.. ted to the Trojan ruling house. Such conscious fraud demands a certain level of business sophistication, which must be coupled with gullible sub-contractors who have no recourse to court or contract. It would seem that in the Trojan world of Asia Minor, which is closer to the Eastern seats of ancient culture and business, this sort of thing happened from time to time, but it was inconceivable to the European “Greeks” who were not yet aware of financial trickery as a component of business contracts. Reasons for being cheated and deceived may be forgotten, but the idea of being treated badly has an way of persisting for centuries, and hate would seem regularly to outlast love We are probably simplistic when we explain the causes of the Trojan War as a need for Greek free trade into the rich Euxine Sea area, although this may also have been involved.
But if the Trojans habitually distrained on debts , and the Greeks built up a bad memory of many such defaults, this would provide exactly the kind of insult upon which a war could be based . But since the common people who go to war and do the fighting need simpler reasons, and in the ancient world people prefer personal actors behind historical events, the Trojan abduction of Agamemnon’s queen, Helen, serves better as the nominal cause for the war. Odysseus’ family is consistent, since each generation on his family tree is in one way or another connected with over-sharp dealing. Odysseus’ mother was Anticleia, the daughter of Autolycos, who was known as a professional thief and virtual con-man, while he himself was the son of Hermes, the habitual dealer in goods of trade. If Odysseus seems a bit tricky, he comes by it naturally. It is no surprise to find that when Cadmos imports the alphabet of Phoenician letters to the Greeks, who has lost their earlier Minoan writing system by the 12 th c. B.C., Odysseus steals it and claims it as his own. We are not surprised to find that Odysseus has somehow wangled the famous arms of Achilles for himself, despite the claims of other warriors and the natural expectation of Achilles’ son Neoptolemos to inherit them.
Sophocles negative treatment of Odysseus in the play “Philoctetes” may be slightly weighted, but it is certainly consistent with the general opinion of the times. Odysseus is never a favorite son of Hellas, although they admire his cleverness grudgingly, much as we admire, while we deplore, the American “robber barons” of l9 th century finance. Even the simple and fun-loving Phaeacians, when Odysseus turns down their invitation to participate in the games, note that he looks like a commercial skipper with his eye on trade, a remark which is not far from the truth. Odysseus takes good care of himself, and we see that when he arrives home at long last, he is the only survivor from his fleet. The businessman’s first business is to take care of himself, heroics are for those who finish last, while true heroism of the spirit is something which the practical Odysseus can easily dispense with. (Note: The Greeks derived Odysseus’ name from the verb ‘odyssasthai’, meaning “to be hated (by the gods?)”, but the derivation could also mean “hateful”.
) Odysseus has a reclaiming human characteristic, his basic monogamous-ness, despite many chances for fun with the ladies and nymphs who were probably a great deal more interesting than the down-to-earth wife he left behind. His instinct is entirely for homing, and this probably represents the theme of an earlier animal-story, in the manner of Aesop and his Indian sources. Animal stories in Greek, except for the late Aesopic importations from the East, are almost totally lacking, the only surviving example is the story of the nightingale, and the rest seem to have been converted to purely human stories at an early date. It seems fair to make this assumption, since all European societies, before and after the Greeks, have a goodly store of animal tales, and there is no reason to think that the earlier Greeks lacked them entirely. The key to Odysseus’ monogamous-ness lies concealed in his wife’s name, Penelope, or in Greek “Penelopeia”, which is identical with the noun ‘penelops’, “a duck”. Wild waterfowl are regularly monogamous, and clearly the story of Odysseus’ years-long wanderings over the face of the waters, opposed by high seas and the god Poseidon, retells in human terms the story of the drake winging his way homeward against all odds.
This is Odysseus’ nature, just as faithfulness to her drake is the mark of Penelope, who fusses and preens at her embroidery, while avoiding competitive males and waiting for her husband. In the Odyssey (but not in the Iliad), Odysseus displays, a specialized kind of discourse almost every time he speaks, in which he sets out a pair of opposing possibilities for the situation at hand, and then selects the one which seems best, which he then puts into action. This way of thinking is not found in the Iliad, it is clearly a new method of discourse created by Odysseus in the Odyssey, and certainly a new way of thinking, This dual point-of-view logic witnesses the development in society of a new Greek “commercial” man, who is trading successfully after the seventh century all over the Mediterranean. He thinks both ways before moving, comparing alternatives, and no longer trusting gut reactions, or the sense of what is right. He is no longer a noble hero, but an effective man of affairs, which is what the Greeks needed after the population explosion in the 8 th c.
