Ancient Greece: From the Mycenaean Palaces to the Age of Homer

By Sigrid Deger-Jalkotzy; Irene S. Lemos | Go to book overview

33

HOMERIC CYPRUS

Vassos Karageorghis

The title of this paper, I admit, is rather vague and presumptuous – 'Homerica in Cyprus' might probably be a better one.

References to Cyprus in the Iliad and the Odyssey are few. Homer mentions once that the island was ruled by a King with a Greek name, Iasidis (Od. 17.443); however at the same time he refers to the inhabitants of Tamassos, given that Temese is to be identified with the Cypriote Tamassos and not Tempsa in Italy, as

(literally speaking a foreign language) (Od. 1.184). In a recent paper Boardman proposes that Homeric heroes expected that the language in Cyprus would be Greek and were probably surprised to realise that they had to deal with Phoenicians in trading with the merchants of Tamassos, who mined for copper as early as c.800 BC (Boardman 2001: 11). Or was it because the Cypriote Greeks spoke Greek with a peculiar accent, as is the case today?

For Homer, Cyprus was the birthplace of Aphrodite who had a temple and a fragrant altar at Paphos (Od. 8.362). This temple was built at the beginning of the twelfth century BC and flourished during the lifetime of the poet. He also knew of the Paphian king Kinyras and his famous wealth, who sent a breastplate as a gift to Agamemnon, constituting a wonderful work of art, and which Homer described in detail. In Homer's words 'he [Kinyras] heard afar in Cyprus the great rumour that the Achaeans were about to sail forth to Troy in their ships, wherefore he gave him the breastplate to do pleasure to the King' (Il. 11.18–23).

Geographically Homer refers to Cyprus together with Egypt, Phoenicia, Ethiopia and Libya, as the lands which wandering heroes visited after the end of the Trojan war (Od. 4.83, 17.448). Homer knew, however, about the Phoenicians, their art and their deeds. He appreciated the former, and disdained the latter. Unlike Herodotus, whose references to Cyprus are more precise, Homer's references are rather vague, except for his conviction that Aphrodite was a Cypriote goddess by his usual reference to her as Kypris, 'the Cypriote'. According to recent research, Aphrodite's attribution is correct and she first became known to the Greeks at the very end of the Late Bronze Age, when they established themselves on the island and built a majestic temple for her at Paphos. She was adopted by the Greek immigrants and moved gradually from Paphos to Mount Olympus

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