Meet the creator of this module, Zoe Stamatopoulou!
The regard for and treatment of immigrants in modern America and ancient Greece
Immigration is one of the most problematic issues in American politics right now. Right-wing rhetoric has accused immigrants, primarily unauthorized immigrants, of committing crimes and stealing jobs from Americans. The current administration has promised tighter border controls, including the building of a wall between USA and Mexico, and has increased policing in the interior of the country. According to the Washington Post, “[i]mmigration arrests rose 32.6 percent in the first weeks of the Trump administration”, targeting undocumented immigrants with and without criminal records. In addition to the measures against unauthorized immigrants, the administration has also demonstrated its intention to limit legal immigration. Introduced by the president on 08.02.2017, the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment (RAISE) Act envisions a ‘merit-based’ immigration system that not only reduces the number of new legal immigrants permitted in the USA annually but also privileges heavily the value of individuals in the job market over the needs of families, refugees, and asylum seekers.
This module focuses on group identity as an ever-shifting social construct that shapes one’s understanding of what is one’s own (ancient Greek philos, literally "near and dear") and what is foreign (ancient Greek xenos, whence we get xenophobia). It also encourages reflection upon the experiences of foreign residents from the multiple perspectives of several ancient sources, including Athenian tragedy, speeches at court, and philosophy.
Part One: Stories of origin, identity, and citizenship
Listening for Leadership One
Imagine you are running for office either as president of a country, governor of a state, or mayor of a city and part of your job will be to develop a position on how to treat immigrants, particularly whether to admit them into your community and with what status. Consider the following questions as part of your preparation:
- Do you have any personal experience working with immigrants or as an immigrant that would lend credibility to any position you have on immigration? Explain. If you do not have this experience, what would your plan be for establishing your credibility?
- If voters pressed you to identify three criteria for determining whether to admit immigrants into the community, what would your three criteria be? If voters asked you whether you agree with President Trump's most recent immigration criteria for "applicants who can speak English, financially support themselves and their families, and demonstrate skills that can contribute to the US economy," what would your response be?
- What three programs would you promise to put into place to ensure that immigrants would transition more smoothly into the community?
Now, continuing in your role as a candidate, use the following sources from ancient Greek literature and questions to hone your positions.
- In the passages below identify all narratives of origins can you find. In what ways do these origin stories define group (civic) identity? How inclusive / exclusive are they? How are they assessed in each passage and to what effect?
- Can you think of some origin stories that shape your own national identity? Do these narratives have anything in common with the ancient ones in the way(s) they draw the line between who "belongs" and who does not?
- According to passage (d), what were some advantages and disadvantages of stricter citizenship laws in fifth-century Athens? What advantages and disadvantages to stricter/looser laws in the United States do you foresee?
- From these passages below identify one story or example that you think might best help you connect with voters to explain your immigration policy.
(a) Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War 1.2-1.3, c. 410 BCE (translation by C.F. Smith)1.2 For it is plain that what is now called Hellas [Greece] was not of old settled with fixed habitations, but that migrations were frequent in former times, each tribe readily leaving its own land whenever they were forced to do so by any people that was more numerous. For there was no mercantile traffic and the people did not mingle with one another without fear, either on land or by sea, and they each tilled their own land only enough to obtain a livelihood from it, having no surplus of wealth and not planting orchards, since it was uncertain, especially as they were yet without walls, when some invader might come and despoil them. And so, thinking that they could obtain anywhere the sustenance required for their daily needs, they found it easy to change their abodes, and for this reason were not strong as regards either the size of their cities or their resources in general. And it was always the best of the land that was most subject to these changes of inhabitants—the districts now called Thessaly and Boeotia, most of the Peloponnesus except Arcadia, and the most fertile regions in the rest of Hellas. For the greater power that accrued to some communities on account of the fertility of their land occasioned internal quarrels whereby they were ruined, and at the same time these were more exposed to plots from outside tribes. Attica, at any rate, was free from internal quarrels from the earliest times by reason of the thinness of its soil, and therefore was inhabited by the same people always. And here is an excellent illustration of the truth of my statement that it was owing to these migrations that the other parts of Hellas did not increase in the same way as Attica; for the most influential men of the other parts of Hellas, when they were driven out of their own countries by war or sedition, resorted to Athens as being a firmly settled community, and, becoming citizens, from the very earliest times made the city still greater in the number of its inhabitants; so that Attica proved too small to hold them, and therefore the Athenians eventually sent out colonies even to Ionia.
