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HorkosThe Oath in Greek Society$
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Alan Sommerstein and Judith Fletcher

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9781904675679

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: May 2014

DOI: 10.5949/liverpool/9781904675679.001.0001

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Epinician Swearing

Epinician Swearing

(p.91) 8 Epinician Swearing

Bonnie MacLachlan

Liverpool University Press

Swearing on oath was a common practice in ancient Greece. A puzzling aspect of oath-taking is that assertory and promissory oaths tend to be taken only in situations of epistemic uncertainty. In epinician poetry, a discrepancy exists between the usual circumstances of oath-taking in the Greek world and references to testifying under oath: oaths were typically sworn in situations of mistrust. This chapter examines the ‘rhetorical trope’ in epinician lyric whereby the singing voice (the ‘poetic I’) often swore to the truth of its assertions. It looks at Bacchylides, who twice swears an oath while leaning on Earth, and Pindar, who often calls upon the language of oath-taking and testifying. More specifically, the chapter considers how Bacchylides and Pindar see themselves as reporting truth, and also discusses the act of giving testimony as a feature of the pragmatics of oath-taking.

Keywords:   ancient Greece, oath-taking, oaths, epinician poetry, mistrust, Bacchylides, Pindar, truth, testimony

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