Homer’s Thebes: Epic Rivalries and the Appropriation of Mythical Pasts

  Barker, Elton T. E., and Joel P. Christensen. 2019. Homer's Thebes: Epic Rivalries and the Appropriation of Mythical Pasts. Hellenic Studies Series 84. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_BarkerE_ChristensenJ.Homers_Thebes.2019.

6. Beyond Thebes

“And what about you, Nikêratos—what kind of knowledge do you take pride in?” And he said: “My father, because he wished for me to be a good man, compelled me to memorize all of Homer. And now I can recite the whole Iliad and Odyssey.”
Xenophon Symposium III 5 [1]
Lykourgos, a Greek from the Peloponnese, is famous for having traveled to Crete to return with the institutions that would be critical for establishing Sparta’s new constitution. This, however, was not the only journey that Lykourgos took, nor the only benefit he brought back for his people. In a story related by Plutarch, Lykourgos is said to have discovered the Homeric poems during his travels among the Ionians and, after writing them down, to have brought them home to the Spartans for their “educational and political value” (τὸ πολιτικὸν καὶ παιδευτικὸν). “At the time,” Plutarch writes, “the epics had a slight reputation among the Greeks: a few possessed certain portions of the poems which had been circulated randomly. But Lykourgos was the first to make the poetry especially well-known.” [2] Solon, who was comparably regarded as the founder of the Athenian constitution, is reputed to have traveled abroad in a similar fashion, while it was his kin, the Peisistratids, who famously established the performance of Homeric epic in Athens. [3] Homer was even said to have wandered from city to city performing his tales in rivalry with other poets, which, while doubtful as an accurate biography (by modern standards), stands as evidence for the universal reception of his poetry in diverse and scattered communities throughout the Greek-speaking world. [4]
This process of developing shared myths, cult cites, and festivals among various dialectical groups, as well as very different political, economic, and social communities, has been identified as a feature of Panhellenism. [5] The idea of Panhellenism has helped scholars to think about how the Homeric and Hesiodic poems were shaped by and shaped in turn Greek culture over a long period of engagement with local traditions, [6] and has contributed to the discussion over the eventual textualization and survival of these poems. [7] For the reasons outlined in the introduction, primarily regarding the paucity of evidence, using Panhellenism to explain why the Theban epics failed to gain a comparable currency is fraught with difficulties. [8] Nevertheless, even if its explanatory power is open to doubt, it remains a useful framework to explore the process through which mythical tales were transformed from local and particular traditions into the authorities that would one day be prized by Greeks like Herodotus or Plutarch. While a scenario that lays emphasis on gradual text formation of the Homeric poems (rather than, say, their recording by a one-time act of transcription) supports Gregory Nagy’s evolutionary model, we remain in the dark about the precise process by which the Homeric poems were formed. [9] In the end they are texts that need to be analyzed, even if—as we have argued throughout—that analysis is best achieved through an oral framework of traditional referentiality.
In the first three chapters of this book we have argued that, by looking at the Homeric poems’ use of Theban mythic material, we can better appreciate the poetic strategies through which they consistently appropriate, manipulate, and implicitly suppress rival poetic traditions. [10] In our last two chapters we further suggested that, through a cultural agonistics of succession and replacement, our extant examples of epic poetry communicate and interrogate the nature and importance of eris, acknowledging its devastating potential even while trying to domesticate it for mankind in some way.
The foundational text for anatomizing strife is the Works and Days, which, as we have seen, establishes the origins of a second kind of cooperative strife, even as it represents—and reproduces in its very form—the destructive strife of a divided patrimony. In the light of our discussion of the Eris theme, let us return to the passage in which Hesiod describes the “race of heroes” (ἀνδρῶν ἡρώων θεῖον γένος) that we first considered in our Introduction (161–172):

καὶ τοὺς μὲν πόλεμός τε κακὸς καὶ φύλοπις αἰνὴ
τοὺς μὲν ὑφ’ ἑπταπύλῳ Θήβῃ, Καδμηίδι γαίῃ,
ὤλεσε μαρναμένους μήλων ἕνεκ’ Οἰδιπόδαο,
τοὺς δὲ καὶ ἐν νήεσσιν ὑπὲρ μέγα λαῖτμα θαλάσσης
ἐς Τροίην ἀγαγὼν Ἑλένης ἕνεκ’ ἠυκόμοιο.

Evil war and dread battle destroyed them,
some at seven-gated Thebes in the land of Cadmus,
when they fought for the flocks of Oedipus,
and others when it had led them in their ships over the great deep sea
to Troy for lovely-haired Helen.

In addition to the pairing of Troy and Thebes together (τοὺς μέν and τοὺς δέ), the repetition of the casus belli in the genitive (μήλων ἕνεκ’ Οἰδιπόδαο; Ἑλένης ἕνεκ’ ἠυκόμοιο) and the chiastic order (Thebes – men who died there – others – Troy) suggest a careful structuring of the material that repays closer attention. It may be argued that the ordering of Thebes first, then Troy, points to the prioritization of the former tradition, a result, perhaps, of the Boiotian perspective afforded by Hesiod’s poem. [11] Alternatively, the pairing could be a manifestation of what we observed in Chapter 4: that is, Fenik’s “anticipatory doublet,” where a pattern is introduced and then repeated in expanded form to signal the greater importance of the second element. [12] In this interpretation Troy is offered as the same kind of event as Thebes, but arguably greater in magnitude, requiring ships and a journey overseas. Or to put that differently, Thebes is not (epic) enough to wipe out the race of heroes; the conflagration at Troy is needed to finish the job. [13] Similarly, while the mention of “the flocks of Oedipus” might be suggestive of sub-heroic conflicts of the kind Nestor recalls in Homer, the reference to Helen—daughter of Zeus, the most beautiful woman in the world—opens up any number of grand cosmic narratives, including the Hesiodic Catalogue of Women. [14] The pull of Troy, even here, seems greater.

In this final chapter we reflect on the cultural rivalries that may have helped to shape and valorize the Homeric treatment of Thebes. To do this we use a series of case studies to help us think about the multilayered and multi-directional ideological aspects that constituted the process of Panhellenic culture-making. We first consider local epichoric traditions—specifically Boiotian—in order to think about how the practice of contesting Thebes may have been a part of Greek culture before the epics reached their final form. Then, drawing on this image of Hesiod as the “Boiotian poet” par excellence, we use resonant elements of the two other (“heroic”) poems attributed to him, the Shield and the Ehoiai, to provide a framework for reconsidering the relationship between Boiotian traditions, Panhellenic authority, and the presence of Thebes. In short, we explore how Homeric opposition to and partnership with Hesiodic traditions helped these epics absorb and instrumentalize a Boiotian perspective. [15] Next, we turn to a brief examination of Erginos of Orkhomenos and specifically the ways in which his story is integrated into extant Pan-Boiotian and Panhellenic narratives respectively. Not only do we suggest that his mythical career provides some insight into the complex rivalries and negotiations that must have taken place between epichoric Theban material and Panhellenic representations, we also show how many of their latent properties were primed to respond to historical events in the late sixth and early fifth centuries BCE. Finally, we turn back to Homer to reflect on the ways in which the Iliad’s catalogue of ships presents its Boiotian contingents. Using the processes that emerge from our analysis of the Boiotian Hesiod and a layered Erginos, we provide a further glimpse into how the Iliad selectively presents and suppresses material to tone down or even mute entirely traditions about Thebes.

The Boiotian Hesiod

For truth’s sake it is right to praise
Only after pushing envy away with both hands
if some mortal man fares well.
The Boiotian man says these things,
Hesiod, servant of the sweet Muses:
Whichever man the gods honor,
Mortal fame will follow.

Bacchylides 5.187–194 [16]

While the Homeric poetry of the Trojan War narrative is often suggested to have its epichoric [17] origins in Ionian Asia Minor, [18] Hesiod’s poetry is in part both linguistically and self-consciously Boiotian in character. He is, as Bacchylides names him, the “Boiotian Man.” [19] His poetry seems to valorize local traditions and assert Boiotian identity. [20] In spite of the anonymizing character and effect of Panhellenism, “Hesiod” retains something of a local, Boiotian character in contrast to the Ionian and more broadly international “Homer.” [21]

