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Kinship Myth in Ancient Greece

Kinship Myth in Ancient Greece

This examination of the use of ancestor myths in ancient Greece enriches the dialogue on how societies often use myth to construct political, social, and cultural identities and alliances.

December 2010
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271 pages | 6 x 9 | 3 maps, 20 figures and tables |

In ancient Greece, interstate relations, such as in the formation of alliances, calls for assistance, exchanges of citizenship, and territorial conquest, were often grounded in mythical kinship. In these cases, the common ancestor was most often a legendary figure from whom both communities claimed descent.

In this detailed study, Lee E. Patterson elevates the current state of research on kinship myth to a consideration of the role it plays in the construction of political and cultural identity. He draws examples both from the literary and epigraphical records and shows the fundamental difference between the two. He also expands his study into the question of Greek credulity—how much of these founding myths did they actually believe, and how much was just a useful fiction for diplomatic relations? Of central importance is the authority the Greeks gave to myth, whether to elaborate narratives or to a simple acknowledgment of an ancestor. Most Greeks could readily accept ties of interstate kinship even when local origin narratives could not be reconciled smoothly or when myths used to explain the link between communities were only "discovered" upon the actual occasion of diplomacy, because such claims had been given authority in the collective memory of the Greeks.

  • Abbreviations
  • Note on Translations and Transliterations
  • Preface and Acknowledgments
  • Chapter One. Kinship and Constructed Identities
  • Chapter Two. Credulity and Historical Causation
  • Chapter Three. Kinship Myth in the Literary Sources: Alliances and Assistance
  • Chapter Four. Kinship Myth in the Literary Sources: Conquests and Territorial Possession
  • Chapter Five. Alexander the Great
  • Chapter Six. Epigraphical Evidence of Kinship Diplomacy: Paradigmatic Inscriptions
  • Chapter Seven. Epigraphical Evidence of Kinship Diplomacy: Local Myths in Pausanias
  • Chapter Eight. Conclusions
  • Appendix One. The Historical Context of Plutarch, Solon 8-10
  • Appendix Two. Greek Myth and Macedonian Identity
  • Appendix Three. A Tale of Two Phoci
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • General Index
  • Index Locorum

Lee E. Patterson is Assistant Professor of History at Eastern Illinois University, where he teaches Greek, Roman, Near Eastern, and world history. He has published articles on Strabo, Pausanias, Alcman, and the Roman Near East.


Kinship Myth and Credulity


In 221 BCE, the city of Magnesia on the river Maeander in Asia Minor made its first attempt to enhance the prestige of its festival for its archēgetis, a sort of patron goddess and founder, Artemis Leucophryene. Earlier the Magnesians had consulted the oracle at Delphi to inquire about the meaning of a manifestation of Artemis in their city. Apollo, speaking through the oracle, required the Magnesians to honor him and Artemis and suggested that the Greeks should treat Magnesian territory as "sacred and inviolable" (ἱερὰν καὶ ἄσυλον). The Magnesians decided that they should hold games with stephanitic prizes in her honor to fulfill this obligation. However, they apparently did an inadequate job advertizing the oracle and may have limited the scope of their invitations to Greek cities closer to them in Asia Minor, so that when the Magnesians sent out announcements of the games and calls for the city's consequent inviolability, the festival attracted little attention. This must have been a severe disappointment to the Magnesians, whose hope was for their games to achieve "isopythic" status, that is, equal in prestige to the Pythian Games at Delphi itself, enhancing their standing among the city-states of the hellenistic world, with special attention to nearby rivals Miletus, Ephesus, and Didyma.So, in 208, Magnesia tried again with much greater expenditure and resources, sending embassies to cities and kings across the Greek world. This time, as we know from dozens of documents originally inscribed on the walls of the agora and that now reside in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, the embassies were much more successful. The documents are essentially the responses of those states and kings who acknowledged the sanctity of the festival and the inviolability, or asylia, of Magnesia.


The Magnesians used a wide variety of arguments to justify the recognition of their asylia, including a claim of kinship with several states. The link was based on a shared ancestor who, certainly in one case, was mythical: Aeolus, from whom were descended the respective founders of Magnesia and of Same on Cephallenia. The response of the Samaeans indicates that they agreed with the Magnesians that their respective charter myths, though independent of each other, both referred to Aeolus as the father or grandfather of the city founder and that, on this basis, they could respect the inviolability of a kindred people. Two of Aeolus' sons were Magnes, the eponymous founder of Magnesia-on-the-Maeander, and Deion, father of Cephalus, the eponym of Cephallenia.


The inscription that records the Samaeans' response clearly spells out this genealogy and so gives us direct evidence of a belief in myth as history and of the embrace of myth as a tool for political gain. This may seem like an odd way to conduct business, but it was quite common in ancient Greece. Aeolus and his immediate family were not as famous as the more flamboyant Heracles; there is not much personality in the scant accounts of these figures. But as eponymous ancestors, they served a very useful function in some Greeks' construction and articulation of their identity and place in the modern political landscape—"modern" meaning the sixth to the second centuries BCE, the range of the evidence we shall consider. To us, these figures never existed, but the Greeks embraced them as earnestly as they did Pericles or Alexander the Great.


Alexander, larger than life and almost quasi-legendary himself, employed myth in the same way that the Magnesians and Samaeans would later. While many people found his insistence on his own divinity rather odd, some of his humbler claims were easier to swallow, including descent from Heracles on his father's side and Achilles on his mother's. After all, these latter claims were based on traditions that predated him. This conceptual contrivance allowed Alexander to justify his lordship over the Thessalians and, after "liberating" Asia Minor from the Persians, his replacement of the Persians as the new master of such places as Aspendus and Mallus.


