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Idealized portrayal of Homer dating to the Hellenistic period, British Museum

Homer (Ancient Greek: Ὅμηρος [hómɛːros], Hómēros) is the name ascribed by the ancient Greeks to the legendary author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, two epic poems which are the central works of ancient Greek literature. The Iliad is set during the Trojan War, the ten-year siege of the city of Troy by a coalition of Greek states. It focuses on a quarrel between King Agamemnon and the warrior Achilles lasting a few weeks during the last year of the war. The Odyssey focuses on the journey home of Odysseus, king of Ithaca, after the fall of Troy.

Many accounts of Homer's life circulated in classical antiquity, the most widespread being that he was a blind bard from Ionia, a region of central coastal Anatolia in present-day Turkey. Modern scholars consider them legends.[1][2][3]

The Homeric Question—by whom, when, where and under what circumstances were the Iliad and Odyssey composed—continues to be debated. Broadly speaking, modern scholarly opinion falls into two groups. One holds that most of the Iliad and (according to some) the Odyssey are the works of a single poet of genius. The other considers the Homeric poems to be the result of a process of working and re-working by many contributors, and that "Homer" is best seen as a label for an entire tradition.[3] It is generally accepted that the poems were composed at some point around the late 8th or early 7th century BCE.[4] The poems are in Homeric Greek, also known as Epic Greek, a literary language which shows a mixture of features of the Ionic and Aeolic dialects from different centuries; the predominant influence is Eastern Ionic.[5][6] Most researchers believe that the poems were originally transmitted orally.[7]

From antiquity until the present day, the influence of the Homeric epics on Western civilization has been great, inspiring many of its most famous works of literature, music, art and film.[8] The Homeric epics were the greatest influence on ancient Greek culture and education; to Plato, Homer was simply the one who "has taught Greece" – ten Hellada pepaideuken.[9][10]

Date of the Homeric poems

Part of an 11th-century manuscript, "the Townley Homer". The writings on the top and right side are scholia.

Ancient Greek scholars debated when Homer lived. Some believed him to have been an eyewitness to the Trojan War, others thought he had lived up to 500 years afterwards.[11] Contemporary scholars continue to debate the date of the poems; at one extreme Richard Janko has taken an 8th century BC date, at the other scholars such as Gregory Nagy see 'Homer' as a continually evolving tradition which only ceased when the poems were written down in the 6th century BC.[12][13] Martin West has argued that the Iliad echoes the poetry of Hesiod, and that it must have been composed around 660-650 BC at the earliest, with the Odyssey up to a generation later.[14][15] A long history of oral transmission lies behind the composition of the poems, complicating the search for a precise date.[16]

Textual sources

Aside from the authorship of the works, another question is whether there ever was a uniform text of the Iliad or Odyssey. Considered word-for-word, the printed texts as we know them are the product of the scholars of the last three centuries. Each edition of the Iliad or Odyssey is a little different, as the editors rely on different manuscripts and fragments, and make different choices as to the most accurate text to use. The term "accuracy" implies an original uniform text. The extant manuscripts of the whole work date to no earlier than the 10th century CE. These are at the end of a thousand-year chain of lost manuscripts, copied as each generation of manuscripts disintegrated or were lost or destroyed. The numerous extant manuscripts are so similar that a single original can be postulated.[17]

The time gap in the chain is bridged by the scholia, or notes, on the existing manuscripts, which indicate that the original had been published by Aristarchus of Samothrace in the 2nd century BCE. Librarian of the Library of Alexandria, he had noticed a wide divergence in the works attributed to Homer, and was trying to restore a more authentic copy. He had collected several manuscripts, which he named: the Sinopic, the Massiliotic, etc. The one he selected for correction was the koine, which Murray translates as "the Vulgate". Aristarchus was known for his conservative selection of material. He marked lines that he thought were spurious, not of Homer. The entire last book of the Odyssey was so marked.

The koine had in turn come from the first librarian at Alexandria, Zenodotus, who flourished at the beginning of the 3rd century BCE. He also was attempting to restore authenticity to manuscripts he found in a state of chaos. He set a precedent by marking passages he considered spurious, and by himself filling in material that seemed to be missing. Neither Zenodotus nor Aristarchus mentioned any authentic master copy from which to make corrections. Their method was intuitive. The current division into 24 books each for the Iliad and Odyssey came from Zenodotus.

