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K ing Nestor
The Wine Red Sea: Journeys of Odysseus
© Copyright 2014 -2024 by Peter J Ponzio

Background Information

Moses I Finley on the Odyssey Finley, M.I., The World of Odysseus. London: The Folio Society, 2002. Print. The storehouse was the place where the belongings of the oikos were kept. These belongings included wine, cheese, grain, cloth, clothing, battle gear and treasure. "Architecturally the heart of the system was the storeroom" (Finley 52). "The word gift is not to be misconstrued. It may be stated as a flat rule of both primitive and archaic society that no one ever gave anything, whether goods or services or honours, without proper recompense, real or wishful, immediate or years away, to himself or to his kin. The act of giving was, therefore, in an essential sense always the first half of a reciprocal action, the other half of which was a counter-gift" (Finley 53). Gifts were expected to be given and the principal of gift-giving was that the gifts should be of equal value. "Whether in trade or in any other mutual relationship, the abiding principle was equality and mutual benefit. Gain at the expense of another belonged to a different realm, to warfare and raiding, where it was achieved by acts (or threats) of prowess, not by manipulation and bargaining" (Finley 56). In the time of Odysseus, there was no concept of communal law. Crimes that were committed were an offense against the person of the nobleman, and vengeance was a personal affair. "Either the victim and his relatives take vengeance or there is none whatsoever. The growth of the idea of crime, and of criminal law, could almost be written as the history of the chipping away of that early state of family omnipotence" (Finley 66). “The student of the Iliad and Odyssey is sometimes faced with long recitations of genealogical references. "That [guest-friend relationships] was one reason why the heroes memorised their genealogies carefully and recited them often" (Finley 89- 90). "Guest-friendship was a very serious institution, the alternative to marriage in forging bonds between rulers; and there could have been no more dramatic test of its value in holding the network of relationships together than just such a critical moment" (Finley 90). "The person who had a xenos [friend, guest-friend] in a foreign land—and every other community was foreign soil—had an effective substitute for kinsmen, a protector, a representative and ally" (Finley 93). The Iliad and the Odyssey are not concerned with a rational discussion of consequences, as Finley suggests: The significant fact is that never in either the Iliad or the Odyssey is there a rational discussion, a sustained, disciplined consideration of circumstances and their implications, of possible courses of action, their advantages or disadvantages. There are lengthy arguments, as between Achilles and Agamemnon, or between Telemachus and the suitors, but they are quarrels, not discussions in which each side seeks to overpower the other by threats, and to win over the assembled multitude by emotional appeal, by harangue, and by warning. (Finley 106) Honor was the primary measure of heroism, and was not measured by worldly goods: "The dilemma became at once unbearable [to Achilles when he was asked to give up Briseis]: honour pulled in two opposing directions, and though one way pointed to victory in a great war and the other to a trifle, one captive woman out of thousands, the tremendous conflict lay precisely in the fact that honour was not measured like goods in a market, that the insult was worth as much as the war" (Finley 109). "It is the nature of honour that it must be exclusive, or at least hierarchic. When everyone attains equal honor, then there is no honor for everyone. Of necessity, therefore, the world of Odysseus was fiercely competitive, as each hero strove to outdo the others" (Finley 110). On the nature of trophies and their display: "But a trophy is lasting evidence [of accomplishment], to be displayed at all appropriate occasions. Among more primitive peoples the victim's head served that honorific purpose; in Homer's Greece armour replaced heads. That is why time after time, even at great personal peril, the heroes paused from their fighting in order to strip a slain opponent of his armour" (Finley 111). On the nature of contests in Greek life: "The contest was to play a tremendous part in Greek public life in later centuries. Nothing defines the quality of Greek culture more neatly than the way in which the idea of competition was extended from physical prowess to the realm of intellect, to feats of poetry and dramatic composition" (Finley 112).