ὑμετέρη ἀρχῆθεν γενεή : redefining ethnic identity in the cult origins and mythical aetiologies of Rhianus' ethnographical poetry

Title: ὑμετέρη ἀρχῆθεν γενεή : redefining ethnic identity in the cult origins and mythical aetiologies of Rhianus' ethnographical poetry
Source document: Graeco-Latina Brunensia. 2019, vol. 24, iss. 1, pp. 195-206
  • ISSN
    1803-7402 (print)
    2336-4424 (online)
Type: Article
This is a meticulous survey about foundation stories, cult origins and mythical Aetia in Rhianus' ethnographic poetry. During the Hellenistic period, interest in aetiology became very strong and there was an increasing focus on obscure and local stories from all over the Greek world and beyond. Harder (2012: p. 25) claims that as "the world became larger the need for a shared Greek past became stronger as well". Rhianus of Crete was a Hellenistic epic poet and grammarian of the second half of the third century BC. My contribution aims to give a fresh rereading of the poetic fragments and suggests that Rhianus chose places and myths that Greeks of the third century BC, and especially immigrants to Egypt, Syria or Italy, would enjoy reading because they were reminded of mainland Greece and their Greek identity. Both genealogy and aetiology leap from the crucial beginning, be that a legendary founder or one-time ritual event, to the present with a tendency to elide all time in between. The powerful aetiological drive of Rhianus' ethnography works to break down distance and problematize the nature of epic time. In Rhianus' aetiologies, we find a strong connection between the narrative present and the mythical past as a "betrayal" of the Homeric tradition. The absolute devotion to the past in Homer collapses in Rhianus' aetiology, where we find a sense of cultural continuation.
  • This article is the result of a research paper presented at the Laetae Segetes VI Conference (Brno, 12–14 November 2018).
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