Outline of Archaic Greece

This post goes from 1900 to 478 BCE and covers history, politics, and literature, particularly Homer.

At the end there is a Conclusion section that asks the Western world to remember some things.

And after that there is a long study of Homer and his epic poems.

First let’s start with the Mycenaean Age, which feeds into Archaic Greece.

Outline of Minoan Civilization

Outline of Classical Athens

Outline of the Hellenistic World

The Mycenaean Age

I.  Mycenaean Civilization (1900-1250)

A.  Society

1.  Military

a.  Wealth comes not only from land, but from raids

b.  Pottery reveals battles

2.  Politics

a.  Made up of several, independent, well-organized monarchies

3.  Architecture

a.  Rapidly built palaces

b.  Blocks piled on another, not like in Egypt

c.  Defensive-looking

C.  Class Structure

1.  “Monarchy” (wanax)

a.  King (wanax) is ruler of a city-state, who possesses most of the land and other production (e.g., textiles)

2.  Officials or retainers

3.  Aristocracy

a.  Major Landholders

4.  Damos or Demos

a.  Large number of plot-holders of unknown acreage, prob. small

b.  Artisans or craftsmen

5.  Day Laborers (thetes)

a.  Large masses of workers

b.  Free citizens, but highly vulnerable

6.  Slaves

a.  Acquired from raids and at trading posts

b.  Large number of women and their children worked in textile for king

c.  Men of raided cities were killed, so no revolt

d.  Sometimes a smith would own a slave, who was also a smith

C.  “Middle Ages” (1250-750)

1.  Dorian Invaders (1250-1100)

a.  Crude, rude people from north

b.  Speak a dialect of Greek

c.  According to legend, join forces with one Greek tribe, Heraclidae

d.  Eventually take over Peloponnese

2.  “Dark” Ages (1100-750)

a.  Loss of centralized control of monarchy

b.  Chaos produces poverty and depopulation

c.  Migrations all over Aegean

d.  Writing disappears

e.  Near Eastern powers in disarray, so they cannot impose their ways

f.  Greeks allowed to recover without external threats and develop their unique way of life

g. However, archaeology has recently discovered temples in the Peloponnese during this time, so maybe the age was not so dark after all.

Archaic Greece

I.  Introduction

A.  Archaic Age

1.  Rise of Polis (ca. 750-500)

2.  Persian Wars (490s-479)

II.  Age of Homer (750-700)

A.  Homer

1.  Identity

a.  Born in Ionia, perhaps from Smyrna on the coast of Asia Minor

1)  A guild of bards was centered there

2)  Similes describe nature that is Ionian

a)  birds gathering at river Cayester

b)  Northwest winds blowing in from Thrace

3) Colonization of Ionia makes the regional dialect uniform

b.  Demodocus?  (Odyssey 8.62)

1)  Probably like the bard Demodocus

2)  Hired by kings for banquets and festivals of several days

c.  Travel?

d.  May have travelled widely (cf. Il. 15.80; Odyssey 1.3)

e.  Blind?

1)  Legend says was blind

2)  If true, this must have occurred later in life

2.  Skill

It is believed Homer was like that.

3.  Homer’s Influence

a.  Nicias (5th cent.) Athenian political leader makes his son commit the Il. to memory in order for him to be a proper gentleman (Xen., Symposium 3.5)

b.  Plato (5th-4th cent.)

Some Greeks believed that Homer “educated Hellas and that he deserves to be taken up as an instructor in the management and culture of human affairs, and that a man ought to regulate the whole of his life by following this poet” (Republic 606E)

c.  Papyri in Egypt

1)  1,596 copies of books by identifiable authors

2)  Nearly one-half are copies of the Iliad and Odyssey

3)  The Iliad outnumber the Odyssey by about three to one (Finley, World of Odysseus, 21)

d.  Greek Masses

Despite the protestations of intellectuals, many citizens in the Greek world believed that the events in Homer happened (MIF 23)

e.  Modern Scholars

1)  Alexander Pope (1688-1744)

Be Homer’s works your study and delight;

Read them by day, and meditate by night

2)  Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

But the poems of Homer we yet know not to transcend the common limits of human intelligence, but by remarking, that nation after nation, and century after century, has been able to do little more than transpose his incidents, new name his characters, and paraphrase his sentiments

3)  A. B. Lord

Greatest cultural event in West: Writing down of Iliad and Odyssey (Singer of Tales, 152)

See below for a detailed study on Homer.

B.  Government

1.  Limited monarchy

a.  Kings had to consult nobility

b.  Once in a while commoners could speak up, but their opinions did not count for much

2.  Result

a.  Unlike their predecessors, the Greeks practice a form of limited constitutional government

b.  With a loosened monarchy, people are freer to express themselves

C.  Homeric Values

1.  Arete

a.  Men must possess physical prowess, courage, and fierce loyalty to family, friends, property

b.  He win honor in contest or agon

c.  Peleus, Achilles’ father, tells Achilles, “Always be the best and distinguished above others”

2.  Competition

a.  Greeks value contests, even in Classical Age

b.  Olympics (776)

c.  Debates in politics

III.  Rise of the Polis (750-500)

A.  Description

1.  City

a.  They were isolated towns or cities

b.  Caution: some remained villages

2.  State

a.  Individual political units

b.  Justice resides only in polis, not outside it

3.  Community

a.  Relations, whose citizens theoretically derives from common ancestors

b.  Subgroups of fighting brotherhoods, clans and tribes

c.  Worship gods in common

4.  Political animal

a.  Human is not independent

b.  Otherwise, he is a beast

B.  Development

1.  Origins

a.  An elevated, defensible citadel

b.  Farmers could retreat there when attacked

c.  Not planned, as disorderly arrangement of streets reveal

d.  Later it can develop into sizable city and region, such as Athens and Attica

2.  Order

a.  Derives from terror of chaos from Dark Ages

b.  Oriental influence of gorgons, sphinxes, griffins,

c.  Odyssey with its subjugation of monsters

d.  Temples have theme of destruction of monsters

e.  Hesiod classifies gods

3.  Law codes

a.  Strike blow to priestly and baron arbitration

b.  Beginning of civic government, rational law and order

4.  Agora

a.  Later and gradually

b.  Heart of Greeks’ remarkable social life, for there debate and conversation is carried on in open air