1.3 The weakness of the olden times is further proved to me chiefly by this circumstance, that before the Trojan war, Hellas, as it appears, engaged in no enterprise in common. Indeed, it seems to me that as a whole it did not yet have this name, either, but that before the time of Hellen, son of Deucalion, this title did not even exist, and that the several tribes, the Pelasgian most extensively, gave their own names to the several districts; but when Hellen and his sons became strong in Phthiotis and were called in to the aid of the other cities, the clans thenceforth came more and more, by reason of this intercourse, to be called Hellenes, though it was a long time before the name could prevail among them all. The best evidence of this is given by Homer; for, though his time was much later even than the Trojan war, he nowhere uses this name of all, or indeed of any of them except the followers of Achilles of Phthiotis, who were in fact the first Hellenes, but designates them in his poems as Danaans and Argives and Achaeans. And he has not used the term Barbarians, either, for the reason, as it seems to me, that the Hellenes on their part had not yet been separated off so as to acquire one common name by way of contrast. However this may be, those who then received the name of Hellenes, whether severally and in succession, city by city, according as they understood one another’s speech, or in a body at a later time, engaged together in no enterprise before the Trojan war, on account of weakness and lack of intercourse with one another. And they united even for this expedition only when they were now making considerable use of the sea.
(b) Euripides, Ion 258-78, 289-306, 1569-1605, c. 414 BCE (translation by Kovacs)
[This passage concerns what it means to be the descendant of the mythological founder of Athens Erechthonius and his grandson Erectheus.]
Ion: Who are you? From what part of the world do you come? Who is your father? What name am I to call you?
Creusa: Creusa is my name, my father was Erechtheus, and my native land is the city of Athens.
Ion: What a glorious city you live in, and how noble are the forebears who nurtured you! I honor you, lady!
Creusa: Yes, in this I am fortunate, but in nothing else.
Ion: Tell me, by the gods, is it true, as men say . . .
Creusa: What does your question strive to learn?
Ion: . . . that your father’s forebear sprang from the earth?
Creusa: Yes, Erichthonius. But my ancestry does me no good.
Ion: And did Athena take him up from the earth?
Creusa: Yes, into her maidenly embrace: she was not his mother.
Ion: And did she give him, as paintings often show . . .
Creusa: Yes, to Cecrops’ daughters to keep without looking at him.
Ion: I have heard that the girls opened the goddess’ vessel.
Creusa: And that is why they perished, spattering their blood on the cliff side.
Ion: Well, then, what of the other story? Is it true or false?
Creusa: What is it you ask? I have leisure and to spare.
Ion: Did your father Erechtheus sacrifice your sisters?
Creusa: He brought himself to kill the girls for the country’s sake.
Ion: Who of the Athenians is your husband, lady?
Creusa: My husband is no citizen: he comes from another land.
Ion: Who? He must be someone of high birth.
Creusa: Xuthus, sprung from Aeolus and from Zeus.
Ion: And how could a foreigner marry you, an Athenian born?
Creusa: Athens has a neighboring city, Euboea.
Ion: Yes, bounded by water, they say.
Creusa: He helped the sons of Cecrops to conquer it.
Ion: As their ally? And then married you?
Creusa: Yes, as the dowry of war and the prize his spear won.
Ion: Have you come to the oracle with your husband or alone?
Creusa: With my husband. But he is tarrying in the precincts of Trophonius.
Ion: To see his shrine or to get oracles?
Creusa: From him and from Phoebus he wants to learn one thing.
Ion: Have you come on behalf of the land’s crops, or what is your errand?
Creusa: We are childless, though long married.
Ion: You have never been a mother, then? You are childless?
Creusa: Apollo knows my childlessness.
