The Early Agora
Sun Mar 15 23:32:01 2009
We can get a picture of how the agora developed through looking at how the meaning and usage of the word has changed over time. The Homeric epics are made up of a variety of formulas and segments woven together in within an oral tradition. Some verses could have been very recently composed when the epics were written down, others like “êrigeneia phanê rhododaktulos Êôs,” (the child of morning appears, rosy-fingered dawn) were probably quite ancient. Material in the epics represent a variety of time periods that have proven difficult to accurately date. The description of agora in the Homeric epics considerably predates Homer and may even represent social customs from the end of the Dark Ages.
The agora of the Homeric epics is a very particular type of assembly. It is usually called by the king or a field commander without notice or warning. The assembly was made up of important nobles, generals or estate holders. The purpose was to get a better understanding of what they were thinking. They could express their opinion, argue among themselves, recommend a course of action. There was no voting, the result was not binding and the king could continue to make any decision he wished. This very action is what starts the plot of the Iliad when Agamemnon returns Chryseis and replaces her with Achilles’ slave Briseis.
We see that the idea has changed a great deal by the time of Hesiod. In Works and Days, the agora is more of a law court and/or trading floor where people “raise disputes and strive to get another’s goods.” (lines 33-35)