The cases introduced above involve the use of myth in diplomatic contexts, especially myths of identity. This book seeks to answer the question of why the Greeks offered myths as facilitators of political action, specifically in the context of interstate relations, starting with a description of the circumstances of the diplomacy itself, the myths involved (or most likely involved), and reactions to these uses of myth. My hope is that this study will appeal to a wide audience, while at the same time offering something useful to those who specialize in ancient history or mythology and who will no doubt find much that is familiar, for the implications of this study can be applied in a context far beyond the Greek world. What the Greeks did with their myths was hardly a uniquely hellenic phenomenon; rather, it is a very human thing for a culture to embrace an identity grounded in a putative ancestry that is expressed in the traditional stories of that culture. Jonathan Hall, Anthony Smith, Patrick Geary and others have shown how "myth," if defined broadly enough, is commonly used to create ethnic, national, and other cultural identities, as we shall see presently.


Their studies have also shown in varying ways that we often embrace fictions, and thus deny them to be fictions, despite the evidence put forward by those who apply a more clinical skepticism to the traditions embraced by the majority, a problem of central importance to the study of kinship myth in the ancient Greek world. One might well complain, for example, about the political efficacy of myth when looking closely at the actual pedigree linking Alexander to Heracles through the Argead royal house in Macedonia (as we shall do in a later chapter). There are problems with some of the details, or rather lack of details. The pedigree has shadowy intermediaries, including Temenus and Caranus, and the introduction of the latter to the royal line is clearly a fabrication made by one of Alexander's predecessors. In time Caranus came to be included in the canonical king lists of the Argeads, despite his interloper status, which suggests that the Greeks were generally less concerned with such problems. The scrutiny necessary to verify the pedigree was not as important at that it had been handed down, for the evidence shows that the Argeads' putative Heraclid descent had entered the collective memory of the Greeks and had thus achieved a momentum that propelled Alexander's claims.


Degrees of Credulity


Such scrutiny is precisely what some Greeks brought to bear in their estimation of myth's historical content, suggesting a fundamental contrast with the majority, as Paul Veyne has suggested. Still, we must have a care when proposing such a dichotomy, for several reasons. First, there were in truth different degrees of credulity among Greeks of differing educational backgrounds. The more analytical thinkers did not apply their skepticism to same degree or feel incredulous about the same mythological details. Second, anyone referring to "the Greeks" must be extremely careful when making claims in one sentence about elite families of the archaic period, citizens of classical democratic poleis, and Greeks of the cosmopolitan realms of the hellenistic period. Third, the dichotomy does not always hold. Among the more educated Greeks were kings, statesmen, and politicians who might manipulate kinship myth, even invent it, knowing full well the myth's fictiveness but recognizing its efficacy in the deliberations of a democratic assembly or a royal court or even on campaign. Also numbered among the more educated were mythographers like Hecataeus, who invented myths to accommodate certain realities (political, geographical, and so on), even though mythography was part of the movement of the sixth century that had begun to question the usefulness of myth to explain how the natural and political worlds were the way they were. But the mythographers retained enough respect for myth as a medium by which meaning was shaped to use it for their own intellectual ends. Fourth, the medium of transmission is important to consider. Were myths of identity embraced as readily when presented in drama as in a historical work, for instance?


While we can see the first point demonstrated by such a diverse group as Hecataeus, Herodotus, Aristotle, and Pausanias, who would not have embraced the historicity of even hero myths to the same degree nor embraced the same myths as true, the evidence for responses to kinship myth does suggest a somewhat polarizing trend. Although the Greeks generally believed in the historicity of the heroes and other legendary figures, they approached the reported claims of minotaur- and hydra-slaying with a greater degree of incredulity than the vast majority.8 Thucydides, for example, denies the claim that the Athenian hero Tereus was originally from Thrace itself because the "canonical" version said that he had "dwelt in Daulis in the land now called Phocis but at that time inhabited by Thracians." Thucydides voices this objection in the context of an Athenian treaty with the Odrysian dynasty in Thrace at the outset of the Peloponnesian War in 431 BCE. The implication is that there was a popular tradition of a Thracian Tereus, probably expressed in connection with the treaty, to which Thucydides felt compelled to apply a corrective.


Nonetheless, even these—dare we say it—more "rational" Greeks did not reject these stories outright. We know, for instance, that Aristotle and Thucydides believed in a historical Minos, while Pausanias joins Aristotle in asserting that there was a real Theseus. The more fantastical elements of their stories are suspect to them, but clearly someone like Herodotus saw no logical reason to assume that the heroes were not real. More importantly, he recognized how much they resonated in the collective memory of the Athenians, the Corinthians, and others. For them, the way myth shaped meaning was what gave it its authority. He thus becomes the very medium by which some versions of myth that find disfavor among other intellectuals are disseminated. So even when a scholar comments on myths generated by his own society and otherwise shares in that society's cultural forms and expressions, as in the case of Thucydides in Athens, the scholar does not always appreciate the way myth operates and approaches an account in terms of veracity, as when Thucydides tried to correct Athenian misunderstandings about the real Tereus.


We finish this section by briefly noting a comment of Jonathan Hall's that the Greeks tended not to be so literal in their conception of genealogical connections between the founder and his people and of such connections between communities. Following a model of Anthony Smith of "genealogical" and "ideological" descent, Hall ascribes the latter conception to the Greeks. For example, Dorus was intended to represent metaphorically the solidarity of the Dorians. There are many sectors of the Greek world where we can find this situation prevailing, as when Tyrtaeus assigns a Heraclid origin to the entire citizenry of Sparta, even if only the kings articulated actual pedigrees leading back to Heracles. As we shall discuss in detail in the next chapter, the association allowed Tyrtaeus to attribute the Spartans' outstanding fighting ability to inherited Heraclean prowess.


