Homer's Traditional Art

By James, N. | Antiquity, December 1999 | Go to article overview

Homer's Traditional Art


James, N., Antiquity


JOHN MILES FOLEY. Homer's traditional art. xviii+363 pages. 1999. University Park (PA): Pennsylvania State University Press; 0-271-01870-4 hardback $48.50.

Seven of the 13 short papers in Ancient Greek cult practice consider evidence for rites or associated practice at shrines in Greece and around the Aegean. A couple of the papers assess the evidence of finds and features for changes of practice. A couple present interim reports of excavations. The 11 short contributions (plus one abstract) to Ancient Greek hero cult range from the Early Iron Age to the Roman period, distinguishing types of hero and different rites, and the development of cults. Several argue that they symbolized political claims but D.D. Hughes points out that that did necessarily not preclude religious convictions. Prof. BEACHAM draws on the literary sources, including Roman historians, and on art and the archaeology and topography of buildings, to show that, in Rome, public theatre, games and races, processions by street and water, and combats and sacrifices were used for making political statements both about the city in general and, from time to time, about particular factions. Tracing the history of these forms from the later Republic to the end of the reign of Nero, he shows how the city centre became a rhetorical device in itself. He finds the limits of taste in the revulsion against Caligula's bloody displays.

Prof. THALMANN argues that the Odyssey represents a specific ideal of aristocratic society on the eve of the city state. By implication, the epic responded to a political struggle. His argument for the actions by which emergent chiefs cleft themselves from their followers is all the more fascinating for the several levels of symbolism that he identifies (cf. PELTENBURG in `Cyprus', above). He is aware of the ethnographic evidence for the political significance of manly contest and gender relations in contemporary Greece and of `social drama' further afield. Dr SULTAN collates literary and ethnographic evidence from Hesiod to modern Greek village life for poetry and songs by women or about them on the theme of heroes' exiles and return.

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