Scholia Reviews ns 8 (1999) 21.

Irad Malkin, The Returns of Odysseus: Colonization and Ethnicity. Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press, 1998. Pp. xiii + 331. ISBN 0-520-21185-5. US$45.00.

Craige Champion
Allegheny College, Meadville

Barbarology has been a popular topic in scholarship of ancient Greece in recent years. Most familiar, perhaps, are Edith Hall's examination of the barbarian in Greek tragedy and Paul Cartledge's account of ancient Greek self-representation, aimed at a lay audience; more recently, we have Jonathan Hall's work on ancient Greek ethnic identity formation and Margaret Miller's analysis of the reception of Achaemenid Persian cultural productions in classical Athens.[[1]] Much of this work is exciting and refreshing, as classicists and ancient historians have begun to employ some of the conceptual approaches of students of ethnicity and the rise of nationalism in the modern world, such as Ernst Gellner, Eric Hobsbawm, Anthony Smith, and Benedict Anderson.

There is a danger in some of this recent work, however, in seeing a sharp and inflexible ethnocentric divide between Greek and non-Greek in ancient Greek cultural perceptions. According to this cultural polarity, non-Greek peoples represented the 'Other' upon whom Greeks projected all the undesirable qualities they refused to own in themselves. Barbarians, then, become part of an evaluative ancient Greek opposition table as the very negation of the Greeks, who themselves occupy the positive side of the ledger. Indeed, on this simplistic view, the ancient Greeks, with their dichotomous ethnocentrism, seem to present a prime collective example of the prejudiced mind, as Allport laid it out in his classic study in social psychology.[[2]] Cartledge's book for the general reader, it seems to me, encourages such a skewed reading. Fifth-century BC Athens would seem to offer the best support for such a polarized construction of Greek and non-Greek in the service of an ancient Greek cultural imperialism, but even here the case is much more nuanced and complex, as Miller's recent book impressively demonstrates.[[3]]

If an oppositional model of ancient Greek ethnicity is problematic for fifth-century BC Athens, it creates more problems than it solves for early Greece. Simple models of cultural diffusion from Greek center to non-Greek periphery will not do. Malkin's book is concerned with the myths of Odysseus and other nostoi as instruments for mediating proto- colonial encounters between inhabitants of Greece and peoples to the west and for conceptualizing ethnicity and group identities in the Archaic period. Malkin emphasizes in his introduction that Greek religion was polytheistic and polyheroic; it was a fluid and adaptable symbolic system often based on the principle of inclusion: 'Ancient Greek religion was totally unlike the revealed religion, monotheistic and exclusionary, professed by the Spanish . . . Greeks assumed alien gods to have been the same as the Greek ones, albeit with different names, rites, and representations. Unlike the Christian encounter with 'heathens', Greek religion was a universal langue, the local names of the deities the distinctive parole' (p. 17). Therefore, according to Malkin, there is a great danger of anachronism in the temptation of using post-colonial academic discourse of cultural imperialism in order to discuss Greek myths of ethnic origin. Malkin is interested in historical specificity in his examination of the functions of nostos themes in early Greece, and his book is admirable in its rigor in maintaining historical focus and perspective.

Chapter One, 'Contexts and Concepts' (pp. 33-61), takes up the question of the oral dissemination of epic poetry, and in particular the idea of regional dissemination of Odyssey-related episodes (pp. 52f.). Nostos themes were part of a pervasive, shared oral culture, and Homeric stories were 'in peoples' heads'. The text of the Odyssey as we have it represents only a tip of the iceberg, and we are to envision discrete episodes outside of our text tailored to the needs of time and place; in the ninth and eighth centuries BC, let us say, there may well have been an Epirote episode, for example, reflecting important new contacts along the lines of the exchange of material goods. Crucial to Malkin's thesis is the idea that in this period the nostos stories forged a sense of common, heroic origins among aristocrats in places like Epirus, rather than notions of a common Hellenism, as Herodotus would later articulate it in the fifth century BC (8.144). This chapter sets the stage for the arguments that follow, and it contains a good discussion of the categories of ethnicity (pp. 55- 61).

In Chapter Two, 'Sailing and Colonizing in the Sea of Returns' (pp. 62-93), Malkin works to establish a basis for proto-colonial Greek interactions with peoples of Epirus and Italy in the ninth and eighth centuries BC. He stresses the importance of Pithekoussai in late ninth- and early eighth-century BC colonization, with especial emphasis on the famous Nestor funereal cup bearing an inscriptional allusion to Homer. 'This short summary and reconstruction of eighth-century Greek presence in the Ionian and Adriatic seas indicates . . . that all the necessary conditions for familiarity and contacts with native populations already existed by the time the Nestor cup . . . was placed in the Pithekoussai tomb' (p. 86). Similarities in the ranges, shapes, and dates of Corinthian and Euboian pottery exports to the west and the finds on Ithaca argue for a central role of Odysseus' homeland in these sea-borne interactions.

