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Networks of Ethnicity in Greek Mythic Genealogies

Benjamin Winnick

University of British Columbia

A panel at last year’s Annual Meeting entitled “Social Networks and Interconnections in Ancient and Medieval Contexts,” demonstrated some ways that classics and archaeology can use Social Network Analysis (SNA). While most network research focuses on real networks, the imagined networks in mythology also provide valuable information. Greek mythic genealogies can be analyzed as networks of characters and familial, cooperative, and hostile relationships in order to provide a new perspective on Greek ethnicity at many levels, as my case study of Pausanias’ Tegean Kings’ List demonstrates.

Hall (1997) argues that the Greeks used mythic genealogies to articulate a sense of common ethnicity through common descent. Ruby (2006) and Vlassopoulos (2007) add nuance to this paradigm by stressing the multiple layers of ethnicity and its polythetic nature. While the Hesiodic Hellenic Genealogy provides a rough breakdown of Greek ethnicity, Acousilaus, Pherecydes, and Pausanias record mythic genealogies that articulate intricate webs of ethnicities. Vlassopoulos (2007, 2015) emphasizes the protean nature of ethnicity, but the quantitative tools of SNA can sort out the tangle and reveal the circumstances that shaped Greek ethnicity at all levels.

Pausanias provides the richest source of Greek mythic genealogies that can be studied as social networks. Although Akujärvi (2005) warns against recklessly using Pausanias to study earlier time periods, I agree with Habicht (1985) that with the proper application, he can be an invaluable resource for Greek historians of all eras because of the richness of his writings.  Scholars can compare Pausanias to other authors in order to better understand when the traditions he records arose.  For example, the presence of Ancaeus, Ereuthalion, and Lycurgus in both Pausanias’ Tegean Kings’ List (Paus. 8.4.3-4, 44-5, 53) as well as The Iliad (II.609; VII.135-49) indicates the antiquity of the Tegean mythic traditions that Pausanias describes.

Applying SNA to Pausanias’ Tegean Kings’ List reveals similar trends to what Voyatzis’ (1990) and Østby’s (2014) archaeological investigations concluded about Tegea’s development.  They argue that Tegea began as a scattered series of settlements that coalesced around the sanctuary of Athena Alea and developed an urban center around the seventh century BCE.  When the Tegean Kings’ List is treated like a social network, this sanctuary’s importance to Tegean ethnicity becomes apparent.  Aleos, the sanctuary’s mythic founder, and his children form a K-core, a subgroup of vertices with connections to at least K other vertices in the subgroup, with a K-value of four, one of only two such K-cores in this network. Aleos also bridges a structural hole (Burt, 1992) between the pan-Arcadian genealogies centered around Arcas and the local Tegean kings. 

The presence of Argive and Laconian ware in the sanctuary of Athena Alea also indicates that Tegea’s genealogical connections to Heracles and Tyndareus represented relations with Argolis and Laconia.  Applying SNA to Pausanias’ Tegean Kings’ List paints a picture similar to the archaeological record of Tegea's development. This indicates the efficacy of this method and hints at the potential of applying SNA to Greek mythic genealogies to study Greek ethnicity in less understood contexts.

Session/Panel Title

Myth and History

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