Athena: But I must bring the business of the god’s oracles to a conclusion: hear why I have yoked my chariot. Take this son of yours, Creusa, and go to the land of Cecrops and set him upon the royal throne. Since he is of the line of Erechtheus it is right that he should rule my land, and he will be renowned in Hellas. His sons, four born from a single stock, will give their names to the land and to the peoples in their tribes who inhabit my rock. Geleon will be the first. The second <and third are the sons who will give their name to> the Hopletes and Argades, and the Aigikores named from my aegis shall possess their separate tribe. When the appointed time comes children born of these shall come to dwell in the island cities of the Cyclades and the coastal cities of the mainland, which will give strength to my land. They shall dwell in the plains in two continents on either side of the dividing sea, Asia and Europe. They shall be called Ionians after this boy and win glory. But you and Xuthus shall have children together: Dorus, who will cause the city of Doris to be glorified in Pelops’ land, and secondly Achaeus, who will be ruler of the coastland about Rhium, and the people will be marked by the same name as his. Apollo has done all things well. First, your labor, thanks to him, was free from sickness, and your family did not learn of it. And when you had given birth and exposed your son in his swaddling clothes, he ordered Hermes to snatch up the child in his arms and convey it here: he raised him and did not allow him to die. Now therefore tell no one that he is your son: Xuthus will enjoy a pleasant delusion and you, lady, will go your way in possession of the blessing that belongs to you. Farewell! Your troubles now are ended, and hereafter, I promise you, your fortune will be good.
(c) Plato, Menexenus 237b-c, c. 380 BCE (translation by Bury). Socrates claims to have heard a funerary oration by Aspasia (Pericles’ partner and an immigrant from Miletus) in honor of fallen Athenian soldiers, which he proceeds to quote:
Firstly, then, let us eulogize their nobility of birth, and secondly their nurture and training: thereafter we shall exhibit the character of their exploits, how nobly and worthily they wrought them.
Now as regards nobility of birth, their first claim thereto is this—that the forefathers of these men were not of immigrant stock, nor were these their sons declared by their origin to be strangers in the land sprung from immigrants, but natives sprung from the soil living and dwelling in their own true fatherland; and nurtured also by no stepmother, like other folk, but by that mother-country wherein they dwelt, which bare them and reared them and now at their death receives them again to rest in their own abodes. Most meet it is that first we should celebrate that Mother herself; for by so doing we shall also celebrate therewith the noble birth of these heroes.
(d) Plutarch, Life of Pericles Ch.37, c. 100 CE (translation by Perrin)The city made trial of its other generals and counsellors for the conduct of the war, but since no one appeared to have weight that was adequate or authority that was competent for such leadership, it yearned for Pericles, and summoned him back to the bema and the war-office. He was lying dejectedly at home because of his sorrow, but was persuaded by Alcibiades and his other friends to resume his public life. When the people had apologized for their thankless treatment of him, and he had undertaken again the conduct of the state, and been elected general, he asked for a suspension of the law concerning children born out of wedlock,—a law which he himself had formerly introduced,—in order that the name and lineage of his house might not altogether expire through lack of succession.
The circumstances of this law were as follows. Many years before this, when Pericles was at the height of his political career and had sons born in wedlock, as I have said, he proposed a law that only those should be reckoned Athenians whose parents on both sides were Athenians. And so when the king of Egypt sent a present to the people of forty thousand measures of grain, and this had to be divided up among the citizens, there was a great crop of prosecutions against citizens of illegal birth by the law of Pericles, who had up to that time escaped notice and been overlooked, and many of them also suffered at the hands of informers. As a result, a little less than five thousand were convicted and sold into slavery, and those who retained their citizenship and were adjudged to be Athenians were found, as a result of this scrutiny, to be fourteen thousand and forty in number. It was, accordingly, a grave matter, that the law which had been rigorously enforced against so many should now be suspended by the very man who had introduced it, and yet the calamities which Pericles was then suffering in his family life, regarded as a kind of penalty which he had paid for his arrogance and haughtiness of old, broke down the objections of the Athenians. They thought that what he suffered was by way of retribution, and that what he asked became a man to ask and men to grant, and so they suffered him to enroll his illegitimate son in the phratry-lists and to give him his own name. This was the son who afterwards conquered the Peloponnesians in a naval battle at the Arginusae islands, and was put to death by the people along with his fellow-generals.
Part Two: Foreigners and resident aliens as parts of the community
Listening for Leadership Two
- What do immigrants contribute to a community? Should their inclusion in the community be based solely on whether the community profits from them? If not, what should it be based on? When is it reasonable to fear immigrants? What can citizens do to determine whether their fear of immigrants is valid? What gives rise to tensions between immigrants and citizens? In what ways do citizens tend to dehumanize immigrants?