Chapter Three, 'Ithaca and the Cult of Odysseus' (pp. 94-119), sharpens the focus to the homeland of the greatest nostos of all. Ithaca, Malkin maintains, would have been an important stopping place in sea-borne movements of Greeks towards the west. Malkin bases his argument in the material evidence of the dozen or so bronze tripods discovered in a seaside cave at the far end of Ithaca's Polis Bay. Some of this argument is based on negative evidence: both the tripods themselves and their find- spot suggest the hero Odysseus as dedicatee by process of elimination. 'As an interim conclusion, explicit evidence (coinage, the Ithacan ritual), exclusionary considerations (tripods not for nymphs, dedications to gods not in caves), and arguments from the specific religious practices at Ithaca as well as in Greek religion in general point to Odysseus as the most likely recipient of the tripod dedications in the cave on Polis Bay during the ninth and eighth centuries' (pp. 106f.). Malkin tentatively concludes that the discovery on Polis Bay may indicate that Odysseus enjoyed the oldest heroic cult in Greece, dating back perhaps as early as the beginning of the ninth century BC.

Chapter Four, 'The Odyssey's Alternatives: Ethnicity and Colonization in Epirus' (pp. 120-55), argues for fluidity and adaptability of the Odysseus nostos story in the west. Native aristocracies could appropriate the hero's wanderings in order to establish their own heroic genealogies, often in local competition with other aristocratic houses for heroic legitimacy. Particularly interesting here are the stories connecting Odysseus with Aetolia, a region that in later times would be hard-pressed to establish Hellenic legitimacy, as we can see most clearly in the historian Polybios' scathing indictments.[[4]] But Hellenic identity in this period was perhaps only a peripheral concern, and we shall go far wide of the mark in thinking in terms of a Greek-barbarian polarity as articulated in the fifth century BC. 'Epirote and Makedonian royal houses did . . . emphasize blood and kinship in order to construct for themselves a heroic genealogy that sometimes functioned also as a Hellenic genealogy. It was only when the oppositional model of the pan- Hellenic criterion was fully articulated in the fifth century that the genealogical-royal criterion could come into conflict with the general view of Greek ethnicity' (pp. 140f.).[[5]] We do, however, see an oppositional Greek-barbarian divide in the ethnic charter myth of Apollonia, but Malkin insists that this too was the result of territorial expansion and conquest in the fifth century BC, not of the earlier foundation of Apollonia (p. 155; cf. 138).

Chapter Five, 'Pithekoussai, Odysseus, and the Etruscans' (pp. 156-77), and Chapter Six, 'Odysseus and Italy: A Peripheral Vision of Ethnicity' (pp. 178-209), take us to the nostos theme in Italy; the historical implications for which Malkin argues here will be of great interest to Hellenists and Romanists alike. Malkin focuses on the Euboian colonists in Italy, and again we return to the Bay of Naples and in particular to a consideration of the Nestor cup of Pithekoussai. Malkin argues that the cup reveals an implied knowledge of Odysseus and indicates 'the role of the hero as mediator between Greek colonists, the lands they inhabited, and the populations they encountered' (p. 158). Campania was a frontier zone not only for Greeks in this period, but also for Etruscans. Pithekoussai and Kyme on the Campanian mainland, as Malkin stresses, formed part of the stage for the historical process of Greek- Etruscan acculturation. 'This is probably where the Euboian alphabet, the symposion, and Greek myths were transmitted. The archaeological context of contacts between Euboians and Etruscans, the awareness of the Homeric epics among the Euboians, the Etruscan adoption of the Euboian alphabet and particularly of the Euboian form of the name of Odysseus, Odyssean motifs in art among the Etruscans, and the explicit lines of Hesiod about Odysseus as the father of those who ruled the Etruscans have opened the way for a discussion of Odysseus and the Etruscans' (p. 175). The Etruscans, then, were part of the historical phenomenon, outlined in earlier sections of the book, of the native aristocratic adoption of Odysseus as progenitor. Malkin's argument, of course, only makes sense when one maintains historical perspective for this early period, thinking away anachronistic preconceptions based on the long-standing enmity between Greeks and Etruscans as evidenced by the battle off Alalia c. 535 BC.