We noted before, in the case of the Argead royal house, that many Greeks were less concerned about connecting the dots from ancestor to modern descendant. We find ourselves facing this situation especially when dealing with the oral transmission of myth. Even in the example with which we began, we know that the connection between Magnesia and Same was worked out at the level of the ancestors, but it is unlikely that detailed stemmas had ever been expressed to connect those ancestors with the present inhabitants of the respective cities, especially as whatever charter myths they embraced were very probably oral. This will likely be the case in the other examples taken from the epigraphical evidence to be examined later. On the other hand, as Rosalind Thomas has shown, when the mythographers of the sixth and fifth centuries wrote down for the first time the family traditions of elite houses, they found themselves filling in the gaps that had persisted so comfortably in the oral traditions.


It should not surprise us that our written sources strained harder to take less for granted, to insist that traditional claims be backed up with detailed evidence. Herodotus is an excellent example, for this goal is what motivated him (at least in part) to lay multiple versions of a story before the audience so that they could make their own judgments. Such an approach in our written sources largely accounts for the higher level of incredulity that we tend to find there, especially when confronting "popular" traditions, as Thucydides seemed to in the case of the Athenians' putative kinship with the Thracians, another example of a link without detailed pedigrees to back it up.


The Universality of Myth's Uses and Reception


Because of the nature of such thinking about myths, the Greek cases are really examples of a universal phenomenon, or rather two phenomena. First is the way myth is used. This book concerns primarily myths of identity, accounts, or even simply ideas (without a proper narrative) about the origins of a polis, an elite family, a royal dynasty, a tribe, a region, or some other kind of community. Certainly, other civilizations beyond the Greek have employed myth in this way. Second is the way reality is often ascribed to such myths, and we shall get a better sense of that presently.


One need not venture far beyond the Greek world to find political uses of myth. It was in fact a story of Greek origin that came to play so prominent a role in the making of Roman identity. As they began to extend their influence beyond the Italian peninsula and break out into the wider Mediterranean world in the third century BCE, the Romans cited the Trojans as their ancestors. One might expect that choosing an enemy of the Greeks as one's forebears signaled hostility toward the Greeks as the two sides occasionally clashed, especially in the wars against the hellenistic kings. But instead, this choice allowed the Romans to proclaim themselves the inheritors and caretakers of the hellenic legacy, which was part and parcel with their military conquest of the Mediterranean basin, while still maintaining their distinctiveness as Romans. Benefits deriving from this identity accrued not only for the Romans as a people but also for individuals using myth to enhance their political status, learning their lessons from Alexander the Great and his hellenistic successors.


The Julian clan especially stands out in this regard, culminating in the propagandistic efforts of Julius Caesar and his adopted heir Octavian, whose promotion of his family's origins in Aeneas, son of Venus and survivor of the fall of Troy, was so elaborate as to employ the artists of the Ara Pacis and Prima Porta statue and writers such as Virgil and Horace, whose works, above all the former's Aeneid, connected Octavian with the glories of the past (mythical and otherwise) and reinforced their significance in the context of his own achievement as the ostensible restorer of the Republic, its morals, and its glory.


Even so, the vaunted pragmatism of the Romans did not entirely succumb to mythopoeic fervor. One can observe this especially in their use of kinship diplomacy, or lack of it. A notable case is recorded in an inscription of Lampsacus, a Greek city in the Troad. A public decree honoring its citizen Hegesias, this inscription tells a story of attempted kinship diplomacy with the Romans. Along with their sister city Massilia, Lampsacus, in a delegation led by Hegesias, approached Rome in 196 BCE to request an alliance and (probably) protection from Antiochus III, whose imperialistic ambitions had brought him to their vicinity along the Hellespont, which he had crossed to begin his conquest of Thrace. The inscription makes copious use of the terms sungeneia and oikeiotēs, denoting kinship with the Romans based on Lampsacus' putative Trojan origins. To this request, however, the Romans showed indifference because aiding Lampsacus was not deemed to be in their interest.


This pattern recurred as Greek states and others appealed to Rome on the basis of kinship, in the sense that Roman interest was the final deciding point in whether to render help. In similar fashion, personal interest motivated prominent individuals to employ kinship myth. For instance, Pompey, who was already emulating Alexander the Great by reaching for the edges of the known world as he marched toward the Caspian Sea, emulated kinship myth's greatest practitioner further in 66 BCE, when he needed to extricate his forces from a difficult situation in Transcaucasian Albania. Here, he or someone in his entourage, perhaps Varro, may have secured peace with the Albani by arguing for kinship through aboriginal Italian peoples, including the Albani of the Alban Mount who had accompanied Heracles to the East during one of his travels. This was a rare case in which Troy was not the means to connect with a foreign entity.


The Trojan heritage endured as the Roman world transitioned into the medieval, and new peoples with dubious origins emerged and sought to anchor themselves in the classical past. By claiming a common origin with the Romano-Gallic populations that had come under their sway, the Franks declared themselves the rightful inheritors of Troy's legacy, a tradition that gained footing in such accounts as Fredegar's seventh-century story of Francio, leader of a branch that had split from migrating descendants of the fallen Troy. In the Carolingian period, a few towns, including Paris, Reims, Tours, and Metz, which were important aristocratic centers, developed specific connections to Trojan survivors.


