Homeric values

As we explore into material objects, some of them are actually found useful in establishing chronology on sites. By comparing the decoration and share of pots on single and then different sites, chronological network, is established by relating Greek pottery to Egyptian finds or through radiocarbon dating (VCD 1 01.37.14- 48.21). In fact, some material objects suggest a simple correspondence between text and artefact e.g. the Nestor’s cup is found in a grave on Pithecusa, a colony from Euboia. The style dates to C. 725 BCE. It has an inscription ‘I am Nestor’s cup, good to drink from; whoever drinks this draught, immediately a desire for beautiful-crowned Aphrodite will seize him.’

This evidence should be compared with the Mycenaean Nestor’s cup (LG 2, p. 43). In Mykonos, details of a funerary relief pithos feature numerous scenes of the Trojan War. One of which is the scene of Trojan horse at the sack of Troy, with warriors inside and outside it. This artefact dates to C. 675 BCE (LG 2, p. 42). Nevertheless, ‘Homeric’ scenes are absent in vase paintings though they continue throughout ancient art. These features absent might set a terminus ante quem, a date before which events must be placed (Essay 9, p. 119). A number of Hero-cults appear in places where Mycenaean sites had previously existed.

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Others appear at sites connected with the deaths of heroic figures in poetry, such as Phrontis, the helmsman of Menelaos, whose death Homer (Odyssey, 3.278- 285) describes at ‘holy Sounion (Essay 9, p. 128). Towards the end of the thirteenth century, new and smaller spearheads enter the Mycenaean repertoire. Paired spears of equal size appear in graves and are common in eighth-century Attic representations of warfare.

They seem to have some chronological superimposition, with Achilleus starting with a spear that would seem most at home in the thirteenth century or earlier. Finally, although figure-of-eight shields continue to appear as decorative motifs in ivory and faience work, there is no sign in the fourteenth and thirteenth centuries that they were part of regular warrior equipment used in battle (Essay 10, p. 151). The large thrusting spears and swords, tower or man-covering shields and probably the boar’s tusk helmet disappears from representational art of a military nature after 1200 BCE (Essay 10, p. 158). Nevertheless, the history of Homeric epic suggests that it parallels with patterns of material and cultural change manifested in the archaeological record, and that literary and archaeological texts can be read together (Essay 10, p. 164).

The last area of concern is associated with the people’s values in the Homeric texts, including social, moral or in the current context– aristocratic, heroic or Homeric values. The aristocratic values apply to the ‘good’ men (the esthloi) who simply accept values that are ‘handed down’ to them. These are the kakoi of whom Thersites is the only distinctive personality that Homer displays in the Illiad. The conflict between Achilleus and Agamemnon arises because Agamemnon considered that surrendering one of his possessions diminishes his honour. Achilleus regards Agamemnon’s attitude and threat to seize his possession as likewise intolerable because it diminishes his honour. If an esthlos’ honour is diminished, it means he becomes a ‘loser’.

Social values are the practices and norms through which a society defines itself. In the Illiad, the status of the basileus depends on birth, wealth, courage, reputation, intelligence and beauty. Most of these are also used to define female excellence. However, a woman’s status is mutable, depending on her male relatives. This aristocratic society is evident in the Illiad and the Odyssey. An important means of expression and preservation of social values is through rituals surrounding decision-making, guest-friendship, xenia, marriage, gift-exchange, ransom, death, sacrifice, feasting, and supplication.

Debates about reciprocity in social relationships provide a basis for poetic exploration of feelings and in the Illiad, are central to the wrath motif (LG 2, p. 37). Moral values deal with dilemmas about how individuals and groups should act. There is an adjustment that involves not only a psychological agreement with the effects of one’s actions (Agamemnon, Achilleus and Hektor) but also a re-acceptance of values where the content is not determined by individual preference.

In book 9 of the Illiad, Achilleus’ reply to Odysseus is very significant (Il 9. 319). In stating that the esthlos and the kakos are ‘held in a single honour’, Achilleus is denying the basis of the value system which sharply differentiates esthloi and kakoi. He is also denying the basis of heroic values, the value of fighting one’s enemies and of a heroic death (Il 9. 318, 320). Following that, he rejects not only Agamemnon’s gifts, but also the whole idea of gifts and honours as ‘negotiable currency’ (Il 9. 378-92). He says ‘not if he gave me gifts as many as the sand or the dust is’ (Il 9. 385). What no longer appears to concern him is public esteem.

In Book 1 of the Illiad, he claims that the Trojan War is not his personal fight since the Trojans never did him any harm. He says ‘Why must the Argives fight with the Trojans?’ (LG 2, p. 37). Details of dromos and skeletons of two yoked horses from Salamis excavations in Cyprus are found in the royal tombs dated in the late seventh and eighth century BCE. They closely resemble Homeric burials in book 23 of the Illiad. Another archeological evidence shows a woman’s skeleton, with gold jewellery from a heroic burial on the Tomba site of Euboia dated in c. 950, BCE (Essay 10, plate 15, 16).

In the above section, I have covered the four areas-place, people, material objects as well as values. Although there are some areas that hold possible links to the Homeric world, there is insufficient evidence from archaeological discoveries to fully substantiate that there is a real Homeric world as depicted in Homeric poems. To unravel the mystery behind the Homeric products of such oral tradition, it takes more than what we have gathered to fully find an answer to the question.

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