Yet, at the same time, as we have consistently assumed in this book, Hesiod’s poems share a Panhellenic outlook with Homer and are perhaps, therefore, best thought of not so much in competition with the Homeric poems as complementary to them and in competition instead with other Boiotian traditions such as the Herakles cycle or the tradition of the offspring of Minyas from Orkhomenos. [22] As several scholars have suggested, the process of Panhellenism was not an absolute, consistent phenomenon. Rather, it operated in part as a type of cultural discourse, a pressure to conform and fit in that motivated stories and storytelling traditions to coalesce more or less into similar forms communicating widely applicable and broadly interlocking content. In this regard, Panhellenism was, until the end of the Classical period at least, an ideology in motion, a complex and ever shifting negotiation of different interests and needs. [23] According to Jose González (2015:257–258), when Hesiod reveals that the Muses “know how to tell many lies similar to the truth / but also know how to utter true things when [they] want to” (ἴδμεν ψεύδεα πολλὰ λέγειν ἐτύμοισιν ὁμοῖα, / ἴδμεν δ’ εὖτ’ ἐθέλωμεν ἀληθέα γηρύσασθαι, Theogony 27–28), he is marking himself out as a truth-teller of epic (Panhellenic) universals in contrast to local (epichoric) traditions. In setting out this striking poetic conundrum within the opening frame of a poem that narrates the very origins of the (epic) cosmos, Hesiod makes the claim that this performance is seeking to create a common poetic inheritance, which may well (and arguably must) transgress or countermand stories that have come before.
The process of Panhellenization was not a simple one; there were likely many turns and (mis)steps in the reception, appropriation, and deployment of (universalizing) themes, ideas, and stories that are now lost to us. In the next two sections we offer a range of examples to think through some of the ways in which local traditions may have linked to regional communal tales before being incorporated within (or subsumed by) larger panhellenic narratives. The process that we sketch out, however, is not a blandly hierarchical one: we envision moves in multiple directions as Boiotian tales jockey for position in their regional narratives only to have the putative winner of these struggles downgraded in Homeric narrative. This is, ultimately, another way of looking at the rivalry between Troy and Thebes, as a lens through which to view how its many manifestations capitalized upon already existing competitive dynamics.
Hesiod is a good starting point for this investigation, precisely because, as recent scholarship has suggested, the poetic material assigned to Hesiod at times appears to consist of individual entries in the competition over local identities. Here, in particular, we are thinking of the Shield (Aspis) and the Catalogue of Women (Ehoiai), two fragmentary poems which, while radically different in theme, both belong to a Hesiodic tradition but lack the authority ascribed to the Works and Days and Theogony. Essentially what they lack is, precisely, a foundational, Panhellenic outlook. The differences that they display from each other may, nevertheless, be best explained by their prolonged and dynamic engagement among local traditions and with more Panhellenic versions. While Thebans may be Boiotian, all Boiotians are not Theban. [24] Moreover, although these poems could be said to be working in concert by giving both broad and specific views of Boiotian myths, they also have different relationships to Panhellenic myth that illustrate a degree of the complex interplay that poetic and epichoric identities enjoyed in the pre-classical period.
We discussed the Ehoiai earlier in the context of thinking about its position as somewhere between the Homeric heroic tradition of the Trojan War and the genealogical narratives associated with Hesiod’s cosmos construction, where the catalogue of suitors for Helen provides a genealogy of heroes of those who fought at Troy. [25] The important point to make is that the Ehoiai establishes a genealogy connecting the Boiotians with the heroic past, as represented by Homeric epic and the larger Panhellenic mythical storyworld relating to the Trojan War and the Achaean coalition. [26] A prominent aspect of this process is the development of an expansive genealogy for the daughters of Asopos, which relates the Boiotians to Aiakos and the genealogy of the eponymous Boiotos, a son of Hellen, who establishes kinship between the Boiotians and the rest of Greece. [27] In turn, in Chapter 2, we discussed the Shield in the context of its establishing of Herakles as a Homeric-sounding, but very Theban-looking, hero to rank alongside those who fought at Troy. The Shield’s presentation of an ultra-Theban Herakles may well be a response to the First Sacred War, one which positions Thebes as a protector of Delphi against external brigands, and the Theban hero as fighting the “first war to end war.” [28]
Crucially, the two fragmentary poems share a considerable number of lines with each other: the opening of the Shield (1–56) also appears in the Ehoiai (fr. 195.8–63), the section of the catalogue focusing on the biography of Alkmênê. “Most critics,” Richard Martin (2005:173) observes, “have automatically assumed that the Shield was composed by some poetaster, who copied or borrowed the Alkmênê biography in the Catalogue and clumsily pegged onto this the story of Herakles’ fight against Cyncus.” [29] Put in less pejorative terms, one could regard the Shield—the poem centered on Thebes and its hero, Herakles—as writing itself into a Pan-Boiotian tradition. [30] Martin himself provocatively suggests that the opposite was true: using an analogy with the shield ekphrasis in Homer, he argues that “the Aspis [Shield] was a part of the Catalogue just as much (and as separably) as Achilles’ shield was within the Iliad.” [31] For us the point is rather that the “clumsily” rendered appropriation—no matter which way one perceives it as taking place—leaves starkly exposed the kind of interformular and intertraditional interplay that tends to remain hidden or erased from view elsewhere. What is unusual in this case is that both appropriating texts, though fragmentary, remain paradoxically intact, enabling us to see this process in action and their working out, so to speak, of their rivalry.
The repeated verses tell the basic story of Zeus’ deception of Alkmênê. Before sleeping with his new bride, Amphitryon must depart in order to avenge the murder of Elektryon; while he’s away, Zeus comes to inform her of the tale of vengeance meted out, and sleeps with her himself (the details are humorously reworked in Plautus’ Amphitryo). The shared fragment terminates with the double-conception of Iphikles and Herakles. From there, the Ehoiai continues with its catalogue, while the Shield takes up the story of one of Herakles’ exploits, the killing of Kyknos, a son of Ares.
In (re)using the same verses as part of either a genealogical catalogue or the story of a heroic action, the Ehoiai and Shield also disclose a common strategy for engaging with what we know as the dominant epic tradition. In both, Alkmênê is marked out for her beauty: “she surpassed the race of womanly women in form and stature” (ἥ ῥα γυναικῶν φῦλον ἐκαίνυτο θηλυτεράων / εἴδεΐ τε μεγέθει τε, 3–4). If this description might suggest that other famous beauty of myth, Helen—particularly through the use of the generic description “race of women” (γυναικῶν φῦλον) and the doubling up of her (desirable) womanliness—then the rest of the line, which adds that “none could strive with her in intelligence” (νόον γε μὲν οὔ τις ἔριζε, 4), brings to mind Penelope. If so, eris (again) would be an indication of intertraditional rivalry and οὔ τις (“no one”) perhaps even a distant echo of Odysseus’ famous trick in Cyclops’ cave. In these terms, Alkmênê is immediately framed as a potential rival to, arguably, the two women most representative of the Trojan War sack and return. Moreover, she is clearly positioned as the Theban response to this other tradition. Her husband, Amphitryon, travels to Thebes as a suppliant (13), from which he leads a grand(ish) coalition of Boiotians, Lokrians, and Phocians against the Taphians and Telebaoians (24–26). Thus, while both the Shield and the fragment use the story of Zeus’ rape of Alkmênê to provide a genealogy for Herakles, the narratives also show an intense interest in Thebes and in establishing it as a principal location for heroic action. Thebes is not only the city at which a coalition of Boiotians and their allies gathers, but it also acts as a safe haven to which people come as suppliants—an arresting inversion of its status in Athenian tragedy where bad stuff happens, and where Athens supplants it as the suppliant city and home for alliances. In this way both narratives function as foundational texts for establishing the local importance of Thebes in the cultural imagination of the central Greek mainland.
At the same time, the two texts depart significantly from each other in their rivalry with Homer. Though the Ehoiai is clearly positioned as a bridge to the world of heroic epic (represented by the Iliad), in that it sets up the story and introduces the Achaean heroes of the Trojan War, in its catalogue form and genealogical interest it also owes much to the Theogonic ordering of the cosmos. And, where the Ehoiai provides a catalogue of genealogies structured around women, the Shield tells the stories of famous heroes—tribes who war against Herakles (161–167), the battle of the Lapiths and Centaurs (with Theseus at the center), the adventures of Perseus (216–234)—in a dramatic, mimetic form, like Homer. More particularly, it features Athena helping a son of Zeus against an opponent, two heroes flyting, Athena conspiring against Ares (as in Iliad 5), and, in its longest, climactic segment (148–319), which provides the name of the poem, the ekphrasis of the shield. The ekphrasis, moreover, implies a clear intertraditional relationship with the shield of Achilles, not only in presenting a city at war and at peace, as in the Iliad, but also in the details of festivities (272–285), agricultural activities (286–300), and athletic contests (301–314).
A final difference is worth considering in more detail. We have already mentioned that, where the Catalogue is interested in establishing genealogical relationships, the Shield dramatizes a series of (heroic-style) martial conflicts. Significantly, these depictions can be understood as reflecting geographical realities of armed conflict as refracted through the conflict between Kyknos and Herakles. Twice in the poem, the narrator pans out to place the conflict between Herakles and Kyknos in the context of the wider region. The cities listed on the first occasion are telling (379–383):

πᾶσα δὲ Μυρμιδόνων τε πόλις κλειτή τ’ Ἰαωλκὸς
Ἄρνη τ’ ἠδ’ Ἑλίκη Ἄνθειά τε ποιήεσσα
φωνῇ ὑπ’ ἀμφοτέρων μεγάλ’ ἴαχον· οἳ δ’ ἀλαλητῷ
θεσπεσίῳ σύνισαν· μέγα δ’ ἔκτυπε μητίετα Ζεύς,

The entire city of the Myrmidons and famous Iaôlkos,
Arnê, and Helikê, and grassy Antheia,
Rang with both of their voices. Then they rushed ahead
With divine roaring. And Zeus, the counselor, thundered greatly.

These cities each tell different stories about the relationship between the tale of the Shield and the cultural position of Thebes. Arnê, Helikê, and Antheia are Boiotian cities, the first of which is listed in the Iliad’s catalogue of ships; Iaôlkos and Phthia (the “entire city of the Myrmidons”) are cities in southern Thessaly. The connection of these cities with Thebes might seem fleeting, but it is likely evidence of a Panboiotian version of Panhellenism. Phthia was, of course, famous as the home of Achilles—the home that he imagines going back to in Iliad 9 and where he reflects that his father will live out his dying days alone (now that his son is condemned to die at Troy), surrounded by enemies, in Iliad 24. Two other fragments of the Ehoiai, however, provide more details about Phthia and specifically the reason behind its pairing here with Iaôlkos. These fragments (211 and 212b) depict Peleus coming to Phthia for his marriage to Thetis, “bringing many possessions from wide-wayed Iaôlkos” (πολλὰ] κ̣τήματ’ ἄγων ἐξ εὐρυχόρου Ἰαωλκοῦ, fr. 211.1; cf. fr. 212.9), whose city he has just sacked. Indeed, the “accomplishment of his charming marriage” is paired with his sack of Iaôlkos’ “well-founded city” (ὥς τε πό]λιν [ἀ]λάπαξεν ἐύκτιτον, ὥς τ’ ἐτέλεσσεν / ἱμερόεν]τ̣α̣ γ̣[ά]μον, fr. 211.4-5; cf. fr. 212.7). Both epithets recall Troy. [32] Moreover, if this association of marriage with the sack of a city encourages us to think of his (arguably more) famous city-sacking son, fragment 212 tantalizingly mentions the Skaian gates (again of Troy?) and something (the subject is unfortunately lost) “for men in the future to learn” ([ ]ε̣..θεν ἱ̣.[….].. Σκαιῆισι πύληισι [ / [ ]..ρω[…..κα]ὶ̣ ἐσσο̣μέ̣νοισι πυθ̣έ̣σθαι· [ , fr. 212.5-6). And, if we are thinking of Iaôlkos as some kind of substitute for Troy, it is all the more significant that the Shield pairs it with a Phthia that is conspicuously unnamed, but instead described periphrastically as the “entire city of the Myrmidons.” The poem’s hedging around Phthia’s name while recounting by name the other city of southern Thessaly reduces Achilles’ home city to a silent (or silenced) witness of Herakles’ actions, at the service of a Boiotian story.

The same cities reappear at the conclusion of the Shield (in a disputed fragment), which narrates the burial of the defeated Kyknos (472–476):

Κύκνον δ’ αὖ Κήυξ θάπτεν καὶ λαὸς ἀπείρων,
οἵ ῥ’ ἐγγὺς ναῖον πόλιος κλειτοῦ βασιλῆος,
[Ἄνθην Μυρμιδόνων τε πόλιν κλειτήν τ’ Ἰαωλκὸν
Ἄρνην τ’ ἠδ’ Ἑλίκην· πολλὸς δ’ ἠγείρετο λαός,]
τιμῶντες Κήυκα, φίλον μακάρεσσι θεοῖσιν.

