Negotiating hegemony in early Greek Poetry

Swift, Laura (2021). Negotiating hegemony in early Greek Poetry. In: Zucchetti, Emilio and Cimino, Anna Maria eds. Antonio Gramsci and the Ancient World. Routledge Monographs in Classical Studies. London: Routledge, pp. 44–62.



This chapter uses Gramscian approaches to evaluate how early Greek poetry propagates cultural and political values, with particular reference to Homer, Hesiod, and Archilochus, authors selected because they held particular cultural authority in the Hellenic tradition. It argues that the Gramscian notion of ‘common sense’ is a fruitful way to think about how Greek poetry expresses social norms. The chapter investigates how the texts present the interplay of consent and coercion in the maintenance of hegemonic power, and in particular the relationship between dominant and subaltern groups. It uses as case studies Hesiod’s fable of the hawk and nightingale, the depiction of the relationship between hero and laos in the Iliadic army, and Archilochus’ Fox and Eagle Epode. It argues that the poets should not be understood straightforwardly as ‘promoting’ or challenging’ a value system. Rather, they present a set of normative behaviours, while also demonstrating how these benefit or marginalise different groupings. A Gramscian approach thus offers a sensitive reading of the power balance of early Greek society, and shows us how capable the poets are of exploring the framework in which they operate in a nuanced way.

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