Kinship Myth in Ancient Greece
Lee E. Patterson
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In ancient Greece, interstate relations, such as in the formation of alliances, calls for assistance, exchanges of citizenship, and territorial conquest, were often grounded in mythical kinship. In these cases, the common ancestor was most often a legendary figure from whom both communities claimed descent.
In this detailed study, Lee E. Patterson elevates the current state of research on kinship myth to a consideration of the role it plays in the construction of political and cultural identity. He draws examples both from the literary and epigraphical records and shows the fundamental difference between the two. He also expands his study into the question of Greek credulity—how much of these founding myths did they actually believe, and how much was just a useful fiction for diplomatic relations? Of central importance is the authority the Greeks gave to myth, whether to elaborate narratives or to a simple acknowledgment of an ancestor. Most Greeks could readily accept ties of interstate kinship even when local origin narratives could not be reconciled smoothly or when myths used to explain the link between communities were only "discovered" upon the actual occasion of diplomacy, because such claims had been given authority in the collective memory of the Greeks.
gods now misrepresented his greatness: what was extraordinary heroism in a world not so different from the Greece of their own time became in myth an almost supernatural heroism in a supernatural world.21 Myth as Propaganda: The Return of the Heracleidae The Return of the Heracleidae is one of the most thoroughly studied political myths from ancient Greece and hardly needs further discussion here. However, there are three reasons for revisiting it in the context of the present study. First, it
of alliance and friendship. Therefore, though we have no need of these things, since we have as encouragement the holy books which are in our hands, we have undertaken to send to renew our brotherhood and friendship with you, so that we may not become estranged from you, for considerable time has passed since you sent your letter to us.69 Jonathan goes on to say that the Spartans have been remembered in holy festivals, as well as in the Jews’ prayers. He mentions the wars Judaea has fought (and
many European territorial claims are made today, as we considered in Chapter One. What is more, Megara’s solution was not to challenge the basis of Athens’ claim, once the Spartan decision, irrefutable and unable to be appealed, was made. Rather, at the hands of Megarian “historians,” Megara’s own local traditions were adjusted. These counterclaims remind us of the point made at the beginning of this chapter, that the land itself is usually a vital part of the community’s sense of its identity.
rejected the account, and Strabo adds his voice to the dissenters.83 Bosworth himself recognizes that Megasthenes “was developing the propaganda of Alexander’s court.”84 The opposing sides are clear enough, and we have seen this dichotomy before: popular belief and the viewpoint of more analytical writers. The second difficulty in giving credit to the Nysaeans becomes apparent when one considers the evidence with the critical eye of someone such as Eratosthenes. The tradition has become
gain currency in the collective memory of individual communities, of regions, of tribes, and, in some cases, of the whole hellenic world, which will show up in handbooks like Apollodorus’, in local histories, in scholia, or even in fifth-â•‰century Athenian tragedy after someone says something about Endymion or the Heracleidae or Perses that had never been said before. After that, tradition is like unto kudzu and does not let go except by the exertion of a Pausanias, a Thucydides, or a Hecataeus,