Kyknos, Kêyx and his boundless host buried,
They who live near the city of the famous king,
[In Anthê and the city of the Myrmidons, and famous Iaôlkos
And Arnê and Helikê. A great host gathered,]
Honoring Kêyx, dear to the blessed gods.

As is clear from the detailed story in Ovid (Metamorphoses 11.410–749), the ancient testimonia attributing a Wedding of Kêyx to Hesiod (see Most 2007:278–283), and several other fragments from the Ehoiai, Kêyx, the son of the Dawn-star, was an important figure in southern Thessalian myth, who was integrated into the stories of Boiotia in part through his guest-friendship with Herakles. [33] His traditional geographical association with Trachis further cements a connection between Boiotia and Thessaly. His position in the poem as one who accepts suppliants is crucial to the Theban narrative as well: Trachis is where either Herakles or his children go for shelter after he must leave Thebes. [34] In making this story of Kêyx about his wealth and magnanimity (and not his arrogance or tragic marriage, as the Hesiodic fragments do), the Shield departs again from the tone and focus of the catalogue tradition.

In this section we have seen how taking two of the marginal narratives ascribed to Hesiod together, the Shield and the Ehoiai, and comparing their varied engagements with both epichoric and Panhellenic traditions, can be useful for thinking about the dynamic relationship between and symbiotic development of story traditions relating to Thebes and Troy. On the one hand, the local (Pan-Boiotian) and the communal (Panhellenic) elements are partners in the creation of a shared, corporate identity. On the other, as a secondary part of this process, local narratives continue to serve the needs and interests of their local audiences. They adapt communal narratives to epichoric contexts and weave their own traditions into the evolving Pan-traditions. It is not only impossible to resolve the question whether the first lines of the Shield were borrowed from the Ehoiai, or vice versa; posing such a question misses the point that the lines and the cultural frames, which gave each poem purchase, developed in concert and were then re-adapted to different needs. This illustrates well the type of eristic self-styling that we imagine characteristic of interactions between local and larger traditions in the archaic age. [35]
Though a culturally authoritative narrative form, early Greek hexameter epic was born out of a series of oppositions based on geographical (local vs. Panhellenic), temporal (past vs. present) and ethnic (e.g. Ionians vs. Dorians; “Greek” vs. non-Greek) considerations. Our contention is that the development of what in retrospect we regard as a Panhellenic standard was not a vertical, top-down or bottom-up, process, but an oblique and chaotic negotiation of cultural narratives working in multiple directions. Thebes, for example, was not the only city to try to wrest “Hesiod” from a larger Boiotian claim: Orkhomenos had its own hero, through whom we can see the integration of a localized Boiotian event within the larger cultural frame of Panhellenism.

Local Hero

So far in this chapter we have discussed different narrative strategies of poems attributed to Hesiod as they participate in the creation of larger affinitive identities. This process has been useful because it affords us the opportunity to consider how our sources can be used to shed light on the complex ways in which ancient poetic traditions responded to one another in both theme and form (building on our analysis in Chapter 3). The details of such a process serve to support our claim that the creation of Panhellenic narratives was neither simple nor monodirectional. Instead, it involved the negotiation of different geographic, genealogical, and ideological identities.
Understanding how this process works with our Theban heroes can give us some indication of how Panhellenic narratives used and reused Theban material. As we suggested in the previous section, the Herakles narrative moved away from genealogical catalogue, downplayed the importance of female characters (and characteristics), and used poetic strategies and devices familiar to us from the Homeric poems. Until now, however, we have largely ignored local, intra-Boiotian competition and the ways in which Panhellenic narratives (here, Homer) may have manipulated rival strains within local narratives in the forging of their own identity. In this section we return to the figure of Oedipus to find his family narrative further contested and complicated by the introduction of a third party, the hero Erginos.
Evocative of this intra-Boiotian rivalry and its potential impact on the process of Panhellenization is a fragment of Pherecydes:

Pherecydes says these things about the children of Oedipus and the women who married him: “Kreon,” he says, “gave the kingdom and Laios’ wife, his own mother Iokasta, to Oedipus, and from her were born Phrastôr and Laonytos, who died thanks to the Minyans and Erginos. Then a year had passed, Oedipus married Euryganeia, the daughter of Periphas, and from her were born Antigone and Ismene, the girl Tydeus took at the stream and the stream is called Ismene after her. The sons Eteokles and Polyneikos were also born to Oedipus from her. When Euryganeia died, Oedipus married Astymedousa, the daughter of Sthenelos.” And some people add that Euryganeia was the sister of Oedipus’ mother Iokasta. [36]

This fragment is revealing of differences among ancient traditions concerning what might be considered two of the key elements of the myth of Oedipus—his family and his death. [37] In a twist on the marriage theme, Oedipus enjoys no fewer than three wives. His third wife, “some people add,” turns out to be the sister of Oedipus’ mother (and therefore his aunt); he is a hero who seems peculiarly defined by his conjugal relations, especially incestuous relationships. It is the deaths of the first set of sons, however, that catch the eye. There is no mention here of the infamous pairing of Polyneikes and Eteocles; instead, Phrastôr and Laonytos are the doomed pair. Moreover, while their demise is appropriate for the theme of internecine strife that we have seen dominate Thebes, their deaths are ascribed to two new figures in the tradition, the Minyans and the hero Erginos.

Further details of these figures are provided by later mythographers like Apollodorus (II 68–71) and Pausanias (IX 37). According to these accounts, Minyas was a legendary founder of Orkhomenos, which was an important city in the early Greek world, and where he may have enjoyed his own local epic tradition. [38] As for Erginos: another local hero, he attacks Thebes after his father Klymenos is killed there while celebrating a festival to Poseidon; after sacking the city, he imposes a yearly indemnity of one hundred oxen. [39] On the basis of this evidence, the story related in Pherecydes would seem to suggest an inter-city, intra-Boiotian rivalry—a local, Orkhomenos-centered, narrative applying motifs, familiar from other cities’ myths, to assert its preeminence over its rival Thebes. [40] Such a tale may indeed reflect a cultural memory of a period when Orkhomenos was a pre-eminent city, while also engaging with the mythical tradition of Theban hubris. [41] The archaeological record shows that during the Mycenaean period, Boiotia was dominated by Orkhomenos in the north and Thebes in the south. Orkhomenos’ economic power is clear from the massive engineering works that went into draining Lake Kopais. In post-Mycenaean myth Theban myth, the breaking of these works—and thus the breaking of Orkhomenian power—is credited to Herakles, who went to avenge the city of his birth against the Minyans. [42]
In the regional engagement between Thebes and Orkhomenos, then, we can identify generational layers of myths reflecting possible historical memories. In response to the disastrous events at the funeral games and the indemnity imposed on Thebes by Orkhomenos, mythical events speak to local, Boiotian, and Panhellenic layers of the story’s reception. In many accounts, after the indemnity is imposed, the Panhellenic hero par excellence steps in. When Herakles discovers that Thebes has been sacked by its neighbors, he attacks Orkhomenos. At this point, Pausanias (IX 37) has Erginos make peace with Herakles; other authors, however, take a different line. Eustathius (Commentary on Homer’s Iliad II 417) records that Herakles kills Erginos. Apollodorus (II 67) agrees, but not before he has Herakles cut off the ears and noses of the heralds of Orkhomenos when they come to collect the tribute. Diodorus Siculus adds the detail that Creon awards his daughter Megara to Herakles in gratitude for his service to the city (IV 40). It is only after the death of this wife that Herakles’ labors truly begin.
Although many of these sources derive from later authors and summaries, they reveal an array of different responses to an early local tale—the dominance of Orkhomenos over Thebes—and various attempts to link that local narrative into a more inter-regional story. The tale at home in Orkhomenos, which depicts the Minyans as holding sway in Thebes through the defeat of Oedipus by Erginos, enters into a Pan-Boiotian dialogue about the eminence of the region’s chief cities. The return of the Panhellenic Herakles redresses the balance to reflect both historical and mythical realities from a larger Hellenic perspective: Thebes was more important than Orkhomenos in the Archaic and Classical periods and its prominence in later myth reflects this. Thus, we get a sense of how mythical rivalry might have played out: one local tradition projects its superiority over another through a narrative of its hero (here, Orkhomenos’ Erginos over the Theban Oedipus), before this relationship in turn is re-contested through the introduction of a Theban Herakles, which re-connects the heroic action to a Panhellenic storyworld.
This brief discussion shows the importance of recognizing that the interpenetration of local and communal myths happened over time and in multiple directions. When one story tradition was integrated into another, its salient features were not entirely lost. Indeed, one element that facilitates the process of Panhellenization is the fact that the local narratives are in part retained by the whole.
The description we have offered so far, even if it can appear somewhat bewildering, still oversimplifies the process. Homer’s Trojan narrative was not the only Panhellenic narrative machine in archaic Greece. The deeds of Erginos were not only integrated into Herakles narratives, but they also form part of Argonautic myth. Erginos remains well enough known in the fifth century for Pindar to refer to him allusively as “child of Klymenos” (Κλυμένοιο παῖδα, Olympian 4.19) in a paradeigma in which the hero’s (Achillean?) speed of foot rescues him “from the dishonor [ἐξ ἀτιμίας] of the Lemnian women” (20). Even as he hints at Erginos’ epic career (and in particular his association with the Argonautic myth), [43] Pindar casts doubt on, if not the veracity then the persuasiveness of, his account by insisting that he “will not lie” (οὐ ψεύδεϊ τέγξω / λόγον). Throughout the extant accounts, Erginos is integrated into a wider Panhellenic tradition through genealogy, [44] which—in the same way as “collective memories of historical events”—were vital to the continued maintenance and continual (re)negotiation of social status, kinship relations, and the collective identity of local communities. [45]
These intertwined Panhellenic narratives, drawing on traditions like those of the Hesiodic Ehoiai or the Argonaut myth, integrate and subsume the Minyans by having the daughters of Minyas marry descendents of Aiolos. Their ethnonym is associated with the Argonauts through settlement in Iolcus, [46] genealogical association with Athamas (a founder, according to Pausanias IX 34.7) and Aiolos, and shared geographical association with Thessaly and Thrace (the scholia on Olympian 14.5a3 and Pythian 4.122). In addition, they also reveal relationships with Ionian city-states, in all likelihood influenced by colonization during the early archaic period. Although he writes that the Minyans settled in Teôs (a city between Miletus to the south and Phokaia to the north), Pausanias adds that they joined the Athenian expedition against Persia because they were related to Codrus; in turn, Codrus’ son Neileus took his contingent to Miletus. [47]
The continued importance of Erginos in the Panhellenic tradition is expressed through genealogy. His children Agamêdês and Trophonios appear in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo to lay the first stone for his temple (296–297). [48] What is particularly striking is the fact that of all the heroic families, these sons of Erginos are the only mortals mentioned on Apollo’s tour of Boeotia. Fragment 70 (18–40) of the Ehoiai similarly presents a genealogical tour through Boiotian geography, where Orkhomenos appears to occupy a special place, although the fragmentary nature of this testimony makes it difficult to assert anything with confidence.
This last passage brings us back to Hesiod, the Ehoiai, and the dynamic relationship among local and communalizing traditions. As we discussed in the previous section, it seems clear that the remains of poems attributed to Hesiod attest to competition and cooperation in the formation of poetic and mythical identities within Boeotia. The story of Orkhomenos and Thebes has illustrated some of the ways in which such narrative traditions might clash and then reconcile. The Homeric Hymn and the Hesiodic fragment, however, reveal that this was not a clean and simple process: despite losing to Thebes and Herakles in the Panhellenic traditions, through his local traditions Erginos lives on long enough to be integrated into other genealogical and ritual traditions.
Both this process and its players—here the family of Erginos and his city—have implications for the relationship between Troy and Thebes as well. The Homeric epics enter into this Boiotian fray and offer yet another viewpoint on the local traditions. As many critics have remarked, the Boiotian contingents in the Catalogue of Ships (2.494–516) are noteworthy for their position at the head of the catalogue, the number of named locations, and the wealth and power indicated by the size of their armies. Less frequently discussed is Homer’s description of the leaders of the contingent from Orkhomenos, which identifies the pair Askalaphos and Ialmenos as Erginos’ descendents (Iliad 2.511–512). It is this passage to which we turn now.

