Hoplites and Homer
Sat May 23 00:13:51 2009.
An interesting article by Hugh Bowden, “Hoplites and Homer” (War and Society in the Greek World, ed. Rich & Shipley) suggests that what we see in the Iliad does not represent several layers of historical material: Mycenaean, Dark Age and Archaic. Instead the Iliad contains material more focused on an early hoplite form of warfare based upon a developing polis society without which it might never had have the level of popularity and sacred importance it had for the polis-centered Classical era Greeks.
The gods, of course, do not represent physical events on the battlefield, although they might represent some kind of larger social, cultural or religious ideas. There is ample evidence of hoplite style warfare in the larger battle scenes. What is different is Bowden’s suggestion that the basileis or hero does not represent an individual man acting somehow outside or in front of the clash of massed infantry but, like the gods, is a personification. Each basileis represents the hero cult of his particular polis. The chariot is not a strange and useless battlefield accessory, but suggestive of the iconography of the hero, as in the civil procession where the image of the hero is borne in a chariot to the acropolis.
I find his argument explains many puzzles of the Homeric epics and suggests the need for other ways to look at the Mycenaean and Dark Ages. “Indeed, if the Iliad is a poem about the society of the early Greek polis, then we cannot use it as evidence for earlier ‘pre-polis’ society, or for ‘pre-hoplite’ fighting. In that case, we ought perhaps to question whether the Dark Age was ‘aristocratic’ at all, and to look at other possibilities.” (Bowden, p. 61)