Epic bias

April 28, 2011

In her interesting take on The Tribal Imagination: Civilization and the Savage Mind (21 April), Camilla Power says that I regard the warrior society of the Iron Age as the hominid environment of evolutionary adaptedness (EEA), and that this mistake leads me to ignore the role of females in evolution. This is obviously not true and slightly baffling.

I specifically use this phase of social evolution as an example of what can happen when the basic feature of male bonding is indeed emphasised and glorified (in this case, in epic poetry written by male poets), and what roles women are assigned in such tales (enabling and disabling). I raise the question of how it would be in societies that were not primarily warrior/hunter-oriented.

As to the role of females in evolution, it is their ameliorating influence that leads me to introduce Trivers' parental-investment hypothesis to balance Lionel Tiger's male-bonding theory. The society of the EEA was indeed as egalitarian as she succinctly describes it, with male dominance kept in check by the means she outlines.

Yes, I do love the warrior epics, but as I hope the book shows, I love a lot of other literature, too. Let a thousand flowers bloom.

Robin Fox, Rutgers University, New Jersey

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