C.  Hoplite Phalanx

1.  Description

a.  Heavily armed infantry

b.  Form rectangles or squares at least eight men deep

c.  Aristocrats in Homer’s description had reigned

2.  Democratic

a.  Much more democratic

b.  Farmer-citizens join the ranks

3.  Result

a.  Phalanx and polis rise together

b.  More democratic army spells decline of kings

1)  Caution:  sometimes a “tyrant” manipulates phalanx

c.  Aristocracy benefits from decline of centralization

d.  Cooperation between aristocrats and yeomen

e.  But also potential antagonism

D.  Expansion of Greek World

1.  Causes

a.  Overpopulation

b.  Land is not plentiful and fertile

2.  Where

a.  Southern Italy

b.  Eastern Sicily

1)  Rome was not developed yet

c.  Spain

d.  Southern France

e.  Near East Mediterranean

f.  Ionian coast

g.  Black Sea

h.  Eastern part of North African Coast

3.  Economy

a.  Trade and industry encouraged

b.  Influx of new wealth

c.  Rise of new prosperous class, not belonging to old aristocracy (leave result later)

4.  New wealth vs. old wealth

a.  Poleis escape civil wars, temporarily

b.  Sense of Greek culture and identity (Panhellenic) away from neighbors

c.  Greek absorb and filter other cultures

d.  The newly wealthy barred from political power, religious privileges and social acceptance

e.  Aristocracy challenged even more

E.  Tyrants (700-500)

1.  Identity

a.  Non-hereditary ruler who acquired power by unconstitutional means, generally a coup d’état

b.  Generally from aristocracy who has a personal grievance or leads an unsuccessful faction among aristocracy

2.  Rise to power

a.  He solicits support from newly wealthy and farmers

b.  Far from being unpopular, he often owed his elevation to popular support by deft politicians able to exploit or buy the crowds

c.  Hoplite phalanx could also be bought or manipulated from some citizens, but mostly from mercenaries from other Greek poleis (plural of polis)

3.  Maintenance of power

a.  Vast promises to change old regime and distribute land to supporters

b.  Public improvement programs

1)  Drainage system

2)  Buildings

3)  City walls

4)  Construction and organization of marketplaces

c.  Personal bodyguards and mercenary soldiers

1)  Armed citizenry

d.  Cultural improvements

4.  Decline?

a.  Universally hated for repressive measures, esp. by aristocracy

b.  Inimical to idea of polis, in first place

c.  Usu. aristocracy challenges him

d.  Did not decline in many poleis

IV.  Philosophy

A.  Introduction

1.  Outside Athens and Sparta

B.  Thales (fl. 590s-580s)

1.  Description

a.  In Miletus he is noted for being an engineer Persians has school of them in Miletus

b.  He is a traveler, prob. influenced by Egyptian and Mid. E ideas, but is not a mere spouter of their ideas

c.  “All things are water”

d.  Possibly known in Greece as the proverbial “Einstein”

C.  Anaximander (fl. mid 6th)

1.  Description

a.  Miletus

b.  Draws the first map known world, Mediterranean

c.  Makes model of the motions of the stars and planets

d.  Fundamental matter was Indefinite (apeiron) that orig. contained every sort of shape and quality

e.  Events in nature that separate out from the Indefinite into extreme

f.  In time events balance out for committing injustices of excess

g.  Justice does this

h.  Taken from law courts where an injury is compensated; laws of nature

C.  Xenophanes of Colophon (ca. 570-500)

1.  Description

a.  Religiously oriented

b.  God was one, ungenerated and unmoving (physically)

c.  Curious about henotheism or monotheism, not science

Homer and Hesiod have attributed to the gods everything that is a shame and reproach among men, stealing and committing adultery and deceiving each other.

But mortals consider that the gods are born, and that they have clothes and speech and bodies like our own.

The Ethiopians say their gods are sub-nosed and black, the Thracians that theirs have light blue eyes and red hair.

But if cattle and horse had hands, or were able to draw with their hands and do the works that men can do, horses would draw the forms of gods like horses, and cattle like cattle, and they would make their bodies such as they each had themselves.

C.  Conclusion

1.  Hominocentric (man centered)

a.  More hominocentric, while the gods in myths are not considered, sometimes even mocked

2.  Natural explanations

a.  No one in Near East or Greece had attempted to answer what things are; natural world had been thought of as being peopled with agents like ourselves, but much larger. If the wind blows, then a god is huffing and puffing; they make a break

3.  Revolution

a.  This assertion may seem unpromising beginning for science and philosophy, but against background of mythology

b.  It was a revolution

Summary Table of Pre-Socratic Philosophers


Thales of Miletus (fl. 580s)

“All things are water”

Anaximander of Miletus (fl. 570s)

“The first principle and element of existing things was the boundless (apeiron)

Anaximenes of Miletus (fl. 550s)

“Air is the first principle of things”

Xenophanes of Colophon (fl. 530s)

“If cows and horses or lions  had hands, / Or could draw with their hands and make things as men can, / Horses would have drawn horse-like gods, cows cow-like gods . . . .”

“Homer and Hesiod have attributed to the gods / Everything that men find shameful and reprehensible.”

“One god, greatest among gods and men, / In no way similar to mortal men in body or in thought.”