Although the Frankish dynasties seem not to have exploited their putative Trojan origins as fully as they might, others came along later to hitch themselves to the Trojan-Roman-Frankish inheritance, especially now that the Franks themselves had achieved the pinnacle of civilization under Charlemagne. These included the Capetians, who employed historians to elaborate on the presentation of Fredegar. Also notable were the Normans, whose link to Troy lifted them out of the morass of their Viking origins, a link promoted by a canon of Saint-Quentin named Dudo. Dudo, commissioned toward the end of the tenth century by Duke Richard I and his son Richard II, was a late product of the Carolingian renaissance, which emphasized classical learning, and thus Dudo knew exactly what fictions he was creating in his Norman history. In this case, the Trojan ancestor was not that noble epitome of pietas Aeneas but Antenor, who was said to have betrayed his own city to the Greeks. The choice was an odd one, but Antenor may have served the Norman dukes' purposes by reminding their enemies that they shared with their founder a dangerous streak, even as their Trojan blood elevated the Normans beyond the pirates Dudo's contemporaries still accused them of being. Though Dudo had no illusions about the fictiveness of this charter myth, his history gained widespread and long-enduring acceptance, the myth itself serving its purpose centuries after the Normans had passed into history.


Even the twentieth century saw its share of political myth-making. As is well known, Adolf Hitler espoused the idea of kinship with the English, considering them a kindred Nordic race to be admired for the success of their global empire and thus worthy of alliance and sharing in the spoils of German hegemony. At least he expressed this in Mein Kampf and Zweites Buch in the 1920s and in speeches and other communications through to the late 1930s, until it was clear that the British would not tolerate the German conquest of Europe. It is not surprising that an irrational man such as Hitler embraced such a historical fiction, even as it was belied by the reality of the multiethnic nature of the British people.


Yet, a shared Teutonic inheritance was also a common motif in British thinking. As sometimes happened in ancient Greece, the reality could be slippery. During the first world war, as the aggressions of the Kaiser's regime proved too much, the prevailing sentiment in Britain was to turn away from the idea of German kinship, leading George V, for instance, to change the dynasty's name from Hanover to Windsor. At the same time, the Celtic and Roman elements in British history were stressed more in scholarly works and propaganda pamphlets alike. Nonetheless, the link to the Germans was never fully abandoned, especially by some of the more conservative elements in British society, owing in large part to the high esteem held for Germany's cultural achievements, the works of great composers such as Beethoven and of writers such as Goethe, even as new anxieties arose about Hitler in the 1930s.


I mentioned above a second phenomenon that recurs in many cultures: an accommodating attitude toward myths. For someone like Patrick Geary, the fictiveness of some nationalistic claims in Europe is problematic because those claims rely on assumptions about the supposedly immutable nature of religion, language, and custom. In Europe, for instance, there have always been claims that the contemporary national, ethnic, linguistic, or cultural makeup of a given region is the direct result of the myriad migrations of the first millennium CE. But how much continuity really lies behind such claims, and how can one give priority to one migration over another? Who, for example, has the better claim to Kosovo, the Albanians, who claimed descent from the ancient Illyrians of that region, or the Serbs, whom Slobodan Milosevic in 1989 linked with the Serbs whose independence from the Ottoman Empire ended at the Battle of Kosovo in 1389? Proponents of each side will argue for the "mythical" status of the other's claim.


Johannes Fried has demonstrated very effectively the way in which credulity and incredulity can clash over the same myth, in this case not a myth of identity but rather a forged document and a historical fiction derived from it that drove one of the most important political conflicts in medieval Europe—the opposition of papal power and of royal or imperial power, pitting the secular authority of the pope against that of kings and especially the Holy Roman Emperor.


Fried's study concerns a document known as the Constitutum Constantini, supposedly originating with the Roman emperor Constantine but in fact forged in the medieval period. By the eleventh century the idea had arisen that through this document Constantine had given Pope Sylvester I and his successors not only primacy over other ecclesiastical officials but also supreme political authority in the western Roman empire, just as Constantine ruled in the East. Known as the Donation of Constantine, this idea in fact was never to be found in the Constitutum. Moreover, the story was a historical fiction. Yet, it gained currency in the collective memory of Europeans, passed down through both literary and oral evidence, as attested by the poet Walter von der Vogelweide (c. 1170-1230), an itinerant performer without a formal Latin education whose knowledge of the Donation came exclusively from oral tradition. It was through written sources that doubts about the information in and attributed to the Constitutum were raised. Although the bishop Otto of Freising did not reject the historicity of the Donation, he noted in the mid twelfth century that other written evidence contradicted certain details about it, such as Constantine bequeathing the empire, including the West, to his sons, which would preclude the grant of secular power to the church.


Others likewise were reluctant to reject the Donation outright but were concerned to qualify its interpretation, as when Otto's contemporary Gerhoch of Reichersberg, an Augustinian provost, argued that Constantine could not have disposed of public property and had made a fine distinction about the limits of the church's authority in the West. In the centuries that followed, the Donation became even more divorced from the actual text of the Constitutum, which almost no one saw, and underwent further changes, producing additional versions to the ones that were already circulating and were generally accepted. In short, this tradition had too much momentum in the minds of most Europeans for it to be rejected, and later popes certainly applied its basic principles with zeal.


Even such intellectuals as named above, though needled by doubts about certain details, could not reject the Donation's overall historicity, no doubt because they were largely cleric and drawn to the interests of the church. But their case reminds us of the Greek scholars who likewise embraced a reality of myth at a certain level, whatever their quibblings and doubts, for the responses to myth of both, despite widely different contexts, were motivated by a common purpose. This purpose was recognized especially by Herodotus, as I noted above: that myth gives shape to the ideas that bind a society, whether they involve a community's origins and sense of its identity, the justification of an elite family to be paramount in a polis or a royal dynasty in a particular territory, or the sanctioning of the authority of a religious body (e.g., the medieval church) to give meaning to those who believe its doctrines. As for the general milieu of medieval thinking about the Constitutum and the Donation, Fried's conclusion is worthy of quotation: The audience of Walter von der Vogelweide


accepted the distortion of memory that was part of the oral tradition simply because they didn't realise that there was any distortion. They had no way of countering it, in spite of the fact that the literary sources contained the knowledge required to correct it, and scholars could actually have done so. The culture of oral memory and the literary tradition were in fact not two separate lines, but were intertwined, influencing each other and reshaping themselves, before emerging in distorted forms as a new element in the cultural memory of the West.


