Daily Life in the Time of Homer

By Emile Mireaux; Iris Sells | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VIII
BLOOD VENGEANCE AND THE FAMILY

IT may surprise the reader to find in a book devoted to the routine of daily life, a chapter on the repression of crimes and delinquencies. But in Homer's world the motive force behind such repressions was not, as it is in our modern communities, a matter of civic necessity, that is, of the maintenance of public order, but a private obligation; and in the most serious case, which was that of murder, an absolute and unavoidable obligation of the conscience, the duty of vengeance for blood.

One school of historians goes even further: it maintains, with regard to the earliest Greek periods, that at first affairs of justice were in principle entirely private; and that when the 'city' came to intervene more and more in such matters, this was at a relatively late period.

We have encountered this school incidentally, when speaking of the aristocratic structure of Homeric society. In the opinion of these historians the genos, that is, the great aristocratic clan in which property and power were transmitted in the direct line of male descent, was the social cell of the most ancient city states of the Hellenes. They regard this 'city' as a simple aggregation of patriarchal clans, a federation of gené, more or less loosely connected and more or less extensive. Within each clan, all the members were closely bound together in face of the other clans, and even of the city; and any injury to one member was an injury to all.

In the 'city' as thus conceived there was, almost by definition, no such thing as State Justice. Any crimes or misdemeanours committed inside the clan could only be judged by the clan; they depended on the authority of its chief, and he, assisted by the other members of the family group, judged them according to

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