Messing More with Homer: Megara, Salamis, Athens and Solon

A few weeks back we posted a passage from Plutarch implying that Athenians manipulated the Homeric epics to political ends. Here’s another accusation from Plutarch’s Life of Solon (10.2-3).

“Many report that the record of Homer was introduced into the contest by Solon. They say that he read this line he interpolated this line into the Catalogue of Ships at the trial

“Ajax led twelve ships from Salamis
And after he arrived he stationed his troops where the Athenians were”

But the Athenians themselves believe that this assertion [i.e. that Solon interpolated lines] is nonsense.”

οἱ μὲν οὖν πολλοὶ τῷ Σόλωνι συναγωνίσασθαι λέγουσι τὴν ῾Ομήρου δόξαν· ἐμβαλόντα γὰρ αὐτὸν ἔπος εἰς νεῶν κατάλογον ἐπὶ τῆς δίκης ἀναγνῶναι (Il. 2. 557)·

Αἴας δ’ ἐκ Σαλαμῖνος ἄγεν δυοκαίδεκα νῆας,
στῆσε δ’ ἄγων ἵν’ ᾿Αθηναίων ἵσταντο φάλαγγες.

αὐτοὶ δ’ ᾿Αθηναῖοι ταῦτα μὲν οἴονται φλυαρίαν εἶναι

The context of the anecdote is a trial over Athenian claims to the island of Salamis. Solon insisted that the Salaminian and Athenian contingents were together and thus had a shared history, justifying Athenian control over the island. For other versions of this ‘trial’, see Aristotle Rhet. 1335b26-30; Strabo 9.1.9-10; and Diogenes Laertius. 1.48.

Strabo’s version, in fact, gives the Megarians a Homeric response of their own:

“The Athenians seemed to have provided this kind of a testimony from Homer, but the Megarians sang in response that “Ajax, led ships from Salamis, Polikhnê, and from Aigeiroussê, Nisaia, and Tripodes”. These are Megarian lands, of which they say that “Tripodes” is the Tripodiskion where the marketplace of the Magarians is currently situated.”

οἱ μὲν δὴ ᾿Αθηναῖοι τοιαύτην τινὰ σκήψασθαι μαρτυρίαν παρ’ ῾Ομήρου δοκοῦσιν, οἱ δὲ Μεγαρεῖς ἀντιπαρῳδῆσαι οὕτως „Αἴας „δ’ ἐκ Σαλαμῖνος ἄγεν νέας, ἔκ τε Πολίχνης, ἔκ τ’ „Αἰγειρούσσης Νισαίης τε Τριπόδων τε.” ἅ ἐστι χωρία Μεγαρικά, ὧν οἱ Τρίποδες Τριποδίσκιον λέγονται, καθ’ ὃ ἡ νῦν ἀγορὰ τῶν Μεγάρων κεῖται.

Here, the people of Megara claim that Ajax’s contingent included men from their lands. Thus, their connection is closer! For a great article on this exchange, see Carolyn Higbie. “The Bones of a Hero, the Ashes of a Politician: Athens, Salamis, and the Usable Past.” Classical Antiquity 16 (1997) 278-307.

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