- What is your understanding of the word "status" as it applies to a member of a community? Based on passages (a)-(d) below, what was the status of non-Athenian residents in classical Athens? What did they contribute to the city-state of Athens financially, intellectually, culturally, militarily, or otherwise?
- How does gender inform the experiences of male and female immigrants in these passages?
- Let’s read the excerpt of Euripides’ Medea (e) as the quarrel of a dysfunctional bicultural couple: Jason is from Iolkos, a Greek city-state, and Medea is from Colchis, a non-Greek city on the coast of the Black Sea. What attitudes are hurting the marriage? What advice would you give?
(a) Xenophon, Means and Ways ch.2, 354 BCE (translation by E. C. Marchant & G. W. Bowersock)
All these advantages, as I have said, are, I believe, due to the country itself. But instead of limiting ourselves to the blessings that may be called indigenous, suppose that, in the first place, we studied the interests of the resident aliens. For in them we have one of the very best sources of revenue, in my opinion, inasmuch as they are self-supporting and, so far from receiving payment for the many services they render to states, they contribute by paying a special tax. I think that we should study their interests sufficiently, if we relieved them of the duties that seem to impose a certain measure of disability on the resident alien without conferring any benefit on the state, and also of the obligation to serve in the infantry along with the citizens. Apart from the personal risk, it is no small tiling to leave their trades and their private affairs. The state itself too would gain if the citizens served in the ranks together, and no longer found themselves in the same company with Lydians, Phrygians, Syrians, and barbarians of all sorts, of whom a large part of our alien population consists. In addition to the advantage of dispensing with the services of these men, it would be an ornament to the state that the Athenians should be thought to rely on themselves rather than on the help of foreigners in fighting their battles.
If, moreover, we granted the resident aliens the right to serve in the cavalry and various other privileges which it is proper to grant them, I think that we should find their loyalty increase and at the same time should add to the strength and greatness of the state.
Then again, since there are many vacant sites for houses within the walls, if the state allowed approved applicants to erect houses on these and granted them the freehold of the land, I think that we should find a larger and better class of persons desiring to live at Athens.
And if we appointed a board of Guardians of Aliens analogous to the Guardians of Orphans, and some kind of distinction were earmarked for guardians whose list of resident aliens was longest, that too would add to the loyalty of the aliens, and probably all without a city would covet the right of settling in Athens, and would increase our revenues.
(b) Aristotle, Politics 1326b, c. 335 BCE
It follows that the lowest limit for the existence of a state is when it consists of a population that reaches the minimum number that is self-sufficient for the purpose of living the good life after the manner of a political community. It is possible also for one that exceeds this one in number to be a greater state, but, as we said, this possibility of increase is not without limit, and what the limit of the state's expansion is can easily be seen from practical considerations. The activities of the state are those of the rulers and those of the persons ruled, and the work of a ruler is to direct the administration and to judge law-suits; but in order to decide questions of justice and in order to distribute the offices according to merit it is necessary for the citizens to know each other's personal characters, since where this does not happen to be the case the business of electing officials and trying law-suits is bound to go badly; haphazard decision is unjust in both matters, and this must obviously prevail in an excessively numerous community. Also in such a community it is easy for foreigners and resident aliens to usurp the rights of citizenship, for the excessive number of the population makes it not difficult to escape detection. It is clear therefore that the best limiting principle for a state is the largest expansion of the population, with a view to self-sufficiency that can well be taken in at one view.
(c) Lysias, Against Eratosthenes, c. 403 BCE: read the speech here
(d) [Dem.] Against Neaera (for context, see this link), c. 343 BCE: read the selections here
(e) Euripides, Medea 446-626 (transl. Kovacs), 431 BCE[The backstory: Jason quested for the Golden Fleece in Colchis with his fellow Argonauts and obtained it with Medea's crucial help (Medea was the daughter of the king, Aietes). Upon returning to Greece Medea tricked the daughters of the king Pelias into killing their father, which forced Jason and Medea to flee to Corinth. Now in Corinth Jason plans to marry the daughter of the king and abandon Medea (though he promises she will be cared for). At issue is the question of how much Jason owes Medea and what her status as a foreigner in Corinth will be. SPOILER ALERT: The play will conclude with Medea slaying the two sons she had with Jason!]
