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Contesting the Past: Hero Cult, Tomb Cult, and Epic in Early Greece

Carla M. Antonaccio
American Journal of Archaeology
Vol. 98, No. 3 (Jul., 1994), pp. 389-410
DOI: 10.2307/506436
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/506436
Page Count: 22
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Contesting the Past: Hero Cult, Tomb Cult, and Epic in Early Greece
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Abstract

Greek hero cult has been extensively discussed by both archaeologists and philologists. This paper considers two current hypotheses: one links the development of hero cult in the eighth century B. C. with the circulation of Homeric poetry; the other views hero cult as a transformation of ancestral veneration in the context of the emergent polis. A review of the archaeological evidence for the Iron Age and Early Archaic period suggests that the earliest hero cult in the archaeological record emerged at Sparta during the eighth century. The small number of early hero cults, and their location and distribution, do not lend support to the theory of Homeric influence. Veneration of ancestors, on the other hand, was practiced widely in the Greek world throughout the Iron Age; it did not disappear with the emergence of the polis and hero cult. Rather than a single, unified concept, ancestral and hero cult articulated different versions of the past. Conflicting or competing concepts, both ritual and epic, serve to debate the past within and between communities. In Greece, as elsewhere, the debate helps to mediate social change within a framework of culturally determined rules.

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