- A high level of violence during this period was interspersed with periods of considerable prosperity and perhaps also with periods of stability. The archaeological record is consistent about the prosperity, level of trade, and technical and administrative skills of the bronze age population.
- So much suggests that the warrior bands came in disruptive waves that interrupted lengthy[?] periods of peace.
- The level of violence within the ruling classes during this periods of prosperity may not have directly affected what was happening to the subject classes.
- My concern here is not so much with the classical 'homeric questions', but rather with the fact that the classical Greeks themselves believed this was a formative period. Primarily it offers an example of how societies use myth, legend and history to generate a narrative that meet contemporary needs.
lecture is divided into two sections, the first provides a summary of the Iliad
and notes on reading Homer. In the second part, we turn to the historical problems
of the period between the destruction of Troy and the revival of urban life in the 8th
Regarding the centrality of Homer in Greek culture and in the development of western civilization: The key issues are three. Homer articulated Greek values,
and did so with such success that they continue to define our own. What are the
values? and how did they affect the history and culture of the Classical period, and why do they continue to affect western civilization so profoundly?
What makes Homer special?
- he never openly condemns / judges; rather he is a master at depicting both sides of a problem. He brings the listener to understand the delicate balance in decision-making, the conflicting emotions and interests of his characters = empathy.
- the characters themselves are not obliviously 'good' or 'evil'; rather his technique is to evoke empathy for both sides. Hector, the Trojan enemy, tho perhaps less 'heroic' that Achilles in the conventional sense, is in fact more heroic in his selflessness. Homer's artistry is that he portrays the humanity of all his characters; he allows the listener to come to conclusions without overt prompting.
- The overall effect of evoking empathy is that it encourages the listener to reflect on the human condition, on the consequences of violence, on how to live with dignity. These reflections are based not on divine revelation, but are rather the result of reflection, self-conscious or otherwise.
These components will be central to the discussion of the themes outlined in the first lecture; indeed they are the characteristics of the best of Greek literature. Most importantly: the polis and consensual govt would not be possible without such values.
PART I: Homer, the Iliad
and Homeric Values: HOMER ...and a new discovery. Background: a
highly sophisticated technique of composition (without writing) perfected by generations
of epic singers. ILIAD: One short episode
in the ninth year of the siege of Troy by the Greeks (the city and the site).
Book 1. Agamemnon, the supreme commander of
the Greeks, takes back a prize of
honor awarded by the army to Achilles, a lower-ranking but greater fighter.
Achilles withdraws from the battle and asks his goddess mother Thetis to petition Zeus, king of the gods, for the defeat of the Greeks. Zeus agrees
(not a question of right or wrong, but of obligation; note too that Achilles is not concerned with the welfare of all, but only with his honor).
In Book 2, Zeus encourages
Ag. to attack, even without Achilles; and the forces arrayed on either side are
described in detail.
Book 3. The Trojan Paris, abductor of Helen, challenges
her rightful Greek husband Menelaus to a duel;
Helen watches from the wall of Troy; as Paris is being defeated, the goddess Aphrodite
picks him up, puts him down in his bedroom and leads the reluctant Helen to him.
They go to bed together, while Menelaus hunts vainly for his victim. Note: Helen is a sex
object, the prize in competition, the cause of the war, and a lonely, guilt-ridden
woman, still unable to resist the irresponsible Paris in spite of her contempt
for him. (In Books 4 and 5,
the truce called for the duel is broken by a Trojan; the general battle begins,
and the Greek Diomedes is made all-powerful by Athena.).
6. Diomedes' exploits end in a friendly conversation. Hector returns to Troy,
sends his mother Hecuba to pray to Athena, rousts out Paris, and takes leave of
his wife Andromache and his baby
son.Note: transient mankind
compared to falling leaves. Contrast between Paris-Helen
and Hector-Andromache, and a variant, and a
another. Brilliant depiction (in speeches)
of emotions at the parting--Andromache stressing her total dependence on her
husband but advising him as an equal; Hector with gloomy
forebodings (Andromache and Astyanax) of the future together with inconsistent (but natural) hopes
for his son. His final expression of fatalism. Contrast at end between Hector's
deep emotion and light-hearted Paris.
Book 7 has an inconclusive
duel between Hector and Ajax (= Aias). In Book 8, the Trojans drive the
Greeks back and encamp on the plain outside the city. Book
9. The disheartened Agamemnon sends an embassy of Odysseus, Phoenix and Ajax
to offer magnificent gifts to Achilles if he will return. He refuses.Note: the great speeches.