This summation also encapsulates very nicely the issues we face in studying kinship myth in the ancient Greek world and provides my main justification for undertaking this study, with goals that differ from those of the last book written in English on kinship diplomacy: Christopher Jones' Kinship Diplomacy in the Ancient World. Because its importance cannot be underestimated, we will stop for a moment to lay out some points of contrast. In that study, Jones said, "This book is not about myth," by which he seems to have meant that he is less concerned with the mythopoeic concepts and processes that informed the creation of kinship links, opting instead to survey the phenomenon of kinship diplomacy throughout antiquity, with consideration not only of mythical kinship but of links based on, from our perspective, historical explanations, such as hellenistic colonization. While Jones' study serves as a very effective introduction to kinship diplomacy, my intention is to go further with the Greeks' conception and use of kinship myth and, thus, to limit my examples to mythical kinship.


Jones is quite right that the Greeks themselves saw no practical difference between what we would think of as mythical and what would be historical, except in that the former had "the sanction of antiquity." But it is the myths that have drawn me to this study and the goal of assessing Greek credulity. Again, I am applying the term "myth" in a very broad sense. Technical definitions need not encumber the discussion here,= but suffice it to say that I am concerned with the construction and articulation of identity by means of a putative ancestor, to whom a community might turn for an account of its origins, its relationship with other communities, and its place in the panhellenic world (or some region within it). Jonathan Hall has shown that this approach accounts for the creation of specifically ethnic identity, noting that "it is proof of descent that will act as a defining criterion of ethnicity. This recognition, however, does not vindicate a genetic approach to ethnic identity, because the myth of descent is precisely that—a recognition of a putative shared ancestry. The genealogical reality of such claims is irrelevant."


Such a genealogy might be recognized from an outside perspective as lacking veracity, as we would certainly say about a community's descent from Dorus, by which it would claim a Dorian identity. Moreover, an outside perspective, what anthropologists used to call "etic," might see other characteristics, such as language, clothing, burial customs, political affiliations, and so on, as criteria for determining ethnicity. Any of those features might come into play, but in the end, as many anthropological investigations have shown, the choice will be limited to those "which the actors themselves regard as significant." Another way to put this is that the proper "boundaries of the group" are determined by only that group. And when myth is employed in the manner examined in the following chapters, we might think of this perspective as the collective memory of the group, within which the myth has its true significance as an expression of identity.


It should be immediately clear that "the group" in ancient Greece will range enormously in scope and that we are talking about not only ethnic identity but other kinds as well. The significance of a myth of identity will be recognized within the collective memory of the citizens of a single polis, especially through its charter myth or myths; of associated parties of a particular region or within a so-called ethnic group such as the Dorian or Ionian; of the subjects of elite families or royal dynasties with aetiological myths to explain why they deserve their paramount status; of the audiences of particular oral works such as the Iliad or literary such as Herodotus' history, which circulate traditions in much the same way as Walter von der Vogelweide did the Donation of Constantine; or most broadly of Greeks across the wide spectrum of the hellenic world, where, for example, some common Greekness is recognized through collective descent from Hellen, the eponym of all the Hellenes.


If there is a difference between perceptions of myth at the panhellenic level and the most local (e.g., the polis), it is that the stemma of Hellen and his sons, deriving from early sources, is largely stable. Ways to connect to it through local heroes and city founders, however, will result in narratives so localized—that is, charter myths and other stories that respond to the individual conditions and needs of that community, its citizens, its leaders, and so on—as to produce not only epichoric myths but variants of popular heroic accounts. As we shall see, kinship diplomacy, especially as attested in the epigraphical record of the hellenistic period, often involved the reconciliation of variant, sometimes even contradictory, accounts of shared heroes or, alternatively, ostensibly unrelated narratives that were connected through Hellen and his sons.


From National to International


As we have seen, communities relied heavily on myth for the development of an identity within their walls, but its uses beyond also were myriad. Their relations with other Greek and with non-Greek communities were, in a sense, "international." Sungeneia, the usual (but not universal) term the Greeks used to designate kinship, was a bond that opened doors, especially important as the Greek world was filled with enclaves of exclusivity known as poleis. In much of ancient Greece, the polis was the basis of one's political identity, which was expressed through the concept of citizenship. This was something most Greek communities guarded like gold, for with citizenship came the benefits of political participation (usually) and the protections of law. It was also an effective way of raising barriers between states. So when a link extending beyond the community was established, it was a remarkable event indeed.


Homer illustrates this with a story about another important bond called xenia, or "guest-friendship." During the Trojan War, two enemies, Diomedes and Glaucus, meet on the battlefield outside Troy. They fall into the typical Homeric habit of making speeches before hacking at each other, and along the way they come to realize that they have a bond of xenia. This relationship was established generations earlier when Diomedes' grandfather Oeneus received as a guest the hero Bellerophon, from whom Glaucus is descended. The usual rituals of xenia involve providing food, shelter, and entertainment and exchanging gifts, but more importantly a close relationship is established between host and guest. Not only can the roles be reversed and the guest become host in his own home at some future date, but the descendants of the two can extend the same courtesy, respect, and familiar affection to each other. And so Glaucus and Diomedes decide to put their immediate obligations aside and, in stark contrast to the heroic code of claiming the enemy's armor as a war prize to denote one's honor, actually exchange their armor, which have become gifts of xenia (Il. 119-236). In other words, they have put this personal bond ahead of the exigencies of war, acknowledging that in a context more important than the immediate one they are not enemies at all. The scene demonstrates how it could be possible for there to be personal bonds between distant parties in the most unlikely circumstances.


