Chapter 4


The subject of heroic poetry is the hero, and the hero is a man who behaves in certain ways, pursuing specified goals by his personal courage and bravery. However, the hero lives in, and is moulded by, a social system and a culture, and his actions are intelligible only by reference to them. That is true even when the poet's narrative appears to ignore everything and everyone but the heroes.

No one who reads the Iliad can fail to be struck by the peculiar character of the fighting. There are tens of thousands of soldiers on hand, yet the poet has eyes only for Ajax or Achilles or Hector -or Aeneas. In itself, such a literary device is commonplace; it is a very rare artist who has both reason and genius enough to re-create masses of men in battle. Nor is there historical objection to the individual combat between champions, as between Achilles and Hector, or, even more interesting in some ways, between Ajax and Hector, ending in a draw and an exchange of gifts. The false note comes in the full-scale fighting. There the confusion is indescribable. No one commands or gives orders. Men enter the battle and leave at their own pleasure; they select their individual opponents; they group and regroup for purely personal reasons. And the disorganization, unlike the chaotic movements in a war novel like Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage, does not stem from the breakdown of an original plan of action but from the poet's concentration on his heroes as in- divid\1als. He must bring in the army as a whole to maintain the necessary realism of the war story , but he returns to the central figures as quickly as possible.

Off the field of battle there are hundreds of small details essentially irrelevant to either the narrative or the action of the heroes. The hanging of the twelve slave girls, Mentes's cargo of iron,


the purchase of Eurycleia by Laertes, Telemachus's visit to the storeroom -these odd bits are too fragmentary to have interest as independent scenes, and in a sense they are all unnecessary for the movement of the tale. Yet the poet introduces them on every page, briefly, in a few phrases or lines, but with the greatest skill and attention. Both the artistry of the narrative and the conviction with which it was received rest in large measure on these incidentals. They underscore or elucidate behaviour, they give colour to the proceedings, they remind the audience again and again of the truthfulness of the account. And today they make accessible the complicated social system and its values.

In the action of the individual heroes, status was perhaps the main conditioning factor. A man's work and the evaluation of his skills, what he did and what he was not to do in the acquisition of goods and their disposition, within the oikos and without, were all status-bound. It was a world of multiple standards and values, of diversified permissions and prohibitions. With respect to work and wealth, we have seen, the determinant was always the particular social grouping to which one belonged, not the skills, desires or enterprise of an individual. The chief heroes were individuals, not robots. Nevertheless, in all their behaviour, by no means in the economic sphere alone, the implicitly indicated limits to tolerable individual initiative and deviance were extremely narrow: among the nobles, only in the degree of one's strength and prowess, the magnitude of one’s ambition for glory, and the development of one's sense of what was fitting. There were variations in temperament, too, like Odysseus's outstanding craftiness or Achilles's excessively forthright responses, but they were more puzzling than not.

Agamemnon is a convenient illustration of the far-reaching effects of status. He is several times called 'most kingly' of the heroes at Troy, clearly not in sarcasm, yet he was by no means the most heroic in his personal capacities or accomplishments. His position at the head of the invading forces was not personally earned but was the consequence of the superior position in power he had inherited, as the leader who could bring the largest contingent, one hundred ships. His status gave him command, hence


the right to distribute the booty and select the prize of honour. His status also prevented the aggrieved Achilles from expressing defiance other than in the passive form of a mighty sulk, though -in valour Achilles was the admitted superior.

Or consider Telemachus. He was still a youngster, to be sure, yet there was unmistakable irritation in Athena's 'You ought not continue your childish ways, now that you are no longer of an age' (1.296-7). Maturity was more than chronological; a twenty-year-old of such lineage and class was expected to grow faster and further, and to respond sooner to circumstances requiring adult behaviour .

Athena was prodding Telemachus hard because of the grave situation created by the suitors. She pointed to Orestes as a model. 'Have you not heard what fame illustrious Orestes received among all men when he killed his father's murderer, wily Aegis- thus?'* Penelope's suitors had committed no murder, nor were they threatening one {later they tried unsuccessfully to ambush and assassinate Telemachus). Nevertheless, Orestes was a proper model for Odysseus's son, altogether apart from the hero-theme of glory and honour. Both young men faced obligations of the same species, namely, those that stemmed from the family, the one to avenge his father's death, the other to preserve his paternal oikos .

Orestes and Aegisthus, Telemachus and all 108 suitors were nobles. Within that single social class, however, there was another kind of group relationship and group loyalty, the family bond. Agamemnon, it may be noted, was supported in his right to lead the Greek armies by the fact that his brother Menelaus. was the aggrieved party to be avenged. When criminal acts were involved, the family, not the class (or the community as a whole), was

*1.298-300. Whenever Orestes is mentioned in the Odyssey it is never said explicitly that he also killed his mother Clytaemnestra. Yet that is the central theme of the Orestes tragedy in Greek drama. However one explains Homer's silence, the contrast, and the obviously contemporary matter in the plays, notably the court scenes, indicate once again that information taken from post-Homeric treatment of the old myths is worse than useless in a study of the world of Odysseus. Later poets and playwrights reworked the materials freely, and with total unconcern for history.


charged with preserving the standards of conduct and with punishing any breach.

Historically there is an inverse relationship between the ex- tension of the notion of crime as an act of public malfeasance and the authority of the kinship group. Primitive societies are known in which it is not possible to find any 'public' responsibility to punish an offender. Either the victim and his relations take vengeance or there is none whatsoever. The growth of the idea of crime, and of criminal law , could almost be written as the history of the chipping away of that early state of family omnipotence. The crumbling process had not advanced very far by the time of Orestes and Telemachus, nor did it begin in the places modern Western man, with his own peculiar ethical traditions, would surely have selected. Homicide, as the most obvious example, remained largely a private affair. Much as the collective con- science may have thought punishment desirable, it failed to pro- vide any instrumentality outside of the kinsmen. They in turn refused to distinguish among homicides as between a justified one and a malicious one. Odysseus's slaughter of the suitors brought their fathers and relations to arms. 'For this is dishonour " said Antinous's father (24-433-5), 'even for those who come after to hear, if we do not avenge the murder of our sons and brothers.' Had Athena not intervened to close the poem, as ~he opened it, no human force in Ithaca could have prevented still more blood- shed.

The profundity of the Greeks' kinship attachment, throughout their history, is immediately apparent from their passion for genealogies. That never changed radically at any time. The language of family was altered, however, and the tendency was to- wards narrowing the circle. Homer has a special word, einater, for a husband's brother's wife, to cite a clear-cut example, and that word soon disappeared from the ordinary vocabulary. The reason for the change is not hard to find. In a household like Nestor's there were half a dozen women whose relationship to one another was that of husband's brother's wife. When that kind of extended family unit disappeared, when daughters went off to their husband's homes and sons set up their own establishments


while the father still lived, the fine distinction of einaterbecame super-fine. The more general word kedestes for every in-law was then good enough.

The coexistence of three distinct but overlapping groups, class, kin and oikos , was what defined a man's life, materially and psychologically. The demands of each of the three did not always coincide; when they conflicted openly there were inevitable tensions and disequilibriums, And then there was still a fourth group in the picture. Once Athena had put a little backbone into Telemachus he, still at her suggestion, summoned the Ithacans to an assembly. The first speaker, an old noble Aegyptius, asked who had called the meeting and on what business. In reply Telemachus repeated the phrasing of the question in part when he said, 'Neither have I heard any news that the army [i.e. Odysseus and his men] is returning. ..nor do I disclose or speak of any other public matter.' Then he added, 'But of my own matter, for an evil has fallen on my household, a double one' (2-4:2-6).

