Piety and Politics: The Dynamics of Royal Authority in Homeric Greece, Biblical Israel, and Old Babylonian Mesopotamia

By Dale Launderville | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO
The Speech and Action of Kings:
The Process of Constructing a
World with Royal Power

In times of crisis, leaders are highly valued in a community. A famine, an impending invasion by an enemy, or corruption in the government are circumstances that call for leadership to inspire and guide collective action. The individuals who rise up to meet the challenge may actually not be invested with the traditional authority of an office. Their charisma and priorities may position them to engage the community and persuade the people to follow by their speech and actions. The activities of performing good deeds and speaking inspiring words lie at the heart of authority.1 The drama of social interaction within a community highlights the relational context within which authority arises. In the midst of rivalries and tensions, the power of the community is enhanced or diminished, and its leaders are tested. The practical wisdom of a leader is manifested not only through timely actions but also through wellchosen words.


Authoritative Speech-Acts as Enactments of the
Traditional Pattern for Legitimating Royal Authority

Our English word “myth” derives from the Greek word mythos, “an utterance, something spoken.” In his study of the language used by the heroic figures of the Iliad, Richard P. Martin defines mythos in Homer as “a speech-act indicating authority, performed at length, usually in public, with a focus on full atten

1. Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958), pp. 184–85.

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