Cycladic, Minoan, Mycenaean, and Archaic Greek Mythology

The Mycenaens and Homer

How did Homer use the Mycenaean world?

Homer’s (for the sake of convenience, he is referred to here as one person) setting for both his great epics was the world of the Mycenaeans because traditions of that world had been passed down over the centuries during the Dark Ages. Obviously Homer did not know that world by direct experience, and in his attempts to depict it, there are, understandably, elements of his own world—tools, foods, clothing, myths, traditions—that would not have existed in the time of the Mycenaean heroes Agamemnon and Odysseus. Although at least the basic outlines of the stories he tells about the Mycenaeans would have, in all likelihood, been familiar to his audience, it was Homer’s job to bring them to life in his own age. In telling the story of the Iliad, for instance, Homer gave life to a central myth of the Mycenaean period, the war that was said to have taken place between the city of Troy and an alliance of the Mycenaean Greeks. Whether such a war actually took place is open to conjecture. It would not have been unlikely for various groups to attempt to challenge Troy’s dominance over the entrance to the straits known as the Dardanelles in what is today western Turkey. That the war was caused by the abduction of King Menelaus’s wife Helen is an example of Mycenaean-Archaic Greek mythology. In the Odyssey, Homer tells of the return of the Mycenaean hero Odysseus from Troy to Ithaca, describing a period of difficulty and disillusionment that often follows wars and perhaps reflecting the end of the Mycenaean age itself. The highly fanciful, fairytale-like aspects of the poem belong, as do elements of the Iliad, to the world of Mycenaean-Archaic myth.


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