Aegeus Society For Aegean Prehistory


4 November 2012

Homer and the Aegean Prehistorian

Anthony Snodgrass A virtual birthday gift presented to Gregory Nagy on turning seventy by his students, colleagues and friends. Center for Hellenic Studies, Harvard University online publications.

From the introduction

With academic subjects as with people, many a close and intimate relationship can become cool and distant. It may even be broken off altogether, and replaced by a different relationship. In the case of academic disciplines, such a transfer of affections can lead to a radical and positive transformation of a subject, even when this also means the virtual disappearance of its older configuration. My offering to Greg discusses a development of this general kind: the radically changed tendencies of Aegean prehistory, with respect to Classical studies in general and Homer in particular, since its foundation as a discipline nearly a century and a half ago.

That today a certain coolness or distance has grown up in this relationship is something that would probably be accepted by both sides: the once unquestioned assumption that Aegean prehistory was a facet of Classical studies (notably enshrined in the rather strange concept of ‘Homeric archaeology’) is now widely doubted. This is admittedly not an objective finding; but, for the moment, we need not be too shy of pursuing more subjective value judgments.

So let us start with the proposition that Aegean prehistory could never be just another regional branch of prehistory: it is special, and not only in ways that derive from the development of its successor-culture, Classical Greek civilization. Even if that development had never happened, its content would never have been treated in quite the same way as, say (with no disrespect to Greg), the prehistory of Hungary, mainly as the heritage of one European nation-state among others. This is primarily because it deals with a series of important processes and advances, many of them new to Europe, in agriculture, metallurgy, dressed stone architecture, the use of writing and several other fields — advances essentially made possible by the maritime contacts, eastwards and westwards, of the Aegean world. Their lasting impact would still make this a subject of wide interest, regardless of developments in the Greek world in the ensuing millennia.

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