gift, Greece

G. Herman

in Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Classics

Published online December 2015 | e-ISBN: 9780199381135 | DOI:

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In the Homeric poems, gift-giving perhaps receives more attention than any other peaceful heroic activity. It has three outstanding features. First, gifts have an extremely wide range of functions. The word ‘gift’ (dōron) was, as Finley (see bibliog. below) puts it, ‘a cover-all for a great variety of actions and transactions which later became differentiated and acquired their own appellations…payments for services rendered, desired or anticipated; what we would call fees, rewards, prizes and sometimes bribes’ (and, we should perhaps add, taxes, loans, and diplomatic relationships). Secondly, gifts are often extremely valuable; those referred to include cattle, armour, women, and even entire cities. Thirdly, gifts are frequently given within contexts such as *marriage, *funerals, friendship, and ritualized friendship (see friendship, greece and friendship, ritualized), either to initiate or to perpetuate amiable relationships. The claim sometimes made in modern research (by Hooker, for example) that these features of gift-giving existed in poetical fantasy rather than in social reality is contradicted by the recurrence of these features in later non-poetical descriptions of gift-giving.

Article.  638 words. 

Subjects: Economic History ; Greek and Roman Archaeology

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