Similarities: Ancient China and Ancient Greek

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Similarities: Ancient China and Ancient Greek

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Editado: Feb 17, 2007, 2:01am

I can't figure out how to change the mistake in titling. Should be Ancient China and Ancient Greece. Let's throw in Rome too!

We've had a long thread going on what's "typically Chinese." I am reading about the Ancient Greek song culture. Were the songs in "The Book of Songs" used for similar social purposes? It's easiest for me to learn by comparing and contrasting. I think we have some group members, like Pechmerle, MMcM and Liao, who have deep knowledge of Western culture and its roots.

Feb 16, 2007, 11:26am

I have read about Ancient Greece and Rome longer and more extensively than Ancient China. It began when I read the Iliad for the first time in my teens. Songs and singing in Ancient Greece were used in a variety of contexts. Armies would sing before battle, a singer would provide entertainment and songs would be used in religious rituals.
Ancient China and Ancient Greece were vastly dissimilar. Beginning with geography, one a densely populated society over a large area, the other sparsely populated scattered over a much smaller area. Compare the ideas of Plato and Confucius the primary philosophers of each civilization. Confucius emphasized the example of the past as a guide to behavior and Plato sought truth through reason and ignored past examples. In Ancient Greece the soldiers elected their generals a practice not used in China. It is the differences between the two that have contributed to the differences between the present cultures of China and the West that I have found more instructive than the similarities.

Feb 16, 2007, 1:14pm

>2 wildbill: Wonderful. Yes, to learning from contrasts! I know this doesn't really belong here, but I've been listening to archival BBC Radio 3 Programs. Click link below, go to bottom of the page, click Night Waves--Legends and you'll find an excellent program with Oliver Taplin on the Illiad:

Check out the other great stuff they have archived, too.

Mayo 14, 2007, 2:20am

I came across an explanation of Homeric style in Introduction to The Iliad of Homer, translated by Richard Lattimore. It made me pause because of its kinship to Chinese.

In modern storytelling and writing, we try to steer away from the over-used, unoriginal phrase--the cliché. In Homeric stories, the author(s) of the story does not avoid repetition because the phrase, the sentence or sentences has been uttered/written in an earlier passage.

Quoting Lattimore: "All repeats are founded on the principle that a thing once said in the right way should be said again in the same way when occasion demands."

Often these phrases are repeated for their metrical unit adaptable when "sense demands, and the metre will accommodate."

We've discussed this before in another thread. The Chinese love to repeat phrases, love to quote historical figures, passing them down through the generations. These phrases are not considered cliché, but the mark of a well-read man and said in the spirit of "once said in the right way should be said again in the same way."

Later Greek poets are remote from Homeric style, but the Chinese continue this tradition of repetition.

Oct 18, 2007, 4:50pm

I wonder if the length of the phrases does not play a major role in this. I was under the impression (perhaps wrong, as it is derived indirectly via japanese) that the chinese phrases in question are generally 2-8 characters (4 most common) and are not phrases in the english sense of fully expressing a thought/story but allude to something that would have to be rephrased longer to explain what they mean to those who are not familiar with them. Because they are not explanations I think they always sound fresh, or at least fresher than a complete phrase would. but how did the greeks and romans use theirs? That i do not know (but would like to). To take an example from my next book, here is a sentence by Horace


My question would be, how would Horace have been cited by following generations? Just ''delphinum sylvis appingit, fluctibus aprum'' which is to say the last part? Or, would the whole sentence have had to be memorized and used. In Chinese, I bet it would just be dolphin-forest(or mountain)-boar-ocean.

Is it possible that the degree to which chinese permits the reader to complete the meaning of the phrase innoculates it from becoming cliche or innoculates the reader from feeling it as such?

Ene 2, 2008, 6:28am

May I suggest this reading as a starting point? The way and the word: science and medicine in early china and greece by Lloyd and Sivin. Although not immune from critique (many would say that Lloyd knows his Greece more thorougly than Lloyd knows his China), and albeit limited to science and medicine, it is a very important introduction to this theme.
Marco Valussi

Abr 25, 2012, 8:42am

I came across this in a podcast archive.
They mention the possibility of finding a library near the end.

IOTH: China's Warring States Period
Hello. 400BC to 200AD is known as the Axial Age…

Abr 28, 2012, 5:55am

#3 - That link doesn't really get you there, so allow me to post a couple more:

that particular programme is at

and the 'Night Waves' archive starts at