Daily Life in the Time of Homer

By Emile Mireaux; Iris Sells | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IV
THE RELIGIOUS AND INTELLECTUAL PROFESSIONS

HOMERIC society did not include a middle class. There is hardly at this time to be discerned even the rudiments of a class which was to play a considerable part in the Hellenic world two centuries later. By then, there had arisen a class of 'metics', or aliens resident in the big industrial centres. Homer merely tells us of a man of noble but illegitimate birth who had amassed a fortune in commerce and piracy. We know also that Hesiod's father ran a coastwise trade at Cymé in Aeolis, which proved his ruin. But all important business was still in the hands of the aristocracy.

If there existed no middle class in the strict sense of the word, we have none the less to take account of a class on the fringe of the nobility, consisting of specialists of an intellectual order. It corresponded roughly to what are today called the liberal professions, and its members drew profit, honour and even sometimes wealth from the practice of their art.

These specialists were intimately associated with religious observances. More accurately, they were regarded as deriving their very faculties, knowledge and aptitudes from the gods themselves. Usually these gifts were inherited and the practice of them was a family privilege; although it could also happen that an individual might receive the grace of inspiration. Hesiod seems to have been thus inspired.

The experts in this intellectual domain were, naturally, the priests; then the soothsayers, the doctors and the poets, or, as Homer calls them, the bards. Later on we shall see their affinities,

-78-

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