Heraclitus of Ephesus (c. 545-485)

“It is impossible to step twice in the same river.”

“Homer deserves to be expelled from the competition and thrashed.”

Anaxagoras of Clazomenae (c. 500-428)

“The all-pervading Mind which imposes (brings about) an intelligible pattern in an otherwise unintelligible universe.”

It is the first cause of motion.

Democritus of Abdera (N. Aegean, Thrace) (c. 460-370)



Protagoras of Abdera (N. Aegean, Thrace) (c. 481-411)

“Man is the measure of all things”

He and other Sophists brought

philosophy down to earth.

The West:

Pythagoras of Samos then Sicily (fl. 530)

“The whole universe is organized on harmonic principles”

“The whole natural world seemed basically to be an analogue of numbers, and numbers seemed to be the primary facet of the natural world . . . Numbers constitute the whole universe.”

Parmenides of Elea (Italy) (c. 515-?)

Being     Reason    Truth

v.           v.           v.

Change    Senses    Opinion

 Empedocles of Acragas (Sicily) (c. 484-424)

“Homer and Empedocles have nothing in common except their meter.” (Aristotle)

Four elements:  fire, air, water and earth


V.  Literature

A.  Introduction

1.  Most outside Athens and Sparta

B.  Lyric poetry

1.  Sung on a lyre solo or choral

C.  Sappho (fl. late 600s)

1.  Aristocrat

2.  Island of Lesbos

3.  Family subject to a takeover

4.  In her poetry, individualism rules

D.  Other poets

1.  Still individualism

2.  Sometimes political bitterness (Theognis of Megara)

3.  Fight with honor

4.  Archilochus says, “To hell with the shield I lost; I’ll get another just like it”

5.  Rent-a-poets

VI.  Sparta (750-onwards)

A.  Conquest of Messenia (725 & 650)

1.  Helots

a.  Sparta’s western neighbors (“Helots”)

b.  Conquer quickly in 725 due to population pressure and land hunger

c.  In 650 Messenians revolt with help of Peloponnesian cities

1)  Long and bitter struggle to point of threatening Sparta’s existence

d.  Eventually subjugate the “Helots”

2.  Military regime

a.  Helots outnumber Spartans perhaps 10 to 1

b.  They opt for a military regime

B.  Spartan society

1.  Men

a.  At seven, boys taken from mothers and turned over to young instructors

b.  Trained in athletics and military

1)  Endure privation, physical pain

2)  Survive off country, by theft if necessary

c.  At twenty he is enrolled in army and lives in barracks until thirty

d.  Marriage is permitted, but men could visit wives infrequently or by stealth

e.  At thirty, he becomes an “equal” or a full citizen

g.  Military service required until sixty years

2.  Women

a.  Women receive athletic training, but not military

b.  Women allowed greater freedom of movement than in other Greek poleis

C.  Conclusion

1.  Culture vs. military regime

a.  Sacrifice luxury and privacy for military

b.  Artistically and culturally undeveloped

VII.  Athens (750-500)

A.  Aristocratic Rule

1.  Old polis

a.  They hold best and most land

b.  Polis divided into four tribes and several clans and brotherhoods

c.  Aristocrats dominate religion and politics

d.  No written laws, just tradition and self-interest

2.  Areopagus

a.  Council of nobles deriving its name from hill where they meet

b.  This is where the real power lay, not in Areopagus

3.  Archons

a.  Nine in number

b.  Elected from aristocrats

c.  Join Areopagus after year in office

d.  Limited by colleagues

4.  Assembly

a.  Traditional meeting of citizens

b.  Specifics unclear, but weak and powerless

c.  May resemble Homer’s assembly in Iliad and Odyssey

B.  Early Social Crisis

1.  Pressures to change

a.  Factions lead to disruption of smooth politics

b.  Quarrels among nobility

c.  Beginnings of an agrarian crisis

2.  Cylon (632)

a.  Nobleman stages a coup to establish himself as tyrant

b.  He seizes control of acropolis

c.  This fails because crisis not full-blown, so crowd did not yet support him

3.  Draco (621)

a.  He is given special authority to codify and publish laws for first time

b.  Laws are harsh

1)  Death penalty for smallest offenses, such as idleness and theft

c.  Actually, prob. aimed at homicides to stop blood feuds

d.  Conclusion:  Unwittingly, publication of laws strengthens state against aristocratic rule

C.  Social Crisis

1.  Agriculture

a.  Root problem is, paradoxically, improved living standards

b.  Stability raises population, which affects conditions on farms

c. Farms broken up, and no longer viable

d.  People fall into debt and mortgage land on security of own persons

1)  They borrow from wealthy landowners

2)  Promise one-sixth of next year’s crop

e.  Creditors could sell slaves overseas or keep them working with no chance of freedom

2.  Demands

a.  Wealthy (Eupatrids) call for bloody crackdown

b.  Poor call for abolition of debt and redistribution of land

D.  Reforms of Solon (ca. 594/3)

1.  Identity

a.  Aristocrat elected archon with special powers to legislate and revise constitution

2.  Seisachtheia

a.  He sends for those sold into slavery overseas

b.  No more securing loans on own person or body

3.  Land policy

a.  No redistribution of land

b.  This does not solve fundamental problem

4.  Four classes

a.  Wealthy landowners

1)  Wealthiest landowners who pay highest taxes to state

b.  Knights

1)  Contribute a war horse to state

c.  Small farmers

1)  Required to serve as hoplites

d.  Thetes

1)  Sailors, fishermen, and artisans

e.  Based on wealth measured in agriculture production

5.  Areopagus and archons

a.  First two classes

6.  Council of 400

a.  Small farmers, elected by all the people

b.  100 chosen from four tribes

c.  Unclear function, but serves as check to Areopagus and steering committee for assembly