The twin evils were Odysseus's failure to return and the suitors' refusal to clear out. The suitors were altogether Telemachus's private business. But old Aegyptius thought that the meeting had been called on a public matter, and the very existence of such a notion is significant. The assembly (agora)* was unknown among the Cyclopes; that was the second item listed by Odysseus as a sign of their wholly uncivilized state (the absence of themis was the third).# An assembly is no simple institution. As a pre- condition it requires a relatively settled, stable community made up of many households and kinship groups; in other words, the imposition upon kinship of some territorial superstructure. That means that the several households and larger family groups had

* ‘Assembly' is the original sense of agora, both the place of meeting and the meeting itself. The market-place connotation, with which it is most commonly associated in the modern mind, is very much later. There is not a trace of it in Homer.

# themis is untranslatable. A gift of the gods and a mark of civilized existence, sometimes it means right custom, proper procedure, social order, and sometimes merely the will of the gods (as revealed by an omen, for example) with little of the idea of right.


substituted for physical coexistence at arD1's length a measure of common existence, a community, and hence a partial surrender of their own autonomy. In this new and more complex structure of society a private affair was one that remained within the sole authority of the oikos or kinship group, a public matter one in which the decision was for the heads of all the separate groups to make, consulting together.

Neither the beginnings nor the early history of the Greek community can be described. The original Greek migrants into the eastern Mediterranean region were not primitive hunters. They were a pastoral people who, so the signs seem to say, had learned the art of agriculture as well. Apparently their organization was tribal, modified by temporary expedients while they were on the move. But the world they entered was far more complex, especially soon its perimeter, where, in Egypt and the Near East, there had already been a long experience in large-scale territorial organization. In the thousand years, roughly, that ensued until the age of Odysseus, social and political organization had a relatively complicated history. There was no standing still for a thousand years; nor was the movement all in a straight line or all in one direction, up or down. These were centuries filled with violent upheavals and catastrophes, leaving clear if not very legible imprints on the archaeological record. When they occurred with sufficient force they brought down institutions along with the stone walls and the lives of men.

Odysseus's Ithaca was more household- and kinship-bound, less integrally a civic community, than many a civilized centre of earlier centuries. We are led to the conclusion that the wide- spread physical destruction in Greece in the period about 1200 B.C. (which extended to other areas of the eastern Mediterranean) also carried away much of the existing political structure and replaced it by the unbounded kinship principle. There is the further implication, however, that the slow return of the community was no longer a new thing among the heroes of the poems, that agora and themis , and the idea that there were both public and private matters, were well established in their thinking. The assembled Ithacans were puzzled by several aspects of Tele-


machus's summons; there is no sign .of discomfort or uncertainty in how to go about the business of an assembly.

The rules were rather simple. The assembly was normally summoned by the king at his pleasure, without advance notice. When the men were abroad on a campaign, an assembly could be called in the camp to consider matters pertaining to the war.* At home or in the field there were no stated meeting dates, no fixed number of sessions. In Odysseus's absence, Ithaca had gone more than twenty years without a meeting, yet others were seemingly empowered to call one had they so wished, just as Achilles once assembled the Achaeans in the field although Agamemnon, not he, was commander-in-chief. Aegyptius's query in Ithaca implied no doubt about the validity of the assembly summoned by Telemachus; the old man was merely curious to know who had broken the twenty-year silence.

The usual time of meeting was dawn. 'And when rosy- fingered Dawn appeared, the child of morn, the dear son of Odysseus rose from his bed and put on his garments. ...Straight- way he bade the clear-voiced heralds summon the long-haired Achaeans to an assembly. They made the call, and the latter gathered swiftly indeed' (2.1-8). The one item on the agenda was the issue the summoner wanted discussed. Whoever felt moved to speak rose to do so, and while he talked he held the sceptre placed in his hand by the herald -in a quite literal sense a magic wand that rendered the speaker physically inviolate. Custom gave the eldest the first opportunity to take the floor. Thereafter the sequence was determined by the course of the debate rather than by a fixed seniority system. And when there were no more speakers the meeting dissolved.

The assembly neither voted nor decided. Its function was two- fold: to mobilize the arguments pro and con, and to show the king or field commander how sentiment lay. The sole measure of opinion was by acclamation, not infrequently in less orderly forms, like the shouting down of an unpopular presentation. The king was free to ignore the expression of sentiment and go * At the end of the third century B.C. a meeting of the armed levy of the Aetolian League sometimes functioned as a regular assembly of the League.


his way. That, in fact, was what introduced the theme for the Iliad . A priest had come to the Achaean camp to ransom his captive daughter Chryseis. He made a brief plea and 'all the other Achaeans assented by acclamation to reverence the priest and to accept the splendid ransom; but it did not please the heart of Atreus's son Agamemnon and roughly he sent him away'.* In great anger the god Apollo came down from Olympus and for nine days poured arrows into the Achaean host, 'and the close-set pyres of the dead burned continuously', until Hera took pity and bade Achilles summon an assembly. There Agamemnon, in a violent quarrel with Achilles, bowed to Apollo, agreed to release the priest's daughter, and then made the personal, unilateral decision to replace her in his hut with Briseis, the prize among Achilles's captives.

Achilles spoke six times at the meeting, Agamemnon four, but throughout they addressed each other directly, like two men wrangling in the privacy of their homes. Once Agamemnon interrupted what he was saying to Achilles, turned to the assemblage, and announced his decision to surrender Chryseis and the procedure to be followed to appease the god. Apart from this one moment, the disputants talked only to each other. When Nestor intervened near the end to urge peace between them, he too spoke only to the two heroes. Finally, 'when the two had finished fighting with quarrelsome words, they dissolved the assembly beside the ships of the Achaeans' (I 304-5). In this instance, unlike others in the Iliad , the army indicated no preference or sentiment of any kind.

Such a performance and so informal an institution as this sort of assembly are not easily evaluated in parliamentary terms. A king or commander-in-chief was under no compulsion to call a meeting, and yet the arist9Cracy, and in a certain sense even the people, had a right to be heard, for otherwise no one other than the king could have issued a summons. The chief nobles serve the king as a council of elders, and again there was nothing binding about their recommendations. On one occasion, for example, King Alcinous assembled the Phaeacian 'chieftains and leaders', * I 22-5. repeated I 376-9- 81 informed them of his decision to have Odysseus convoyed to . Ithaca, and then led him to the feast, without even a pause for their comment or reaction.

Nevertheless, the Iliad and Odyssey are filled with assemblies and discussions, and they were not mere play-acting. Viewed from a narrow conception of formal rights, the king had the power to decide, alone and without consulting anyone. Often he did. But there was themis -custom, tradition, folk-ways, mores, whatever we may call it, the enormous power of 'it is (or is not) done'. The world of Odysseus had a highly developed sense of what was fitting and proper. Only once in either poem did a commoner, Thersites, a man without a claim to a patronymic, presume to take the floor at an assembly, and he was promptly beaten down by Odysseus. Thersites behaved improperly: the people acclaimed or dissented as they listened, they did not them- selves make proposals. That was a prerogative of the aristocrats; it was their role to advise, the king's to take heed if he would. 'It behoves you,' Nestor told Agamemnon at a meeting of the elders, 'more than anyone both to speak words and to listen' (IX 100). The king who ignored the prevailing sentiment was within his right, but he ran a risk. Any ruler must calculate on the possibility that those bound by law or custom to obey him may one day refuse, by passive resistance or outright revolt. The Homeric assembly thus provided the kings with a test of public opinion, as the council of elders revealed the sentiment among the nobles.

