Reciprocity and Ritual: Homer and Tragedy in the Developing City-state

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Clarendon Press, 1995 - History - 455 pages
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This is an exciting and entirely new synthesis, combining anthropology, political and social history, and the close reading of central Greek texts, to account for two of the most significant features of Homeric epic and Athenian tragedy: the representation of ritual and of codes of reciprocity. Both genres are pervaded by these features, yet each treats them in very different ways. In this book, Dr Seaford shows that these differences cannot be accounted for in merely literary terms, but require a historical explanation. Homer is a product of the city state at an earlier historical stage than is tragedy. It is the growth of the city-state and its concomitant developments - in particular of law and of money, as well as in the practice of ritual - that provide a key to the crystallization of the Homeric narrative tradition, to the specificity of tragedy, and to certain features of the thought of the period. In the case of reciprocity, again whether the positive reciprocity associated with gift exchange or the hostile reciprocity of revenge - the systematic distinctions between Homer and tragedy can be explained only from a historical perspective. In its characteristic movement tragedy reflects and confirms the transition from one kind of society towards another: from a network of reciprocal relations, characteristic of societies where the state is weak or absent, to the organization of citizens around a single centre or series of centres - the institutions and cults of the city-state. Challenging, thoroughly lucid, and at times controversial, this lively, original yet accessible work is the first to attempt to understand the development of early Greek literature from the perspective ofstate formation. It should make enlivening and important reading for students, scholars, and anyone interested in the history or the literature of classical Greece. All Greek is translated.

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About the author (1995)

Formerly at the National Humanities Center, North Carolina. he is the author of Euripides: Cyclops (pb edition with commentary and introduction, 1988, OUP).

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