B.C. To people who had never had heard of this double-headed tool of logic, it would be an important lesson in the structure of organized thought. Shades of this type of argument can be found in Heracleitos’ doctrine of the complementary opposites, and perhaps even Plato’s duality of ideas-versus-things. By the 4 th Century, society is in need of intellectual simplification of the possibilities, and Aristotle criticizes Plato’s Theory of Ideas in the introductory book of the Metaphysics, on the grounds that it doubles the number of entries for classifying things, since each item must have an idea-entry as well as a thing-entry. He clearly prefers a single entry system for his intellectual bookkeeping, since he is now living in a complex world in which the need to simplify comes before the development of new tools of thought.
The Odyssean world has no such constraints, indeed the idea of noting down the two major possibilities for an action, and the choosing the “best” one, leads to decisions which are “weighed”, even if they have to be made in a hurry. The more one engages in business, the more one has to think this way, since there are always at least two sides to any business venture. One will possible earn you a drachma or a dollar , and the other will probably lose it. Seeing the polar possibilities of any situation suits a trader, it errs in placing both possibilities completely in the conscious mind, and avoids opening the unconscious storehouse of experience. Odysseus’ logicism never delves into deep or mysterious things, it must be used for immediate and practical matters, and it may be this superficiality of Odysseus’ mind which turned the later Greco-Roman world so entirely against him. But the important thing to note about this “new logic”, is that it is really new, and belongs to the revived Greek society which awoke after the Dark Age of the 12 th through 9 th centuries. Nestor, as portrayed in the Iliad, is a fine gentleman of the old school, garrulous and moralistic, with something of the tone of an earlier day Polonius.
Here we have the portrayal of a worthy old grandfather, highly respected in a patriarchal society, who, despite his longness of speech and vagueness of memory as to the real actions of the past, is all the same quite bearable and rather lovable. In the Odyssey we find him back at home, ruling his ancestral city of Pylos, the name of which is so similar to the Gr. ‘pylai’ “Gates, gateway” that we must assume that Pylos was gateway to the well watered lands which lay north and east of its site. In this very town of Pylos we find Telemachos visiting after the war, bathing in a bathtub or ‘asaminthos’, of a design which we find abundantly represented at museum at Cnossos, enjoying the hospitality of a real Mycenean palace. And here we find the real Nestor, an effective ruler of an important town and major shipping port .
In the early years of this century archaeological discoveries revealed the real city of Pylos, and the surprising fact that some ten thousand clay tablets were buried there, with lists of commodities shipped in and out of the port. As we decipher the tablets, half of which are in Greek although written in a different alphabet, we begin to see the economic implications of such a Mycenean shipping center. Year by year more of these tablets are deciphered, and they reveal an entirely different level of culture than the Odyssey portrays. It is a business society, with accountants, scribes, managers, bosses, and upper level administrators, each with his own special prerogatives and title, although we are not always sure from the tablets about the exact organization of this economic hierarchy. Nestor and his economic empire represent a world once thriving but long since gone, with only a few verbal traces in the myths and the ten thousand clay tablets. What Odysseus is doing with his traveling and trading, follows in the wake of what had gone on for half a dozen centuries before the Trojan War, the Minoan-Mycenean societies were firmly established as important economic empires in the second millennium B.C.
Much of what we have been considering must date back into the pre-history of the three millennia before Christ, but the social resistance to inventions which represent change and threaten to disturb existing markets continues through the ages. Petronius tells, in his novel from the first century A.D., a story of a man who invented a new type of unbreakable glass, which he at long last demonstrated to the Emperor . The emperor asked if anyone else knew of his secret formula, the man said he and the emperor were the only two, upon which the emperor had the man killed. The emperor realizes that anything that disturbs the glass trade, which we know to have been a major industry at Rome if only from the amounts of glass which archaeologists constantly recover, will disturb the country economically, and this may easily lead to political turmoil. The Emperor’s action may seem cruel and reactionary, but it in terms of immediate economic effects, perfectly sound: If it is that good, it will be necessary to keep it off the market.