A large measure of informality, of fluidity and flexibility, marked all the political institutions of the age. There were lines of responsibility and power, and they were generally understood, but they often crossed and then there was trouble. If the king in assembly could ignore its opinion, no matter how clear and unanimous, it was equally true that the Greek world got along as well as ever without kings for ten years-and Ithaca for twenty. This was possible because the superimposition of a community, the territorial unit under a king, upon the household- kinship system merely weakened the dominant position of the latter, but only in part and only in certain respects. Primarily it was war, defensive in particular, which was an activity of the


community, while the usual pursuits of peace, the procurement of sustenance, social intercourse, the administration of justice, relations with the gods, and even non-bellicose relations with the outside world, were largely conducted, as before, through the interlocking channels of oikos , kin and class.

And kinship thinking permeated everything. Even the relatively new, non-kinship institutions of the community were shaped as much as possible in the image of the household and the family. The perfect symbol, of course, was the metaphor of the king as father (on Olympus, Zeus was called 'father of the gods', which, taken literally, he was of some but not of others). In certain of his functions-in the assembly, for example, or in offering sacrifices to the gods-the king in fact acted the patriarch. The Greek verb anassein, which means 'to be a lord', 'to rule', is used in the poems for both the king (basileus) and the head of an oikos with almost complete indifference. It is equally applicable to the gods; Zeus, for instance, 'rules (anassein) over gods and men' (e.g. II 669).

To rule, after all, is to have power, whether over things, over men (by other men or some god), or over men and gods together (by Zeus). But the bardic formulas sometimes add a little touch that is extremely revealing. In five instances anassein is qualified with the adverb iphi, 'by might', so that king's rule (but never the householder's) becomes rule by might. This must under no circumstances be taken to imply tyranny, forcible rule in the invidious sense. When Hector prayed for his son to 'rule by might in Ilion' (VI 478), he was asking the gods that the boy succeed to the throne, not that he be endowed with the qualities of a despot. And when Agamemnon named one daughter iphianassa, he was calling her 'princess', just as iphigenia, 'mightily born', indicates royal birth.


Iphi quietly directs attention to the limits upon the parallel between head of a household and king. One critical test lay in the succession. The kings, like Hector, were personally interested in pushing the family parallel to the point at which their sons could automatically follow them on the throne as they succeeded them in the oikos . 'The king is dead! Long live the king!' 'That


proclamation is the final triumph of the dynastic principle in monarchy. But never in the world of Odysseus was it pronounced by the herald. Kingship had not come that far, and the other aristocrats often succeeded in forcing a substitute announcement: 'The king is dead! The struggle for the throne is open!' That is how the entire Ithacan theme of the Odyssey can be summed up. 'Rule by might', in other words, meant that a weak king was not a king, that a king either had the might to rule or he did not rule at all.

In one of his frequent taunting interchanges with the suitors, Telemachus spoke rather curiously: 'After all, here in sea-girt Ithaca there are many other kings ( basileis) among the Achaeans, young and old, one of whom may take the place, since illustrious Odysseus is dead' (1.394-6). This remark is different from Nestor's calling Agamemnon 'most kingly', for there the comparison was with the assembled heroes at Troy, many of whom were in fact kings, whereas here Telemachus meant the nobles of Ithaca, not one of whom was a king. Were this a unique passage, it could be ignored as a first crude effort on the part of Telemachus, whose growing-up process had begun on the same day, to imitate the guile of his father. But the oscillation between basileus as king and basileus as chief- that is, as head of an aristocratic household with its servants and retainers-is duplicated elsewhere in the Homeric poems and by other early writers. Nor is this an instance of poverty of language. Behind the terminology can be felt all the pressure of the aristocracy to reduce kingship to a minimum. Aristocracy was prior to kingship logically, historically, and socially.. While recognizing monarchy, the nobles proposed to maintain the fundamental priority of their status, to keep the king on the level of a first among equals.

The fundamental conflict is laid bare in all its complexity in the opening book of the Odyssey. Telemachus's reference to the many kings in Ithaca was said in his reply to a challenge by the suitor Antinous: 'Never may Cronion [i.e. Zeus] make you king in sea-girt Ithaca, which is your patrimony by birth.' Telemachus sadly conceded the probable truth of that hope and prophecy, and went on to demand that his household, as distinct


from the kingship, be returned to him. 'Telemachus,' was the answer of another suitor, the more guileful Eurymachus, 'it really lies in the lap of the gods, Who shall be king of the Achaeans in sea-girt Ithaca. But you may keep your own property and be lord (anassein) in your house' (1.386-402). Let Penelope choose Odysseus's successor as spouse, and peace would be restored in Ithaca. The successful suitor would take the throne and Telemachus could 'with pleasure enjoy all [his] patrimony, eating and drinking, while she attends to the house of another' ( 20.336- 7). Otherwise the daily feasting would continue in this curious war of attrition, until one day Telemachus would find himself with no household worth inheriting.

The element of naked force was not at all disguised. The decision might ultimately lie with the gods, but heroes were obligated to try to direct it by the power of their arms. In the futile assembly that Telemachus summoned on the following day, Leocritous openly and bluntly warned that 'if Odysseus of Ithaca himself were to Come and were eager in his heart to drive from the palace the noble suitors Who feast in his house, yet his wife would find no pleasure in his coming, though she yearns for him. On the contrary, just there would he meet with evil destiny, were he to fight against greater numbers' (2.246-51).

Leocritus was a poor prophet. But the fact is that when Odysseus returned there was no automatic resumption of his royal position. He had to fight against heavy odds and with all his powers of strength and guile to regain his throne. Leocritus had overlooked one matter, the interest of Athena in Odysseus. 'I should surely have perished in my palace of the evil fate of Agamemnon Son of Atreus, had not you, goddess, told me each thing rightly' ( 13.383-5) .

I t may be protested that all this is to read historical significance into what is no more than the story line of the poem. Had Odysseus not returned, we should have had no Odyssey;' had he met the fate from which the goddess rescued him, we should have had an altogether different tale. True; but we must remember that Odysseus is our conventional name for King X. Stripped


of the details of myth and narrative, the diversified homecomings are precisely what would have occurred in this world, with its delicate, easily upset balance of powers. Nestor and Menelaus smoothly picked up the threads as they had been before the expedition, although each in different personal circumstances; Agamemnon was murdered by Aegisthus, his successor as spouse, master of the household, and king; Odysseus contrived to avoid that fate, though faced with 108 potential Aegisthuses. Historically and sociologically these tales simply mean that some kings had established such personal power and authority that no challenge was possible, that others were challenged unsuccessfully, and that still others learned that 'first among equals' was no position from which to look forward to a long life of blessings and comforts, Nor was a Trojan War necessary as the igniting spark, although obviously such an enforced absence could facilitate the mobilization of hostile forces.

The uncertainties of kingship may be pursued one step back- ward in the career of Odysseus. What about Laertes? He was an old man, indeed, but he was not senile. Why did he not sit on the throne of Ithaca? Nestor was at least as old-about seventy in the Iliad - and he not only ruled before and after the; war but accompanied the hosts to Troy; and there, though his value to the army was only moral and psychological, he was a leading member of Agamemnon’s council of elders. And then there was old Priam. In the great crisis actual leadership fell to his son Hector, but Priam was still king beyond dispute. After Achilles had become reconciled with Agamemnon and returned to the fray, Aeneas came forward to challenge him to single com- bat. Why? asked Achilles. 'Does your heart command you to do battle with me in the hope of being master of Priam's lordship over the horse-taming Trojans? But no, even though you slay me, Priam will not on that account place the prerogative in your hands; for he has sons and he is firm and not weak-minded' (XX 179-83).

