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THAMYRIS OF THRACE AND THE MUSES OF MESSENIA

Peter Wilson
Mediterranean Archaeology
Vol. 19/20, PROCEEDINGS OF THE 25TH ANNIVERSARY SYMPOSIUM of the AUSTRALIAN ARCHAEOLOGICAL INSTITUTE AT ATHENS: Athens 10–12 October, 2005 (2006/07), pp. 207-212
Published by: Meditarch
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/24668201
Page Count: 6
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THAMYRIS OF THRACE AND THE MUSES OF MESSENIA
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Abstract

In this paper I examine the first appearance in surviving literature of the Thracian singer Thamyris, at Iliad II 594–600. The story of Thamyris' antagonistic encounter with the Muses is told as an elaboration on the reference to the city of Dorion in the southern Peloponnese (Messenia). The localization of this event was a source of ancient dispute. I argue that the Homeric reference should not be seen as a poetic slip (Dorion mistakenly for Dotion, in Thessaly), but that Thamyris was a figure properly at home in the context of the tradition of Messenian cult and myth. In attempting to excavate that tradition, I show that Thamyris was very probably associated from an early date with the Oechalia in Messenia identified by some ancient authors with the site of the important mystery cult of Andania. A picture emerges of Thamyris as a figure prominent in that mystery cult, or its ambient mythology. I suggest that one reason for the particularly aggressive representation of Thamyris in the Iliad is that the tradition—musical and eschatological—in mystery cult which he represents may have posed a threat to the particular vision of death and its memorialization in poetry endorsed by the Iliad.

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