Homer's characters are often very far from an unreflecting struggle for status at others' expense. Rather than being a 'zero-sum game', their negotiations can be of an impressive delicacy, designed to protect the 'face' of the other. Gifts and visible deference are important measures of honour, but characters also care about what others really feel. This sensitive study reveals that at the beginnings of (surviving) Greek literature Homer's audience is expected to appreciate psychology and self-control of a very high order. Literary analysts, historians, anthropologists and indeed archaeologists will have much to learn here about the general level of sophistication of the historic and prehistoric societies which generated such deeply civilized poetry.
Ruth Scodel, of the University of Michigan, is an internationally-respected analyst of Greek literature.