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Ancient Greece on British Television$
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Fiona Hobden and Amanda Wrigley

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781474412599

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: January 2019

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474412599.001.0001

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Are We the Greeks? Understanding Antiquity and Ourselves in Television Documentaries

Are We the Greeks? Understanding Antiquity and Ourselves in Television Documentaries

(p.24) 1 Are We the Greeks? Understanding Antiquity and Ourselves in Television Documentaries
Ancient Greece on British Television

Fiona Hobden

Edinburgh University Press

The notion that the West has its cultural and political roots in ancient Greece has long been a mainstay of discourses on national identity in Britain, as in other countries (primarily in Europe and North America) that imagine themselves as belonging to ‘the West’. This chapter examines how this supposition of a ‘Greek legacy’ or ‘Greek inheritance’ has been mediated through British television documentaries. Whether the legacy is used as a framing device for wider assessments of ancient Greek society, or is the focus of direct investigation, the notion of a legacy is sustained. However, at every turn the proposition is undercut. Assertions of similarity between ‘us’ and ‘them’ coexist alongside demonstrations of difference; or the legacy is a modern invention that serves social, political and psychological needs; or it can be problematic and undesirable. At the same time as its existence is maintained, the ‘Greek legacy’ is revealed to be a fiction, or even a fetish: a fantasy that hides its own lack. In a Britain (and Europe) marked by cultural diversity and political division, television exposes the untenability of an ideology that elides such differences by making us all ancient Greeks, whilst continuing to ascribe it power.

Keywords:   Greek inheritance, Greek legacy, ancient Greece, television documentary, British national identity, Western ideologies, BBC television, Channel 4 television

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