But of course this is nothing new to modern society, which has its own myths of the hundred mile a gallon car, the undullable razor blade, and the cloth that never wears out, none of which (if they ever existed) will even be seen. It is beyond the scope of this paper to discuss all the facets of the pre-Greek society which have major economic implications. The discovery of technology for mining and smelting the metals, the alloying of tin from England with copper from Cyprus to make the improved copper-base allow which we call bronze, the development of ships large enough to carry loads of tin and other heavy materials, as well as cattle and sheep imported into Greece for local breeding from Tyre and Colchis respectively, the importation of the convenient Phoenician alphabet to replace the lost Minoan script- – – all these matters can be elicited from the tangled web of the fabric which we call Greek Mythology. Poseidon’s bull and the Argonautic Golden Fleece represent important stages in economically important animal breeding, and deserve a place in the annals of early history, alongside of the charmingly literary tales into which they are woven. Medicine and psychology each deserve a separate chapter in this vein of historical archaeology, along with the curious inability of the major Homeric heroes, from Heracles to Achilles, to convert their great powers to coherent social behavior. After the last glacial retreat, which occurred some twelve thousand years ago, humankind went into a remarkable fast escalation in a dozen directions, which produced the whole fabric we call Civilization.
The first step was probably the documentable selection and hybridization of certain plants, which in a developed form because what we call the “grain plants”. Seed amaranth and rice in Asia, maize in South America, wheat in the Near East, and cultivation of fruit and nut plants made possible a much larger food supply and naturally a much larger population. The availability of multitudes of human hands made feasible textiles made from cotton or wool, the cotton and wool trades, mines and the metals with their accompanying technologies, and in the wake of all this hustle and bustle, warfare as the earliest of the systems of transfer of goods from one set of hands to another. When large numbers of people begin to over-produce, that is, make more that what they personally need, we begin to accrue surpluses, which immediately lead to trade. Barter may be complex in its processes, but it is intellectually simple, since it proceeds with what are arbitrary but always balanced equations.
But when we begin to evolve complex economic situations, in which the equations are balanced by considerations which lie outside the items which are being exchanged, we enter the world of true economics. Shortages of food or cloth, the need for tin from England to alloy copper from Cyprus to make bronze which will be sold in Denmark, opportunities to accrue capital in cash from deals prompted by famine, greed and a self-growing set of economic parameters – – -these are factors which began to emerge by the fifth millennium B.C., and changed the whole notion of what a society and a nation and an empire could be like. Nothing like this had ever occurred before, in all the hundreds of millennia since man appeared as a Human Being. Now for the first time Man the hunter and gatherer is hard pressed by Homo Faber, man the fabricator and engineer. And they are both eclipsed in the fast ensuing millennia by a new breed of clever, useful, effective and often unscrupulous fellow, who can best be called Homo Economicus.
He is clearly the man of the present world we live in, like him or not, we seem to be unable to do without him, and apparently we desperately need the skills he has. He is certainly in terms of the civilizations we have put up throughout the world, the man of the future. It is a curious fact that the ancient writer and historian Euhemerus approached Greek mythology in virtually the same way, saying that the heroes were originally men who were later commemorated as heroes because of important roles or functions which they performed in their lifetimes. His work has not survived in more than a patchwork of ancient quotations which were collected in the last century by the Hungarian scholar, and we cannot tell how far he pursued this line of investigation. But the very fact that an educated Greek in the ancient period reached for an interpretation of the myths on a historical and social level, shows that even then a religious and spiritual base was felt to be absent.
Perhaps it was not there in the first place, perhaps a basic folk-memory encompassing historical data ranging back some thousands of years was recast in Greece in the mould of myths which had emanated from India along with a handful of the Indo-European sky god personalities. There may even have been other influences from India early in the first millennium BC. ,which we are not aware of, just as there were later influences from India bearing on the philosopher, and the appearance, in the generation of Socrates if not before, of “Aesopic tales”, which are obviously recast from the materials of the Sanskrit Hitopadea and Panatantra. All in all, an analytic study of the Greek mythological lore would seem to be inextricably tied up with the history of previous millennia, with the early history of the Middle East, and with the development of that special and novel breed of human behavior which we call Civilization.