Because almost every case of kinship diplomacy involves one community that needs something from another, it is tempting to say merely that Greek states saw a link of sungeneia as a way to persuade the other community to agree to their proposals. But there is more to it than that. Kinship was meant to be seen as more than a means to an end, a device for immediate purposes. It was essentially an articulation of the same sort of bond between states that existed between members of a family or between citizens of the same polis. And as with xenia, it was not just for the moment but enduring, potentially over generations. Most importantly, as we have said, it opened doors. It provided the context for one "brother" to help out another "brother," an especially useful facility if no other diplomatic device was available for this purpose. The endurance of such bonds is attested in inscriptions that speak of "renewing" kinship that was previously claimed, as in the case of IG IX 1 97 and I.v. Magnesia 34, in which the Phocians "renewed" (ἀνανεόομαι) their ties to the peoples of Tenos and Magnesia-on-the-Maeander, respectively. The use of some form of ananeoomai was not merely formulaic for the occasion of the diplomacy. In some cases, there may actually have been previous diplomacy between the states to which the inscription makes an oblique reference and for which we can find no extant evidence. But in any case, while we can detect a "formulaic" aspect to the diplomatic idiom in which the inscriptions were written, the "formulas" would have no meaning if there was not some genuine belief of continuous kinship behind them.


The term sungeneia finds much usage in inscriptions, mainly from the hellenistic period, that record kinship diplomacy, along with oikeiot&x113;s and their variants. Much of the previous debate about kinship diplomacy centered on the meaning of these terms in the inscriptions. The more specialized and comprehensive works published between 1991 and 2000 built on work done in more piecemeal fashion by scholars such as Domenico Musti and Louis Robert who examined individual passages and inscriptions, noting here and there instances of kinship diplomacy.


Robert's work on inscriptions, especially from Asia Minor, is copious. From his research it is clear that many instances of kinship diplomacy were initiated in Asia Minor in the hellenistic period, not surprising given that most of the cities in question were colonies of other Greek states. Even when those colonizations were historical in nature, occurring, for example, in the great Ionian movements of the eleventh century BCE, the accounts we have of them (many of them derived from native informants and local traditions by Pausanias and others) involved mythical personages. One conclusion to be drawn from Robert's work is that the attempt to account for the origin of a city and especially of its connection with another city often required turning to myth, which could provide information and even a narrative where history could not.


As noted above, the question that seems to have preoccupied scholars of kinship diplomacy most is the meaning and use of the terms sungen&x113;s/sungeneia and oikeios/oikeiot&x113;s. From his analysis of numerous inscriptions, Robert concluded that the terms had distinct senses in general but often meant the same thing, depending on the situation. Other studies have sought to ascertain what sorts of situations called for which terms. As Domenico Musti saw it, c. 240 BCE was a turning point in the Greeks' understanding of sungeneia. Before then, it was used for relationships with a "historical" (from the Greek point of view) basis, supported by a well-established tradition. In the later hellenistic and the Roman periods, artifice came into greater play. Links between cities often were more overt fabrications or were based on more tenuous or remote associations. Among the reasons for this increase of artifice was the fact that newly hellenized cities, for example, old Anatolian cities refounded by the Seleucids, were now invoking newly conceived links with the Greeks.


More recent efforts have not gone much further than Musti and Robert in establishing the applicability of the terms or, to put it another way, the attitudes of the Greeks who used them. What does seem certain enough is that the concept of sungeneia was regarded as a subcategory of oikeiot&x113;s—that is, sungeneia denoted consanguinity only, while oikeiot&x113;s could denote consanguinity but also a variety of other kinds of relationship. Stephan Lücke, however, has criticized the methodologies and premises of his predecessors, especially Elwyn and Curty, asserting that the issue is not the precise meanings of these Greek words but the extent to which the Greeks, in their assertions of linkage or commonality, embraced the concept of consanguinity ("Blutsverwandtschaft") in the first place.


That sungeneia must denote consanguinity begs the question: why must we assume that the Greeks overwhelmingly embraced a genealogical link based on a legendary personage as they undertook interstate diplomatic ventures when our literary sources show that the word has a number of other meanings? Lücke instead prefers to avoid any universal axioms on the subject, arguing that individual uses of kinship terminology must be examined on a case-by-case basis. The controversy over these terms arises because almost none of the inscriptions studied explicitly relate the basis for the interstate connection. We must turn to literary sources to reconstruct possible routes of kinship and have a care when asserting that the cities in question had those particular routes in mind.


When we look for examples of kinship diplomacy in literary sources, however, where we do not encounter the aforementioned problems that plague the epigraphers, we find that the Greeks often resorted to myth to explain their ties of interstate kinship and by and large believed in the reality (or a reality) of the myths. This evidence also provides support for both the ideological and genealogical notions of kinship discussed earlier. Either way, they make clear that, however much care Lücke may wish to take when trying to discern the meaning of sungeneia in inscriptions, his aversion to the mythological interpretation does not accord with the predominant state of affairs as related by the literary evidence.


I do not mean to suggest that myth was the only avenue to success in kinship diplomacy. Other more pragmatic factors were clearly at work in some cases and may also lurk unspoken in our sources of others. For instance, when Alexander cowed the Thessalians into submission following their abortive attempt to throw off the Macedonian yoke, he need not have resorted to myth. His overwhelming forces were certainly enough to convince them to behave. But he cited links through one or possibly both sides of his family, connecting the ruling Aleuadae to his father through Heracles and to his mother through Achilles. Myth often served a useful purpose even in situations in which it was not called for. Whatever the final means of persuasion, kinship myth allowed two states to transform the nature of their relationship, to make the transaction more agreeable. As Andrew Erskine explains, kinship "incorporated the other as part of the family and thus legitimated the request that was being made. It may have been more acceptable to seek favours from relatives than from strangers. To approach strangers for help could be considered as too close to begging." Erskine is primarily talking about cities, but even Alexander would have seen the wisdom in arguing that the Thessalians were family rather than a conquered foreigner.


