Odyssey Literary Analysis Essay

In 2000, American military historian Victor Davis Hanson wrote that “any time the Western way of war can be unleashed on an enemy stupid enough to enter its arena, victory is assured. ” Beyond idolizing Western civilization’s military performance throughout history, Hanson’s statement raises several questions about the development of this particular approach to warfare and its various consequences and implications at local and global scales. This evolutionary process traces back to Ancient Greece (c. 800 BCE), of which the main if not only written accounts of the time were Homer’s epics.

Both the Iliad and the Odyssey not only stand as the prime works of literature of antiquity —and, thus, entertainment-, but also illustrate the archetypical Greek role model as a heroic warrior and adventurer. Most scholars coincide that these characters with God-given prowess and divine aegis were inspired in the ruling landed aristocrats from the early city-states or poleis. These used such religious themes as a unifying force to bring about the synoikism, or the coming together of the oikos (“households”), and to bestow upon themselves the power to govern the emerging structured societies.

However, the continuous population growth of the newly formed urban centers and the associated increases in demand for resources (e. g. land and food) triggered an extensive and persistent change in the structures and institutions of the polis. This research seeks to address one of these particular events, the Hoplite Reform, which encompasses from tactical and demographic transformations in the military to further socio-economic consequences beyond the martial sphere, into the domestic affairs of the polis.

The introduction of the phalanx and the ensuing creation of the hoplite “middle” class induced a more egalitarian redistribution of wealth and a steady political transition to broader and more inclusive forms of government. Initially, these reforms root down to the individual costs incurred by the citizen-soldiers of participating in the army (explicit costs) and forgoing the benefits of engaging in their civilian activities (implicit costs).

Nonetheless, these can be offset by economic incentives to protect or expand their wealth, and political ones – intricately linked to the ancient Greek moral value system – to increase their status in society. Ultimately, the citizen-soldiers engaged in a constant trade-off between military and agricultural lifestyles following the lines of rational choice, for they picked the alternative that adjusted the most to their interests. The aggregate behaviors of all the citizens of the poleis shaped the socioeconomic and political panorama of ancient Greece, to an extent that it influences modern society.

Given the lack of specific primary and secondary sources about the topic on a single area, this research addresses a variety of locations across Archaic Greece. Moreover, even though spatial and temporal variations are abundant between city-states, this investigation looks forward to derive the more general and unifying features among them. The Scholarly Battle: Orthodox versus Gradualist To set forth “The Hoplite Debate,” Kagan and Viggiano gather a myriad of contending scholarly perspectives around the issue and classify them within the most prominent schools of thought: orthodox and gradualist.

The orthodox current claims that the transformations triggered by the Hoplite Reform took place in an abrupt and sudden manner, and, thus, can be categorized as an intense revolution. Kagan and Viggiano claim for a precipitated change in the archaic Greek structure and perception of warfare beginning with Homer’s epics. Such evolution of the fighting style, from the individual combat between hero-aristocrats to the massive engagement of entire hoplite armies, was driven in great part by the innovations in weapons, armor and tactics.

Nonetheless, the invention of the double-griped hoplon and the rearrangement of heavy infantry into a cohesive phalanx formation had various political, socioeconomic and psychological implications outside the battlefield, especially concerning the creation of a hoplite middle class. This model is most similar to George Grote’s thesis, as both claim that the Hoplite Reform marked the turning point between Homeric aristocratic fighting style and values into the later broader sociopolitical structure and mindset.

Thus, this changes forced the narrow, highborn aristocracy to secede a substantial portion of their power. Yet, it only enabled the creation of a broader oligarchy and never reached the extent of a full democracy in the short run – the landless poor, thetes, remained unattended until the creation of the Athenian navy c. 480 BCE. According to Antony Andrewes, the fracture of the aristocratic monopoly of power was possible through the leadership of tyrants (e. g. Peisistratus) and their support from the hoplite middle class.

From another vantage point, Victor Davis Hanson amalgamates the economic and cultural perspectives around the hoplite mindset: Not only did such men find it in their own economic and political interests to fight decisively—they had no wish to be absent from their farms on long campaigns and no desire to tax or spend to hire others to do so—but also spiritually such fighting reaffirmed the free farmers’ preeminence in Hellenic culture at large Hoplites supported the government that aligned with their economic and political interests, while allowed them to increase their status through the achievement of arete (“excellence”) in service to the polis. This leads to his second point on the issue in which he claims that conflicts were driven by the struggle over land – including marginal plots that could have not been cultivated without the development of iron tools.

This means that the middle-class soldiers fought not only to protect their own oikos – economic and political interest -, but also to defend the territory encompassed by their polis, under the regime that advocated for their interests as well. On the other hand, the gradualist perspective defends a much more smooth and prolonged development of the polis’ late socioeconomic structure. Anthony Snodgrass suggests a piecemeal evolution in which “the aristocratic soloists took up new items of equipment before the invention of the phalanx,” even before the rise of the tyrants. He affirms that there was no climactic point in which the fighting style and military structure changed, but rather aggregate events at which an increasing number of citizens could afford their own panoply and participate in the army.

Another gradualist viewpoint is Paul Cartledge’s, who claims that the broader socioeconomic and political circumstances had a greater influence than the period’s military developments. His main driving motives for warfare were the increasing overpopulation and land hunger: communities competed to accumulate the maximum amount of land, even within the same polis. From the accumulation of small-scaled conflicts, the “wealthy and well equipped commoners” become a major faction within the Greek poleis and the ruling aristocrats had no choice but to integrate them into the army. Inevitably, as the power of independent farmer-hoplites kept rising, the aristoi had to acquiesce to the ensuing reforms to avoid stasis and civil strife.