Nor is there a hint that Odysseus had usurped his father's position; on the contrary, much of the final book of tJ1e poem is given over to a scene of love and devotion between father and son. Yet


so far was the ex-king from authority that all the while the suitors were threatening to destroy the very substance of his son and grandson, Laertes could do no more than withdraw in isolation to his farm, there to grieve and lament. Nobles lived in the town, not on their estates. Laertes, however, 'no longer comes to the town, but far off in the fields suffers misery, with an old woman as attendant, who serves him meat and drink whenever weariness takes hold of his limbs as he drags along the high ground of his vineyard'.*

It is idle to guess the circumstances which brought Odysseus to the throne in place of Laertes. The statement must suffice that long before the days when he could only drag himself in his vineyard Laertes had proved unable to rule iphi, by might. And so, somehow, the rule passed to his son. In a sense, what modern kings have called the principle of legitimacy was thereby pre- served, the same principle which Achilles enunciated for Aeneas, and which he defended for his father Peleus and himself among his Myrmidons. That was Achilles's first concern in Hades when Odysseus paid his call. 'Tell me of excellent Peleus, if you have heard anything.' Does he still hold his rightful place or has he been pushed aside 'because old age has him by hand and foot'? For 'I am no longer his aid beneath the rays of the sun', protecting our rule with my might (II -494:-503).

In Ithaca not even the arrogant suitors, for all their open threats of violence, could altogether overlook the family claim to the throne. On the surface there is no good reason why they went on with the game for so many years. If force had been the only factor, Leocritus spoke truly when he said they outnumbered any possible opposition; indeed, there was no visible opposition. Yet not only did they refrain from murdering Laertes and Telemachus and seizing power (although they did plot at the last

* I. 189-93. Note must be taken that a far less pathetic description appears elsewhere in the Odyssey, especially in the last book, thought by some scholars to have been composed relatively late: 'the fine and well-tilled farm or Laertes. ...There was his house, and around it ran many huts on every side, in which the trusty slaves ate and sat and slept, Who worked at his pleasure' (24.205-10). It is in this book, too, that we have the only explicit reference to Laertes ever having been king.


minute to assassinate the latter), not only did they publicly and repeatedly concede Telemachus's claim to his oikos , but they placed the decision in the strangest place imaginable, in the hands of a woman. There was nothing about the woman Penelope, cither in beauty or wisdom or spirit, that could have won her this unprecedented and unwanted right of decision as a purely personal triumph. Institutionally, furthermore, this was a solidly patriarchal society, in which even a Telemachus could bid his mother leave the banquet hall and retire to her proper, womanly tasks.*

As his father's heir Telemachus obviously had a measure of authority, and Athena pointed to one way out. As for your mother, if her heart is stirred up to be married, let her return to the palace of her father great in might. They will arrange the wedding feast and array the many gifts, all that should go with a beloved daughter' (1.275-8). At the assembly on the next day both Antinous and Eurymachus gave him the same advice, the latter in the very words Athena had used. But 'wise' Telemachus demurred. 'It is bad for me to repay a large amount to Icarius [Penelope's father],should I myself send my mother back' (2.132- 3). The ‘large amount' was the dowry, which had to be restored under such circumstances.

Early in the feast at which Odysseus suddenly revealed himself and slaughtered the suitors, Telemachus made a remark to one of them which again indicated his authority, but in a different direction. 'I do not hinder the marriage of my mother; instead, I bid her marry whom she wishes and I also [offer to] give countless gifts. I am ashamed to drive her from the palace, against her will, by a word of compulsion' (20.341-4). But if Telemachus had the right to order his mother about in the matter of her marriage, either by sending her back to her father or by compelling (or preventing) her choice from among the wooers, how are we to explain, as fact or as law, Athena's rushing to Sparta, where Telemachus was visiting Menelaus, and warning him to return at once? 'For her [Penelope's] father and brother', said the goddess, care now bidding her marry Eurymachus, for he *1.356-g; 21.350-3.


outdoes all the suitors in gifts and he has greatly increased his gifts of wooing' (15.16-18).*

I t has been argued that behind the confusions there lay the understandable uncertainty whether Odysseus was dead or alive, whether Penelope was a widow or not. Or perhaps the Penelope situation had become so muddled in the long prehistory of the Odyssey that the actual social and legal situation is no longer recoverable. Some scholars have adopted the desperate solution of finding in the account a vestige of a mother-right system that allegedly prevailed among the Greeks centuries before. They see similar traces in Phaeacia, and indeed the poet uses some very strange language about Queen Arete, niece and consort of Alcinous the king, even to underscoring her 'good wits' and her skill in resolving quarrels among men (7.73-4). When you enter the palace, Nausicaa advised Odysseus, pass by my father's throne and go directly to my mother and appeal to her. 'If she should be kindly disposed to you in her heart, then there is hope that you will see your friends, and come to your home good to dwell in, and to your native land.'# Both Arete and Alcinous were kindly disposed, it turned out, and Odysseus was welcomed beyond measure. After he had related many of his adventures, the queen, who was a full participant in the feasting, contrary to all the rules of Greek society of the time, called upon the nobles to supply gifts of treasure. 'He is my guest-friend, though each of you shares in the honour' (11.338). Not even Clytaemnestra would have talked that way, though she was not beyond joining in the plot to murder Agamemnon her lord.

However, one old Phaeacian noble promptly told Arete that, though her proposal was sound, 'on Alcinous here depend deed and word' (11.346). Nausicaa, too, before she counselled Odys-

* For the benefit of those who see in the coexistence or dowries and 'gifts or wooing' a sign of poetic imagination, on the argument that such 'opposite' practices are impossible in 'real lire', it is perhaps worth calling attention to the shift that has been taking place in Greek Cypriot villages since 193° in the system or marital property transfer. Opposing practices with respect to the provision or a house for newlyweds coexist there today, after nearly half a century or transition : see P. Loizos in Man, 10 {1975), pp. 503-23.

# 6.313-5; repeated by Athena, 7.75-7.


seus to seek out Arete, identified herself as the 'daughter of great- hearted Alcinous, on whom depend the force and the might of the Phaeacians' ( 16. 196-7 ) .And throughout the very long Phaeacian section of the poem Alcinous repeatedly exercised unmistakable and unchallenged royal authority. There are other difficulties and apparent contradictions in Phaeacia, not surprising in view of its position halfway between the world of fantasy Odysseus was finally leaving and the real world to which he was about to return. That a repressed memory of ancient matriarchy is reflected in some of the verses seems a singularly fragile argument. Neither Arete nor Penelope met the genealogical requirements of a matrilineal kinship structure, let alone of matriarchy: Arete was the daughter of Alcinous's elder brother; Penelope and Odysseus had no blood kinship at all.*

Whatever the explanation for Penelope's sudden acquisition of so puzzling a power of decision, in the end the essential fact is that 'as many of the nobles as have power in the islands, in Dulichion and Same and wooded Zacynthus, and as many as are lords in rocky Ithaca' # -in short, virtually the whole aristocracy in and around Ithaca-were agreed that the house of Odysseus was to be dethroned. Along with the rule, his successor was also to take his wife, his widow as many thought. On this point they were terribly insistent, and it may be suggested that their reasoning was this: that by Penelope's receiving the suitor of her choice into the bed of Odysseus, some shadow of legitimacy, however dim and fictitious, would be thrown over the new king. In his first speech to the assembly Telemachus had said that the wooers 'shrink from going to the house of her father Icarius, so that he might marry off his daughter and give her to whomsoever he chooses' (2.52-4). Icarius, would, of course, have chosen the highest bidder, the one who gave the most valuable gifts of wooing. Yet the suitors' unwillingness to follow this accepted procedure was surely more than niggardliness. If Icarius were to select Penelope's next husband, the successful bidder would ac-

* Among the matriarchal Iroquois, for example, the successor to a de- ceased chieftain was chosen by the matron of his maternal family. # 1.245-7; repeated 16.122-4, with variations, 19.130-2.


quire a wife but not the kingdom. Rule in Ithaca was not for Icarius, an outsider, to bestow. That prerogative mysteriously belonged to Penelope.

