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Odyssey 5.234-53 and Homeric Ship Construction: A Reappraisal

Samuel E. Mark
American Journal of Archaeology
Vol. 95, No. 3 (Jul., 1991), pp. 441-445
DOI: 10.2307/505490
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/505490
Page Count: 5
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Odyssey 5.234-53 and Homeric Ship Construction: A Reappraisal
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Abstract

Since its reinterpretation by Lionel Casson in 1964, the boat-building passage at Odyssey 5.234-53 has been widely accepted as a reflection of a construction technique by which mortise-and-tenon joints, secured by wooden pegs, were used to fasten plank edges together. Recent research into ships built with laced construction supports an alternative interpretation that Odysseus joined the planks with dowels and then secured the planking with pegs and lacings. A review of the Iliad, the Odyssey, and archaeological evidence suggests that the Mycenaeans used pegged mortise-and-tenon joinery in shipbuilding until the dissolution of the social structure of the Late Bronze Age. Because of this social collapse and the subsequent depopulation of the Greek mainland, the Iron Age Greeks returned to the much simpler method of laced construction. Eventually, the method of building ships with pegged mortise-and-tenon joinery was rediscovered or reintroduced. The ships and construction techniques described in the Iliad and the Odyssey are thus anachronisms. Homer is describing ships of his own time, not those of the Bronze Age.

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