By Steven Johnstone
Content material: Haggling -- Measuring -- holding song -- Valuing -- participating -- Apportioning legal responsibility -- figuring out -- universal greek weights and measures
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There seem to have been few if any posted prices in Athens. For sellers, the methods of advertising were limited. While they would display their goods (sometimes, it was suspected, with the best ones up front),71 the best way to attract attention was to shout. 72 Such spiels could indicate the quality of the goods as well: a ﬁsh seller might ballyhoo his anchovies as sweeter than honey. 75 To the potential buyer’s initial inquiry, merchants could respond in a number of ways. As you can see in the collection of complaints about ﬁsh sellers at the beginning of Athenaeus, book 6, some merchants responded nonverbally.
But beneath these literary layerings lies the practice of haggling. Insofar as it can be taken seriously (and even the humor depends on some serious content), Lynkeos’s treatise offered buyers a superﬁcial expertise, legitimated (if humorously) by its form in epic verse, to mitigate the asymmetry in information. Lynkeos assumes the discomfort of buyers at the haggling expertise of sellers and suggests that facility with conventional language, whether routine or altered, was an important resource in this situation.
It was, however, fundamental to the intellectual manipulation of quantities. We live in a world so suffused with, and even constituted by, standardization—of weights and measures, of course, but of myriad other things from batteries to the dimensions of intermodal shipping containers— 36 chapter three that we rely on these systems without thinking. But Greeks could trust abstract systems of standardized measurement in only a few situations; more often they had to rely on personal trust in others and on their own expertise.
A history of trust in ancient Greece by Steven Johnstone