Agonistic Exchange: Homeric Reciprocity and the Heritage of Simmel and Mauss

Essay Excerpt

This article aims to bring some classical issues into sharper anthropological focus. I further hope to show how these data may inform and refine thinking about key anthropological issues. To do so I continue along the path set by Finley and valuably advanced by Donlan, Qviller, Morris, Segal, Gould, and other contemporary classicists influenced by social anthropology. For this article that path involves the topic of exchange or reciprocity and its relation to the construction of the social person.

Finley clearly owed his insights to Mauss, and I begin with that seminal thinker. I then proceed to an equally powerful and original analyst of exchange ignored by classicists and most anthropologists, Georg Simmel. I briefly review both Mauss and Simmel and then apply their insights to some Homeric material. To do so I first provide a brief overview of Homeric society and beliefs regarding exchange and then consider four specific examples in more detail, two from the Iliad and two from the Odyssey. I conclude with a few suggestions as to what this may tell us about exchange and the person and the value of Mauss's and Simmel's insights. (Beildelman, 227)

About the Author

Dr. Beidelman is a Professor of Anthropology at New York University. His research interests include: Social anthropology, Africa, religion and symbolism, witchcraft and magic, history of colonialism, Christian missionaries, African literature, urban neighborhood and landscape preservation movements, history of British and European anthropology and sociology. 

"This year I completed a book on colonial rule in a district of Tanzania, East Africa.  It is with a university press and I hope to spend the coming months editing the volume for publication.  I published an article on comparing secrecy in Ancient Greece and the Kaguru of East Africa, as well as numerous book reviews.  I continue to work on studies of the strategies of book reviewing in anthropology, on colonial courts in Tanzania, on the politics of historical landmarking in New York City, and on the use of Homeric studies for teaching introductory social anthropology."

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