The Invention of Greek Ethnography: From Homer to Herodotus

By Joseph E. Skinner | Go to book overview
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Populating the Imaginaire

THIS CHAPTER LEAPS BACKWARD and forward through imagined space, like the mind of the archetypal well-traveled man in Homer’s Iliad1 or, perhaps more famously, the mind of Odysseus, who “saw the cities of many men and knew their minds.”2 Its purpose in doing so is simply to populate the ethnographic imaginaire, highlighting the breadth and diversity of knowledge relating to a variety of foreign peoples in the years prior to the Persian Wars. Taking Homeric imaginings as a starting point (Cyclopes/Phaeacians), we swoop in from the northernmost margins of the oikoummê, traversing in turn the imagined territories of the Hyperboreans, one-eyed Arimaspians, Scythians, and Amazons, before encountering the many tribes of Thrace. From here we turn to western Asia Minor and the Levant (Phoenicians/Lydians) before relocating once more to the sun-scorched realm of the Ethiopians. We then move on to Egypt, followed by brief excurses on past and present populations variously associated with lands less foreign: the (seemingly ubiquitous) descendants of Pelasgos and the inhabitants of Arcadia. By compiling what is effectively a gazetteer of some of the major categories of foreign peoples of whom knowledge is attested, this chapter paves the way for discussion of the interlocking systems of knowledge and understanding that provided both the material and the means by which groups and individuals were able to selectively “position” either themselves or others.3


(And as when the mind of a man darts, who having traversed far lands with sage mind wishes, “Oh to be here, or there,” and desires for many things) (Il. XV 80–82). For a survey of the various categories of well-traveled men (mercenary commanders, specialists, traders and travelers, colonizers, marauders, and adventurers), see Raaflaub 2004.

2Od. I. 3. Dougherty 2001, 4; Hartog 2001. See further chapter 3.

3 In order to cast the net as far as possible (and avoid undue repetition in later chapters) certain categories of foreign people have been omitted, e.g., Persians. For these, see below (chapter 5). See also Burkert 2004 (a concise overview of contact with, and knowledge of, the Ancient Near East, including Babylon and Persia).


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The Invention of Greek Ethnography: From Homer to Herodotus


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