This is an exciting and entirely new synthesis, combining anthropology, political and social history, and the close reading of central Greek texts, to account for two of the most significant features of Homeric epic and Athenian tragedy: the representation of ritual and of codes of reciprocity.
Both genres are pervaded by these features, yet each treats them in very different ways. In this book, Dr Seaford shows that these differences cannot be accounted for in merely literary terms, but require a historical explanation. Homer is a product of the city state at an earlier historical stage than is tragedy. It is the growth of the city-state and its concomitant developments - in particular of law and of money, as well as in the practice of ritual - that provide a key to the crystallization of the Homeric narrative tradition, to the specificity of tragedy, and to certain features of the thought of the period. In the case of reciprocity, again whether the positive reciprocity associated with gift exchange or the hostile reciprocity of revenge - the systematic distinctions between Homer and tragedy can be explained only from a historical perspective. In its characteristic movement tragedy reflects and confirms the transition from one kind of society towards another: from a network of reciprocal relations, characteristic of societies where the state is weak or absent, to the organization of citizens around a single centre or series of centres - the institutions and cults of the city-state. Challenging, thoroughly lucid, and at times controversial, this lively, original yet accessible work is the first to attempt to understand the development of early Greek literature from the perspective of state formation. It should make enlivening and important reading for students, scholars, and anyone interested in the history or the literature of classical Greece. All Greek is translated.
`Richard Seaford's magisterial study, Reciprocity and Rituals: ... must now ensure that commentators on Homer, tragedy and the emergent city-state will in future neglect ritual at their peril ... Seaford's theory is an impressive intellectual, subsuming every dimension of Greek society ... it will undoubtedly prove to be one of the most important woks on Greek religion and society to have appeared in the last quarter of this century.'
The Times Literary Supplement
`There is so much here and about so many things that it's not easy to decide what to say in a brief assessment except to urge all to join their libraries waiting list for loan ... this book is certainly no depressing read ... stimulates rather than disturbs ... and it is full of neat little points.'
Greece and Rome
`This is a passionately and lucidly argued book that brings together S.'s work over many years in a bold synthetic vision ... here is a book not afraid of broad scope or of extended argumentation ... This is an important book that will provoke strong disagreement as well as admiration - but even in disagreement, the effort is well worth it.'
Simon Goldhill, King's College, Cambridge. The Classical Review, XLV, 2, '95