Jason: Not now for the first time but often before I have seen what an impossible evil to deal with is a fierce temper. Although you could have kept this land and this house by patiently bearing with your superiors’ arrangements, you will be exiled because of your foolish talk. Not that it bothers me: go on, if you like, calling Jason the basest man alive. But as for your words against the ruling family, count yourself lucky that your punishment is exile. For my part I have always tried to soothe the king’s angry temper, and I wanted you to stay. But you would not cease from your folly and always kept reviling the ruling house. For that you will be exiled.
Still, even after this I have not failed my loved ones but have come here in your interests, woman, so that you might not go into exile with your children penniless or in need of anything: exile brings many hardships with it. Even if you hate me, I could never bear you ill will.
Medea: Vilest of knaves—for that is the only name I can give you, the worst reproach tongue can frame against unmanly conduct—have you really come to see me when you have made yourself my worst enemy [to the gods, to me, and to the whole human race]? This is not boldness or courage—to wrong your loved ones and then look them in the face—but the worst of all mortal vices, shamelessness. But you did well to come, for it will relieve my feelings to tell you how wicked you are, and you will be stung by what I have to say.
I shall begin my speech from the beginning. I saved your life—as witness all the Greeks who went on board the Argo with you—when you were sent to master the firebreathing bulls with a yoke and to sow the field of death. The dragon who kept watch over the Golden Fleece, sleeplessly guarding it with his sinuous coils, I killed, and I raised aloft for you the fair light of escape from death. Of my own accord I abandoned my father and my home and came with you to Iolcus under Pelion, showing more love than prudence. I murdered Pelias by the most horrible of deaths—at the hand of his own daughters—and I destroyed his whole house. And after such benefits from me, O basest of men, you have betrayed me and have taken a new marriage, though we had children. For if you were still childless, your desire for this marriage would be understandable.
Respect for your oaths is gone, and I cannot tell whether you think that the gods of old no longer rule or that new ordinances have now been set up for mortals, since you are surely aware that you have not kept your oath to me. O right hand of mine, which you often grasped together with my knees, how profitless was the suppliant grasp upon me of a knave, and how I have been cheated of my hopes!
But come now—for I will share my thoughts with you as a friend (yet what benefit can I expect to get from you? Still I will do it, for you will be shown up in an uglier light by my questions)—where am I now to turn? To my father’s house, which like my country I betrayed for your sake when I came here? Or to the wretched daughters of Pelias? A fine reception they would give me in their house since I killed their father! This is how things stand: to my own kin I have become an enemy, and by my services to you I have made foes of those I ought not to have harmed. That, doubtless, is why you have made me so happy in the eyes of many Greek women, in return for these favors! I, poor wretch, have in you a wonderful and faithful husband if I am to flee the country, sent into exile, deprived of friends, abandoned with my abandoned children! What a fine reproach for a new bridegroom, that his children are wandering as beggars, and she who saved him likewise!
O Zeus, why, when you gave to men sure signs of gold that is counterfeit, is there no mark on the human body by which one could identify base men?
Chorus Leader: Terrible and hard to heal is the wrath that comes when kin join in conflict with kin.
Jason: It appears, woman, that I must be no mean speaker but like the good helmsman of a ship reef my sail up to its hem and run before the storm of your wearisome prattling. Since you so exaggerate your kindness to me, I for my part think that Aphrodite alone of gods and mortals was the savior of my expedition. As for you, I grant you have a clever mind—but to tell how Eros forced you with his ineluctable arrows to save me would expose me to ill will. No, I will not make too strict a reckoning on this point. So far as you did help me, you did well. But in return for saving me you got more than you gave, as I shall make clear. First, you now live among Greeks and not barbarians, and you understand justice and the rule of law, with no concession to force. All the Greeks have learned that you are clever, and you have won renown. But if you lived at the world’s edge, there would be no talk of you. May I have neither gold in my house nor the power to sing songs sweeter than Orpheus’ unless fame graces my lot!
Thus far I have spoken to you regarding my labors: for it was you who started this contest of words. As for your reproaches to me against my royal marriage, here I shall show, first, that I am wise, second, self-controlled, and third a great friend to you and my children.