7.  Assembly

a.  Lowest class, all adult male citizens

b.  Voted for archons nominated by wealthy

c.  Voted for council members

d.  Voted on any other business brought before them by archons and council

8.  Law courts

a.  Court of appeal

b.  People could sit on jury

E.  Pisistratus (fl. 560-527)

1.  New crisis

a.  Archons were not elected because of factions

2.  Identity (fl. 560-510)

a.  Nobleman, war hero, faction leader

3.  Rise to power

a.  Briefly holds power in 560 and 556

b.  Strikes a Thracian mine, raises a mercenary army

c.  Returns in 546 and holds power until death in 527

4.  Policies

a.  Public work for unemployed rabble

b.  Leftovers forcibly removed to country

c.  Festival of Dionysus

d.  Poets and artists patronized

e.  He makes no changes in Solon’s reforms, but makes sure that allies serve in offices

g.  Purpose is to blunt appearance of tyranny

h.  His rule is mild and popular

5.  Hipparchus (fl. 527-514)

a.  Son of Solon

b.  Follows way of father

c.  Assassinated in private dispute

6.  Hippias (fl. 514-510)

a.  He is suspicious, nervous, and harsh

b.  Alcmaeonids, one of noble clans that Hippian and Hipparchus had exiled, wins favor with influential Delphic oracle

c.  They persuade Spartans to march on Athens, led by ambitious king, Cleomenes I

d.  He is deposed in 510 and goes to Persian court

e.  Spartans’ motives were to leave Athens in friendly hands, Isagoras

F.  Cleisthenes (fl. 510-500)

1.  Identity

a.  Member of restored Alcmaeonid clan

2.  Crisis

a.  Isagoras seems to to have sought to restore pre-Solonic aristocratic state

b.  He purges citizens’ list

3.  Rise to power

a.  Cleisthenes in an unprecedented move appeals to popular support

b.  Isagoras appeals to Sparta and drive out Cleisthenes

c.  But people rise up and drive them out

d.  Cleisthenes returns

4.  Demes

a.  He divided voting blocs into demes or districts

b.  He mixes in localities (Plains, Coast, and City) with other demes

5.  Council of 500

a.  Replaces old Council of 400

b.  Prepare legislation for discussion of Assembly

6.  Assembly

a.  Ultimate power rests with it

b.  Debate free and open

c.  Any citizen can propose legislation or offer amendments

d.  Politically savvy prob. rule de facto

G.  Conclusion

1.  Economy

a.  Prosperous

2.  Politics

a.  Open and free democracy

3.  Future

a.  Now ready to lead fight against Persian gigantism

b.  Without this freedom, Persian would have probably won

c.  Our culture would have never taken the shape that it does now

VIII.  Wars with Persia (499-479)

A.  Revolts in Ionia (499-94)

1.  Persian Rule

a.  Prosperous and peaceful

2.  Aristagoras

a.  He is ambitious ruler in Miletus

b.  He urges a Persian expedition against island of Naxos, but it fails

c.  Fearful, he organizes Ionian revolts

d.  Proclaims democratic constitution, not tyranny

3.  Defeat

a.  Even though Athenians help out at first, they withdraw

b.  Persians defeat Ionians, destroy Miletus, ship slaves off into interior of Iraq

B.  Battle of Marathon (490)

1.  Motive

a.  Persians wish to punish Athens

b.  Restore Hippias

c.  Gain control of Aegean

2.  Battle (490)

a.  Persians send a task-force of

b.  General Miltiades, having left Persian service, leads 9,000 Athenians and 1,000 Plataeans

c.  They defeat Persians, who withdraw

1)  Internal troubles prevent immediate invasion

d.  This raises morale greatly, and victory takes on mythic proportions

C.  Great Invasion (480-79)

1.  Themistocles (ca. 524-459)

a.  Archon in 493 and center of Athenian history to 479

b.  He knows Persians would not stop, but conservatives thought it would

c.  Conservatives wanted to strengthen land army

d.  He wants to strengthen the navy with its “sailor rabble”

e.  Athens improve harbor of Piraeus in ca. 493/2

f.  After political in-fighting, he persuaded ships to be built in 482, at one hundred per year in 481 Xerxes leads land expedition to Greece

2.  Opposing armies and navies

a.  Persia

1)  150k soldiers

2)  600 ships

b.  Greeks

1)  Greeks have 300 ships

2)  Greeks have perhaps ca. 35k

3.  Thermopylae and Artemisium (480)

a.  Thermopylae is so narrow that a small army can hold off a large one without harm

b.  For two days Greeks butcher best of Persians

c.  A traitor reveals how Persians can go around

d.  Severe storm wrecks many Persian ships

e.  Army and navy withdraw, 300 Spartans defend Thermopylae but are killed

4.  Invasion of Athens

a.  What do Athenians do?

b.  They evacuate Athens

c.  Destroy and burn some buildings

D.  Salamis Island (479)

1.  Land or sea?

a.  Themistocles knows their ships are fewer and slower, so he wants confined area off Salamis

b.  He persuades Sparta to confront them there by threatening to withdraw all Athenians to Italy and settling them there

2.  Sea battle

a.  Xerxes sits up on high point to watch battle, ready to reward bravest

b. Greeks put soldiers on ships and rely chiefly on hand-to-hand combat

c.  Persian lose more than half their ships and many retreat to Persia

d.  Persian general Mardonius winters in Central Greece

E.  Plataea and Mycale (479)

1.  Plataea

a.  Persia

1)  Perhaps 30k or more

b.  Greeks

1)  Under Spartan Pausanius 38k hoplites

2.  Mycale

a.  Mycale is in Ionia, north of Miletus

b.  Commander is Spartan Leotychidas

c.  Greeks destroy Persian camp and fleet


The so-called “archaic” Athenians built up a form of democracy. They resisted Near East absolutism. Ionia’s thinkers rejected theocracy that sustained the Great King. Hellenic strategy outwitted military gigantism of Persian Empire. Victory against Persia galvanized Greek pride and Athenian leadership in Greece.

