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In The Odyssey, everyone in Ithaca - except Penelope - assumes that since most surviving Greeks returned home shortly after the end of the Trojan War, Odysseus is dead. This legitimises a group of men, the suitors, to court Penelope and claim his kingdom.

War, as is the case with Odysseus, was not the only opportunity for someone to go missing for an extended period of time in ancient Greece. I wonder how long the Greeks would wait before declaring them dead in absentia. How long - for example - a real-life parallel to Penelope would have to wait before remarrying?

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    I'm not privy with the answer but I'd expect this very much depends on the situation. If you're in absentia after a battle it's reasonably safe to assume you're dead -- or that you've deserted and aren't coming back any time soon. Whereas if you just disappear overnight out of nowhere, it might be you just went off for a lengthy trip or something. – Denis de Bernardy May 1 '19 at 19:29
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    In a city state I expect it would be up to the king to decide. When it's the king who is missing anything goes. Presumably the loyalty of Penelope, Telemachus and Mentor led to the throne remaining vacant. – AllInOne May 1 '19 at 21:53
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    I think the main issue we're going to have with this is that the Mycenaean era in Greece (which is this culture this story originated from) actually doesn't have a lot of extant sources other than The Iliad and Odyssey. It predates the Greek Alphabet. – T.E.D. Oct 12 '20 at 18:25
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    I googled this a lot when it was first posted, and tried again in the last few days, but came up with nothing except a fictional reference to someone being presumed dead in a work by Achilles Tatius. Unfortunately, it doesn't really tell us anything and could easily have been inspired by the Odyssey. – Lars Bosteen Oct 16 '20 at 2:47
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    I can't help for Greece, but for Rome I have a textbook saying: "Presumption and declaration of death were unheard in antiquity. Only the Glossators [ca. 11/12th century] make a presumption of living 100 years when lost." (Kaser/Knütel/Lohsse, Römisches Privatrecht, 21. ed 2017; my translation) – K-HB Oct 24 '20 at 21:35

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