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27 Sep 2011 10:21 AM #1
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Kinship Myth in Ancient Greece.
Title: Kinship Myth in Ancient Greece.
Author(s): Lee E. Patterson
Publisher: Austin: University of Texas Press
Publication Date: 2010
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From the Bryn Mawr Classic Review:
In recent years, there has been considerable scholarly interest in myths about origin, descent and identity in the ancient Greek world.1 Studies have highlighted the innovative and strategic use of such myths, as well as their astonishing variety and flexibility. The focus of Patterson’s book is on myths that enabled cities to claim ancient kinship with each other, usually by arguing a genealogical connection between mythic ancestors or civic founders. Such myths, were an important part of interstate diplomacy and politics.
Patterson’s volume offers a good introduction to the topic, and presents current thinking in an accessible and approachable way. In addition, Patterson also contributes to this body of scholarship by tackling an issue which has not received enough attention: the popular reception of such myths, and the extent to which they were believed by the general population. Patterson is not concerned with the veracity of the various kinship myths he discusses in the book. Indeed much of the volume examines in detail the invention of traditions, and the strategic creation of mythic fictions. Rather, Patterson’s main interest lies in how these stories were embraced by the populations who were both audience and subject.
Read the full review at the Bryn Mawr Classic Review web site.
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.
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