And Penelope was their undoing. On instruction from Athena, she tricked the suitors into letting the returned hero, still in his beggarly disguise, get the great bow into his hands, which none but he could wield, and with it, supported by Telemachus and two slaves, Philoetius and Eumaeus, he slew the interlopers. Once again the narrative detail points to an essential element of Odyssean life: to regain his throne the king could count on no one but his wife, his son and his faithful slaves; in other words, royal power .was personal power. Nothing could be more misleading than the analogy of king against barons at the close of the Middle Ages, in which the ultimate triumph of the royal principle rested on the backing of commoners. In war the commoners of Ithaca or Sparta or Argos took up arms; then, in the .face of the hostile outsider (and especially of an invading outsider), the community was real and meaningful, and the king, as its head and representative, received support and obedience. In peace he was entitled to various perquisites, and under ordinary circumstances they were given freely. But when the lords fell out among themselves the issue was usually one for themselves alone.

Despite the general silence of the poems on the doings of the ordinary people of Greece, there is direct evidence on this score. Towards the close of the assembly summoned by Telemachus, Mentor complained: 'Now, indeed, I am angry with the rest of the people (demos), as you all sit in silence and do not upbraid the suitors and keep them in check, they being few and you many' (2.2gg-41). At the end of the tale, when the suitors were dead and Odysseus and his father were having their little feast of reunion at the old man's farm, there was another gathering in the agora. This was the meeting of the irate relatives of the victims, demanding blood vengeance. But it was no formal assembly. The men came together because 'Rumour the messenger went about the city' with the news of the slaughter (24-413) - Rumour, who was Zeus's messenger but had never been designated a herald in Ithaca. The poet makes it clear that this was a


meeting of aristocrats (if there were commoners present, they came as retainers of noble households, not as members of the community of Ithaca). Hence here he never uses such words as demos or 'multitude'. although some translators have mistakenly injected 'the people' into the lines.

The blood-feud rally was normal. Odysseus had himself anticipated such an action when he said to Telemachus after the slaughter of the suitors: 'Let us consider, that all may be for the very best. For a person who kills but one man in a country-even one for whom there are not many left behind to help-flees, forsaking his kinsmen and his fatherland. And we have killed the pillars of the city, the very noblest of the youths in Ithaca' (23.117- 22). This was private vengeance. But what was the point, at the beginning of the poem, in calling an assembly to consider what Telemachus explicitly labelled a private matter? Throughout that meeting Telemachus never once addressed the people. He talked to the suitors, repeating in public what he had already demanded of them in private, that they give up their improper method of wooing. Only at the end did Mentor turn to the demos and say: I am angry with you that you do not intervene. Telemachus had clearly failed in his purpose, which was to try to mobilize public opinion against the suitors, thus transforming a private matter into a public one, in effect. Realizing this, Mentor brought the issue into the open, again without success. That is why Leocritus could answer with a sneer, 'It is difficult to fight against greater numbers about a feast' (2.244-5). Mentor had stressed the potential power of the demos: 'they [the suitors] being few and you many'. Oh no, replied Leocritus, the many are disinterested and neutral, and therefore we and our kinsmen and retainers outnumber you and the forces you can muster. Odysseus himself would 'meet with evil destiny, were he to fight against greater numbers' (2.250-1).

Neutrality is a state of mind, and anyone who enters the arena to fight for power must keep his eyes and ears on the audience; their attitude may shift suddenly, and they may swarm into the pit and take sides. After the plan to ambush Telemachus had failed, Antinous argued with the other suitors that further delay


was perilous. Let us take him into the fields, Antinous proposed, and do away with him, for 'the multitude no longer bear good will to us in all respects. Come, therefore, before he calls the Achaeans together to an assembly' and tells them how we plotted against his life. 'Hearing of these evil deeds, they will not approve. Beware, then, lest they do us evil and drive us from our land, and we come to the country of others' (16.375-82).

Antinous feared that the demos, previously unmoved by Tele- machus's appeal, might now decide to take sides. Notably there was no reference to rights in his speech. It was not the assertion of popular rights that he foresaw, but Telemachus's rapid coming of age, his beginning to rule by might, and hence the danger . that he could persuade the demos out of its neutrality and into direct action. Perhaps the memory was still with Antinous of the day when his father had fled to Odysseus for asylum from the demos, 'for they were terribly angry because he had gone off with the Taphian pirates to raid the Thesprotians, who were in friendly relations with us' (16-425-7).

Hypothetically, at least, the opposite possibility was also conceivable -- that the people would shift to the position of the suitors. When Telemachus was Nestor's guest, Nestor asked him point blank why he continued to suffer the suitors. 'Tell me, do you yield willingly or do the people hate you up and down the land, obeying the voice of a god?' (3.214-5). Telemachus made no direct reply then, but he was asked the identical question on another occasion, this time by Odysseus in beggarly disguise ( 16.95-6) , and he said that the answer was no to both alternatives. Lack of power alone caused his passivity.

In fact, we are never told what the demos of Ithaca really thought about the whole affair. The narrative reached its end without their intervention on either side, despite all the questioning, the doubts and the fears, the efforts to influence public opinion. Like Eliot's women of Canterbury, the demos of Ithaca seemed to say by its neutrality:

King rules or barons rule; ...
But mostly we are left to our own devices,
And we are content if we are left alone.


The suitors failed to take up Antinous's proposal that they seek a solution by murdering Telemachus. Whether his fears were warranted or not is unanswerable, for another ending was already prepared. While the conference was going on, Odysseus was hiding in Ithaca, and the suitors were soon to meet death at his hands. What, we may speculate, would have happened had a chance arrow brought Odysseus down at that moment? It does not necessarily follow that the demos would have been moved to reprisal. Nothing in the accepted rules of behaviour, neither divine precept nor convention, demanded that they act. Homicide was no crime in a public sense, and regicide was but a special kind of homicide. Had Odysseus been killed, Telemachus would have faced a choice: he could play Hamlet or he could play Orestes. That was his familial responsibility; the community had none. 'And of the son of Atreus even you have heard, though far off,' Nestor had said to Telemachus.; chow he came and how Aegisthus devised his evil end. But sadly indeed did he pay for it. How good it is that a son of the man should be left, as that son took vengeance on wily Aegisthus, his father's murderer' (3.193- 8). Telemachus's misfortune was that, faced not with a single enemy but with 108, he came from a line of only sons and had no blood-brothers upon whom to call.

Blood vengeance is but the most dramatic indicator that in the world of Odysseus personal power meant the strength of the household and the family. In that sense the personalization of kingly power went very deep. The suitors may have denied any hostile intentions against the oikos of Odysseus, but this was an atypical situation in every respect, and Antinous finally suggested that they kill Telemachus and divide the estate among themselves. The rule was complete identity between king's treasury and king's oikos , precisely as his personal retainers were his public officials. The gold and bronze and grain and wine and fine cloth that Telemachus saw lying in the locked storeroom belonged to his father and would come to him by inheritance, whether they had been acquired by Odysseus as king or by Odysseus as mere nobleman. No wonder Telemachus said with charmingly naive pathos, when it seemed that the suitors must


surely triumph, 'For indeed it is no bad thing to be a king: forthwith his house becomes wealthy and he himself most honoured' (1.392-3).

