The Horns of a Mediterraneanist Dilemma

The article “The Horns of a Mediterraneanist Dilemma” by Michael Herzfeld was an interesting discussion on the homogeneity of the Mediterranean area.  He uses symbols that are enforced by the existing stereotypes to maintain his argument that previous research does not support the homogeneous theory of the Mediterranean.  The use of research done by previous scholars is prominent in this article.  He discusses the study of the ram horns and billy goats by Anton Blok to show that, though Blok tried making the argument that this is a Mediterranean phenomenon, it really is not because it is shown in other areas of the world, including the island of Crete.  He also states that Blok’s translation of certain texts could be indicative of the lack of understanding for the “Mediterranean Unit.”

Another argument that Herzfeld makes in the article is that of the “evil eye.”  He states that while the evil eye persists in many parts of the Mediterranean, it does not always mean the same thing in every region.  He states that Anthony Galt’s analysis of the evil eye phenomenon relies specifically on speculative ethnography.  The theory on the use of the evil eye to determine the homogeneity of the region uses both ethnographic stories and archaeology to undermine the actual meanings behind the evil eye in all of the regions because their view is being clouded by the presumption that the Mediterranean can be considered a homogeneous unit.

The stereotyping of the Mediterranean has endured even through today.  The outside world’s ideas of the Mediterranean man and woman has helped to secure these roles in their society.  The idea of the ram being equivalent to the manliness and the billy goat more equivalent to a passivity still persists today.  The ram being strong and “manly” and the billy goat being more weak and “effeminate” equates to how the gender roles are still prominent in many parts of the Mediterranean.  This stereotyping by outsiders does not help the collective ideals of the community but actually hinders it because they are not able to make their own culture since it is so dependent on the stereotyping of the rest of the world.

I think that Herzfeld is making his argument against the idea of the Mediterranean unit being homogeneous because of his use of these two examples.  He is stating that trying to say that the Mediterranean is a single culture can hinder future research in the region because it clouds over the fact that all of the countries, cities, towns, villages, etc. have their own ways of thinking and their own customs.  He makes this clear with the the evil eye discussion and even more clear with the ram/billy goat discussion because the ideas in the Mediterranean are not wholly the same.

I would agree with Herzfold’s arguments because knowing the different regions of the Mediterranean Sea and the histories of each of the countries, they are significantly different from each other.  Greece is different from Italy which is different from Spain which is different from Tunisia.  To say that all of these countries have the same culture and therefore could be considered a single homogeneous unit could hinder their own cultural identity.

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