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Chapter 1 - Heroic Benefactors?

The Limits of Generosity in Homer

from Part I - Benefiting the Community in Early Greece

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 January 2021

Marc Domingo Gygax
Princeton University, New Jersey
Arjan Zuiderhoek
Universiteit Gent, Belgium
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Against the common view that the creation of obligations through generosity in gift-giving and hospitality is a pervasive feature of the Homeric world and an antecedent of the classical and later culture of euergetism and benefactions, a survey of the epic evidence shows that this type of generosity is in effect confined to ‘international’ relations. Within Homeric communities, ‘gifts’ are almost always forms of payment for services rendered or tributes to those of higher status, and the flow of wealth is from the community to the elite more than vice-versa. The origins of public benefactions therefore do not lie in a culture of gift-giving but in an ideology of ‘public service’ owed by the elite to the community. In Homer, such service is ideally performed in war, counsel and the administration of justice, but as political and military changes reduced the scope for elite performance in these arenas while public spending needs increased during the archaic period, the community increasingly came to expect financial services instead from the elite.

Benefactors and the Polis
The Public Gift in the Greek Cities from the Homeric World to Late Antiquity
, pp. 15 - 43
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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