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Migration in Greek Origin Stories and Oracular Tales

The Phocian Ghost Soldiers Revisited

La migration dans les récits grecs des origines et les contes oraculaires. Les soldats fantômes phocidiens revisités

Elena Franchi

Résumé

According to Herodotus (8.27-28), the Thessalians and their allies with all their military power had undertaken an incursion into the Phocians’ area. During this conflict the Phocians had been locked up on Parnassus, and Tellias, a seer of Elis, suggested to them that 600 of the bravest Phocians should colour themselves and their armour with chalk and surprise the Thessalians at night-time. The Thessalians were frightened and lost. In scholarship the ruse of the chalk has often been put into a context of the Orphic-Dionysian complex of myths and rituals (Müller) and/or it has been considered as a representation of a dead army, having the function of a ruse (Weniger, Henrichs). In this perspective, it has mostly been interpreted as an initiation rite (Harrison, Jeanmaire, West). This paper explores instead the link with a complex of oracular tales predicting migration and people displacement. In these tales the appearance of birds marked by chalk misled and threatened people competing for a country to live in. The outcome marks the origin of this people so much so that these oracular tales functioned as origin stories.

Selon Hérodote (VIII, 27-28), lors du conflit entre les Thessaliens et les Phocidiens, Tellias, devin d’Élée, suggéra aux Phocidiens, retranchés sur le Parnasse, que six cents parmi les plus braves se blanchissent avec de la chaux, eux et leurs armures, afin de surprendre les Thessaliens en pleine nuit. Pour les spécialistes de l’Antiquité, la ruse de la chaux a été interprétée soit dans le contexte des rituels et des mythes orphiques-dionysiaques (Müller), soit dans le contexte de la guerre rusée, les soldats prenant l’aspect de morts (Weniger, Henrichs). Dans cette perspective, la ruse a aussi été surtout interprétée comme un rite d’initiation (Harrison, Jeanmaire, West). Cette contribution explore, au contraire, le lien avec un ensemble de contes oraculaires prédisant émigration et déplacement de populations. Dans ces contes, l’apparition d’oiseaux marqués par la chaux avait pour fonction de menacer des gens en compétition pour la même région. La question de l’origine de ces populations concernées était tellement centrale dans les contes oraculaires, que ces derniers fonctionnaient comme des mythes des origines.

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Extrait du texte

1. Introduction: Phocian wars, chalk-marked soldiers and initiation?1

According to Herodotus (8.27-28), the Thessalians and their allies with all their military power had undertaken, only a few years before the military campaign of Xerxes, an incursion into the Phocians’ area. They had, however, been defeated and killed. During this conflict the Phocians had been locked up on Parnassus, and Tellias, a seer of Elis, suggested to them this ruse: that 600 of the bravest Phocians should colour themselves and their armour with chalk and surprise the Thessalians at night-time. The Thessalians were frightened and thought the white warriors to be a teras. Thousands died. 2000 of the gathered shields were blessed in the sanctuaries of Delphi and Abai, and with a tenth of the haul were built the large statues, which stood around the tripod in front of the shrine of Delphi, similar to the ones in Abai. Through a second ruse the Thessalian cavalry too were defeated, at Hyampolis: the Phocians bu...

Auteur

Université de Trente

© Éditions de l’École des hautes études en sciences sociales, 2017

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