Kinship Myth in Ancient Greece

By Gaca, Kathy L. | The Historian, Fall 2013 | Go to article overview

Kinship Myth in Ancient Greece


Gaca, Kathy L., The Historian


Kinship Myth in Ancient Greece. By Lee E. Patterson. (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2010. Pp. xiv, 255. $60.00.)

This new book is wide ranging, well researched, and well organized. Painstaking and at times labored, Lee E. Patterson's study is also conscientious and cheerful about regarding primary source conundrums concerning mythical ancestry in Greek and Hellenizing kinship diplomacy as being "a puzzle box [that] beckons to the historian" to resolve (165). He raises fascinating political and cultural questions about interstate relations among Greeks and several Hellenizing non-Greeks, Macedonians, and Jews: Why, when forming diplomatic ties, did the participating representatives sometimes go beyond the norm of claiming kinship (sungeneia) with one another, a topic already studied by Patterson's recognized predecessor, C. P. Jones, in Kinship Diplomacy in the Ancient World? Why did they occasionally also claim that their kinship goes back to a specific mythical male ancestor, mortal (e.g., Aeolus) or god (e.g., Dionysus)? What functions did this added mythical dimension serve? To what degree did the signatory parties and their respective communities really believe that they shared these diplomatically crafted ancestral forefathers? The last question extends Paul Veyne's Did the Greeks Believe in Their Myths? [1988] to Greek and Hellenizing kinship diplomacy, and it is the driving interest motivating Patterson's study.

With these questions in view, Patterson explores fictive kinship as a broadly Greek and Hellenizing phenomenon (chapter 1), the ostensible credulity of Greek historians (including Thucydides) regarding mythical ancestry as historical (chapter 2), and the literary and epigraphic evidence on kinship diplomacy that includes claims about shared mythical forefathers (chapters 3-5 and 6-7). He provides a concluding chapter 8, three detailed appendices explicating the literary evidence, and two helpful indexes, especially an extensive primary-source index. …

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