Homer’s Boiotian Catalogue

Who doesn’t know the well-built city
Of dark-haired Thebe?

Bacchylides 9.53–54 [49]

Local rivalries between a larger Boiotian identity and the city of Thebes, such as we have just seen played out both in Hesiod and in the mythical tradition of Erginos the hero of Orkhomenos, were likely constantly at play in the development of Panhellenic culture. [50] When it comes to understanding the development of the Iliad and the Odyssey, we can safely assume that part of the process of achieving their Panhellenic imprimatur depended upon their ability to respond to local traditions and integrate them into a cohesive whole that retained its appeal across diverse audiences. Engagement with—and often resistance to—Panhellenic narratives, which were sensed to eclipse or undermine local traditions, was an essential part of poetic rivalries in the late archaic age, especially in generic struggles between lyric and epic. [51] While we have received only the products of these competitions, and few examples at that, we can nevertheless observe some of the processes at work in the ways in which Boiotian elements are embedded within Homer.

One place where the presence of Boeotia is keenly felt is in the Iliad’s Catalogue of Ships, where its contingent is the first mentioned. It is commonly pointed out that the priority, size, and wealth of the Boiotian contingents in the Catalogue seem out of place with the actual contributions of their members in the epic itself. [52] One reason that might be offered to explain the apparent anomaly relates to our theme in Chapter 3—the formal association of Boiotia with catalogue poetry through the epics of Hesiod. Homer’s Boiotian catalogue, however, repays closer attention, since its use of genealogy and toponyms reveals a metapoetic awareness of rival traditions.
Homer’s account of the Boiotian contingent runs to some 17 lines (2.494–510):

Βοιωτῶν μὲν Πηνέλεως καὶ Λήϊτος ἦρχον
Ἀρκεσίλαός τε Προθοήνωρ τε Κλονίος τε,
οἵ θʼ Ὑρίην ἐνέμοντο καὶ Αὐλίδα πετρήεσσαν
Σχοῖνόν τε Σκῶλόν τε πολύκνημόν τʼ Ἐτεωνόν,
Θέσπειαν Γραῖάν τε καὶ εὐρύχορον Μυκαλησσόν,
οἵ τʼ ἀμφʼ Ἅρμʼ ἐνέμοντο καὶ Εἰλέσιον καὶ Ἐρυθράς,
οἵ τʼ Ἐλεῶνʼ εἶχον ἠδʼ Ὕλην καὶ Πετεῶνα,
Ὠκαλέην Μεδεῶνά τʼ ἐϋκτίμενον πτολίεθρον,
Κώπας Εὔτρησίν τε πολυτρήρωνά τε Θίσβην,
οἵ τε Κορώνειαν καὶ ποιήενθʼ Ἁλίαρτον,
οἵ τε Πλάταιαν ἔχον ἠδʼ οἳ Γλισᾶντʼ ἐνέμοντο,
οἵ θʼ Ὑποθήβας εἶχον ἐϋκτίμενον πτολίεθρον,
Ὀγχηστόν θʼ ἱερὸν Ποσιδήϊον ἀγλαὸν ἄλσος,
οἵ τε πολυστάφυλον Ἄρνην ἔχον, οἵ τε Μίδειαν
Νῖσάν τε ζαθέην Ἀνθηδόνα τʼ ἐσχατόωσαν·
τῶν μὲν πεντήκοντα νέες κίον, ἐν δὲ ἑκάστῃ
κοῦροι Βοιωτῶν ἑκατὸν καὶ εἴκοσι βαῖνον.

Pêneleôs and Lêitos were leaders of the Boiotians
As well as Arkesilaos, Prothoênôr, and Klonios
And those who inhabit Hyriê and rocky Aulis,
Skoinos, Skôlos, and many-ridged Eteônos,
Thespeia, Greia, and wide-wayed Mykalêssos,
And those who dwell around Harma and Eilesion and Erythrai,
And those who hold Eleôn, Hylê, and Peteôn,
Ôkale, Medeôn, the well-built city,
Kôpai, Eutrêsis, and Thisbê with its many pigeons,
The people who live in Korôneia, and grassy Haliartos,
Along with those who holdlove Plataia, and inhabit Glisas,
And the people who keep Hypothebai, the well-built city
And holy Onkhêstos, the sacred grove of Poseidon,
And those who keep Arnê of many-grapes, and Mideia,
Holy Nisa, and Anthêdon, which is way out there.
Of these fifty ships came and in each came
One hundred and twenty Boiotian youths.

There are two striking absences in this catalogue, and they give further weight to the argument of this book. The first is notably Thebes itself. The absence of the city from the Boiotian catalogue is conspicuous, and not only because it is so pointedly hinted at in the toponym Hypothebai (“lower” Thebes). If plotted on a map, the places mentioned here form a circle emanating from a single, missing, focal point—Thebes. [53] It is as if the Iliad cannot bring itself to mention the other city, which for the purposes of this epic has been replaced by the Thebes on the Troad. Indeed, from the perspective of the Iliad, Thebes does not exist because it has already been sacked—destroyed, moreover, by members of this very expedition. In this way the Homeric Catalogue of ships, when it omits a Theban contingent, communicates a broader Panhellenic perspective by establishing a continuity with Hesiod’s sequential pairing of the destruction of Thebes and Troy.

Equally conspicuous by its absence is the most famous river in Boiotia, the Asopos. [54] This in spite of the fact that the Iliad shows some knowledge of the association between the river Asopos and the city Thebes, mentioning it twice in relating the tale of Tydeus’ exploits. [55] The Odyssey confirms a Homeric grasp of the genealogy by making Antiope, the mother of Amphion and Zethus, the daughter of Asopos. [56] Furthermore, the other daughters of Asopos appear as the toponyms of Aigina (2.562) Salamis (2.557) and Kleone and Orneia (2.570–571), all listed as part of Agamemnon’s contingent. Also missing is the eponymous hero Boiotos. [57] While occupying first place in the catalogue seems impressive, then, the narrative is critically disconnected from certain key features of Boiotian tradition. Boeotia’s major city, river, and hero are all missing, suggesting that its local traditions have been first de-constructed before being (re)incorporated into the master narrative.
In this context it is worth pondering the contingent who follow directly after the Boiotian catalogue (2.511–515):

Οἳ δ’ Ἀσπληδόνα ναῖον ἰδ’ Ὀρχομενὸν Μινύειον,
τῶν ἦρχ’ Ἀσκάλαφος καὶ Ἰάλμενος υἷες Ἄρηος
οὓς τέκεν Ἀστυόχη δόμῳ Ἄκτορος Ἀζεΐδαο,
παρθένος αἰδοίη ὑπερώϊον εἰσαναβᾶσα
Ἄρηϊ κρατερῷ· ὃ δέ οἱ παρελέξατο λάθρῃ.

The men who inhabited Asplêdon and Minyan Orkhomenos
Askalaphos and Ialmenos the sons of Ares led.
Their mother, the reverent maiden Astyokhê, bore them in the home
Of Aktôr the son of Azeus, after ascending to the bed chamber
With powerful Ares—but he laid next to her in secret.

Rather than leaving Boeotia unrepresented, the Catalogue draws on extant local traditions by giving Orkhomenos prominence, singling it out from the other Boiotian communities, with no mention of the overlapping tales of conquest fought between Thebes and Orkhomenos. Moreover, her leaders are given a divine parentage with their own miniature heroic narrative. Missing, however, is the figure of Erginos, who appears to have been written out of the picture: in his place are the twin sons of Ares, Askalaphos and Ialmenos. In turn, their double parentage recalls the tradition of Herakles, though, in this case, not one but two sons are produced when a god lies in secret with a reverent maiden. Yet in the Iliad Ares is hardly the ideal father to have. And the deeds of these sons of Ares—just like those all of the other Theban captains—do not add up to much in the epic that follows. [58] The entire heroic tradition of Minyas is reduced to a simple epithet: Μινύειον. We are left with a dissonance between the emphasis placed on the numbers and genealogy of the Boiotians in the Catalogue and their actual presence in and impact on the rest of the poem.

