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Near Eastern Sources for the Palace of Alkinoos

Near Eastern Sources for the Palace of Alkinoos


The last quarter century of archaeological discoveries have significantly enriched and nuanced our understanding of interactions between the Greek world and the Levant during the Greek Archaic period (conventionally defined as 776–479 B.C.E.). They have also allowed us to construct an increasingly detailed model explaining the diffusion of knowledge from Mesopotamia to Greece at this time. In addition, advances in our understanding of oral cultures, and the role of oral narrative traditions within them have cast valuable new light on the ways in which the Homeric epics appropriate, adapt, and preserve cultural knowledge. The palace of Alkinoos, described in Book 7 of the Odyssey, poses an interesting problem for archaeologists and Homerists alike, in that it departs significantly from the generalized, or “formulaic,” image of a Homeric palace and, moreover, departs equally from Bronze and Iron Age Greek architecture. In order to account for anomalous features such as these, one must always take into account the narrative function and context of the description, which in this case suggests a possible Near Eastern origin. Archaeological evidence not only confirms the possibility, but allows us to take the comparison further: although some of its features doubtless belonged to a stereotypical Greek image of Near Eastern palaces, the description is sufficiently detailed and coherent that we can identify Assyrian palatial architecture as the chief prototype of the palace of Alkinoos.

Near Eastern Sources for the Palace of Alkinoos

By Erwin Cook

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 108, No. 1 (January 2004), pp. 43–77

DOI: 10.3764/aja.108.1.43

© 2004 Archaeological Institute of America