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Paris IAS in the media

Domingo Gygax explores the origins of euergetism

Princeton University Humanities Council, 14 juillet 2017


On June 15, Marc Domingo Gygax, professor of classics, was named joint winner of the 2017 Runciman Award for his book, Benefaction and Rewards in the Ancient Greek City. Here he talks about his work in an interview by the Anglo-Hellenic League.

Your book is entitled “Benefaction and Rewards in the Ancient Greek City: The origins of Euergetism“. Euergetism is a term that not everyone will be familiar with. We are more familiar with terms like philanthropy and charity. How does “euergetism” differ from those? Does your definition rest on work done by previous scholars, or do you use a clearly distinct definition, and if so, why?

“Euergetism” is a neologism coined in 1923 on the basis of the Greek word euergetes, which is a rough equivalent of the Latinate “benefactor” in English. Although use of “euergetism” is common among ancient historians, thanks to a book published by Paul Veyne in 1976, it is certainly a term for specialists. This is why I decided to relegate it to the subtitle of my book, with a main title that is essentially my definition of euergetism: “Benefaction and Rewards”. The primary difference between “euergetism” and terms such as “philanthropy” or “charity” is that the latter refer to only one aspect of euergetism—the actions of the benefactor—while “euergetism” also includes the public recognition of these actions as benefactions through grants of honors by the community. In other words, euergetism is not a unilateral action but a reciprocal relationship between giver and receiver. It is thus not a phenomenon but an institution, and one closely related to gift-exchange. Although many historians use “euergetism” as a synonym of “munificence”, they do so in reference to historical contexts in which munificence is rewarded with honors. Consciously or unconsciously, they have the actual or potential public recognition in mind, and for this reason the term “euergetism” is not normally applied to donations and services rendered by members of archaic elites to their communities. To my way of thinking, it does not make much sense to use “euergetism” when more common terms—“philanthropy” or “charity”—are available. But the word is extremely helpful to describe a characteristically Greek institution: the exchange of benefactions for honors.

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