In selecting from available narrative traditions in the effort to create a different type of non-local identity, Homer engages with local traditions in Boeotia and integrates their genealogies and heroic narratives into his tale. In part, this strategy may suggest the importance of collective identity over and against the exceptionality of their leaders. [59] It may also be true that Homer’s Catalogue presents a realistic world with plausible reasons for not featuring a strong Theban contingent. Whatever the case, the Iliad acknowledges the impressive power of Boeotia only to minimize it by staying relatively mute on its heroic pasts or achievements in the narrative, while simultaneously redeploying it to overshadow Thebes. [60] In offering the Trojan War as the end of the race of heroes, the Homeric epics work in concert with Hesiodic traditions to subsume and consume local Boiotian narratives in order to make them serve the poem-in-performance, the story of Troy.

Burying the Seven and Heroic Remains

And they add that [Ariadne] was left by Theseus because he loved another. “A terrible love for Aiglê, the daughter of Panopeus, plagued him” (fr. 105). For Hereas the Megarian says that Peisistratus deleted this line from Hesiod just as he inserted the following into Homer’s Nekyia: “Theseus and Peirithoos, the outstanding children of the gods.”
Plutarch Life of Theseus 20 [61]

Appropriating the Panhellenic traditions, which both Homeric and Hesiodic epic represented, by connecting them to local genealogies or attempting to rival their accounts, was a signal way for emerging poleis to establish their own prestige. [62] In his Life of Solon, for example, Plutarch famously provides an account of a debate over the use of Homer in a contemporary political dispute (10.2–3). [63] The verses in question relate to the presence of Ajax in the Catalogue of Ships, with the accusation being that Solon interpolated the line, “He brought and stationed his ships where the Athenians’ battle-lines were” (στῆσε δ’ ἄγων ἵν’ Ἀθηναίων ἵσταντο φάλαγγες, Iliad 2.558), following the mention of Ajax’s Salaminian contingent. By making this alleged interpolation, Solon was thought to be strengthening the Athenian claim to the island of Salamis, an action that Plutarch describes as “contesting the reputation of Homer” (συναγωνίσασθαι λέγουσι τὴν Ὁμήρου δόξαν). According to Strabo, the Megarians responded with their own lines from the catalogue, reflecting a tradition in which Ajax led an array of Megarian toponyms. [64] It is this type of competitive engagement that features in the passage cited above from Plutarch’s Theseus where Peisistratus is accused by Megarian historians of altering the texts of both Hesiod and Homer to control the perception of the local hero Theseus. [65] The Panhellenic authority of Homer and Hesiod did not stop such wrangling over the past; rather, they were a continual stimulus to local traditions to adopt and adapt the cultural koine. [66]

One attractive explanation for the popularity of the Homeric poems, and in particular the acceleration and reification of their Panhellenic identity, is their larger, more synoptic perspective on a world that was much more than simply Boiotian or Athenian, or indeed merely Greek. Again, without anything but the fragmentary remains of a Theban tradition, we cannot tell for certain how its epics represented the siege of the city; there does seem to have been an attempt to portray coalitions of heroes and cities that might well have appealed to audiences on the ground. [67] Nor perhaps was there anything so new about the global world in which the emerging Greek poleis found themselves at the end of the archaic age, other than in its representation. [68] Nevertheless, evidence from the Homeric poems does reveal how well equipped they were to (continue to) speak to as broad an audience as possible.
Most notable is the Iliad’s depiction of the Achaeans’ political situation, which appears to have no historical precedent. [69] Agamemnon is in charge overall, as the brother of the injured party, Menelaos; but he does not (and cannot, it seems) enjoy unquestioned authority over his peers, notably Achilles. Instead, Achaean society appears to operate on a “first among equals” principle, whereby the leaders of the many contingents of the coalition vie for honor and glory from their peers. From the beginning of the epic to the point when Achilles finally enters the fray, the public assembly has been the venue for the strife. It is not only that Homer depicts elite heroes (Achilles and Agamemnon) at odds with each other; he also shows an intense interest in the situation of the people who depend on their leaders for salvation (as epic narrative puts it). Accordingly, the quarrel plot, which extends through and motivates much of the Iliad’s action, provides a frame for considering questions of a political nature (who should be prominent, when, where, how, and why), the consequences of failing to resolve internal conflicts, and the strengths and weaknesses of man-made solutions, such as ad hoc compromises or even institutional innovation. Its characters are not uncivilized heroes who do what they want, who go on quests, and who reap the benefit of their individual labors. Instead, we find men who can only profit by working together in coalitions and who suffer more if they cannot organize their co-operation effectively. In part, the epic provides what we might consider an explanatory myth for the origin of human political conventions within a dramatization of why they are so crucially needed. In the wake of the death of the race of heroes, the Iliad traces out the need for and development of institutions.
From this perspective, Achilles’ act of establishing an assembly in the first episode of the epic poses general questions important for any community. The drama of the Iliad resides not so much in an aristocratic argument over relative honor as in its fallout, in the continuing negotiations and renegotiations as men try to resolve and/or manage the consequences of conflict. It is in the aftermath of the strife introduced in its opening movement that the poem unfolds the business of governing. [70] By posing serious challenges to the rule of one man, exposing flaws in the intense rivalry between competing heroes, and showing the predicament of the group at large, the Iliad responds to, engages in, and may even have helped shape contemporary political concerns. In fact, it is precisely by projecting these concerns onto a previous age that Homer encourages his audience(s) to explore and make sense of their own experiences of strife through the conflicts of prior mythical figures. Most importantly, by posing difficult questions and providing no easy answers, the Iliad fosters political conversation, facilitating as many responses as there were different cities in the Greek world. Rather than attempting to portray the realistic workings of an assembly or, more generally, the real-life political situation in the Greek world of the time, the Iliad provides audiences with a past that they can recognize as transitional to their present, whether conservative oligarchs or radical democrats.
This same engagement with, and departure from, the real-world experiences of the audience can be seen in the Odyssey’s adventurous geographical scope. By having Odysseus chart out the known places of the real world, as the hero returns home to Ithaca from Troy, gathering stories from places like Crete, Egypt, and Sidon, the Odyssey belongs to a series of stories (including the labors of Herakles and the voyage of Jason and the Argonauts) that reflect an expanding Greek awareness from the eighth century BCE onwards of geography, place, and civilization. For this was an age of discovery, as Greeks took to the sea to settle in far-off places or to trade wares much as Odysseus trades stories, rendering the Mediterranean Sea the ancient equivalent of the world wide web. And, in his own account of his adventures, we can see Odysseus giving voice to these pioneering concerns, when he reflects upon the favorable harbor and uncultivated land of the Cyclopes’ island (Odyssey 9.132–139). Here Odysseus comes across as possessing the same kind of inquisitive spirit that propelled Greeks on through the Mediterranean and beyond, with an eye always on the possibilities of settlement, cultivation, and profit. Paradoxically, however, Odysseus’ description acts as a prelude to a series of adventures (in Odyssey 9–12) that become ever more fantastical (starring one-eyed monsters, a witch who turns men into pigs, ghosts of heroes past, etc.). The Odyssey hardly aims at a realistic depiction of voyaging. But, by portraying a world beyond what was known and recognizable, Odysseus can act as a model for all adventurers. Even as the map of the Greek world gets ever larger and ever more detailed, the ambiguous locations of Odysseus’ wanderings allow them to continue to speak to those charting new ground or waters.
Homer’s epics transform tales about a war and a return into foundational narratives that can speak to the concerns of all Greek communities regardless of their specific political constitutions and allegiances, and regardless of where they were to be found in the Greek-speaking world. They are of course helped by the subject matter of a great international war. But the precise details—the Iliad’s focus on strife within political institutions, the Odyssey’s intense interest in correct behavior in civil society—enable these Trojan War narratives to remain contemporary in what might otherwise seem to be the rapidly changing historical conditions of the sixth through fourth centuries BCE. [71] In the context of the rise of Greek-bloc coalitions—Athenian hegemony with claims to and relations with entities among the Aegean islands, in Thessaly, Chalcidice and the Ionian states; Spartan hegemony in the Peloponnese and close connections to Sicily—we can imagine that the allure of this shared past was stronger than similar but localized coalition narratives like the tale of raiding in Jason and the Argonauts, the adventure of the Calydonian Boar Hunt, or the Boiotian traditions of the Seven Against Thebes and the Epigonoi. [72]
Against the conservative idea of epic as being traditional, foundational, there is a strong refrain praising the song that remains current. Telemachus announces that the most recent song is always on men’s lips in the Odyssey, while in the Iliad Sthenelos brazenly suggests that they are better than their fathers. Even as they use a rhetoric of traditionality, [73] both Homeric poems address a fast-changing contemporary world, where their audiences were engaged in the same process of adding to and improving on what came before. [74] No matter how Panhellenism is to be conceived—as emerging from the construction of the barbarian in the period of the Persian Wars, [75] or in the long interplay of local communities in unified and unifying expressions of shared identity in religious contexts such as games and oracular consultations [76] —the two Homeric poems communicate a process of moving among local and shared identities, of a multiplicity within a shifting unity. [77] The Iliad dramatizes the struggle of integrating the one into the many; the Odyssey of the many returning home to become “local” again. What we think likely is that epic poetry—along with certain cult sites and beliefs—possessed a certain level of prestige in the early archaic age that had the effect of creating a sort of aspirational ground of contest. In this process, local narratives joined local dialects in a de-centered community that, through their interaction, not only represented but played an active role in realizing a pluralistic commonwealth whose shared characteristics over time became more familiar and more fixed. This more amorphous, competitive Panhellenism then rigidified under the influence of world events beginning with the struggles between the Ionian Greek city states and Persia and metastasizing during and after the Persian invasions. [78] The internationalization of Homer’s epics didn’t stop with their institutionalization in Athens or their textualization in Alexandria. If anything, once written down they were able to perform even better as international foundational texts, where the “plan of Zeus” could be more directly linked to other disaster narratives more familiar from Near Eastern and Biblical traditions. [79]
How Theban epics continued to engage with contemporary events or presented themselves as foundational is something that we cannot know. But we can see how any attempt to appeal to an audience beyond Thebes must have been severely curtailed by two factors. First, the Persian Wars had the effect of leaving Thebes outside the coalition of Greek states. Arguably this may not have been decisive—Macedon was able to reinvent itself as a supporter of Hellenic ideals, and Thucydides presents the Thebans as blaming their medization on their previous form of government—had it not been for the growing power of Athens, a city which had been fighting with Thebes (in ideological rivalry as much as in war) for a generation before the invasion. [80] Following the Theban capitulation to Persia, not only did the Athenians continually depict the Thebans as medizers who betrayed the Greeks, and who betrayed Panhellenic identity, right up to the destruction of the city by Alexander in 335 BCE; [81] Athenian rhetoric and official commemoration seems to have elided the victory over Persia with a victory over Thebes. [82]
Second, and relatedly, the period of the Persian Wars also witnessed the development and flourishing of a new, post-epic genre: tragedy. Athenian soft power has arguably proven more influential than her fifth-century military might. Thebes in tragedy is not only represented as the city always being besieged (in contrast to Troy as the city always in the process of being sacked); it is critically an anti-Athens. This tragic reinvention, and distortion, of Thebes in the popular imagination seems to have occurred early in this genre’s emergence (perhaps in generic contest with Pindar). For example, prior to the performance of Aeschylus’ now lost Eleusinians there is no literary or even cult record of Athenian involvement in the expedition against Thebes or for the burial of the dead. [83] The burial monuments that existed near Eleusis were likely re-purposed as the graves of the Seven around the end of the sixth century BCE. [84] Nor was this process localized at Eleusis: the Attic border-town of Eleutherai similarly displayed tombs in the fifth century that were dedicated to the common soldiers of the Seven. Critical to this mythologizing was the material assistance the Athenians gave to the Plataeans, which played an important role in shaping their self-image of protecting “the rights of suppliants” against hubristic Greek powers like Thebes (Steinbock 2013: 54). [85] In this way, the narrative that Oedipus and his sons symbolized everything that was wrong with Thebes took center stage in Athenian drama, [86] and continues even (or especially) as the Athenians make Oedipus theirs by cleansing him at Colonus. [87]
As a thought experiment within this framework, consider the relationship between the cities of Thebes and Troy through the lens of epic intertraditionality and interformularity. There is, apart from the genealogies and chronologies imposed later, no prima facie reason for Thebes to be destroyed before Troy. Indeed, it could be argued that Herakles’ destruction of Troy was an attempt to subordinate the Ionian tradition to the local Theban one, as if making Troy, the first city to be sacked, to play second fiddle to the later—and thus more important—sack of Thebes. If we then imagine Theban and Trojan narratives on roughly equal footing in the early archaic period, what emerges is a pattern of cultural and political forces that gradually combine to attenuate the popularity of one while strengthening the other. For Theban epic, competition with Orkhomenos, coupled with notions of Pan-Boiotian identity, created rivalries within its narratives across Boiotia and central Greece. (And, though we have less evidence, Achaean, Argive, and Laconian traditions must have faced similar challenges.) For Trojan epic, as interest in the wider world continued to grow in the light of trade and conflict, rivalries were created outside its narratives. Since local traditions were not controlled by central authorities, there was nothing stopping pluralistic responses to new narratives with larger perspectives: Greek communities all throughout the Mediterranean were “writing” themselves and their traditions into the Trojan War, just as they were also engaging with broader narratives about Herakles, the Argonauts, and the multiple wars around Thebes. [88] The growing contact with and influence of Persia, coupled by the outbreak of hostilities with this overseas power, only served to increase the prestige and gravity of the Trojan War tradition and—along with the economic and political power concentrated in cities opposed to Thebes (e.g. Athens)—helped to valorize and centralize these epics as opposed to those associated with Thebes. The Iliad and Odyssey emerged as “better to think with,” just at the time when a new technology (writing) was being adopted, which would be able to preserve oral performance for posterity.
The city of Thebes and its story-traditions suffered for multiple reasons. One is that it was already subject to rivalry within its own region. Another is that the scope of its narrative as a coalition tale and as a vehicle for the concerns of a broader Greek world was limited by its geography. The tale of Troy, by virtue of its geographical range, was simply more responsive to a broader vision of the world that included non-Greeks and distant lands while also allowing more flexibility in adding communities from around the Greek world and in altering the importance of different regions (e.g. Achaea) over time. In the light of historical developments and traumatic events, not only did other cities rise to political and economic power and incorporate themselves into Panhellenic traditions; there was also an incentive for other Greeks to downplay the prominence of Thebes. [89]
Homer does not become exclusively a Trojan War poet until the fourth century BCE. Indeed, an author as late as Pausanias still believed him to be the poet of the Thebais. The treatment of Theban myth is thus partly about origins, if we accept the Ionian character of the Iliad and the Odyssey. Yet it is also about the aesthetics of Homeric poetry, the chance opportunities of narrative rivalry operating on different levels of locality, and the influence of selection and preference exercised by historical events and successive constructions of self-identity throughout the Greek-speaking world.