The base of royal wealth and power lay in the holdings in land and cattle, without which no man could have become king in the first place. While the king reigned he also had the use of a separate estate, called a temenos, which the community placed at his disposal. .This was the sole exception to the rule that all royal possessions and acquisitions melted into his private oikos . Next on the list of 'royal revenues' came booty -an all-embracing word covering cattle, metal, female captives, and whatever else of wealth was seizable (except land, for the simple reason that wars were not fought for territory and did not lead to its acquisition). In his disguise as a Cretan beggar Odysseus boasted to Eumaeus of his former glory. 'Nine times did I lead men and fleet ships against men of another land, and very much [booty] fell to me, of which I chose what suited me, and much 1 then obtained by lot' (14.230-3). The ruler thus not only shared with his men in the general distribution of the spoils, equalized by the drawing of lots, but he received an added share, by first choice. In a major expedition the commander-in-chief took the royal share, though other kings were among his followers. 'My hands bear the brunt of furious battle; but when the distribution comes your prerogatives are far greater, and I go to my ships bearing something slight, but dear to me, when I am weary of fighting' (I 165-8) .So Achilles to Agamemnon, and though 'some thing slight' underrates the acquisitions of the 'sacker of cities', # there is no mistaking the measure of his resentment against Agamemnon, his inferior in prowess but his superior, by right of position, in the sharing of the fruits.

And then there were the gifts, endlessly given and endlessly talked about. No word immediately denoting compulsion, like

*The same word was applied to a temple estate set aside for the enjoyment or a god. With the decay of kingship in post-Homeric Greece, the latter became the sole meaning or temenos. # 'Something slight, but dear to me' appears twice in the Odyssey, in a begging context (6.208; 14-58).


'taxes' or even feudal 'dues', is to be found in the poems for payments from people to ruler, apart from the context of the special prerogative in the distribution of booty and of the meat of sacrificial animals. ' And seven well situated cities will I give him. ..,' said Agamemnon. 'And there dwell men of many flocks and many herds, who will honour him like a god with gifts.'* Details of this gift-giving by the people are utterly lacking; for Ithaca it is not even mentioned. That it took its place, how- ever, alongside booty as an important and continuing reason why it was 'no bad thing to be a king' can scarcely be doubted.

At times the gifts, like the benevolences of Charles I, seem something less than voluntary. 'Come now,' said King Alcinous of the Phaeacians to the nobles feasting the parting of Odysseus, 'let us each give him a great tripod and a cauldron; and we in turn shall gather among the people and be recompensed, for it is burdensome for one person to give without recompense' ( 13.13- 15). Nevertheless, it would be a false appreciation to see nothing but euphemism in the insistence on calling such payments 'gifts'. For one thing, they lacked the regularity of taxes or dues as well as their fixity of amount. Even so limited a play of free choice as the time and amount of the payment gave it overtones of sentiment and value ordinarily absent from taxation. It is difficult to measure this psychological distinction, but it cannot be ignored for that reason. 'Honour him like a god with gifts.' Fear the gods as one m~, they are not tax collectors, and man's relationship to them is of another order. In the same way, a gift to a ruler, even when compulsory for all practical purposes, is in its formal voluntarism of another order from the fixed tax with its openly coercive character .

What was the counter-gift to the people? The answer is chiefly in the area we label foreign affairs. The effective, powerful king gave protection and defence, by his dealings with kings abroad, by his organization of such activities as the building of walls,

* IX 149-55. Agamemnon’s long descriptions of his proposed gift of amends to Achilles is repeated to Achilles by Odysseus, word for word, IX 264-98; the passage quoted here is found in lines 291-7. Agamemnon's right of disposal over seven cities is a unique and unexplained instance in the poems.


and by his personal leadership in battle. He was 'shepherd of the people', a Homeric commonplace that had none of the Arcadian image in it, only Goethe's 'he who is no warrior can be no shepherd'.* Sarpedon, commander of the Lycian contingent supporting the Trojans, made the point bluntly: 'Glaucus, why are we two the most honoured in Lycia in seats of honour and meat and full goblets, and all look upon us as gods, and we hold a great temenos on the banks of the Xanthus, a fine one of orchard- land and wheat-bearing land? Therefore we must now stand in the first ranks of the Lycians and participate in fiery battle, So that some of the Lycians armed with stout cuirasses may say, "Our kings who are lords in Lycia are indeed not inglorious, they that eat fat sheep ,and choice honey-sweet wine; oh no, they are also of stout might, since they fight in the first ranks of the Lycians"' (XII 310-21).

The king gave military leadership and protection, and he gave little else, despite some hints of royal justice (and injustice) scattered through the Odyssey, once in a lengthier green-pastures simile: '0 lady [Penelope], no one among mortal men through- out the boundless earth would blame you, for your fame reaches the wide heaven, as does [the fame] of an excellent king, one who, god-fearing and ruling among men many and mighty, upholds righteousness, and the dark earth bears wheat and barley and the trees are heavy with fruit, and the flocks bear without fail, and the sea gives forth fish, out of [his] good leadership, and the people thrive under him' ( 19. 107- 14 ) .This direct linking of right rule and the fruitfulness of nature is anachronistic, as is the notion of 'god-fearing'; they belong not to the time of Odysseus but to the eighth or seventh century B.C., when the idea of a world ordered by divine justice had entered men's minds. They belong in the poems of Hesiod, not in the Odyssey. Everything that Homer tells us demonstrates that here he permitted a contemporary note to enter, carefully restricting it, however, to a harmless simile and thus avoiding any possible contradiction in the narrative it- self. The return of Odysseus to the throne of Ithaca was just and

* Quoted from H. Fränkel,Die homerischm Gleichnisse (Göttingen: Vanden- hoeck, 1921),p.60.


proper, but it was a matter of private action for personal interests, not the triumph of righteousness in the public interest.

One need scarcely ask why Alcinous did not let the people make a direct gift to Odysseus. Tripods and cauldrons were treasure, things which only the aristocracy possessed in significant quantity. Nor would it have been fitting for the common people to provide the gifts to speed a hero on his journey. In a society so status-bound, in which gift-giving had a quantity of ceremonialism about it, no one could just give a gift to anyone else. There were rather strict lines of giving, and grades and ranks of objects. Stated in other terms, the gift and the relationship between giver and recipient were inseparable. What went up the line from the people to their lord was one matter; what went to an outsider was something else again, and no confusion between the two was permissible.

However the psychologists understand the affective side of this gift-giving, functionally it took its place with marriage and with armed might as an act through which status relations were created, and what we should call political obligations. The world of Odysseus was split into many communities more or less like Ithaca. Among them, between each community and every other one, the normal relationship was one of hostility, at times passive, in a kind of armed truce, and at times active and bellicose. When the slaughtered suitors entered Hades, the arrival en masse of the 'best men' of Ithaca was startling, and automatically it was attributed to one of two causes. 'Did Poseidon', asked the shade of Agamemnon, 'stir up heavy winds and high waves and overpower you in your ships? Or did hostile men slay you on dry land while you were rustling cattle and fair flocks of sheep, or while they were defending their city and their women?'*

In so permanently hostile an environment the heroes were permitted to seek allies; their code of honour did not demand that they stand alone against the world. But there was nothing in their social system that created the possibility for two communities, as such, to enter an alliance. Only personal devices were avail-

* 24:109-13. In the earlier scene in Hades, Odysseus greeted the shade of Agamemnon with the identical words (11.399-403).


able, through the channels of household and kin. The first of these was marriage, which served, among other things, to establish new lines of kin, and hence of mutual obligation, that crossed and criss-crossed the Hellenic world. Only men arranged marriages, and only a man from whom Zeus had taken his wits would have neglected considerations of wealth, power, and sup- port in making his selection.