It’s time the West remembered its good past, and forgot the bad.

Live as free people.



I.  Homer’s Time

A. Three Views

1. Mycenaean world (1510-1100)

2. Early half of 700’s, 400 years before Herodotus

3. Lyric Poets in 600’s

B. Argument

1. Mycenaean Age: unlikely because only remnants in poems about this life

2. Lyric poets: they knew of poems; must allow one or two generations for dissemination

3. Answer: he lived in late 8th C., 700’s, because of linguistics, realia such as shield and burial tombs, and #2

II.  Homer the Person

A. Birthplace: probably Ionia, perhaps from Smyrna on the coast of Asia Minor

1. A guild of bards was centered there

2. Similes describe nature that is Ionian (e.g., birds gathering at river Cayester [2.459ff)]; northwest winds blowing in from Thrace

3. Colonization of Ionia occurred two or more centuries before Homer flourished, making the regional dialect uniform

B. Probably like the bard Demodocus (Odyssey 8.62ff) who was hired by kings for banquets and festivals of several days

C. May have travelled widely (cf. Iliad 15.80; Odyssey 1.3)

D. Some say he was blind, though this is legend, and, if true, must have occurred later in life (cf. Demodocus)

III.  Homer’s Influence

A. Nicias:

Athenian political leader of the fifth century B.C. who made his son commit the Il. to memory in order for him to be a proper gentleman (Xenophon, Symposium 3.5)

B. Plato:

Some Greeks believed that Homer “educated Hellas and that he deserves to be taken up as an instructor in the management and culture of human affairs, and that a man ought to regulate the whole of his life by following this poet” (Republic 606E)

C. Papyri in Egypt:

1,596 copies of books by identifiable authors; nearly one-half were copies of the Iliad and Odyssey.  The Iliad outnumbered the Odyssey by about three to one (Finley, World of Odysseus, 21)

D. General Population:

Despite the protestations of intellectuals, many citizens in the Greek world believed that the events in Homer happened (Finley 23)

E. Greatest cultural event in West:

Writing down of Iliad and Odyssey (Lord, Singer of Tales, 152)

F. Alexander Pope (1688-1744):

Be Homer’s works your study and delight / Read them by day, and meditate by night

G. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784):

But the poems of Homer we yet know not to transcend the common limits of human intelligence, but by remarking, that nation after nation, and century after century, has been able to do little more than transpose his incidents, new name his characters, and paraphrase his sentiments.

Class Structure in Odysseus’ World

ca. 900-800 B.C.

I.  Social Bifurcation

A. aristoi or the “Best People”

1. Definition: hereditary nobles who held most of the wealth and power

B. dêmos: or the “People”

1. Definition: multitude or all the rest

II.  The Aristocrats

A. Origin

1. Bifurcation: conquest or wealth created the original separation

2. Foundation:

a. Base: land and cattle

b. Separate estate: the locals put this at his disposal

3.  Hereditary: froze the bifurcation (e.g., endless recitation of genealogies)

4.  Caste-system: emerged because of frozenness

B.  Kingship

1. Symbol: king as father; on Olympus Zeus was father of gods

2. Rule by might: not tyranny in the negative (invidious) sense

3. Heredity: kings like Priam and Hector wanted succession for sons

4. Household: King more powerful than other heads of households; border between king and chief could be blurred, especially when powerful king died and a little weak

5. Weakness: succession was threatened; a theme in Odyssey was suitors: Odysseus was supposedly dead; Telemachus weak; succession threatened

6. War: kings were hero-warriors driven by honor

C. Honor

1. Achilles and Hector: they obeyed the code of honor without flinching and questioning; thus, he was hero not because during call of duty they marched to death singing hymns to the gods and county

2. Hero code: clear, unambiguous; never debated; Assemblies discussed tactical alternatives and how to achieve honor but never questioned the fact of honor

3. Individualism?: Hero fought for household and kinship; but this too is individualism since hero and oikos (household) were indistinguishable; fighting for society slowly emerging

4. Hierarchic; if everyone attains honor, then honor is meaningless

5. Pattern: Honor (challenge) → Contest → Trophy

6. Gift-giving: it was as honorable to give as to receive; measured a man’s true worth

a. Telemachus refuses Menelaus’ offer of horse; M ups the ante (1.374-5)

b. Overpowering accumulative instinct

7. Corollary opposite: shame; to suffer shame meant loss of honor

III.  Retainers

A. Description

1. Job Description: managers who belonged to the household

2. Status: some “free”; others slaves; some rose very high indeed, e.g. Patroclus, servant of Achilles

B. Power

1.  Hangers-on: they got their power from the aristocrats

IV.  The Multitude

A. Description

1. “Freedom”: Though they worked, they remained their own master, not under the constraint of another

B. “Free” Herders and Peasants

1. They had their own holdings; difference between them and nobles: magnitude of their households

C. Specialists

1. Elite: Carpenters, metal workers, soothsayers, bards and physicians

V.  The Slave

A. Description

1. Population: many of them, though precise numbers unknown; Odysseus had fifty (round figure)

2. Place: part of the household; dmos is connected with the word doma or domos;

3. Occupation: they work around the house washing, cleaning, sewing, grinding meal (Moses I Finley 54-9)

4. Status: they were property, disposable at will

5. Gender: mostly women; men were killed or ransomed because no reason economically or morally for enslaving men; thetes existed

6. Marriage: They did not mate with other slaves since not many men; belonged to the owners; children belonged to head of household

VI.  The thes (plural thetes)

A. Description

1. Place: lack of attachment; did not belong; outside of the oikos

2. Contrast: Slaves victim of chance or force; the thes mortgaged his own freedom or voluntarily contracted away his control over his own labor

B. Current Opinion

1. Achilles in Odyssey 11.489-91:

“I would rather be bound down, working as a thes for another, by the side of a landless man, whose livelihood was not great, than be ruler over all the dead who have perished”

Social Relations in Odysseus’ World

ca. 900-800 B.C.