[ back ] 1. ἀλλὰ σὺ αὖ, ἔφη, λέγε, ὦ Νικήρατε, ἐπὶ ποίᾳ ἐπιστήμῃ μέγα φρονεῖς. καὶ ὃς εἶπεν· Ὁ πατὴρ ὁ ἐπιμελούμενος ὅπως ἀνὴρ ἀγαθὸς γενοίμην ἠνάγκασέ με πάντα τὰ Ὁμήρου ἔπη μαθεῖν· καὶ νῦν δυναίμην ἂν Ἰλιάδα ὅλην καὶ Ὀδύσσειαν ἀπὸ στόματος εἰπεῖν.
[ back ] 2. Plutarch Life of Lykourgos 4.4.
[ back ] 3. On overlap in accomplishments attributed to Peisistratus and Solon, see Higbie 1997:282.
[ back ] 4. See Graziosi 2002.
[ back ] 5. For Panhellenism, see our discussion in the Introduction, “Rivalry and Panhellenism.” For a classic statement of Greekness, see Herodotus VIII 144.2, where the Athenians point to the common blood, language, gods, and customs of the Greek world. The rhetorical nature of this speech should not, however, be overlooked: Barker 2009:196–198.
[ back ] 6. “It has become an established tenet of Homeric criticism that the Iliad and the Odyssey are to be understood as Panhellenic in scope,” Elmer 2013:205. On the relationship between Homer and Panhellenism, see Nagy 1990:52–81, and for the exploration of the Panhellenizing tendencies of Homeric epic and the local orientation of hero cult Nagy 1999 [1979]; cf. Scodel 2002:45–46.
[ back ] 7. On the basis of the Homeric epics’ notional Panhellenism, Nagy 2004 offers a model whereby our Iliad evolves in form over time until finally being fixed by the editorial practices of the Hellenistic age; cf. Nagy 1996a:62–112. Contrast West 2001:3–4, who places the textualization of the Iliad in the Troad as far back as the eighth century BCE. Gentili 1988:4–19 opts for a much later date (fifth century BCE) on the basis of classical topoi regarding the Homeric epics (such as the Peisistratid recension and the fluidity of the texts in the Alexandrian era). For the dictation of the poems under the Peisistratids in 522 BCE, see Jensen 2011 passim. Cf. Reece 2005, whose overview of the debate regarding textualization (39–53) is the basis for an argument in favor of the dictation model (54–88).
[ back ] 8. As is, for example, using aesthetic considerations based largely on judging the quality of fragments: Griffin 1977. Similarly Nagy 2015:63 argues that Homer is Panionic and proto-Panhellenic, as opposed to the Cyclic poems which are more localized.
[ back ] 9. Primarily this is because we want to avoid the impression that the Homeric poems cannot (or should not) be studied as coherent and organic wholes. Therefore, we draw a distinction between a long tradition of, say, Iliadic tales (songs about Troy and even Achilles) that developed over time and our Iliad (this particular song about Achilles that we have) that was created out of it.
[ back ] 10. See, for example, Larson 2007; Barker and Christensen 2008; Ebbott 2010; the essays collected in Tsagalis ed. 2014; and Berman 2015.
[ back ] 11. “This is a non-Homeric, non-Troy-centric perspective that shows the primacy of Thebes as a legendary city under siege, previous to Troy,” Berman 2015:30–31. Earlier, he asserts, “In the Hesiodic poems, Thebes has a presence equal to, or perhaps more prominent than, that of Troy” (29).
[ back ] 12. See Chapter 4 above, “The Eris Revolution.” In addition to Fenik 1974:142–207 and Kakridis 1949:43–49, see e.g. Scodel 1984:55–58; Kelly 2007; Sammons 2014:302, 310; and Tsagalis 2014:357 for a fuller bibliography.
[ back ] 13. In fact not the entire race of heroes is wiped out at Thebes and Troy: “dread war” destroys only “some of them” (τοὺς μέν); Zeus has settled “the others” in the blessed isles (τοῖς δέ, 167).
[ back ] 14. The balance is disrupted by a contrast between the clear identification of Helen as the cause of the Trojan War and the rather oblique phrase “around the flocks of Oedipus” with which the war at Thebes is described: which war around Thebes sent the heroes to their doom? On this lack of clarity and earlier interpretations, see Cingano 1992, who concludes nevertheless that these lines refer to the later, more monumental battles.
[ back ] 15. Cf. Finkelberg 2012:142: the Homeric epics were “intended to supersede the other traditional epics from the very beginning.”
[ back ] 16. [χρὴ] δ’ ἀληθείας χάριν
αἰνεῖν, φθόνον ἀμφ[οτέραι-]
[σιν] χερσὶν ἀπωσάμενον,
εἴ τις εὖ πράσσοι βροτῶ[ν.]
Βοιωτὸς ἀνὴρ τᾶδε φών[ησεν, γλυκειᾶν]
Ἡσίοδος πρόπολος
Μουσᾶν, ὃν <ἂν> ἀθάνατοι τι[μῶσι, τούτῳ]
καὶ βροτῶν φήμαν ἕπ[εσθαι.]
[ back ] 17. According to Nagy 1990:66, “myths that are epichoric…are still bound to the rituals of their native locales, whereas the myths of Panhellenic discourse, in the process of excluding local variations, can become divorced from ritual.”
[ back ] 18. For the Ionian character of Homer, see Frame 2009; West 2001:6–7; Nagy 2004. For the “obviously Ionic character” of its dialect, see Horrocks 1997:194.
[ back ] 19. Berman 2015:32. On the Boiotian perspective of the Theogony and Works and Days, see West 1966; Larson 2007:50–52. On the Panhellenic character of the Hesiodic Ehoiai, in contrast to a local poem like the Naupactica, see Lulli 2014:85–86.
[ back ] 20. See Larson 2007; Larson 2014; Berman 2013; and Berman 2015. Larson 2007:195–196 proposes that hexameter poetry is a vehicle for exploring real-world rivalries as demonstrated in Boeotia.
[ back ] 21. Nagy 1990:79: “the Panhellenic tradition of oral poetry appropriates the poet, potentially transforming even historical figures into generic ones who represent the traditional functions of their poetry. The wider the variation and the longer the chain of recomposition, the more remote the identity of the composer becomes. Extreme cases are Homer and Hesiod.”
[ back ] 22. For our evidence of lost epic traditions centering on the city of Thebes, see our discussions in the Introduction, at the beginning of Chapters 1–3, and in the final section of Chapter 4. On these “submerged” traditions, see especially Lulli 2014:77–90, who suggests that the fragments of the other epics betray a local focus, such as Peisander’s Herakles, which being recognizably more Doric implies a local performance context at a disadvantage with Homer, or the Capture of Oechalia by Creophylus of Samos.
[ back ] 23. See Elmer 2013:202–205; Cf. Nagy 1999 [1979]:7. Cf. Scodel 2002:45–46.
[ back ] 24. For the genealogy of Boiotos in Hesiod and its importance to Boiotian collective identity, see Larson 2007, Chapter 1.
[ back ] 25. Chapter 3, “A Theban Catalogue of Women.”
[ back ] 26. Larson 2007:9: “The Boiotian ethnos claimed its identity through genealogy, traditions of territory and epic, shared dialectical features, ties to panhellenic epic tradition, shared symbolism, a common name, and common cult.” Larson (passim) shows how these narratives make sense of a legendary migration to Boiotia while also exploring ties with and claims to parts of Thessaly. For a similar process in quasi-Greek areas like Epirus where nostos-narratives are used to connect royal families to Panhellenic pedigrees, see Malkin 1998:140–145. For the Catalogue’s possible origin in northern-central Greece, see Rutherford 2005:114.
[ back ] 27. Larson 2007:81–84: The Hesiodic catalogue relates Aigina to many cities in Boiotia; “Through Asopos, then, the Aiakid genealogy is relevant both to Aigina and also to Thebes and wider Boiotia, especially the southeast, one of the most important areas of activity in the Late Archaic and early classical periods” (84).
[ back ] 28. Janko 1986:46. See Janko 1986:43–48 for a summary of the pro-Theban character of the poem. Cf. Stamatopoulou 2017:14–16 for the Shield as “consciously post-Homeric” (14).
[ back ] 29. Cf. Janko 1986:39.
[ back ] 30. Larson 2007:50–51 and 114. The poem is generally dated c. 570–520 BCE: West 1985:136; Janko 1986:38–39. Martin 2005:172–175 makes Ehoiai and Shield Hesiod’s; Janko 1986:47-48 proposes that Shield is Theban. For a recent discussion of the poem focusing on the modeling of Herakles as a theomachos after Homer’s Diomedes, see Stamatopoulou 2017:11–16.
[ back ] 31. Martin 2005:173.
[ back ] 32. Troy, along with other cities, is often described as “well-built” in Homer (e.g. Ἰλίου ἐξαλαπάξαι ἐϋκτίμενον πτολίεθρον; Iliad 4.33). Troy is also “wide-wayed,” but with the epithet εὐρυάγυια in the Iliad at 2.12, 29, 66, 141, 329; 9.28; 14.88; Odyssey 4.246 and 22.320. Mycenae is wide-wayed at Iliad 4.53.
