Rachel Hall SternbergApr 26, 2022
The Ancient Greek Roots of Human Rights
University of Texas Press 2021
Although the era of the Enlightenment witnessed the rise of philosophical debates around benevolent social practice, the origins of European humane discourse date further back, to Classical Athens. The Ancient Greek Roots of Human Rights (U Texas Press, 2021) analyzes the parallel confluences of cultural factors facing ancient Greeks and eighteenth-century Europeans that facilitated the creation and transmission of humane values across history. Rachel Hall Sternberg argues that precursors to the concept of human rights exist in the ancient articulation of emotion, though the ancient Greeks, much like eighteenth-century European societies, often failed to live up to those values.
Merging the history of ideas with cultural history, Sternberg examines literary themes upholding empathy and human dignity from Thucydides’s and Xenophon’s histories to Voltaire’s Candide, and from Greek tragic drama to the eighteenth-century novel. She describes shared impacts of the trauma of war, the appeal to reason, and the public acceptance of emotion that encouraged the birth and rebirth of humane values.
Rachel Hall Sternberg is an associate professor of classics and history at Case Western Reserve University. She is the author of Tragedy Offstage: Suffering and Sympathy in Ancient Athens and editor of Pity and Power in Ancient Athens.
Jackson Reinhardt is a graduate of University of Southern California and Vanderbilt University. He is currently an independent scholar, freelance writer, and research assistant. You can reach Jackson at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @JTRhardt