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Chapter Two, Lecture One. The Cultural Context of Classical Myth To Greek Society. Cultural Context of Classical Myth.

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Chapter Two, Lecture One

The Cultural Context of Classical Myth

To Greek Society


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Cultural Context of Classical Myth

  • “Myths reflect the society that produces them. In turn, they determine the nature of that society. They cannot be separated from the physical, social, and spiritual worlds in which a people lives or from a people’s history.”


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Greek Geography

  • Greece not rich in minerals or tillable land

    • mountainous

  • Principal Areas:

    • Thessaly, Macedonia, Boeotia, Attica, Peloponnesus, Argolis, Laconia, Elis

    • Maps of Greece

  • Horses were scarce


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Greek Geography

  • Some areas rich in limestone, marble, and clay

    • the basis for Greek material culture

    • temples and pottery tell us much about their gods and myths

  • The Aegean Sea the greatest natural resource

    • Maps of Greece


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Greek Geography

  • Cycladic Islands and the Sporades

  • Importance of trade and colonization

  • Mountainous terrain encourage political independence of cities and spawned myths of city founders





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Early/Middle Bronze Age3000–1600 BC

  • Early Bronze Age (3000–2000 BC) peoples in the Greek area not Greek

  • Agricultural peoples mainly

  • Worshipped goddesses of fertility


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Early/Middle Bronze Age3000–1600

  • Minoans (on Crete)

  • Started building elaborate palaces toward the end of the Early Bronze Age and beyond (2200–1450 BC)

    • Knossos Reconstruction and other images


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The Origin of the Greeks2100 BC?

  • Migration of a people, whom we call the Indo-Europeans – first around 2100 BC?

  • Were no doubt speaking an early form of Greek

    • Their language the basis for many world languages today

  • Language of the people they replaced still in many place names and names for plants and animals


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The Origin of the Greeks2100 BC?

  • Appear to be more warlike that aboriginal peoples

  • Society divided into

    • (1) kings and priests

    • (2) warriors

    • (3) food producers


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The Late Bronze Age1600-1150 BC

  • Known also as the Mycenaean Age

  • People called “Mycenaean” because that is one of their main sites

    • They may have called themselves “Achaean”

  • Mycenae taken over by Indo-Europeans in 1650 BC

    • Other Mycenaean sites: Thebes, Athens, Orchomenus, Pylos


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The Late Bronze Age1600–1150 BC

  • Ruled by powerful and rich warrior kings

  • Perhaps the Mycenaean destroyed the Minoan sites on Crete in 1450

  • Ruled on Crete until 1400

    • Impressed by Minoan art and culture

  • Their writing system: Linear B

    • Translated in 1952; proved to be an early form of Greek


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The Late Bronze Age1600–1150 BC

  • Great heroic legends of classical myth set in this period

  • Historically related to a conflict with Troy in about 1230?

  • Perhaps the Trojans were Mycenaean Greeks themselves?


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The Dark Age:1150–800 BC

  • Great Mycenaean palaces destroyed around 1180–1150 BC

  • The Dorian Invasion (a.k.a. the Heraclidae)

  • Athens survived

  • Period of migration of Mycenaean Greeks across the Aegean

    • Ionia and Aeolis on the western coast of modern-day Turkey


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The Dark Age:1150–800 BC

  • Social disorganization, depopulation and impoverishment

  • Petty kings and small dominions

    • Families and small villages

  • The island of Euboea a possible exception

    • Continued contacts with the Near East

    • Greek alphabet first appears on Euboea, allowing Homer and Hesiod to be written down


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The Archaic Period: 800–490 BC

  • Invention of the Greek alphabet

  • Includes symbols for vowels, not just consonants

  • Colonization from Euboea to southern Italy and Sicily

  • A cultural revival


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The Archaic Period: 800–490 BC

  • The Greek polis

    • People identified themselves geographically and not just by family ties

    • “Citizenship”

    • Competitiveness encouraged, not so much cooperation


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The Archaic Period: 800–490 BC

  • Rebirth of commerce depended on the sea

  • Greek economy thus decentralized and competitive, not like landed/river monarchies such as Egypt and Mesopotamia

  • 6th century innovation of coined money spurned economic growth even more


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The Archaic Period: 800–490 BC

  • The “new” economy strains old social orders

    • Period of conflict between the old, landed aristocracy (the aristoi) and the entrepreneurial class (the kakoi)

  • Period of tyrants (650–600)

    • Perhaps can be thought of as populists

    • Negative connotation of the word tyrant from the hostility of the literate aristoi


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The Archaic Period: 800–490 BC

  • Toward the end of the Archaic Period and series of conflicts with Persia

  • Persia conquers the Greek cities on the western coast of Turkey

  • Mainland Greeks drawn into the conflict


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The Classical Period490–323

  • A democracy in Athens (508 BC)

    • Cleisthenes

    • All free men had a stake in the city and a role to play in its administration

  • Persians first repelled by Athenian citizen army at Marathon in 490

    • “What a noble thing freedom is”

  • Persians finally defeated in 480 by Athens and other Greek cities


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The Classical Period490–323

  • Classical floruit of Athens and Greece inspired by their national pride and their military prowess

  • Greek cities fought with one another but they recognized that they were all Hellenes, different from the barbaroi around them

  • The great “civil” war of the Greeks in the Peloponnesian War (431-404) fatally weakened them all


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The Classical Period490–323

  • Myth reworked and re-presented in new forms to reflect the political and social realities of the day

    • Tragedy above all

  • Philosophy and science developed in the late Classical Period as a counterpoint to myth


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The Classical Period490–323

  • The Macedonian king Philip II overran the southern Greeks in 338 and changed the political landscape

  • Greece cities yoked in a kingdom; their freedom limited

  • Alexander the Great follows; leads campaign against Persia

  • Death in 323 the conventional date for the end of the Classical Period


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The Hellenistic Period: 323–30 BC

  • Greek culture the “global” culture in the Mediterranean area

  • Center moved from the “old” Greece to the new cities of Alexandria

  • 146 BC, Greek mainland conquered by Rome, followed by another 100 years of conflict

  • Finally pacified in 30 BC with the conquest of Egypt, by then a Greek dynasty


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Beginning of the Roman Period

  • 30 BC the beginning of the Roman period and the end of Greek “independence”


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Next Lecture

Greek Society


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