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Lecture 5

CLAS 203 Lecture Notes - Lecture 5: Homeric Hymns, Greek Mythology, Eileithyia

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CLAS 203
Margaret Palczynski

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CLAS 203 – Greek Mythology
Margaret Palczynski
Lecture 5
Development of Classical Myth
Greek myth begins in primordial times: they are untraceable. Comparative archaeology and
comparative linguistics aim at the reconstruction of myth transmission before writing. Early
figurines (6500-5700 B.C.) of females emphasizing fertility were found in graves
- The magical power of woman to produce new life was always in focus. But on the basis
of archaeological remains, it is hard to determine which details in myth are old/new.
Reconstruction of Indo-European: had words for religious concepts, the name of ‘sky god’
preserved in many Indo-European languages
- Gods change natures in different traditions
- Linear B tablets: list the names of gods as recipients of offerings in Mycenaean cult
- Some are easily identifiable i.e. Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Athena, Artemis, Hermes,
Enyalius/Ares, Paean/Apollo, Eileithyia, Dionysus, etc.
- No stories
Myth transmission in the Archaic Period:
- Most of the knowledge of myth derives from this and later periods
- Poems composed orally, by aoidoi (bards)
- Performed for elite groups of men
- Great number of vase paintings, many showing mythological scenes: 50,000+
Homer (8th c. B.C.)
- Iliad: 16,000 lines
- Odyssey: 16,000 lines
- Monumental epics: Trojan War, reality of Homeric world debated; knows little of Bronze
Age customs
Hesiod (7th c. B.C.)
- Theogony: owes much to Near Eastern Myth
- Works and Days: resembles Near Eastern ‘wisdom literature’ (issues of right and wrong)
Epic Cycle/Cyclic Poems (post Homeric)
Trojan War stories not told in Homer, very little extent
Homeric Hymns (7th/6th c. B.C.-anonymous)
- Hymns to various gods/goddesses
- Very unlike Near Eastern hymns
- Performed publicly before mixed audience
Myth transmission in the:
1. Classical Period
- No ‘canonical version’ of each myth
- Rhapsodes: public performers of memorized texts; popularized myths
- Choral song: made possible by writing
- Aeschylus (525-456 B.C.): 7 extant plays, Sophocles (496-406 B.C.): 7 extant plays,
Euripides (484-406 B.C.): 19 extant plays
2. Hellenistic Period
- 300 years of Greek culture outside of Greece
Mouseion: first library, found in Alexandria
- First scholars in modern sense, edited ‘standard texts’, literature now read aloud in small
groups, literature written to be read
- Apollonius of Rhodes (3rd c. B.C.): Argonautica
- Library of Apollodorus: collection of stories
Roman Myth
250-184 B.C.: Plautus (comedy) Amphitryon
70-19 B.C.: Virgil (epic) Aeneid
43 B.C.-17 A.D.: Ovid (epic) Metamorphoses
59 B.C.-17 A.D.: Livy, Ab Urde Condita
- Myth: continue to change as long as it is transmitted orally
- Written versions: adapted to concerns and conditions of the day
- Difficult to separate myth from the work of literature in which it is embedded
Near Eastern Myth
1. Sumerian myth (4000-2000 B.C.)
Great culture: irrigation agriculture, cities, cuneiform writing (first true writing)
Earliest recorded myths
Polytheistic: An, Innana, Enlil, etc.
2. Semitic myth
Akkadians (Sargon the Great c. 2340 B.C.)
Take over Sumerian culture and refashion myths
Babylonians c. 1750 B.C.: Hammurabi
Hebrews c. 2000 B.C.
3. Hittites: Indo-Europeans (1600-1200 B.C.)
Controlled central Anatolia
Inherited cultural traditions of Sumerians
- Many Greek myths show the influence of Near Eastern myths
- How, when, where did the Greek-Near Eastern interaction took place is difficult to
determine with any precision