[ back ] 33. Hesiod fr. 10d; see also fr. 10a 89–98; and fr. 71a. For fuller versions of the story, see Apollodorus I 52; scholion to Aristophanes Birds 250; Eustathius Commentary on Homer’s Iliad II 2.8.
[ back ] 34. See Bacchylides fr. 33b; cf. scholion to Sophocles Trachinian Women 40: “[Trachis] is a Thessalian city in which Herakles settled according to the law after the murder of Iphitos. He stayed there with his guest-friend Kêyx who was the child of the brother of Amhpitryon.” Cf. Diodorus Siculus IV 57.2: “After the apotheosis of Herakles, his children settled in Trachis with Kêyx, the king,” μετὰ τὴν Ἡρακλέους τοίνυν ἀποθέωσιν οἱ παῖδες αὐτοῦ κατῴκουν ἐν Τραχῖνι παρὰ Κήυκι τῷ βασιλεῖ.
[ back ] 35. Although Janko sees the poet of the Shield as imitating Homer and Hesiod—rather than participating in a cultural debate and appropriation—his emphasis on the shield’s “false archaisms” and stylistic imitation presents useful evidence for the poetic dynamics of the age. See Janko 1986:42–43.
[ back ] 36. γαμεῖ δὲ τὴν τεκοῦσαν: Φερεκύδης τὰ κατὰ τοὺς Οἰδίποδος παῖδας καὶ τὰς γημαμένας οὕτως ἱστορεῖ· “Οἰδίποδι,” φησὶ, “Κρέων δίδωσι τὴν βασιλείαν καὶ τὴν γυναῖκα Λαΐου, μητέρα δ’ αὐτοῦ ᾿Ιοκάστην, ἐξ ἧς γίνονται αὐτῷ Φράστωρ καὶ Λαόνυτος, οἳ θνῄσκουσιν ὑπὸ Μινυῶν καὶ Ἐργίνου. ἐπεὶ δὲ ἐνιαυτὸς παρῆλθε, γαμεῖ ὁ Οἰδίπους Εὐρυγάνειαν τὴν Περίφαντος, ἐξ ἧς γίνονται αὐτῷ Ἀντιγόνη καὶ Ἰσμήνη, ἣν ἀναιρεῖ Τυδεὺς ἐπὶ κρήνης καὶ ἀπ’ αὐτῆς ἡ κρήνη Ἰσμήνη καλεῖται. υἱοὶ δὲ αὐτῷ ἐξ αὐτῆς Ἐτεοκλῆς καὶ Πολυνείκης. ἐπεὶ δὲ Εὐρυγάνεια ἐτελεύτησε, γαμεῖ ὁ Οἰδίπους Ἀστυμέδουσαν τὴν Σθενέλου.” τινὲς δὲ Εὐρυγάνειαν ἀδελφὴν λέγουσιν εἶναι Ἰοκάστης τῆς μητρὸς Οἰδίποδος. This passage (Pherecydes fr. 95) comes from a scholion to Euripides’ Phoenician Women 53; see Fowler 2000. On the passage and its agreement with other early sources, see Cingano 1992:9–10.
[ back ] 37. Cingano 1992:2: “The death of Oedipus is alluded to in a passage in the Iliad (23.677 ff.)… Clearly, the Iliad version is in direct contrast to the version immortalized by Sophocles in the Oedipus Coloneus, in which the wretched Oedipus died in exile in Athens; according to epic tradition as reported in Homer and Hesiod (fr. 192 M.-W.), Oedipus, still king (Odyssey 11.271 ff.), died at Thebes and was commemorated by funeral games, a traditional honour accorded to epic heroes.”
[ back ] 38. For Pherecydes’ passage as reflecting an Orkhomenian tradition colored against Thebes, see Cingano 1992:10; cf. Buck 1979:59–60. On this war as the subject of the local epic the Minyas, see Severyns 1928:183.
[ back ] 39. This narrative is similar to the tale of Minos’ indemnity on Athens for the death of his son. See Pausanias IX 37; Diodorus Siculus IV 10.2-6; and Apollodorus II 67. Cf. Berman 2013; Fowler 2013:386–387.
[ back ] 40. Berman 2013:52: “It is again a type of genealogical negotiation with implications for regional identity, perhaps in this case in the context of the longstanding rivalry between Thebes and Orkhomenos.” For the political use of these myths, see Bearzot 2011, who sees the narrative as attesting to shifting powers in Boeotia (277–278) and an early anti-Theban character corresponding with the expansion of Orkhomenos in 700 BCE (273–274).
[ back ] 41. There is evidence of historical conflict between Orkhomenos and Thebes: see Buck 1979:38–49. Cf. Cingano 1992:3.
[ back ] 42. See Kountouri et al. 2012 for a description of the earthen works under excavation at Orkhomenos and their reflection in Herakles myths. Cf. Apollodorus II 4.11 and Diodorus Siculus IV 18.12 for Herakles’ expedition against Orkhomenos. We are grateful to Aleydis Van de Moortel for bringing this excavation to our attention.
[ back ] 43. Erginos is cited among the Argonauts by Apollonius of Rhodes (cf. the scholion on Argonautica II 196, p. 193 Wendel: Erginos was the helmsman of the Argo after Tiphys’ death, according to Herodoros). Erginos and the Minyans also appear in Pindar. Two scholia to Pindar Olympian 4 (29d6 and 31c7) provide a suitably epic coda to his tale: when Erginos was an old man, he went to compete in the funeral games for Thoas. Laughed at by the crowd because of his age, Erginos, out-odysseusing the Odysseus of the games in honor of Patroklos (where he wins the footrace), as well as those in Phaiakia (where he wins the discus after an ageist insult), won the race in full armor.
[ back ] 44. Many scholars have articulated the critical importance of genealogy during the archaic and classical ages: see Larson 2007:17 and Hall 1997:41; cf. Thomas 1989 and Higbie 1997.
[ back ] 45. Steinbock 2013:27: “Aristocratic families increased their social status and prestige by claiming descent from famous Homeric heroes. Local heroes functioned as eponyms for fictive kinship groups or local communities… All these heroes had mythical stories attached to them that provided the members of the group with a shared image of their past and fostered group identity. The social memory of these mythical heroes was manifested and transmitted by, among other things, religious cults and festivals, which deserve special attention when dealing with the orators’ allusions to the mythical past.”
[ back ] 46. Fowler 2013:191 calls the Minyans the “magni nominis umbra of Greek Myth…[who] left enough traces to suggest that they were at one time a major presence both in mythology and history.”
[ back ] 47. So, as far as we can see, the likely reason that there are traditions for a Milesian and a Orkhomenian Erginos, both of whom could fairly be called Minyan, is that local narratives were carried by Minyans in their settlements to Ionia and connected as part of several layers of collective, Panhellenizing narratives to larger Greek traditions including the Argonauts, the Herakles cycle, and the Trojan War narratives. As the Minyans were subsumed into other regions and the importance of Orkhomenos declined, their heroic narratives were similarly subsumed and fragmented. One version of Erginos became associated with the Argonaut myth as part of a conceptual Minyan Diaspora; similarly, he became dissociated from the Boiotian Erginos as the Theban-centered Herakles tales rose into prominence.
[ back ] 48. According to “Plato” Axiochus 367c, the two were rewarded for their service to the god by a quick death in their sleep.
[ back ] 49. τίς γὰρ οὐκ οἶδεν κυανοπλοκάμου Θή- / βας ἐΰδμα[τον πόλι]ν;
[ back ] 50. The Hesiodic tale of the daughters of Asopos, as Stephanie Larson (2007) argues, demonstrates how local genealogies were integrated into non-local traditions as individual Greek cities began to conceive of a larger Greekness and to compete with their neighbors in appropriating this identity.
[ back ] 51. See Collins 2006:31.
[ back ] 52. See S. Larson 2007:31-41 for her full characterization of the catalogue of ships. The Boiotian contingents are second numerically only to Agamemnon’s forces. For the epic’s depiction of the Boiotians as a wealthy and large cooperative community, see Larson 2007:32–33. For the Boiotian “coloring”: Kirk 1985:178. For the Catalogue as having an earlier Boiotian origin, see Willcock 1978.
[ back ] 53. In a thought-provoking use of digital technology, Jenny Strauss Clay has shown how Homer’s spatial description of the Boiotian contingent contrasts with the other contingents in the catalogue by being visualized as if on spokes coming out of an absent central point (as opposed to a more hodological route). That absent center turns out to be Thebes, erased from the geography of the catalogue and from the memory of epic. See http://ships.lib.virginia.edu/neatline/show/the-boiotian-plain.
[ back ] 54. Diodorus Siculus (IV 77) lists twelve daughters for the Boiotian river Asopos.
[ back ] 55. See Iliad 4.386; 10.288.
[ back ] 56. τὴν δὲ μέτ’ ᾿Αντιόπην ἴδον, ᾿Ασωποῖο θύγατρα, Odyssey 11.261.
[ back ] 57. S. Larson 2007:45 suggests that “it is possible in the mid-sixth century environment in which the epic reached its transcript form of fixity, the figure Boiotos, the eponymous hero of one of Athens’ main sixth-century rivals, was purposefully omitted from the poem in a spirit of hostile competition and as a subtle slight against the collective which bore his name.”
[ back ] 58. On the weakness of the Boiotian heroes, see S. Larson 2007:34–35.
[ back ] 59. S. Larson 2007:32-39. Cf. Heiden 2008b.
