Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Master of Arts




Stocking, Charles H.


In this thesis I challenge the dominant conception of gift giving in the Iliad. In Chapter 1 I show that the textual evidence does not support the idea that different categories of gift giving are denoted by word choice. In Chapter 2, I show that modern theories are not able to explain perfectly the instances of gift giving in the Iliad. Furthermore, I show that the use or avoidance of gift-terms in the poem can carry meaning. In Chapter 3, I take the conclusions from the previous two chapters and apply them to a focused analysis of the exchange between Diomedes and Glaukos in Iliad 6, showing that the language of the scene can allow us to analyse the exchange as more than only an instance of gift giving.

Summary for Lay Audience

This thesis is concerned with the act of gift giving in the epic poem the Iliad, the oldest surviving piece of ‘Western’ literature, which tells part of the story of the Trojan War.

Since the publication of Marcel Mauss’ structuralist interpretation of gift giving in 1925, scenes of gift giving in the Iliad have been analysed in a reductionist manner, with some believing that every gift serves the purpose of negotiating status between donor and recipient. I argue, instead, that the language of the poem resists such a universalising interpretation.

Relying on a close reading of the text, I analyse the vocabulary associated with object exchange in a number of scenes in the Iliad. I focus in particular on the armour exchange between the Greek hero Diomedes and the Trojan hero Glaukos in Book 6. I show that the language of this scene differs from all other instances of gift exchange in the poem. This suggests, on the one hand, that the scene cannot uncritically be interpreted as that of gift giving, and, on the other hand, that the problematizes the universality of anthropological gift theory.