Monday, August 08, 2022


Foundation of a New City

Homer, Odyssey 6.9-10 (tr. Peter Green):
He ran a wall round the city, constructed houses,
made shrines for the gods, shared out the arable acres.

ἀμφὶ δὲ τεῖχος ἔλασσε πόλει, καὶ ἐδείματο οἴκους,
καὶ νηοὺς ποίησε θεῶν, καὶ ἐδάσσατ᾽ ἀρούρας.
Nicholas Cahill, Household and City Organization at Olynthus (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001), p. 1:
In this earliest reference to Greek colonization, the basic elements of founding a new polis are already in place: the uninhabited land, the construction of fortifications and the temples of the gods, the division and allotment of agricultural land, and the building of houses, presumably on lots assigned to the colonists like the farmland. In its essence, the process remained basically the same for a thousand years.
John-Paul Wilson, "'Ideologies' of Greek Colonization," in Guy Bradley and John-Paul Wilson, edd., Greek and Roman Colonization: Origins, Ideologies and Interactions (Swansea: Classical Press of Wales, 2006), pp. 25-57 (at 37-38, notes omitted):
A number of scholars have treated this passage as a direct reflection of the archaic colonization movement: as, indeed, descriptive of the nature and the practice of this movement. Dougherty (2000, 128), for example, describes it as a 'colonial history' of the Phaeacians. In particular, they have seen in the narration of Nausithous' actions the definitive portrait of the colonial founder. So Graham, for example, in his Colony and Mother-City in Ancient Greece (1964, 29) places the latter part of this passage (ll. 7–11) at the head of his chapter 3, 'The Role of Oikist', emphasizing the importance of this passage to his understanding of the founder’s duties. Meanwhile Dougherty (2000, 129) states that 'the description … captures the essential activities of a colonial founder'.

Demand (1990, 28), however, is surely correct to point out that this passage does not describe colonization at all, but 'urban relocation'. Demand (1986, 28–33) argues that this account of a whole people driven from their homeland by the aggression of their neighbours to settle elsewhere is based on the experience of the east Greeks in the first half of the seventh century BC. She suggests that the Cimmerian offensive in Asia Minor is a possible model for the Cyclopes' treatment of the Phaeacians, and that the ‘happy and successful life attributed to the Phaeacians perhaps bespeaks the hope that preceded actual experience — the immigrant's anticipation of "streets paved with gold"'. This is not chronologically impossible. It does, however, enforce a downwards dating by some fifty years or so of the generally accepted late-eighth-century date for the composition of the poems, i.e. it requires one to accept a date of c. 650 BC for the composition. More problematically it requires one to see the whole Phaeacian episode as a late development in the epic cycle, since the whole story as we have it seems to rest on the opposition drawn between the Phaeacians and the Cyclopes, not just in this passage but also elsewhere in book 6 and book 9. If one argues that the story of the Phaeacian origins is incorporated into the tradition in the mid-seventh century BC, just at the moment the Odyssey is written down, then we must either assume that the whole episode was developed at that same point, or ask difficult questions about how this section worked before the inclusion of the passage.

There are, however, other possible models for this passage. The story seems to have much in common with the myths of 'migration' from the Greek mainland in the wake of Dorian aggression. Indeed, in the brutish, powerful Cyclopes one might even recognize a negative portrait of the Dorians. It is possible, then, that an archaic audience on hearing this story was drawn to think of mythical episodes such as the Ionian migration much more readily than any contemporary colonization movement. It is also worth noting that such myths may have some basis in reality. Although a wholesale 'migration' from the mainland to Asia Minor and the Aegean islands during the Dark Age is not supported by the archaeological evidence, there is some indication of Greek settlement in Ionia in the tenth and ninth centuries BC. It is thus feasible that the 'historical' model for this story is not the contemporary experience but that of Dark Age settlement in Ionia. One might reasonably ask why in constructing this episode the poet would look beyond contemporary events for inspiration. If one accepts Raaflaub's argument that the poet sought to set the poem in some recent past, then the answer might be that a story that recalled the myths of Ionian migration provided the requisite distance. To take this argument to its conclusion, this passage, so frequently brought forward as a guide to the practice of the archaic colonial founder, may in fact reflect more directly on an earlier period of population movements.

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