Redefining the Problem of Kinship Myth


Although it is important to know what the Greeks mean when they use oikeiot&x113;s and sungeneia, the controversy has become so wrapped up in terminology that the myths themselves and the ways they were used have gone out of focus. I am less concerned with whether these terms are interchangeable, whether particular circumstances call for particular terms, and so on. These questions will be relevant, but the main task at hand is to understand better how kinship myth worked in the political activities of the Greeks. For this reason, literary accounts of kinship diplomacy will be of as much importance as the epigraphical evidence.


Because the focus has mainly been on inscriptions, the previous debate about credulity came with a built-in problem: where mythical sungeneia is concerned, all but two inscriptions out of many dozens that refer to kinship reveal nothing of the basis of the kinship. We may know that the two communities are kindred and that the basis of the kinship is mythical in nature, but the inscription does not fill in an important blank for us: does the kinship originate in this account or in that one, with this personage or with that one? That is, while the inscription records that Polis A and Polis B share a common ancestor and we might posit who that ancestor is, we have to turn to an outside source on which to base such a conjecture because the mythological explanation is missing from the inscribed text. This state of affairs also makes it very difficult to answer another important question: did the Greeks believe in the mythical ancestry that their communities claimed to share in the inscriptions?


As noted before, Musti believed that sungeneia and oikeiot&x113;s had no real meaning in most inscriptions issued after c. 240 (at least in cases of mythical kinship) because there were rarely traditions to support the claims made from that time on. The language became the stuff of artifice. Before 240, the terms were genuine expressions of putative consanguinity and other close bonds because such claims were generally made when support was at hand in the established traditions of Greek myth. This concept of "artifice," however, is ultimately based on the traditional view that hellenistic thinkers took an antiquarian interest in the culture of their forebears. But there is a difference between antiquarian interest in the "relics" of the past (e.g., plays, poems) and a public interest in myth itself, which remained a living force in Greek culture even in the changed political circumstances of the hellenistic age. This era was one of cosmopolitanism, to be sure, but the polis was still there and still important for local identity, if no longer a unit of international significance. Myth continued to be important as an expression of local identity. Reactions in Alexandria to a fifth-century play by Sophocles would not be the same as reactions in Phygela to a story that explained the Phygelans' origins among members of Agamemnon's army fighting at Troy. Even the manipulations of myth by the Ptolemies and their ilk are reflections of genuine belief, not necessarily in the palace but in their outward purposes. After all, such claims would have been pointless if the kings expected no one to buy into them.


My hope in this study, especially as we tackle the epigraphical evidence, is to show that the capacity of the Greeks, or at least most of them, to distinguish artifice from older, more "genuine" traditions was not as pronounced as we might think. The collective memory of the Greeks, whether within a single polis such as Phygela in the third century BCE or among the audiences of Homer from Spain to India, yielded authority to traditions old and new by processes similar to those at work in medieval Europe when the Donation of Constantine circulated or even in modern times when claims to certain patches of European territory, varied in their viability (however one might judge that viability), are put forth. The contrast with more analytical thinkers helps to put this conception of myth in relief, for which the literary sources again will be instrumental.


I come back now to this contrast for a further point about the methodological problems this study must face. Though we should have a care not to fall into too simplistic a model of "dichotomy," as there were many degrees of credulity and many different kinds of mythological detail that were accepted or rejected, there does seem to have been a fundamental dissimilarity between the more analytical Greeks, including many historians, philosophers, and geographers, and the general populace, who were less incredulous even about the fantastical achievements of the heroes of old. This state of affairs will be explored in more detail in the second chapter of this book, which will consider in general terms the Greeks' understanding of how myth worked politically. In that chapter I will begin to address the problems a researcher in kinship diplomacy faces with the sources, both literary and epigraphical, which are closely tied to the imprecise thinking of most Greeks on the one hand and the rational attempts by such intellectuals as Diodorus and other historians to come to terms with heroic myth as early history on the other. A principle running through the chapter will be that whatever the degree of credulity, the ancient Greeks conceived of heroic myth as tantamount to their early history. The implications of this principle will be explored in terms of identity and politics.


As happens time and again in kinship diplomacy, communities, their leaders, or both routinely tried to take advantage of Greek mythopoeic credulity by grounding their political claims on myth sanctioned by collective memory. For example, the myth of the Return of the Heracleidae gave legitimacy to the hegemony of Argos and later Sparta, both Dorian communities, as they tried to moderate the common perception of Dorians as foreign interlopers in the Peloponnesus. These efforts were aimed at shaping particular identities. More immediate goals lay behind the efforts of Sparta and Athens to secure the bones of Orestes and Theseus respectively. Just as communities turned to hero cult to cultivate their prosperity in the long term, they imagined immediate material benefits accruing from the possession of these heroic relics.


Having established the general outlines of the Greeks' attitudes toward myth as a political tool, I begin my analysis of the use of kinship myth in the following chapter. Chapters Three through Five cover kinship myth as recorded in literary sources. Chapter Three examines myths used to justify alliances and requests for assistance, while Chapter Four investigates conquests and territorial possession. Inscriptions pose the problem adumbrated above, that the basis of the kinship is rarely given, but literary evidence usually presents a different set of problems.