Too-clever Odysseus, offering a bribe; Achilles' increased isolation, anger
and hurt; the affection and dismay of Phoenix; the disapproval of the simple,
unimaginative Ajax. Achilles has now turned against the normal heroic code
and is estranged from his fellow chiefs. There will be consequences. He should
have responded (Homer seems to suggest) to the petition of his fellow warriors
After a night expedition (Bk.
10), the battle resumes; several Greek leaders are wounded (Bk. 11)
and the Trojans break through the Greek wall (Bk. 12). The god Poseidon
rallies the Greeks (Bk. 13), and Hera distracts Zeus by seducing him (Bk.
14). When he recovers, Zeus stirs up Hector and the Greeks are driven back
to their ships.
Book 16. At the request of Patroclus, his great friend Achilles
allows him to put on Achilles' own armor and lead their troops to rescue the desperate
Greeks. He is successful and kills the Trojan ally Sarpedon but is himself killed
After a long fight over
Patr.'s body (Bk. 17), the terrible news is brought to Achilles (Bk.
18). His mother Thetis tries to comfort him, but he vows to kill Hector,
despite her warning that his own death must soon follow Hector's. New armor
is made for him by the god Hephaestus
He is reconciled with Agamemnon (Bk. 19) and goes into battle (Bks.
20, 21). There is a parody Battle of the Gods. Finally, all the Trojans
flee into the city, and Hector is left alone facing Achilles.
Book 22. The duel
between Hector and Achilles; Hector's
death. Note: Hector's soliloquy;
the technique of prolonging the description of the pursuit around Troy; the
parallels between Hector's death and that of Patroclus', including the prediction
of the death of his killer; the delaying of Andromache's lament, and the symbolic
loss of her wedding head-dress.
Book 23 relaxes the
emotional level with the funeral of Patroclus, and a very gracious Achilles presides
over funeral games. Note the words of Patr.'s ghost. Book
24. Achilles' inconsolable grief. The gods send Priam to recover Hector's
body from him. Achilles hands over the body, and it is buried by the Trojans.
Andromache mourns. Note: the superb scene
between Priam and Achilles, including Achilles' words about the futility of
war and the sorrows of human life. Tension remains between the two, and the
war will continue, with Achilles' death to come at the hands of Priam's son
(Paris) and Priam's at the hands of Achilles' son (Neoptolemus). The last
shot is of Hector's tomb. But the consolation given to Priam by Achilles--courage,
endurance, and the respect inspired by both these--is not to be forgotten.
- Homer must be treated
with great care as historical evidence for the history of the Bronze Age
It was the Greek
'bible' in that everyone knew the text in detail and quoted freely
- Borders of states
and national identities defined by relation to Homer.
- Privilege and
responsibility (ESHAG No. 21, p. 195: to stand in the front line of battle carries privileges)
- Intensity of
the violence is not denied, but attempts to ameliorate its impact; depicts effects on women
- The Homeric Questions:
- Who was Homer? and did he compose both epics? and how much did he rely on a vibrant and shared oral tradition? Similar questions have been raised about the authorship of the first books of the OT.
- Does Homer accurately describe a historical reality? and if so which one? ESHAG provides a lengthy discussion of the options here. It is notable that scholars working with the same evidence come to quite different conclusions.
- My concern here [again] is not so much with the classical 'homeric questions', but rather with the fact that the classical Greeks themselves believed this was a formative period.
- Analysis of Books assigned
- Homeric Values --the
author's didactic statement esp on the meaning of heroism.
- Life is suffering:
tragic that so many die and do so in prime; tragic too that so many
more must lament
- Still, one
can live with dignity and die with honor; one will then be remembered
(ESHAG No. 25, p. 199).
- The agon: to gain
control of resources, not just for personal consumption, but because
it ensures survival of oikos and dependents (note Nestor at
ESHAG, p. 199). Reputation
for arete depends upon one's success in this competition.
- Arete also involves
knowledge of how to live well...
for conventions and courtesy; accepting
compensation and supplication.
- Giving and
heeding good advice; role of knowledge and relationship to suffering.
There is no "bliss" in ignorance.
- Honor through
- Attitude toward
nature and supernatural
- gods not effective
guarantors of justice.