No! Hold your peace! When I first moved here from the land of Iolcus, bringing with me many misfortunes hard to deal with, what luckier find than this could I have made, marriage with the daughter of the king, though I was an exile? It was not—the point that seems to irk you—that I was weary of your bed and smitten with desire for a new bride, nor was I eager to rival others in the number of my children (we have enough already and I make no complaint) but my purpose was that we should live well—which is the main thing—and not be in want, knowing that everyone goes out of his way to avoid a penniless friend. I wanted to raise the children in a manner befitting my house, to beget brothers to the children born from you, and put them on the same footing with them, so that by drawing the family into one I might prosper. For your part, what need have you of any more children? For me, it is advantageous to use future children to benefit those already born. Was this a bad plan? Not even you would say so if you were not galled by the matter of sex. But you women are so far gone in folly that if all is well in bed you think you have everything, while if some misfortune in that domain occurs, you regard as hateful your best and truest interests. Mortals ought to beget children from some other source, and there should be no female sex. Then mankind would have no trouble.
Chorus Leader: Jason, you have marshalled your arguments very skilfully, but I think, even though it may be imprudent to say so, that in abandoning your wife you are not doing right.
Medea: I realize I have far different views from the majority of mortals. To my mind, the plausible speaker who is a scoundrel incurs the greatest punishment. For since he is confident that he can cleverly cloak injustice with his words, his boldness stops at no knavery. Yet he is not as wise as all that. So it is with you. Do not, therefore, give me your specious arguments and oratory, for one word will lay you out: if you were not a knave, you ought to have gained my consent before making this marriage, not done it behind your family’s back.
Jason: Fine support, I think, would you have given to my proposal if I had mentioned the marriage to you, seeing that even now you cannot bring yourself to lay aside the towering rage in your heart.
Medea: It was not this. You thought that in later years a barbarian wife would discredit you.
Jason: You may be quite sure of this, that it was not for the sake of a woman that I married the royal bride I now have, but as I have just said, because I wanted to save you and to beget princes as brothers to my children, to be a bulwark for the house.
Medea: A prosperous life that causes pain is no wish of mine, nor do I want any wealth that torments my heart!
Jason: Do you know how to change your prayer and show yourself the wiser? Pray that you may never consider advantage painful nor think yourself wretched when you are fortunate!
Medea: Go on, insult me! You have a refuge, but I go friendless into exile.
Jason: You yourself chose that. You have no one else to blame.
Medea: How? By taking another wife and abandoning you?
Jason: By uttering unholy curses against the royal family.
Medea: Yes, and I am a curse to your house too.
Jason: I shall not argue any more of this case with you. But if you wish to get some of my money to help the children and yourself in exile, say the word, for I am ready to give with unstinting hand, and also to send tokens 10 to my friends, who will treat you well. You would be a fool not to accept this offer, woman. Forget your anger and it will be the better for you.
Medea: I will accept no help from your friends nor will I take anything from you, so do not offer it. The gifts of a base man bring no benefit.
Jason: At any rate I call the gods to witness that I am willing to help you and the children all I can. But you refuse good treatment and obstinately rebuff your friends. This will only make your pain the greater.
Medea: Go: it is clear that you are seized by longing for your new bride as you linger so long out of the palace! Go, play the bridegroom! For perhaps—and this will prove to be prophetic—you will make such a marriage as to cause you to weep.
Recently the use of the term "cosmopolitan" by one of President Trump's senior advisors, Steven Miller, has been discussed as having both negative and positive connotations (see this article here on POLITICO). What is your understanding of this term, originally from ancient Greek, which literally means someone who is a citizen (polites) of the "cosmos" (=universe/world/everywhere)? Do you identify as cosmopolitan? Would you like to?
Possible Classroom Activity
Stage a mock-debate with two students who are in the role as candidate and have them explain and compare their positions on immigration.
As a class, identify the major points of agreement and disagreement about immigrants in the ancient Greek world. How would you explain the points of disagreement? What role do time period, genre, and the author's own worldview play?
Discuss whether the perspectives on immigration in the sources in this module could give someone a more favorable, or less favorable, view of President Trump's immigration policies.
Compare the themes of this module to the ones on Drama and Women.