When our source alleges that kinship was invoked on a particular occasion, he usually explains the basis of the kinship clearly enough. However, we often face difficulties in demonstrating the historicity of the diplomacy or certain particulars of it. An incident recounted by Herodotus at 7.150 is certainly suspect. He claims that Xerxes sent an embassy to the people of Argos just before his invasion of Greece, bidding them to remain neutral in the war on the basis of shared ancestry through Perses son of Perseus. But would Xerxes really have made such a claim? We are also left wondering about the actual circumstances under which Athens and Megara put forth rival claims to Salamis in the sixth century BCE. Reliance largely on later sources such as Plutarch (Sol. 8.1-10) makes the task of answering this question difficult because the sources are so far removed from the events they describe. The same difficulty attends the reconstruction of the Spartan Dorieus' adventures in Sicily in the early sixth century BCE, by which he allegedly sought to be a latter-day Heracles reclaiming his ancestral lands.


This historiographical problem has always complicated assessments of Alexander the Great, who is the focus of Chapter Five. With very little contemporary evidence to go by, we are hard pressed to understand fully many aspects of Alexander and his reign. Within his own lifetime, he presented an enigma to those looking to understand him because of his erratic personality and his tailoring of his image to suit different parties (Greeks, Macedonians, Persians, and other Asians). That he employed kinship myth is not in doubt, especially in Greek cities in Thessaly and Asia Minor. But Arrian, looking back some five centuries from his own time, expresses doubt about whether Alexander could have claimed kinship with the people of Nysa in India.58


The sixth and seventh chapters move to epigraphical evidence, in which we can at least be confident of the historicity of the diplomacy and the fact that kinship was invoked. The inscriptions themselves are the proof. But the problem of identifying the myths remains. Here I suggest a solution through the use of local myths, taking I.v. Magnesia 35 and SEG XXXVIII.1476 as paradigmatic inscriptions. Local myths can provide a glimpse into a given community's sense of its own identity, which is far more likely to be the identity it projects internationally. Our best sources for this type of myth will be those who have had direct contact with the community in question during their extensive travels. Pausanias thus will loom large in Chapter Seven because he wrote much about the communities whose inscriptions (mainly from the hellenistic period) have survived.


The surprising result of this part of the study will be the extent to which communities found ways to bridge their local myths through some panhellenic stemma (usually one of the sons of Hellen) and even reconciled these accounts despite variations in the respective local traditions. Local myth known from Pausanias enables us to assert that Phocis and Tenos based the kinship claimed in IG IX 1 on common descent from Hellen, that the same was true of Miletus and Phygela in StV III 453,60 that the Aetolian League and Heraclea-at-Latmus looked to a shared local hero Endymion in IG IX 12 173, and that Pergamum and Tegea likewise looked to Telephus in I.v. Pergamon 156. What is less clear in these cases is whether the impetus for using these myths came from the community at large, perhaps in the deliberations of the popular assembly, or from prominent individuals who might have a better understanding of the diplomatic issues at hand as well as the political (and mytho-political) situation in the other city. On this point, unfortunately, we have very little to go on.


With far more examples of kinship diplomacy than this study can accommodate, given space limitations, the selections made were informed by a number of considerations. The authors themselves are one focus of the study, and cases in which they are more vocal about their views of a mythological claim of kinship, as we get in Herodotus, Thucydides, and Arrian, are of prime interest. Other authors betray their views through their biases and methods, as we shall see in Plutarch's deference to the tradition that ascribed more deeds to Solon than was in fact his due. Some cases involve the efforts of prominent and ambitious individuals, as opposed to communities, to use kinship myth to advance their personal interests, as with Dorieus and Alexander, while others seem to do so for the good of their community, including Jonathan, the Spartan prince Archidamus, and possibly Pericles (during the Tereus affair), as well as myriad anonymous statesmen who may have lain behind some of the inscriptions produced in the hellenistic period. Jonathan, a High Priest in Jerusalem, is especially instructive for showing us how a non-Greek could understand and employ the tenets of hellenic culture when advancing the interests of the Jewish state in the second century. Finally, the choice of inscriptions, after consideration of the two that do reveal the mythological context and one that gives a tantalizing clue to the process of kinship diplomacy, was based on the feasibility of reconstructing local myths using Pausanias as a source.


Finally, it will be useful to remember three questions that will frame the arguments of what kinship myth involved, how it worked, and how the Greeks conceived of it. (1) How was the myth in question relevant to the participants in the diplomacy? In other words, why, for example, did Alexander the Great refer to Heracles? With what mythological tradition did they associate their present political, activities, military activities, or both, and what meaning did such ancestors and their traditional achievements and qualities hold for them? (2) To what extent did the participants actually invoke the supposed mythical links between the two parties engaging in the diplomatic venture? We will note how pragmatism or egotism often caused a king or state to deemphasize or ignore a link recognized by tradition, while other occasions enabled the opposite approach, the fabrication of a link in the absence of a deeply ingrained tradition. (3) The most important question of all and touching on each of the previous: did the participants and anyone interested in the treaty, alliance, or conquest actually believe in the reality of the ancestral hero or race?


To answer this question, I will include in my discussion (as much as the evidence will allow) (a) the immediate participants—that is, those who made and acknowledged claims of kinship, the leaders and citizens of cities such as Aspendus and Argos, the members of tribes like the Sibi in India,63 and others immediately involved in the treaty, alliance, or conquest, (b) the greater communities of the Greek world, such as everyone who believed that Cimon had retrieved the bones of Theseus or those Greeks who knew of a tradition referred to by Herodotus and Aeschylus of Persian kinship with the Argives through Perses, son of Perseus, and (c) our sources, which were primarily produced by such analytical writers as I have mentioned above. It will be especially important to consider their biases. Why does Herodotus include an account of Xerxes' unlikely embassy to Argos alleging kinship between them? What does Arrian think of Alexander's claims of Dionysian descent in India? From all of this, perhaps we will be closer to an answer to the primary question, why did the Greeks put so much stock in kinship myth for the execution of political action?


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