Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Greeks and the Poor

For my write-up today on the Anchor Bible commentary on The Wisdom of Ben Sira, by Patrick Skehan (translator) and Alexander Di Lella (commentator), I will focus on what Di Lella says about Greek attitudes regarding the poor.

Ben Sira promotes generosity towards the poor in Ben Sira 3:30-4:10.  On page 168, Dil Lella states regarding Greek attitudes toward to the poor:

"A final observation with regard to the ethical sensitivity toward the disadvantaged expressed in 3:30-4:10: the Greeks, despite their unquestioned accomplishments in philosophy, ethics, and law, had such a low regard for the poor that according to Plato (The Laws, ii) a certain Athenian actually proposed that each state enact a law banishing the poor..."

That Athenian brought to my mind what critics of Rudy Giuliani say about his treatment of the homeless----see here and here.

Were the Greeks anti-poor?  I checked out The Oxford Classical Dictionary, and what I read in the article on "Euergetism" coincided with what Peter Brown says in this article: that there was a high regard for generosity in Greek thought, but philanthropy was believed to be for the society-at-large, not for the poor, specifically.  Granted, the poor may have benefited from the philanthropy, but they were not the ones who were in the wealthy giver's mind when he was making his donation.

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