Malkin goes on to argue that the Romans adopted Aeneas as opposed to Odysseus as legendary founder as a reaction to the Etruscan adoption of Odysseus. Here, on Malkin's reconstruction, the Romans would not have been original in such an oppositional cultural politics, as the Apollonia dedication in Epirus had already shown the way. 'First, we have observed the Epirote pattern of Greeks and Trojans together (Neoptolemos and Andromache, Neoptolemos and Helenos), and this is compatible with the pattern of pairing a Greek and a Trojan in a nostos (Menelaos and Antenor, Philoktetes and Aigesthes, Odysseus and Aeneas). A later development, probably of the early fifth century, was the opposition between Greek and a Trojan . . . the opposition [in Epirus], with all its complexity and conflicting myths, later made famous by Rome, seems to have preceded the emergence of this opposition in Italy' (p. 138). We should seek for the motivation for the Roman adoption of the Trojan legend, then, not as a politico-cultural reaction against Hellenism, but rather in the more localized context of Romano-Etruscan relations.[[6]]

Chapter Seven, 'The Other Nostoi: Nestor, Epeios, Philoktetes, Trojan Siris' (pp. 210-33), and Chapter Eight, 'The Other Nostoi: Diomedes' (pp. 234-57), round off Malkin's study by considering other heroic returns from the Homeric cycle. These figures, Malkin argues, generally did not have the universal appeal of Odysseus; frequently, however, they played important roles at particular sites. Both Greeks and natives could easily syncretize the Homeric with local heroes. Diomedes is something of a special case; he emerged in the Adriatic as a hero of many parts: ' . . . no other nostos has such a wide variety of cultic, political, and ethnic functions. He was a hero of empty places but also the founder of numerous cities. He was very Greek, contrasting Greeks with barbarians, and yet he was mainly worshipped by non-Greeks . . . He was an Argive and Aitolian hero but also a hero of Daunians, Illyrians, Eneti, and Gauls' (p. 234). Diomedes provides a fitting end to this study, as he well illustrates one of Malkin's major themes: the adaptability of the nostos stories to historical contingencies. In an appendix, 'Homeric Issues' (pp. 259-73), Malkin argues that linking Homeric epic to the introduction of writing does not exclude the eighth, ninth, or even tenth centuries as the time of composition. Moreover, the 'fixing' of the text does not preclude alternative 'epic- episodes' tailored to specific needs, as suggested in the case of the Epirote nobility.

The Returns of Odysseus is a bold and imaginative reconstruction of ancient Greek ethnic strategies in employing the epic nostos stories in early encounters with the native inhabitants of western lands. Malkin's arguments are often incisive; the range of his scholarship impressive. Throughout he never loses sight of historical perspective, and he and his editors have produced a beautiful text free for the most part of typographical and other editorial error; this is something one cannot take for granted these days.[[7]] Much of Malkin's study is of a revisionist nature and therefore bound to be controversial; one of his most controversial positions, I suspect, will prove to be the idea of Roman Aeneas as a reaction to Etruscan Odysseus. This book is an important contribution to the lively debate on the nature and function of ethnicity and ethnic representation in the ancient Greek world.


[[1]] E. Hall, Inventing the Barbarian: Greek Self-Definition through Tragedy (Oxford 1989); P. Cartledge, The Greeks: A Portrait of Self and Others (Oxford and New York 1993); J. Hall, Ethnic Identity in Greek Antiquity (Cambridge 1997); M. C. Miller, Athens and Persia in the Fifth Century BC: A Study in Cultural Receptivity (Cambridge 1997).

[[2]] G.W. Allport, The Nature of Prejudice (Cambridge, Mass. 1954).

[[3]] Above [[1]], with my review in Scholia ns 8 (1999) 6, archived at: l.

[[4]] See 125 and notes 22-24 for ancient sources on the Aetolian connection; for Aetolian propaganda in service of Aetolian Hellenic legitimacy in the third century BC, see my 'The Soteria at Delphi: Aetolian Propaganda in the Epigraphical Record,' AJP 116 (1995) 213-20; I have assembled passages of Polybios' anti-Aetolian prejudices in 'Polybius, Aetolia, and the Gallic Attack on Delphi (279 BC),' Historia 45 (1996) 316 n. 5, 323 n. 45.

[[5]] For a concise account of Macedonian/Greek relations, see E. Badian, 'Macedonians and Greeks', in W.L. Adams and E.N. Borza (edd.), Macedonia and Greece in Late Classical and Early Hellenistic Times (Washington 1982) 33-51.

[[6]] G.K. Galinsky, Aeneas, Sicily, and Rome (Princeton 1969) remains valuable on the Trojan foundation legend; see, more recently, E.S. Gruen, Culture and National Identity in Republican Rome (Ithaca 1992) 6-51.

[[7]] I did spot a curious error at p. 194 n. 83: the Greek preposition META/ with the accusative translated as 'with' and with the genitive translated as 'after'; this, of course, must be reversed.