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While total originality is unlikely about a topic as picked over as Greek colonization, when even both elements of the term have been legitimately critiqued (Osborne, Snodgrass), I will argue against opting, as does George Forrest, for “confusion” i.e., for non-analysis of the phenomenon on the grounds that it is too complex. Against Starr, Lactacz, McClew, Tandy, I will argue with Osborne et al. that eighth and seventh century “colonization” was predominantly an informal, relatively spontaneous affair, that only indirectly was it “led” by aristocrats, and only in the sense that they, following Snodgrass and Donlan, are the most plausible innovators in the construction of the polis-form. The new aristocracy, in consolidating their hold on the best land, seem to have sought legitimation in sacrificing at Mycenaean tombs neglected for centuries (Antonaccio), seeking through alleged noble ancestry to differentiate themselves from “kakoi.” But the proto-hoplite warfare already peeping through the cracks in the Iliad (e.g., 16.211-7, cf. van Wees) and the relatively new warfare over land (Qviller) confronted these aristocrats with a contradiction: they needed a strategic minimum martial force to protect their precious land and probably as well a hired workforce to supplement slaves at harvest time (Jameson), and to these they assigned minimal klêroi. At the same time they needed to get rid of “excess” population that was putting pressure on “their” land. Thus, despite the occasional “noble” oikast—many of whom may have been unwanted bastard sons (McGlew) as Archilochos allegedly was, overwhelmingly colonization was carried out by previously small landholders ejected from what had been common land in the very process of polis-formation. The consciousness of these former cultivators of the soil is poignantly suggested in the Odyssey: when Odysseus, disguised as a beggar, is hit with a footstool by Antinoos, his reply (470-2) evokes specifically the bitter mind-set of a former independent farmer capable of fighting for his property. So too, when Eurymachos insults him for his “ravenous belly,” his ferocious response very specifically insists on the individual farmer’s skills of harvesting and plowing as well as proto-hoplite warfare (18.366-80, see Russo ad loc.). Various levels of coercion, extending from the brutal formal implications of the Cyrene decree with its expulsion of one son from each household on pain of death (Osborne 2009: 13-14) to the de facto coercion of haunting starvation, the fear of which is a veritable leitmotif in Hesiod (WD 230, 243, 299-300, 302, 363, 404, 577, 647), to which should be added Hesiod’s account of his father’s motive for seafaring (633-7). Accounts in the Odyssey of desperate wandering (e.g., 11.364-6), of begging under the compulsion of the “belly” (17.228, 286-9, 560; 18.2, 53-4, 364, 380), the sheer numbers of beggars (17.376-7, 18.106) suggest something of the scale and brutality of the process that have been mystified in the later accounts of the colonization process so well analyzed by Dougherty. Indeed, the very harshness of the process goes a long way towards explaining what for Whitman was only a literary problem, namely, the wholesale slaughter in the Odyssey of the suitors as representatives of the emergent oligarchy of the eighth century. The poet could, I believe, assume that a substantial portion of his audience would take great pleasure in the relentless slaughter of these arrogant sons of the rich (1.245-8). The scale and brutality of the process of exclusion from the land are best imagined by comparison to the enclosure movement in sixteenth century England, satirized by Sir Thomas More as “sheep devouring men" and towns, and the wholesale expulsion of Irish peasants in the nineteenth century, denounced by Marx: “Over 1,100,000 people have been replaced by 9,600,000 sheep” (MECW 21.318)


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  • Donlan, Walter, “Changes in the Political Power Arrangements in the Eighth Century BC,” text of a talk at CAMWS 2001, kindly supplied me by the author.
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  • Forrest, George, “Greece: The History of the Archaic Period,” in The Oxford History of the Classical World, eds. John Boardman, Jasper Griffin, Oswyn Murray (Oxford 1986) 19-49
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  • ---. The Economic and Social Growth of Early Greece: 800-500 B.C. (1977 Oxford)
  • ---. The Aristocratic Temper of Greek Civilization (Oxford 1992)
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  • Whitman, Cedric H., Homer and the Heroic Tradition (Cambridge, MA 1958)

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