[ back ] 60. The emphasis may be different in the Odyssey. Larson 2014:419: “In light of these Boiotian connections to Thessaly and the Aeolids through traditions of migration, collective cult, and the genealogy of Boeotus, the Odyssey’s emphasis on Thessalian tradition takes on new meaning and can be read as a reflection of sixth-century Boiotian concerns.” Nevertheless, as we discuss in Chapter 3 above, this representation of Boiotian women need not be read so positively.
[ back ] 61. ἀπολειφθῆναι δὲ τοῦ Θησέως ἐρῶντος ἑτέρας: “Δεινὸς γάρ μιν ἔτειρεν ἔρως Πανοπηίδος Αἴγλης.” τοῦτο γὰρ τὸ ἔπος ἐκ τῶν Ἡσιόδου (fr. 105 Rz.) Πεισίστρατον ἐξελεῖν φησιν Ἡρέας ὁ Μεγαρεύς ὥσπερ αὖ πάλιν ἐμβαλεῖν εἰς τὴν Ὁμήρου νέκυιαν “τὸ Θησέα Πειρίθοόν τε θεῶν ἀριδείκετα τέκνα” χαριζόμενον Ἀθηναίοις.
[ back ] 62. Nagy 1990:67: “As an institution, the polis mediates between the epichoric and the Panhellenic: although it contains what is epichoric, it also promotes what is Panhellenic…The polis can best promote its prestige by promoting its own traditions in poetry and song on a Panhellenic scale.” Finkelberg 2012:146 argues that “the codification of the Iliad and the Odyssey in Athens of the sixth century BCE granted the Athenian state a monopoly over the standard text of Homer.”
[ back ] 63. For other versions of this “trial,” see Aristotle Rhetoric 1335b26-30; Strabo IX 1.9-10; and Diogenes Laertius I 48. See Higbie 1997 for how this episode illustrates Greek use of the past.
[ back ] 64. Strabo IX 1.10. On this exchange, see Higbie 1997:283–286 and especially 285 for the suspicion that the Athenians also altered 2.553–555 in the Catalogue.
[ back ] 65. Other fragments show historians from Megara disputing Athenian accounts of the deeds of Theseus, specifically the hero or brigand Skeiros: see Higbie 1997:281. Based on the absence of Theseus in iconography before the mid-sixth century BCE, Steinbock argues that Theseus was a rather minor local hero whose narratives were intentionally adapted under the Peisistratids to rival the Theban Herakles. Theseus is not on Attic pottery until 570 BCE. From 550–510 things change; his new exploits were modeled on Herakles. See Steinbock 2013:169–174.
[ back ] 66. Lulli 2014:82: the attributions of various poems to Homer shows that “Homer’s name must have stood with the public as a guarantee of the standards of a narrative.”
[ back ] 67. See Ebbott 2014 for a discussion of the gathering of a coalition in terms of traditional referentiality.
[ back ] 68. For the Mediterranean-wide extent of the early Greek world, see Malkin 2011.
[ back ] 69. See Konstan 2001; cf. Finley 1954. For Osborne 1996:33, the Iliad’s heroic world of the past is useful “for the way in which it can, as a purely fictional world also can, cast light upon the structures of the present world.” For the discussion here, see Barker and Christensen 2013:29–31.
[ back ] 70. Indeed, ingeniously Homer’s epics imitate the evolutionary nature of political institutions. Rarely are whole-scale political settlements created at a single stroke, as in the framing of the US Constitution. The United Kingdom, for example, lacks a written constitution. There is the Magna Carta, but how this thirteenth-century text relates to current Parliamentary democracy, let alone the notion of the United Kingdom itself, is a moot point. Rather, political institutions tend to develop over time in reaction to cultural demands from the bottom up; they are not imposed top-down. The Iliad, we suggest, invites its audience to think about this process and get involved in making sense of its song of strife.
[ back ] 71. We are not here making an argument about the composition of the Iliad and the Odyssey during the fifth century but instead about the selection of these epics under the conditions of the fifth century to render them Herodotus’ cultural authorities.
[ back ] 72. For the textualization of the Odyssey under the Peisistratids, see Larson 2014:426; cf. Jensen 2011; West 1989:36–38. West 2014:43 places the composition of the Odyssey at the end of the seventh century BCE (though still near Attica in Euboea, see 90–91).
[ back ] 73. Scodel 2002.
[ back ] 74. Berman 2013:50. Herodotus famously compares his Persian Wars to Homer’s Troy, with the more recent wars gaining by magnitude and reliability. Thucydides makes the Peloponnesian War the “latest and the greatest.”
[ back ] 75. For this see E. Hall 1989 passim; Cartledge 1995:75–82; for the “aggregate” character of Panhellenism prior to the Persian War, see J. Hall 1997; cf. Malkin 1998:18, 60–61.
[ back ] 76. For Panhellenism as beginning in the eighth century with the founding of the Olympic Games, see Snodgrass 1971:55–57; Nagy 1990:52–53. For this as “Proto-Panhellenism” reflected in the Iliad, see Ross 2005:301–307. For a later date, but still prior to the Persian Wars, see Hall 1997.
[ back ] 77. For a “non-oppositional but shared Greek identity” indicated by linguistic distinctions among the Homeric characters and reflecting the beliefs of the late eighth century BCE, see Ross 2005:299–300. For the absence of a sense of Panhellenism in the Homeric epics see Cartledge 1993 and 1995:77–78; Konstan 2001:31–32. In the heterogeneity within unity of the Greeks at Troy, others have seen reflections of Panhellenic notions: see Finley 1954:18; Haubold 2000:43–45. In narratives of nostoi circulating during the ninth and eighth centuries BCE, Malkin 1998:53–54 sees a type of “proto-Pan-Hellenic focus”; cf. 117–118.
[ back ] 78. For the sixth century BCE as an important period in the gradual development of Panhellenic identity, see Hall 1997:47–51; cf. Kurke 1992 for the importance of sixth-century values among the elite.
[ back ] 79. See Barker 2008 on the D scholia’s connection between the Iliad’s plan of Zeus, the Cypria, and other Near Eastern epics.
[ back ] 80. Steinbock 2013:105: by the end of the sixth century Thebes was the leading power in Boeotia. Plataea didn’t want to join the Boiotian league. Athens made an alliance with Plataea in 519 BCE.
[ back ] 81. See Steinbock 2013 passim for an analysis of the importance of this negative depiction of Thebes in Athenian collective memory.
[ back ] 82. Steinbock 2013:110–111: the shrine built from the spoils (Plutarch Life of Aristides 20.3) showed the victory of Odysseus over the suitors by Polygnotus with another painting by Onasias showing the expedition of Adrastus and Argives against Thebes (Pausanias IX 4.1–2).
[ back ] 83. See Steinbock 2013:159–160.
[ back ] 84. Finglass 2014:358 calls these tombs the earliest evidence of the myth about the Seven, whereas Steinbock 2013:160 argues that many tombs during this period had their identifications altered to cohere with local narratives. As Finglass notes, Argos also added a tomb for the Seven during the sixth century. For Pindar’s seven pyres and records of monuments to the Seven in Thebes, see Berman 2015:61–65; cf. Steinbock 2013:165.
[ back ] 85. For a full treatment of this theme, see Steinbock 2013:174–189. Steinbock adds later that this antipathy may have been increased by the fact that the Athenians directly faced the Thebans at the battle of Plataea in 479 (106–107).
[ back ] 86. For Thebes as the “anti-Athens” on stage, see Zeitlin 1986. Cf. Steinbock 2013:61
[ back ] 87. Berman 2013:50. In a similar way the Athenians make Orestes, the Argive hero, theirs, in his legal cleansing at the court of the Areopagus in Aeschylus’ Eumenides, on which see Sommerstein 1989:3–6.
[ back ] 88. Malkin 1998.
[ back ] 89. The gradual development of Panhellenism described above also echoes the evolutionary movement of the Homeric tradition towards fixity proposed by Gregory Nagy. See Nagy 2004:27–28 for the simplest presentation. His “evolutionary model” posits a formative “Panhellenic” stage from the eighth through sixth centuries BCE followed by a “definitive period centralized in Athens”; we are imagining an analogous set of stages for Panhellenism roughly coterminous with these middle steps. Nagy 1990:53 similarly notes that “the hermeneutic model of Panhellenism must be viewed as an evolutionary trend extending into the Classical period, not some fait accompli that can be accounted for solely in the terms of, say, the eighth century,” and later that “Panhellenic poetry would have been the product of an evolutionary synthesis of traditions” (54).