Geometric Greece: 900-700 BC

By J. N. Coldstream | Go to book overview

14

Recollection of a Heroic Past

During the second half of the eighth century, the Greeks became increasingly aware of a vanished heroic age-an age which, on archaeological grounds, we have learned to equate with the Mycenaean world shortly before its Collapse. The princes of that remote age had become the heroes of epic poetry; a new respect for them, and a new interest in establishing links with them, appear in three kinds of material evidence. First, there is the rapid growth of hero-cults in several regions, as shown by the new practice of leaving votive offerings in Mycenaean tombs. Secondly, some rich burials of our period seem to have been influenced in various ways by accounts of heroic funerals in epic poetry. Thirdly, in some LG figured scenes there are reminiscences of the heroic age, whether through reference to a specific story, or in details added to lend heroic colouring to a generic theme. With these visible manifestations of interest in the heroic world, this chapter will be largely concerned; but first we should briefly consider their chief cause, the great flowering of epic poetry which culminated in the work of Homer.


The Circulation of Epic Poetry

Memories of Mycenaean times could reach later Greeks only through oral tradition, and mainly through oral poetry. No other mode of transmission was possible during the Dark Ages; the sagas were passed on from master to pupil, embroidered by poetic imagination and coloured by the occasional anachronism. From c. 750 B.C. onwards the newly recovered art of writing might have helped oral bards to compose and elaborate their poetry, and their works could have been recorded before death in a more or less permanent form. How soon this actually happened has for long been a matter for discussion and conjecture; suffice it to say that only a small proportion of oral poetry was recorded in writing, and only a small proportion of what was written down is preserved for us. To survive complete, an oral poem must have won enough acclaim from its first hearers to be thought worth writing down, and must then have retained the respect and admiration of all subsequent generations in antiquity. The only works which have passed this double test of time are the Iliad and Odyssey of Homer, and the two major poems of Hesiod. Other oral poets are shadowy figures, known to us only from brief quotations by later writers.

Homer was a native of Ionia. Various traditions make Smyrna his birthplace, and in Archaic times a clan of Chiot bards were known as the Homeridai. His ancestors, who joined in the Ionian migration, had brought with them the

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Geometric Greece: 900-700 BC
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 1
  • Preface to the Second Edition 3
  • Preface to the First Edition 4
  • Contents 5
  • Contents 8
  • Acknowledgements 9
  • Abbreviations 12
  • Introduction 17
  • I - The Passing of the Dark Ages C. 900-770 B.C. 23
  • 1 - Isolation: the Early Ninth Century 25
  • 2 - The Awakening in the Mid-Ninth Century 55
  • 3 - Consolidation: Late Ninth to Early Eighth Century 73
  • II - The Greek Renaissance C. 770-700 B.C. Regional Survey 107
  • 4 - Athens and Attica 109
  • 5 - The Argolid, Arcadia, Laconia, and Messenia 140
  • 6 - Corinth and West Greece 167
  • 7 - Euboea, Boeotia, Thessaly, and the Cyclades 191
  • 8 - Italy and Sicily: Trade and Colonies 221
  • 9 - Eastern Greece and Anatolia 246
  • 10 - Crete 271
  • III - Life in Eighth-Century Greece 293
  • 11 - The Recovery of Literacy 295
  • 12 - Towns and Villages 303
  • 13 - Sanctuaries, Gods, and Votives 317
  • 14 - Recollection of a Heroic Past 341
  • 15 - Oriental Influences 358
  • 16 - Epilogue 367
  • Supplement 371
  • Epilogue 414
  • Glossary 416
  • Bibliography and Site Index 418
  • Index 443
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