The Early Greek world and Greek Myths
Greece in 700BC?
Greece in 700BC?
‘Greece’ in the late 8th century BC • No ‘Greece’ in the modern sense. Greek-‐ speaking peoples live in diverse and sca;ered communi=es (polis/poleis)
The Greek world, c. 700-‐600 BCE Chris Mackie
‘Greece’ in the late 8th century BC • The early Greek world was an oral society (wri=ng is introduced in a rudimentary way around 700BC) • It is a society with few images to look at. Early Greek myth and epic poetry, however, are very ‘visual’ although not in a performance sense. • Epic poetry and myth are fundamental to the ‘popular culture’ of the =me. Both of these are conveyed orally. • Homer and Hesiod are our two surviving Greek epic poets from the early (late 8th C) period Week 1 Chris Mackie Lecture 2
Myth • Mythos/epos (from which we get ‘myth’ and ‘epic’) • Myth can be just a story or narra=ve, but usually one with speciﬁc characteris=cs • Greek myths emerge in an oral world (Homer) and are then passed on through literature and art • Prose literature (and history-‐wri=ng) come long aVer Homer
“Homer”, imagined as a blind poet. Chris Mackie
Myth • Myths are a common cultural acquisi=on -‐something we share, something that has meaning for us • They have an element of ‘tradi=onality’ about them (cf. ‘tradi=onal tales’) • No monolithic deﬁni=on of myth or single way of ‘reading’ them
Jason and Athene
Where is Myth? In our study of Greek an=quity myths are found principally • In literature. There were four principal genres in Greek an=quity : epic poetry, lyric poetry, drama and prose. The ﬁrst two of these are earlier than the last two. • In art, especially on vases • In architecture (most famously the Parthenon at Athens) In ancient Greek society itself myth would have been found in all of the above places plus within the oral framework of society itself. Myth as popular culture.
Greek Mythology: More general comments • Huge corpus of narra=ves only some of which survive • Greek mythology is characterised by the prolifera=on of hero myths. • Dominance of human form and quest narra=ves (like the Trojan war)
10 Aspects of classical myths to think about 1. Greeks myths are very ﬂuid and ﬂexible. They are used by poets, ar=sts and mythmakers as appropriate (eg. Medea killing her children is a likely adapta=on by the poet Euripides) http://legacy.earlham.edu/~wisesu/ancientmyths/images/medea-vase.jpg
10 Aspects of classical myth 2. They are some=mes didac=c (teach) 3. They are some=mes ae=ological (ie they explain the origins of things (including the natural world and natural phenomena) 4. Some=mes connected to religious or ritual prac=ces 5. They can be very poli=cal, or favoured for poli=cal reasons (Greek tyrant Pisistratus favoured narra=ves about Heracles; Roman Emperor Augustus favoured par=cular narra=ves about Trojan Aeneas).
Persephone and Hades
10 Aspects of classical myth 6. They can be historical or quasi-‐historical in tone and content (eg. Trojan war). There is every possibility that a war for Troy was fought, but not necessarily anything like the mythic (or epic) version of the narra=ve. http://www.wired.com/images_blogs/thisdayintech/2012/04/trojan_horse_400px.jpg
10 Aspects of classical myth 7. Myths as products and explora=ons of the psyche
Orpheus and Eurydice, Hades and Persephone (Rubens)
10 Aspects of classical myth 8. Myths as explora=ons of social customs and ins=tu=ons 9. Myth as entertainment and the popular culture of an=quity. Note the way that Greek mythology dominated ancient cultures and the period since. What is about Greek mythology that has made it so dominant and so popular? Is it its imagina=ve power or perhaps its human face? 10. Myth and morality
Achilles and Aias playing a game Chris Mackie
Homer? • Professional epic poet. We know very li;le about about him. • He may have come from Chios or Smyrna (right at the west of modern Turkey) • He is almost certainly our oldest surviving European poet. • The date is diﬃcult, but most people say around 700BC, maybe a bit later. • There is no agreement on the method of composi=on (ie wri=ng), or even whether we are talking about a single monumental poet
Homer? • Homer is at the end of a tradi=on (of oral epic poetry) and he is also the beginning of a tradi=on (of European literature). He is our window on the world of the earliest Greek myths and poetry • He probably chants in a rhythmic metre (hexameter) with musical accompaniment • Epic language • Performed in an aristocra=c house?
A singer: Bronze Statue8e from Crete about 700 BC Chris Mackie
Homer’s use of myth • Homer is ruthless in adap=ng tradi=onal mythic narra=ves for his own poe=c agenda • His narra=ve of Troy is ﬁrmly grounded on a fairly austere vision of heroic conduct. His warriors acquire their glory and reputa=on by ﬁgh=ng with the spear, the shield and heavy armour. There are no monsters in the Iliad. They are part of the heroic past (eg. Chiron the Centaur)
The duel of Achilles and Hector Chris Mackie
Homer’s Iliad 16,000 lines long About 40 days of the Trojan war The wrath or fury (mênis) of Achilles Ancient epic deals with the life cycle -‐ the birth, life and death of the hero. • Achilles is insulted and withdraws from ba;le. His friend Patroclus decides to return to the conﬂict and he is killed by the Trojan Hector • Achilles returns, kills Hector and mu=lates the body. Everybody watches the mu=la=on • In the ﬁnal book king Priam and Achilles exchange a great ransom for Hector’s body • • • •
Homer’s Iliad • The name ‘Iliad’ comes from the word ‘Ilios’=Troy. • Despite this, no=ce that the Iliad does not deal with the fall of Troy, just a short period of it. Contrast the ﬁlm ‘Troy’ by Wolfgang Peterson who tried to cover everything from the very beginnings of the war to the fall of the city. • Hector’s death and crema=on at the end of the poem represent what is going to happen to Troy • The Iliad therefore an=cipates the death of Achilles and the fall of Troy, but doesn’t deal with them as such. • Achilles as hero: warrior, young, outsider, semi-‐divine, crazy, doomed and desperate. For all that he is probably the most ‘human’ of the Greek heroes Chris Mackie
The Myth of Troy
Achilles drags the body of Hector Chris Mackie
The Myth of Troy
Photo @ C. Mackie