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The Homeric Talent, its Origin, Value, and Affinities

  • William Ridgeway

This paper is an endeavour to discover (1) the origin, (2) the value, and (3) the affinity of the Talent of the Homeric Poems to other systems. In those Poems we find two systems of denominating value, the one by the ox (or cow), or the value of an ox, the other by the talent (τάλαντον). The former is the one which has prevailed and does still prevail in barbaric communities, such as the Zulus, where the sole or principal wealth consists in herds and flocks. For several reasons we may assign to it priority in age as compared with the talent. For as it represents the most primitive form of exchange, the barter of one article of value for another, before the employment of the precious metals as a medium of exchange, consequently the estimation of values by the ox is older than that by a talent or ‘weight’ of gold, or silver, or copper. Again in Homer all values are expressed in so many beeves, e.g.

(Il. vi. 236.)

The talent on the other hand is only mentioned in relation to gold; for we never find any mention of a talent of silver. But the names of monetary units hold their ground long after they themselves have ceased to be in actual use, as we observe in such common expressions as ‘bet a guinea,’ or ‘worth a crown,’ although these coins themselves are no longer in circulation.

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page 134 note 1 Cf. Plautus, , Persa, ii. 5, bini bones sunt in crumena.

page 135 note 1 Even at Athens in times of extreme scarcity of coin Solon put the ox at five silver drachms.

page 135 note 2 Two Attic drachms = 135 grs.; the Daric = 130 grs. But practically they were equal.

page 137 note 1 Hultsch, , Metrologie 2, p. 162sqq.

page 137 note 2 Head, Historia Numorum, p. xxviii.

page 137 note 3 Ibid. xxix.

page 137 note 4 Brandis, , Münz-Mass-und-Gewichtswesen, p. 19.

page 138 note 1 Hultsch, op. cit. 396; Brandis, 46, seqq.

page 139 note 1 Head, op. cit. xxxvi.

page 140 note 1 Head, op. cit., xxxvi.

page 140 note 2 One of electrum weighs about 207 grs. Hultsch (p. 191) thinks the later Aeginetic really a Peloponnesian standard. The gold unit of 130 grs. gives 10 silver staters of 195 grs. 130 × 15 = 1950.

page 146 note 1 Hultsch, p. 405.

page 149 note 1 Cf. Brandis, op. cit. p. 5.

page 150 note 1 Hultsch, op. cit. p. 433.

page 150 note 2 Cf. Brandis, p. 80.

page 150 note 3 Cf. Hultsch, p. 471.

page 152 note 1 Cf. The Book of Wonderful Stories, ascribed to Aristotle, 833 b, 14;

page 152 note 2 Of course the size of the nuggets would vary somewhat in different regions.

page 153 note 1 That a very short time serves to fix a monetary unit based on an article of barter, is shown by the ‘skin’ = 2 shillings, employed in the Hudson Bay Territory. It meant originally a beaver skin. Though of course the actual value of a skin is now much more, the conventional money unit ‘skin’ remains unchanged. So the ‘bar,’ originally a bar of iron, represents at Sierra Leone 3s. 6d. worth of any kind of goods.

page 157 note 1 President Sullivan called my attention to this use of ‘ancilla.’

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The Journal of Hellenic Studies
  • ISSN: 0075-4269
  • EISSN: 2041-4099
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-hellenic-studies
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