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Speech, Character, And Self-Definition

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Chapter Summary

For Greeks and Romans, speech was an indicator of one?s character and place in society. Foul language was contrasted with nobility, self-restraint, high-mindedness, and high social status. Since people of high social status frequently claimed special moral gravity, certain sorts of jokes or erotic writings were thought inappropriate for their character. The notion that habits of speech corresponded to character was applicable for groups as well as for individuals. An excellent example of the way a style of speaking could say something about a group is furnished by the Pythagoreans? strict mastery of the tongue. According to Diogenes Laertius, Zeno of Citium first studied with the Cynic Crates, but his sense of modesty prevented him from fully adopting Cynic shamelessness. The authenticity and doctrines of Zeno?s Republic were affirmed by Cleanthes and Chrysippus, but would later prove to be a source of embarrassment for some Stoics.

Keywords: character; Cynic; foul language; Greeks; Pythagoreans; Romans; speech; Stoics



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