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Notes on Readings for Week 1

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Regina Höschele

Princes at Dinner - Wees • Heroes have fun by feasting • Odysseus says “I do no think that any occasion is more enjoyable, to my my mind this is the finest” Book 9 • The heroes are basileis which means they are exempt from work other than intermittent supervision of the slave and hired labour tending their livestock and landed estates giving hem lots of time to party • Weddings, funerals and religious festivals are celebrated with huge feasts • Feasting is an important social event • Individual relationships and group solidarity may be established, consolidated and sometimes broken over dinner • Status differences may be asserted and contested • Host may seek to display superior wealth, taste and generosity • Guests may seek to differentiate amongst themselves in order of precedence • Whole group may seek to assert superiority over those not invited • Contribute to the creation of personal networks, the formation of groups and the differentiation of social status • Homeric society knows few other intensive forms of association beyond the household, making the above contributions of feasts more prominent • Even though there were other opportunities for socializing (for men) but feasts involve far more intensive interaction than do brief outdoor encounters and take place much more often than military expeditions (other opportunities for socializing) • Homers description of feasts does not really tell what goes on at feasts and makes it difficult to assess precisely how social events reflected and help build social structure • Wees aims to reconstruct in detail the feasts The Dining Hall: Simplicity and Luxury • The megaron is the setting for the feast, made of stone and timber (whereas the supernatural counterparts are made of bronze, silver and gold) • Single entrance with wooden doors and a porch provides access • Wood posts and rafter support a steeply pitched and therefore presumable thatched roof • Set in a floor of packed earth is an open hearth for light, heat and cooking • Arustic picture, complete with the occasional bird and their droppings and stock brought n to the country is slaughtered here - so really not the grandeur of the supernatural counterparts • But he stresses that the hall is not a farmyard building and that it is the most pestiferous part of a rich man’s residence in town • Weapons and armor on display (only in Odyssey or regularly?) • Diners are armed and there is always a risk they may be drawn (again is this normal or just in drama?) • Says that generally dinners seem to be peaceful enough and the the weaponry may only be a sign of wealth or masculinity • The megaron more than any other room is where a man puts his wealth on show • Tableware and serving ware of precious metals • “Glamorous fiction”? • Even the terminology reflects classicism: the drinking cup of a basileus (prince) is known as aleison, depas, or kupella but that of a swineheard is called skyphos; where the Princes mix in a krater the common does so in a kissubion • Instruments for the hearth are also on display, often of bronze. These feature prominently in epics as gifts and prizes, and even mere iron spits were currency in early Greece (obols?) • In such times of scarcity and abundance of iron and bronze could be a source of considerable prestige • Tripods would be largest and most costly • Also wealth in the cloth on display which cover chairs (rather than tables) - linens, cloaks and fleeces or the luxurious purple-dyed rugs • Where in any other part of the house and in women’s quarters everyone sits on stools, in the dining hall only servants do while host and guests sit on high chairs called throne or klismoi with backs, armrests and footstools and can be lavishly inlaid • Also human and animal resources: up to fifty female slaves help prepare and serve the meal while a few freeborn retainers assist and sit by their masters like a pet on show • Even if homer does exaggerate greatly, it is likely that the dining halls were vastly richer from both the rest of the house and common homes in order to create awe Women Food and Feasting • Difference between sexes in how, where, when and what was eaten and drunk • Women and men do not often have meals in same place or time • Penelope keeps away from the feasts of her suitors, perhaps contributing to the idea that a woman of her station dined away from the men or rather, had no place at the feast • On the rare occasion she does make an appearance she is veiled and accompanied by two maids and her son Telemachus tells her to go back to women’s work • But in opposite, Helen andArete are conspicuously present at the feasts of their husbands. Both are unusual characters but the poet does not allude to their appearance being out of the ordinary • There is good reason to assume that Penelope is the odd one out • Her decisions betray her modesty and not that women were not allowed to be a hostess. In fact to attend the party of her suitors, who were a raucous bunch would most likely have been unwise • There are hints in the odyssey that it is the norm for a woman to dine by her husband • But unmarried girls are excluded (Nausikaa,Arete’s daughter returns up to her room when she knows her parents are feasting where a meal is prepared for her. • It would be inappropriate for her to mingle with odysseus as she is not yet married, but after marriage, apparently, a woman can more easily associate with men without necessarily compromising her reputation • Presumably his daughters-in-law would be allowed to attend (as the sons stay at the house of the parents) but there is no real evidence to say any which way • Wives of guests appear to be uninvited and their involvement is limited to ‘sending along’ bread for their husbands who dine out • The place for women at the feast then is reserved fro the mistress of the house an perhaps for her daughters-in-law • Those women allowed to participate in feasting do not to the extent of the males: the males prepare the meat • The host and guests slaughter one or more animals and the women sand by and “shriek” as the death blows fall • The jointing, roasting and distribution of the meat and innards is again the work of men regardless of staff at disposal • This division of labour is preserved by the poet, even when hospitality is offered to Odysseus by the nymphs Circe and Calypso who live without men - he glides over this issue, refusing both his hero to go without meat, and the engagement of women in the preparation of meat. He keeps things vague and omits references to meat from an otherwise highly detailed scene in which Circe and her maids prepare a feast and then later asserts that Odysseus and his men spent their time on the island eating meat in abundance. • The distancing of women from the slaughtering and preparation of meat leads one to suspect that women were not allowed to eat meat either • Meat is missing from passages featuring women taking food • The description of Nausikaa’s dinner and lunch is vague and without specifics but when she orders the maids to offer Odysseus food and drink from her own provisions they give him wine and bread, but no meat • This dietary restriction recurs in two legends: Niobe broke her mourning fast with bread; and the orphaned daughters of Pandareus were raised by the gods on “cheese, honey and wine” • I’m not really sure this provides sufficient evidence, though the author claims that tis indicates Homeric women live on a vegetarian diet. • Homeric scenes of feasting create a distinct impression that women do not eat or drink at all but merely sit beside their husbands and sons, occasionally joining conversation but otherwise engrossed in their wool-work. • The goddesses are an exception, who take their ambrosia and nectar in the company of gods, but no mortal homeric woman is pictured eating or drinking at feasts. • He concludes that those women who attend the feast take their vegetarian meals separately, before joining the men as the alternative - the starving of women whenever their husbands feast, or that they manage to take food and make wool simultaneously - is ‘awkward’ • Helens belated appearance at her own daughters wedding seems to suggest that she ate separately • Role of women at feasts is thus restricted to making polite conversation • Some episodes suggest equality with men, but there are notable constraints on her freedom even therein • The fact that Penelope may rebuke her suitors for their mistreatment of a beggar (Odysseys) and that her sons says she is right in her criticism shows that she can have her own say • But on other occasions Telemachus sends her away showing she is subordinate • Penelope appears to have considerable freedom of action, but apparently the line is drawn at her actually dominating the proceedings by going against the wishes of her son and guests • These skirmishes represent Telemachus first attempts to assert himself as master of the house where before Penelope took charge by default • SimilarlyArete is constrained - although she is known to be influential her power stems from that of he
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