Several generations of such calculated dealing out of daughters and assorted female relatives created an intricate, and sometimes confusing, network of obligations. That was one reason why the heroes memorized their genealogies carefully and recited them often. When Dioli1edes and Glaucus 'came together in the middle between the two [armies ], eager to do battle', the former stopped and asked a question. 'Who are you, brave sir, of mortal men? For never before have I seen you in glorious battle.' Glaucus's reply was a long recital, full sixty-five lines, chiefly of the heroic exploits and the begettings of his grandfather Bellerophon. His final words were: 'Of this lineage and blood I vaunt myself to be.'

'So said he,' the poet went on, 'and Diomedes of the brave war-cry rejoiced. ..."In truth, you are my paternal guest-friend of old; for illustrious Oineus at one time entertained excellent Bellerophon in his palace and for twenty days he kept him, and they gave each other fine gifts of guest-friendship. ...Therefore I am now a dear guest-friend to you in central Argos, and you [to me] in Lycia whenever I come to your-land. So let us avoid each other's spears" .-there are Trojans enough for me to kill, and Greeks for you. ' "Let us exchange armour with each other, so that they too may know that we avow ourselves to be paternal guest-friends."’*

This is not comedy. Homer was no Shaw, Diomedes no chocolate-creamsoldier. Guest-friendship was a very serious institution, the alternative to marriage in forging bonds between rulers; and there could have been no more dramatic test of its value in holding the network of relationships together than just such a critical

* VI 119-231. That was the occasion when Glaucus went witless and gave golden armour for bronze.


moment. Guest-friend and guest-friendship were far more than sentimental terms of human affection. In the world of Odysseus they were technical names for very concrete relationships, as formal and as evocative of rights and duties as marriage. And they remained so well thereafter: Herodotus (1.69) tells how, in the middle of the sixth century before Christ, Croesus, king of Lydia, 'sent messengers to Sparta bearing gifts and requesting an alliance'. The Spartans 'rejoiced at the coming of the Lydians and they took the oaths of guest-friendship and alliance'.

The Herodotus story documents the persistence of guest- friendship; it also shows how far the Greek world had moved from the days of Odysseus. Croesus exchanged oaths of guest- friendship with the Spartans, but Homer knew of no such tie between Argives and Lycians or Taphians and Ithacans-only between individuals, Diomedes and Glaucus, 'Mentes' and Telemachus. 'Guest-friend', it is understood, is the conventional, admittedly clumsy, English rendition of the Greek xenos in one of its senses. The same Greek word also meant 'stranger', 'foreigner', and sometimes 'host', a semantic range symbolic of the ambivalence which characterized all dealings with the stranger in that archaic world.

The first thing we are told about the Phaeacians -immediately establishing the Utopianism of the tale-is that they existed in almost complete isolation; in fact, that Alcinous's father, Nausithous, had transplanted the community from Hypereia to Scheria (both mythical places) to that very end. There is no cause to fear, Nausicaa reassured her maids as they ran from Odysseus on the beach. 'That mortal man does not exist, neither has he been born, who comes to the land of the Phaeacians bringing war, for we are very dear to the immortals. We live far off, surrounded by the stormy sea, the outermost of men, and no other mortals have dealing with us' (6.201-5). Nausicaa over- stated the situation a little. After she had escorted Odysseus to the town, Athena took over and threw a covering of mist about 'him to ensure his safe arrival at the palace. 'Neither look at any man', was the goddess's warning, 'nor inquire of one. For they do not readily bear with strangers' (7.31-2).


That was one pole: fear, suspicion, distrust of the stranger. With it went his rightlessness, his lack of kin to safeguard or avenge him as the case may have been, against ill-doing. At the other pole was the general human obligation of hospitality: in one of his attributes the father of the immortals was Zeus Xenios, the god of hospitality. It was precisely in Phaeacia that, after the earlier forebodings, Odysseus was welcomed so richly that King Alcinous and his court became proverbial among later Greeks for their luxurious living. That paradox was a model of the basic ambivalence of the heroic world toward the uninvited stranger, of the rapid oscillation between deep, well-warranted fear and lavish entertainment.

The poet underscores his point in another way among the Cyclopes, in pure Never-Never Land. Odysseus's opening gambit was to plead for the traditional hospitality, and Polyphemus replied with the most open cynicism: I shall devour you last among your company; 'that shall be my gift of hospitality' (9.370). Polyphemus stood at one pole only; there was nothing confusing or uncertain about his unmitigated hostility to all strangers. And again Homer had caught the right shading. We, said the Cyclops, 'give no heed to aegis-bearing Zeus, nor to the blessed gods, in- as much as we are far better' (9.275-6). The giant was to pay for his hybris soon enough, tricked by the superior craftiness of god-fearing Odysseus. Behind the fairy-tale, clearly, there lay a distinct view of social evolution. In primitive times, the poet seems to be suggesting, man lived in a state of permanent struggle and war to the death against the outsider. Then the gods intervened, and through their precepts, their themis , a new ideal was set before man, and especially before a king, an obligation of hospitality: call strangers and beggars are from Zeus' (14.57-8). Henceforth men had to pick a difficult path between the two, between the reality of a society in which the stranger was still a problem and a threat, and the newer morality, according to which he was somehow covered by the aegis of Zeus.

Institutionally it was guest-friendship above. all that weakened the tension between the poles. 'trade may have removed the enmity from the surface for a moment, but it made no lasting


contribution in this area. On the contrary, trade tended to strengthen suspicion of the outsider, for all its indispensability. The unrelieved, totally negative Homeric image of the Phoenicians makes that absolutely clear. Once again the point is driven home in Utopia. The Phaeacians were the ideal seamen, men who, unlike the Greeks themselves, had no horror of the sea and no reason to dread it. 'For the Phaeacians have no pilots and no rudders, which other ships have; but [the ships] themselves understand the thoughts and intents of men' (8.557-9). Yet not only is there no single reference to Phaeacian trade, but it was in Phaeacia that Odysseus received the crowning insult of being likened to a merchant.

Guest-friendship was of an altogether different order and conception. The stranger who had a xenos in a foreign land -and every other community was foreign soil- had an effective substitute for kinsmen, a protector, representative and ally. He had a refuge if he were forced to flee his home, a storehouse on which to draw when compelled to travel, and a source of men and arms if drawn into battle. These were all personal relations, but with the powerful lords the personal merged into the political, and then guest-friendship was the Homeric version, or forerunner, of political and military alliances. Not that every guest-friend automatically and invariably responded to a call to arms; that would have been a pattern of uniformity unattained, and un- attainable, in the fluid and unstable political situation of the world of Odysseus. In this respect a guest-friend was like a king; his worth was indirect proportion to his power. During the years of his unexplained absence, all of Odysseus's xenoi might well have agreed with his father Laertes when he said to one, 'the countless gifts which you gave, you bestowed in vain' (24.283).

As the suitors entered Hades, Agamemnon's shade addressed Amphimedon in particular. 'Do you not remember the time when I came to your house there [in Ithaca] with godlike Menelaus, to urge Odysseus to go along with me to Ilion in the well- benched ships? And it was a whole month before we had sailed across the wide sea, for it was with difficulty that we prevailed


upon Odysseus sacker of cities.* To recruit an army among outsiders in what was, to begin with, on1y a family feud over a stolen wife, Agamemnon naturally made the fullest use of his guest-friends. But having called upon Amphimedon for the ser- vice of hospitality, Agamemnon apparently did not ask for his military services. For that he went to Odysseus, the king, with whom he had no formal relationship.