I.  Foundation

A. Social Grouping, Not Individualism

B. Status for the Heroes

1. Agamemnon:  king of the Greeks; most kingly, but not the best warrior; he inherited power and could therefore muster a contingent of a hundred ships;

2. Telemachus: son of Odysseus; a youth, but Athena rebukes him for still being a child (1.296-7); a man of 21 yrs of such lineage and class should be advanced

C.  Honor (see Class Structure, Aristocrats, #C)

II.  Household or oikos

A. Description

1. Foundation: The most basic unit

2. Management: the oikos means running an estate, not just keeping peace in the family

3.  Place: all people of household, not only family: craftsmen, slaves, thes, traders (not widespread)

B. Land

1. Base: the oikos; the more one had, the more wealth and members and the more power

2. Pasturage: unlike the time of Homer the man when tillage was the primary; tillage done minimally

II. Kinship Group

A. Description

1. Immediate family and extended family

2. A brother could move out to establish another oikos, but he is still part of kinship

B. Function

1. Power

a. Protection: Safety in numbers

b. Acquisition: Might could take over possessions

c. Sustaining: More strength sustains position of power

2. Punishing Crime

a.  Menelaus: brother of Agamemnon, was offended, but Agamemnon leads the expedition

b.  Odysseus: his slaughter of suitors incited their brothers and fathers to arms (24.433-5

III. Community

A. Description

1. Precondition: The stronger the community the more stable and settled were the many households and kinships

2. Superstructure: Imposed on kinship and household; a quasi-surrender of own autonomy

3. Comparison: Less structured than neighbors (Egypt); more household- and kinship-bound

4. Modeled after household and family: king as father

B.  Assembly

1. Summoned by king

a. No advanced warning needed

b. War time: while camping

c. Home: no stated meeting dates or fixed number of sessions; on Ithaca Telemachus summoned one and broke 20-year silence

2. Procedure

a. Time was at dawn

b. Herald actually summoned

c. Agenda was subject summoner wished to discuss

d. The eldest spoke, then anyone else; no fixed seniority system; debated determined sequence

e. Scepter in hand; speaker physically inviolate

f. Dissolved when no more speakers

3. Function

a. Mobilize the arguments pro or con

b. Inform king or leader where sentiment lay; but king was free to do whatever he wished; this generated the conflict in the Iliad

c. themis: custom, tradition, folk-ways

C. Council of Elders

1. Summoned by king (see Assembly)

2. Procedure (see Assembly)

3. Function

a. Test opinion & sentiment of nobles

D. Limitation

1.  During war, the community took priority; during peace and normal social intercourse, region more household- and kinship-bound

Homeric Theology

I.  Introduction

A. Not Systematized: Homer never systematized his religion; he took it for granted

B. Anthropomorphism: Gods are in the image of men: suffer from the same emotions and passions, but on grand scale

C. Difference:

1. Immortality:

2. Labor: gods at ease, mortal work and toil

3. Food: gods eat nectar & ambrosia, humans bread & wine

4. Dwelling: gods live on Olympus, humans on earth

D. Interventions

1. Initiate Plot: “Which one of the gods brought Agamemnon & Achilles in strife” (Il. 1.8)

2. Athena: she appears to help Odysseus along

3. Humans: they appear to have free will

II.  Cast of Characters

A. Zeus

1. Status and Power

a. Father or leader of all the gods

b. If he hung a gold rope down to earth, and all the other gods tugged on it, they could not budge it; but he could yank them up (Il. 8.18-27)

c. Fate seems superior to him: Zeus puts the destiny of some on the scales (Il. 8.69, 16.658, 22.209)

2. Favorites:

a. Zeus favors Priam and Hector and Troy

B. Hera

1. Status and Power

a. Consort and wife of Zeus

b. Control over other male and female gods, often by manipulation

2. Favorites

a. Greeks

b. In a beauty contest Paris-Alexander was a judge; Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite entered; influence by a bribe from Helen, he chose Helen; Hera wants revenge

C. Other gods:

1. Athena: (Zeus + Mêtis) goddess of wisdom, virginity, strong in battle; favors Greeks

2. Poseidon: Zeus’s brother, ocean and water; favors Greeks

3. Hermes: (Z + Maia, daughter of Atlas) messenger, trickster, boyish, younger; guides dead souls to Hades; favors the Greeks

4. Apollo: (Z + Leto, goddess), twin to Artemis, archer, healing, music, prophecy; his priest’s daughter Briseis is stolen by Achilles, Agamemnon takes her, Achilles wants her back, Agamemnon won’t return her; favors Trojans

5. Artemis: (Z + Leto) virgin, huntress, linked to her brother Apollo, carries shafts of arrows to kill

6. Aphrodite: (Z + Dione, unknown), goddess of sex and sexual desire; attendant is Eros (whose birth is unclear and does not figure in Homeric Epics); favors Trojans and esp. Paris-Alexander

7. Ares: (Z + Hera), god of war; favors Trojans

III.  Homeric Humor

A. Aphrodite

1. Battle: she is stabbed by Diomedes, runs home to cry to mommy Dione, Athena and Hera tease her (she stabbed herself putting on brooch), Zeus comforts her (Il. 5.375-425)

