The Construction of the Image of Peace in Ancient Greece
The aim of this paper is to identify and analyse some of the main poetic and artistic manifestations of the pair peace / wealth, adopting a diachronic and comparative perspective and trying to isolate the most frequent images, metaphors and epithets in relation to that subject. The study of the selected passages intends to clarify how both poets and plastic artists knew and made use of the same very ancient heritage.
The treaty known as the Peace of Nicias, signed between Athens and Sparta, in March of 421 BC, marked the first truce in one of the bloodiest wars of the Greek civilization, the Peloponnesian War. Upon this event Plutarch (Nic. 9.5) joyfully recalled the saying that in times of peace men are woken by cocks, not trumpets (οὐς ἐν εἰρήνῃ καθεύδοντας οὐ σάλπιγγες, ἀλλ’ ἀλεκτρυόνες ἀφυπνίζουσι). The sleeper may also be awakened by the poet’s song, the sweet sound of flutes and percussion of a city rejoicing over its peaceful foundations, deemed to be unwavering. However, the worst war scenario is often the inspiration for the poet’s whimsical thoughts on peace and the gifts that it bestows on cities and men. The Chaeronean author’s assertion, in the context of a biographical narrative, reactivates part of an ancient code, which can be traced back at least to the Homeric Poems, describing the benefits of peace.
In the Iliad (18. 490-496), when the poet describes the detailed scenes and figures chiselled in the shield Hephaistos forged for Achilles, next to the first exterior rim — dedicated to the “wreaths from heaven” (τά τ’ οὐρανὸς ἐστεφάνωται: Il. 18.485) — the second level depicts two cities of men, the first of which immersed in peace and prosperity:
On it he made also two fair cities of mortal men. In the one there were marriages and feastings, and by the light of the blazing torches they were leading the brides from their rooms through the city, and loud rose the bridal song. And young men were whirling in the dance, and with them flutes and lyres sounded continually. And the women stood each at her door and marvelled.
Synthesis, No. 17 (2010)