian majority. Moors who were originally of mostly Berber stock, intermarried with Islamicized Spaniards, who then in turn, intermarried with Christian Spaniards (although this seems less likely).

    In terms the overrepresentation of Persians, when it comes to the Medieval Islamic Intellectual tradition, I am inclined to believe that climate plays a role. What is today Iran, is not like that of the desert lands of the Arabs, in terms of topography and climate, which bears a semblance to a Northern Mediterranean country. The intellectual output in the Medieval Islamic Empire was heavily concentrated in Persia, and to a certain degree, Spain. Not much has come out from the heart of Islam, which is all desert, hot, arid and not conducive for “studying”.

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  18. I recently read a similar paper on the change of ancient greek society from a shame-based one in the Iliad period to a guilt-based one in the arcaic period. I was on a search to compare ancient greek culture with modern japanese culture, because they have some things in common, and I was wandering how modern Greece would be without christian influence. I am Greek.
    Now, the shift from a shame society in homeric times to a more guilt-based system seems plausible, but I am hesitant to believe that in just 200 years or less athenian society reverted back to a shame system. How long after a mating pattern changes in a society, the culture changes as well?
    Later though in more modern times, most areas of Greece were shame societies, and I don’t think they were so inbred, if we account for all the conquests and population movements. Also cousin marriages were forbidden by the orthodox church.
    ps. 1 If more northernly european populations started outbreeding, then why still many royal and noble families practiced inbreeding until fairly recently?
    ps 2 Leviticus doesn’t forbid cousin marriage or more distant forms of inbreeding, so citing it as a proof of changing attitudes and practices is wrong. It only forbids marriage with much closer kin and with some absurd categories of people, like the second wife of a father, a woman and her daughter, and other non-related individuals. There is some evidence that in Egypt even closer inbreeding was not prohibited, and then it might indeed be a proof of some small change, but this change is not significant.

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