B. Dysfunctional family

1. Re-entry into Battle: they fight amongst themselves when Zeus permits them to re-enter battle (Il. 21.470-520)

Oral Poetry

I. Poet Learns, Composes, Transmits orally

A. Learns Orally:

1. Poet sits aside, absorbs the songs of a master, learns the heroes and their names, learns the themes, and imbibes the rhythm; but the process is not rote. He develops models but not in fixed forms

B. Composes Orally:

1. While standing before his audience, he must adhere to a meter (Homer is iambic hexameter) as he rapidly inserts his formulas and the larger themes; tradition helps him; though learning in this stage is by imitation, each time the song is sung, it is different

C. Transmits Orally:

1. Sings some songs all the way through; not a memorized text, but he recomposes a tradition

2. Learns new songs, adding to his repertory; expands old ones by ornamenting them

3. His learning (apprenticeship; no longer a novice) ends when his entertainment can last several nights

II.  Poets’ Skill

A. Excerpt about oral poets in 20th century

With years of experience the singer becomes an active listener to the songs of others. The really talented oral poet combines listening and learning in one process. The listening is then dynamic and can be said to constitute in itself the first rehearsal of the new song. Singers who can do this are, however, rare. Many may boast, but their boast is a heroic one and belongs to the hyperboles of epic poetry. That it is possible I am sure; for I have seen and heard this marvel accomplished.

When Parry was working with the most talented Yugoslav singer in our experience, Avdo Mededovic in Bijelo Polje, he tried the following experiment. Avdo had been singing and dictating for several weeks; he had shown his worth and was aware that we valued him highly.  Another singer came to us, Mumin Vlahovljak from Plevlje. He seemed to be a good singer, and he had in his repertory a song that Parry discovered was not known to Avdo; Avdo said he had never heard it before. Without telling Avdo that he would be asked to sing the song himself when Mumin had finished it, Parry set Mumin to singing, but he made sure that Avdo was in the room and listening. When the song had come to an end, Avdo was asked his opinion of it and whether he could now sing it himself. He replied that it was a good song and that Mumin had sung it well, but that he thought that he might sing it better. The song was a long one of several thousand lines. Avdo began and as he sang, the song lengthened, the ornamentation and richness accumulated, and the human touches of character, touches that distinguished Avdo from other singers, imparted a depth of feeling that had been missing in Mumin’s version.

The analysis of the first major theme in Mumin’s and in Avdo’s text … illustrated how well Avdo followed his original and yet how superbly he was able to expand it and make it his own.

The main points of Mumin’s account of the assembly are there, but by elaboration, by the addition of similes and of telling characterization, Avdo has not only lengthened the theme from 176 lines to 558, but he has put on it the stamp of his own understanding of the heroic mind. Yet Mumin’s performance was not Avdo’s only model for this passage. Avdo had other models as well, already in his mind as he listened to Mumin. These models were the assembly theme that he sang in his own repertory. Avdo had worked these out during his many years of singing. If we compare several of these with the passage given above, we see what these models were like and how they helped Avdo in re-creating Mumin’s song (A. B. Lord, Singer of Tales, ibid. 78-9).

III. Homer’s Craft

A. Treated with great respect, if skillful

B. Must enrapture his audience

C. A musical instrument, the lyre, is essential, and he needs periods of rest during his song

D. Heroes knew their exploits or misdeeds would be sung and made famous by bards (Il. 6.357-58; cf. Od. 8.579-80; 24.196-98)


I.  The Poem

A. Definitions

1. Oral Epic Song: Narrative poetry composed in a manner evolved over many generations by singers of tales who did not know how to write; it consists of the building of metrical lines and half lines by means of formulas and formulaic expressions and of the building of sings by the use of themes (Lord, Singer of Tales, 4).

a. Formula: a group of words which is regularly employed under the same metrical conditions to express a given essential idea (ibid. 4).

1) Swift-footed Achilles; He fell, armor clanked; He spoke with winged words

b. Formulaic expression: A line or half line constructed on the pattern of formulas (ibid. 4)

1) See #a above

c. Theme: repeated incidents and descriptive passages in the songs; it exist for itself and for the whole song; semi-independent life of its own: this explains occasional inconsistency (ibid. 94)

1) Iliad: Assembly, donning of armor, battle scenes; Odyssey: return, disguise deceptive stories, recognition

II.  Image and Symbol

A. Image

1. Primarily a word or phrase devised to evoke sense impression, visual, auditory or other

2. Appeal to the part of the mind which recognized sense-experience

B. Poetic Symbol

1. Word or phrase which carries larger meaning than what the word or phrase denote (Achilles’s shield means power and strength)

2. This meaning is determined and limited by the contextual associations in which it stands

III. Similes

A. Definition:

1. A figure of speech in which a similarity between two objects is directly expressed; most are introduced with like or as

2. Two things should be essentially unalike; thus it is no simile to say, “My house is like your house”

B. Origin: Identification of one object with another:

1. Thetis rises out of the sea like a mist (Il. 1.359)

2. Apollo descends like the night (Il. 1.47)

3. These gods might be seen like a mist or the night

C. Simple: One object compared with another, but in the language style that the originals may have been made:

1. Ajax carries his shield like a tower (Il. 11.485)

2. A warrior is like Ares the bane of men (I1.295)

3. A thing is compared with something else but does not lose its own character

D. Complex: One composite action is compared to another composite action; that is, there is more than one item in each side of the comparison

1. 164 similes occur in battle scenes; 38 in other scenes; hence, not many in Od. (40).