It would be an idle game to try to guess why Amphimedon stayed at home. Or why Odysseus, having finally been prevailed upon and having raised an army, did not, or could not, engage a larger proportion of the Ithacan nobility in the expedition. The fact is that we are left in rather complete darkness about the way the Achaean army was put together. Perhaps the procedure in Ithaca was the same as among Achilles's Myrmidons. There one son from each family was chosen by lot (XXIV 397-400). More likely the methods varied from community to community, according to the desires, interests, and, above all, powers of the respective kings and nobles. No Greek community had been attacked or even threatened; hence participation in the Trojan War was of no direct Concern to the demos.

Again we are reminded of the fluidity of the political scene. Agamemnon, the most powerful of the many rulers among the Hellenes, had as his guest-friend in Ithaca not the king, Odysseus, but one of the non-ruling aristocrats, Amphimedon. There was nothing strange or rare about this. It was repeated allover the Greek world, just as marriage, rigidly bound within class lines, was perfectly acceptable between king or king's son and the daughter of a noble Who was not a king. 'First among equals' meant equality of status with respect to the two peaceful relation- ships that could be established across community lines, marriage and guest-friendship. There could be no notion of blood royal in a world in which 'there are many other kings' in each community.

A third kind of relationship existed, however, in which in- equality was expressed -that of the retainer. While marriage

* 24-115-19. Presumably it was to Amphimedon's father, Melaneus, that Agamemnon came, for Amphimedon would have been a child then. In what follows I continue to refer to Amphimedon for convenience.


and guest-friendship went outside the community -- the latter always, the former sometimes -- retainership was a strictly internal institution, one that set up a loose hierarchy among the nobles of a community and played a key role in the internal power structure. The situation may be stated in another way: the retainers constituted the third essential element of the aristocratic household, the other two being the members of the family and the labour force (whether slaves or hirelings). 'Retainer' is a loose word, and that is why it fits the Greek therapon. At one end of the scale it defines the free but surely not aristocratic attendants at the palace banquets, Who performed the offices 'whereby inferiors serve their betters' (15.324). And at the other end is a hero like Meriones, therapon of King Idomeneus of Crete. Meriones enjoys some of the proudest epithets in the poems, such as 'the equal of fleet Ares' or 'leader of men' (XII 295, 304); he is one of the very few secondary chieftains named in the catalogue of ships; and his battle prowess receives many lines in the Iliad . Nevertheless, it must be assumed that Meriones, as a therapon, followed Idomeneus to Troy as a matter of obligation, not because he had been 'prevailed upon'.

Obligations of this nature and intensity, like the obligations imposed by lineage, were personal. That does not mean that they were arbitrary, weak or uncertain, but it does mean that in very large measure they stood apart from and outside the bonds of community; or better, that they stood above. It was Menelaus Who was aggrieved by the flight of Helen, not Sparta. It was his brother Agamemnon Who assumed leadership of the war of reprisal, not Mycenae. It was Amphimedon and Odysseus to whom Agamemnon appealed for assistance, not Ithaca. But it was all of Troy that fought back, not out of loyalty to Paris-or even to old Priam, Who was bound to uphold his son but because the Greek invaders threatened to destroy them all.

The ceaseless interplay of household, kin and community, at home and abroad, created a complex variety of individual situations and difficulties. Yet there was a kind of fundamental pattern and a trend which, though not really discernible in the poems themselves, can be seen through that most useful of all the in-


struments of the historian, hindsight. The anthropologists have taught us what a kinship society looks like in its purer forms. It is characteristic of much of the primitive world that 'the conduct of individuals to one another is very largely regulated on the basis of kinship, this being brought about by the formation of fixed patterns of behaviour for each recognized kind of kinship relation.*. This is no description of the world of Odysseus, in which the family tie, though strong, was narrowly defined, and in which other strong and often more binding relationships were established outside the blood group. In evolutionary terms, in so far as they may legitimately be employed, the world of the Homeric poems had advanced beyond the primitive. Kinship was then but one of several organizing principles, and not the most powerful one. Pre-eminence lay in the oikos , the large noble household with its staff of slaves and commoners, its aristocratic retainers, and its allies among relatives and guest-friends.

Within the household, as within a lineage, the behaviour pat- terns of man to man (and to woman) were graded and fixed. As between households, too, there were many customary rules of what was proper and what was not, and we must believe that in the daily routine of life they were obeyed as a matter of course. But a higher coercive power was largely lacking, the community principle being still so rudimentary. Therefore, as one princely oikos vied with another for greater wealth and power, for more prestige and a superior status, breaches of the rules were Common enough to create the almost unbroken tension that was the stamp of heroic existence. In time to come great moral teachers would make much of this conflict between status, prestige, and power on the one side and divine themis on the other. Neither the heroes nor their minstrels were systematic thinkers. Moral principles and philosophical abstractions were no doubt inherent in their tales, but the bards were content simply to tell the story.

'It is no bad thing to be a king', said one of the characters in the story. Yet one need only turn the pages of Homer or read at random in the legends of the Greeks to discover that betrayal

* A. R. Radcliffe-Brown, Structure and Function in Primitive Society (London: Cohen and West, 1952), p. 29.


and assassination were a most common fate among rulers. Olympian Zeus himself had become chief of the gods only by over- throwing his father Cronus and the other Titans, and Cronus before him found the path to power equally bloody. One may assess the meaning of the myth-symbols as one wishes. One may allow for the fact that narrative poetry is poetry of action, and that before the invention of romantic love, deeds of violence made up the whole of the thematic material. Nevertheless, it is scarcely conceivable that the tales could have remained so one-sided in their murders, rapes, seductions, fratricides, patricides, and plottings had kingship in reality been a comfortable position of perquisites in a regular dynastic succession.

Nor was this merely a matter of open conflict over who should hold the throne. Behind that there emerged a more fundamental and, in the end, decisive issue. In promoting his own and his household's interests, the king-aristocrat became the agent of the community principle: the stronger the sense of community and the broader its powers, the greater the king and the more secure in his position. In reply, the aristocracy demanded hegemony for the oikos and for their class, under a king if possible, without a king if need be. Homer records many incidents in this conflict and he makes no secret of his own preference for kingly rule, notably in his idealization of royal rule among the Phaeacians. He gives no clues to the outcome, but we know it well. By the time the Odyssey was written the defeat of the kings had been so complete that kingship was gone from most of Hellas. In its place the aristocrats ruled as a group, equals without a first among them.

And then the aristocrats found themselves with a new menace, undreamed of in the world of Odysseus. The demos, nearly always a passive bystander in the earlier political conflicts, began to know its own strength and capacity for rule. In the Iliad and the Odyssey it grumbled or it acclaimed but it took orders. That was the recognized role of inferiors, to 'honour him like a god'. On one occasion Agamemnon tried to use psychology on his troops, with such ill success that panic set in and the whole Greek army, become a mob,-began to embark in disorder, determined to


sail for home and abandon the war. Hera intervened and sent Athena to Odysseus with instructions that he pull himself together and put a stop to the disgraceful flight. Taking Agamemnon's sceptre, Odysseus went among the soldiers, cajoling and arguing as he moved.

'When he came to one who was a king and a man of eminence, he stood beside him and restrained him with gentle words. ... But whatever man of the demos [i.e. commoner] he saw and found him shouting, him he struck with the sceptre, upbraiding him in these words: "Good sir, sit still and hearken to the words of those who are your betters, you who are no warrior and a weakling, who are not counted either in battle or in council" , (II 188-202).

That principle remained unchallenged in Odysseus's day. Whatever the conflicts and cleavages among the noble house- holds and families, they were always in accord that there could be no crossing of the great line which separated the aristoi from the many, the heroes from the non-heroes.


To Chapter 5