- human can influence the gods to act [admittedly the effect is not always what one had anticipated]
- The divine world
like the human: complete anthropomorphism
- centrality of the human being;
- whose anger counts?
- ethical behavior
arises from human conventions, not from divine ordinance. No revealed truth.
- Again, as noted in II.A.4 above, the Homeric hero
must respect gods, parents,
suppliants and strangers. For the rest, his own conception of manliness
(includes both courage and wisdom) serve as his guide while fame is the
highest honor (also the most enduring) he can win.
- Specifically, and in contrast to the literature of the Ancient Near East, there were constraints on royal power.
- Only the warrior
- all power with
king who consults his council; persuasion and eloquence are important components of discussion; the king may have the ultimate authority, but it is tempered by his dependence on the warrior class.
- Councilors have rights: to ratify treaties, arbitrate feuds; could
be "kinglets" in own right (head of clans)
- warrior had obligations
to his people. "Shepherd of his people" is most common descriptor. Implications??
- assembly for yes/no opinion, but consider the fate of Thersites. Odysseus, when he came across a man from the demos, struck him and said listen to better men than yourself...you are a nobody either in fight or council [II 195-200]
- Trojans and Achaeans
and Dorians --the late bronze age
- The end of the international
age brought about by the movement of new, Greek speaking peoples, but
they were less sophisticated than their predecessors. This is the "heroic
age"; archaeologically marked by shift to cremation, more war implements,
etc. Perhaps, too, by a breakdown in traditional social and religious
had an important role to play in defense of Aegean, namely to protect
the northern frontier. Note, too, as will be seen in slides, the massive
- The Dorian Migration
(ca. 1100-1000). The Migrations
- The last in
a series of migrations which brought Greek speakers into Greece.
tribal (family, clan and phratry), led by king elected from
the ruling family. He was advised by a council of leading warriors
- Unlike the Bronze
Age population, which settled around a citadel
(= polis), the Dorians settled in open villages
on a family basis, each group receiving a parcel of land (klaros).
The klaros was worked by the enslaved Bronze Age population
(helots) and was inalienable, forming (ultimately) the basis
of citizenship. Other excavated villages: one and two.
- There is good
reason to believe that there was considerable internal struggle between
the conquerors and conquered and between the conquering families.
- Why did Mycenaean
civilization fall? why do civilizations fall? In fact, the relatively
sudden, extensive, and thorough eradication of Mycenaean palatial civilization
is likely to have been caused by a combination of factors. In any case,
no one of the theories addresses all of the questions inherent in a reconstruction
of the Mycenaean collapse. These questions include, but are by no means
limited to, the following:
- How stable was
Mycenaean palatial civilization in the first place? Was it flexible
enough to withstand substantial "shocks" (i.e., invasions
by warrior bands)?
- Were there certain
"shocks" that affected Mycenaean palatial civilization
as a whole? or were the shocks 'localized'? Were these in every case ultimately responsible for the
destruction of individual palatial centers by outsiders? or were such destructions
often the final links in highly localized chains of causation?
- Why were the
palaces never rebuilt?
- Why were regions
including some of the richest agricultural zones in southern
so thoroughly depopulated during the century following the destruction
of the palaces? What percentages of the population which disappeared
/ died in
of famine and disease or in battle, and what percentage migrated south
- In brief, probably a combination of internal and external factors for which we do not have sufficient evidence to give a definitive answer. Historians looking at the same data have weighed the evidence differently and come to strikingly different conclusions.
- The Aeolian and
Ionian Migrations (1050-950; see map above)
- The Aeolians.
- The Ionians
were the Bronze Age population of mainland Greece (probably of the Peloponnesus). The
Dorian attacks were particularly devastating there, and much of the
population was simply reduced to serfdom [the helot of Sparta??]. Those who could escape,
generally the aristocracy and their dependents and retainers, settled first at Athens,
which had successfully resisted the Dorian onslaught, and then some
went further to south-west coast of Anatolia.
- Returning to the main question: My concern here is not so much with the classical 'homeric questions', but rather with the fact that the classical Greeks themselves believed this was a formative period. The story of the Oresteia. three plays, the Agamemnon, the Libation Bearers, and the Eumenides [shameful to kill your mother; shameful to let the murderer of my father be unavenged...where will it all end? when will the violence cease? ]. The Furies haunt Orestes for killing the mother who killed his father who killed his sister; 11 Athenians and Athena; a hung jury=>acquittal on the grounds that mercy is preferable to the horror of vengeance]