2. Priam sees Achilles’s divinely made armor glittering as Orion’s dog Sirius, but that star brings great evil to men; thus Ach will do to Priam and Troy (Il. 22.26)

E. Function

1. Movement: an attacking movement in a predatory animal (Il. 5.161)

2. Appearance: comparison with a flash or a flame or a star; watch fires blaze like stars

3. Sound: Personified Scamander raises his flood waters and bellows like a bull (Il. 21.237)

4. Measurement

a. Space: the staff of Cyclops is as long as a ship’s mast (Od. 9.: Laestrygonian women are as big as mountains Od. 10.)

b. Time: Speed of action (Ares’ wound heals as long as milk to curdle)

5. Situation: status of a series of actions; Hector goes for the ships like a boulder shaken loose, stays its course, then stops short of bowling over something (Il. 13.137); men and dogs pursue a stag, but then are stopped short when a lion appears (Il. 15.271)

6. Psychological Characteristics: Inner state is compared; Diomedes, wounded by Pandarus, receives three times as much fury, just as a lion redoubles its fury when wounded by a shepherd (Il. 5.136)

7. Conclusion: Illustrate either a concrete action or a series of actions that make up a situation, along with illustrating temporary and permanent psychological traits

IV.  Epithets

A. Definition: a brief description attached to a name, such as swift-runner Achilles

B.  Kinds:

1. Ornamental: not necessarily appropriate for the context, e.g., proud runner when Achilles is sitting down weeping (1.431) and great runner Ach when he is grieving over Patroclus (18.81)

2. Particularized: appropriate to the context, e.g., swift runner Ach when he is chasing Hector around Troy (22.224) or Ag lord of men when he offers piles of riches to Achilles (9.136)

V.  Digressions

A. Paradigm:

1. Stories drawn from personal experience, family history, or myths outside of Trojan legend

B. Kinds:

1. Hortatory: i.e., they exhort someone in order to persuade him; Phoenix exhorts Achilles to drop his anger (Il. 9.523-737)

2. Apologetic: Ruin was loosed in the world, and Agamemnon was blinded or deceived by it (Il. 19. 86ff)

C. Length:

1. It is as relevant as its intent

2. Corresponds to the necessity of the persuasion

3. Oblique concentration: to praise Achilles’s shield is to praise Achilles himself

D. Ritual:

1.. The effect is to put time in slow motion and to create a ritual out of the moment; ritual serves drama

VI.  Ring Composition

A. Description:

1. A speech that makes successive points and then, halfway through the speech, repeats or alludes to the points in reverse order

B. Example:

1. Hephaestus explaining why he is glad Thetis is visiting him (Il. 18.459-79)

A   A goddess I respect is here (460-61)

B   who saved my life when my mother cast me out (461-63)

C   I would have suffered, if Eurynome and Thetis had not received me (465-66)

D   Eurynome, Ocean’s daughter (467)

E   For them I made lovely things (468-69)

D’  As Ocean’s water flowed around their cave (470-71)

C’  No one knew but Eurynome and Thetis (472-73)

B’  Who saved me (473)

A’  Now Thetis is here, and I must reward her (474-75)

Narratology: Characterization and Point of View

I.  Definitions

A. Character

1. Character refers to the people in a work of literature and to the characteristics of those people

2. Kinds

a. Flat or static: Reveals a single idea or dominant trait without inner development; he changes little;

1) Examples are most of the suitors and most of Odysseus’s shipmates or travelling companions

b. Round or dynamic: reveals a complex personality who is modified by the actions through which he passes;

1) Examples are Odysseus, Penelope, and Telemachus; note: Homer’s characters are not as complex as those in later narratives; Odysseus is always strong, deceptive, polite, generous, never at a loss for words; but Homer is the master of the monolithic characters, so we don’t notice the lack of change, comparatively speaking

B. Characterization

1. The revelation of these traits and characteristics by the author / narrator

II.  Methods of Characterization

A. Author’s comments: Author may explain the make-up of the character

1. Example is Od. 5.496-515: Odysseus has an inner debate after landing on Skheria Is. of the Phaiakians; Narrator tells us of the decision then gives a simile about a man hiding a fire-brand in the embers for future use; this refers to Odysseus renewing strength

B. Another character’s comments

1. Example is Od. 13.337-54: Athena appears in her divine form and calls Odysseus a bottomless bag of tricks and deceitful and clever

C. Character’s interior monologue

1. Example is Il. 1.222-29: Achilles debates whether to kill Agamemnon or let him go

D. Soliloquy: a speech from a character when he is alone (done often in drama)

E. Dramatic Monologue: one character addresses himself to another person (done often in drama)

F. Character’s comments on himself

1. Example is Od. 9.19ff (p. 307): Odysseus begins his story but first reveals his name

G. Character’s dialogue

1. Example is Od. 9.380-90: Odysseus tricks Polyphemus with the false name, Nohbdy (Nobody)

E. Character’s action

1. Example is Od. 9.179ff: Odysseus decides to explore the island of Polyphemus; he is acquisitive and inquisitive

III. Point of View

A. Definition

1. The ways in which the reader is presented with the materials in the story

2. The ways in which the author presents the story

3. Interrelated with characterization

B. Kinds

1. Omniscient: author allows himself freedom of knowing everything;

a. Divine vision: H knows what is happening on Olympus

b. Inner vision: Homer knows what’s happening inside a character

c. Foreknowledge: Homer knows the future; example is Od. 1.30-31: Homer predicts that Odysseus will land safely; the suspense is not in the “what will happen,” but in the “how it will happen”

2. Third person limited: author selects a fixed point of consciousness in a character and does not allow himself to move around; H does not employ this unless . . .

3. First person narrative: author narrates through the main character who tells the story;

a. In Od. 9.19-11.367; then 11.425-12.536 (end) Odysseus tells his story up to the time he landed on Ogygia with Kalypso

b. Normally narrator is unable to look into thoughts of other persons; see Od. 12.444-57: Odysseus reports the conversation between Zeus and Helios but then clarifies quickly that Kalypso later tells him (12.459)


Outline of Minoan Civilization

Outline of Classical Athens

Outline of the Hellenistic World

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s