CLAS 203 Lecture Notes - Lecture 3: Homeric Hymns, Greek Mythology, Phoenician Alphabet
CLAS 203 – Greek Mythology
Lecture 3 10/09/2014
Myth Background: History, Society, Religion
Dark Ages: 1100-800 B.C.
This period is ‘dark’ because we have very little information about it. There is no system of
writing: loss of Linear B, nothing is recorded. There is a confusion of historical events. What we
- 1100 B.C.: second wave of Indo-European invaders (“Dorians”)
- Collapse of Mycenaean civilization
- Migrations to Ionia
- Oral transmission of Bronze Age stories
Until 800 B.C. where the Greeks adopt the Phoenician alphabet, there is no written evidence.
- There is artwork that can be interpreted but they are not clear cut
Archaic Period: 800-480 B.C.
Important period for mythology: great poets such as Homer and Hesiod
-Homeric Hymns: addressed to different gods on how they came to Olympus, their
powers, and how to worship them
- Great works: Iliad and The Odyssey
The period at which there is hard evidence and written artifacts
- 776 B.C.: Olympic games, during this time there is the emergence of the city states,
colonization in the west
This period ends with Persian Wars, where Persia comes together against Greece and is defeated
at the battles of: Marathon (490 B.C.), Salamis and Plataea (480-479 B.C.)
Classical Period: 480-323 B.C.
Period in which Athenian democracy is transformed into the Athenian Empire, and comes to a
close with the Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.): power of Athens terminated. Time of
flourishing of art: sculpture, poetry, etc.
- Classic playwrights: Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides
- In these plays (which we only have a fraction of): only one is historical and not based on
myth. This is also the time of best shaping of the great myths: a lot of input
Macedonian Conquest: 337-323 B.C.
- Philip of Macedon
- Alexander the Great
- End of the Classical Period
Hellenistic Period: 323-31 B.C.
- Greece becomes Roman province in 146 B.C.
Power centre passes from Greece to Macedon and then Rome.
- Myth not as fruitful as in the Archaic or Classical periods
The earlier dates are accepted on a mythological basis (not justifiable by history):
- 1175 B.C.: Aeneas (escaped from Troy), conquest of Latium
- 1150 B.C.: Alban kings
- 1100 B.C.: foundation of Alba Longa (his son: Ascanius/lulus)
- 753 B.C.: foundation of Rome (Romulus and Remus: mythological figures and
descendants of Aeneas)
In history (with evidence):
- 753-509 B.C.: Etruscan kings
- 509-60 B.C.: Roman Republic (Plautus: 250-184 B.C.)
- 60-30 B.C.: Civil War (Catullus: 87-4 B.C.), Caesar stabbed
- 30 B.C.-14 A.D.: Augustus (Vergil: 70-19 B.C., Ovid: 43 B.C.-17 A.D.)
- 14-476 A.D.: Roman Emperors
Writers who took Greek myths and shaped them with Roman influences
- Very limited knowledge of Bronze/Dark Ages, there is archaeological evidence but not
- No written texts except Linear B tablets (from household accounts)
- General aspect of Greek society reflected in myth but customs, beliefs, etc. of any
particular time/place vary
- Myths recorded by free aristocratic males
- Written sources may reflect the customs of ‘times gone by’, but also the society which
- Interpretation is difficult
Free males were generally dominant in public/ private sphere, held final authority over wives and
household, and fought in wars. Females were generally restricted to the domestic sphere,
supreme in the areas of: marriage, childbirth, death, and had power to control two fundamental
moments of life: birth and death.
- Slaves: chattels who had no enforceable rights, used for agriculture, mines, domestic
work, and could sometimes purchase freedom
Polytheistic (belief in more than one god) & anthropomorphic (gods have human characteristics)
- Gods do not create the world; but simply dwell within
- No god is all powerful: each has its own sphere of influence (although Zeus is first
among gods but still had to rely on the others), they exhibit human-like behaviour i.e.
love, hate, ambition, greed, etc.
- Gods communicate with mortals by oracles and seers, famous oracles: Delphic oracle and
the oracle of Apollo
- Gods honoured and placated by means of sacrifice (central to myth): obligation on the
part of mortals to pay respect and acknowledge powers of gods
Sacrifice: central to interaction between gods and humans, represented in art i.e. Sacrificial
procession, Sacrificial bull, Oxen Led to Sacrifice, etc. (animal sacrifice generally specific to the
The myths reveal early Greek beliefs
- Belief in magic: the manipulation of the world by rituals and spells
- Belief in curses: very prominent, words embody power
- Belief in spirits: many rituals to placate the spirits of the dead
- Belief in miasma (pollution): blood guilt of murderers affects those around them, spilt
blood of person especially kinsmen affects the well-being of those around, many have
this as an underlying motivation
The myths show an overlap of human and natural worlds
- Animals with human qualities i.e. speech
- Birth of humans from non-humans i.e. trees
- Metamorphoses of humans into gods, animals, trees, etc. (boundaries are not fixed)
Greece and Rome
There is not too much information on original Roman myths, they seem to have adopted and
‘remade’ Greek myth in their own image
- Infused their own culture, religious heritage, but few known traditional stories
- Differences in societies and beliefs, which is evident in ‘reworking’ of myths i.e. lessened
importance of the sea
Both civilizations adopted the Phoenician alphabet ca 600 B.C. and passed alphabet and classical
tradition to the following generations