Murray rejects the concept that an authoritative text for the Vulgate existed at the time of Zenodotus. He resorts to the fragments, the quotations of Homer in other works. About 200 existed at the time Murray wrote. Some of these match the current texts, some seem to paraphrase them, and some are not represented at all. Murray cites the Shield of Achilles, which also appears as the Shield of Heracles in Hesiod. Murray concludes that the epic poems were still in "a fluid state". He presents 150 BCE as the date after which the text solidifies around the Vulgate. Of the 5th century BCE, Murray said "'Homer' meant to them ... 'the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey', but we cannot be sure that either ... was exactly what we mean by those words."[18]

The earliest mention of a work of Homer was by Callinus, a poet who flourished about 650 BCE. He attributed the Thebais, an epic about the attack on Boeotian Thebes by the epigonoi, to Homer. The Thebais was written about the time of the appearance of the Greek alphabet, but it could originally have been transmitted orally. The Iliad is mentioned by name in Herodotus with regard to the early 6th century, but there is no telling what Iliad that is. Almost all the ancient sources, from the very earliest, appear determined that a Homer, author of the Iliad and Odyssey, existed. The author of the Hymn to Apollo identifies himself in the last verse of the poem as a blind man from Chios.

Nevertheless it is possible to make a case that Homer was only a mythological character, the supposed founder of the Homeridae. Martin West has asserted that "Homer" is "not the name of a historical poet, but a fictitious or constructed name."[19] Oliver Taplin, in the Oxford History of the Classical World's article on Homer, states that the elements of his life "are largely ... demonstrable fictions."[20] Another attack on the biographical details comes from G.S. Kirk, who said: "Antiquity knew nothing definite about the life and personality of Homer."[21] Taplin prefers instead to speak of Homer as "a historical context for the poems." His dates for this context are 750–650 BCE, without considering Murray's "fluid state".

With or without Homer, according to Murray, there is little likelihood that the Iliad and Odyssey of the early sources are the ones we know. Based on the assumption that the Iliad was recited at the Panathenaic Games, which started in 566 BCE, Gregory Nagy selects a date of the 6th century for the fixation of the epics, as opposed to Murray’s 150 BCE.[22] All of these views are only philologic. Regardless of whether there was or was not a Homer, or whether the texts of the Homerica were or were not close to those that exist today, philology alone does not shed any light on the similarities between Mycenaean culture and the geographical and material props of the world of Homer.

Archaeology, however, continues to support the theory that much detailed information survived in the form of formulae and stock pieces to be combined creatively by the rhapsodes of later centuries. A number of combined archaeological and philological works have been written on the topic, such as Denys Page's "History and the Homeric Iliad" and Martin P. Nilsson's "The Mycenaean Origin of Greek Mythology." The linguist Calvert Watkins went so far as to seek an inherited Proto-Indo-European language origin for some epithets and the epic verse form.[23] If he is correct, the stock themes and verses of rhapsodes may be far older than the Trojan War, which would, in that case, have been only the latest opportunity for an epic.

Life and legends

Homer and His Guide, by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825–1905), portraying Homer on Mount Ida, beset by dogs and guided by the goatherder Glaucus (as told in Pseudo-Herodotus)

Ancient biographies of Homer

Many traditions circulated in the ancient world concerning Homer, most of which are lost. Modern scholarly consensus is that they have no value as history. Some claims were established early and repeated often - that Homer was blind (taking as self-referential a passage describing the blind bard Demodocus[24][25]), that he was born in Chios, that he was the son of the river Meles and a nymph, that he was a wandering bard, that he composed a varying list of other works (the Homerica), that he died either in Ios or after failing to solve a riddle set by fishermen, and various explanations for the name 'Homer'. The two best known ancient biographies of Homer are the Life of Homer by the Pseudo-Herodotus and the Contest of Homer and Hesiod.[26][27]

Etymological theories

Raphael's inspired Homer on Mount Parnassus.

Homer is a name of unknown origin, ostensibly Greek. However, many Greek words, and especially names in the east, where the Greeks were in contact with eastern language speakers, were loans, approximations, or paraphrases of foreign words. For example, Darius to the Greeks was Dārayava(h)uš,, "holding firm the good", to himself and the other Old Persian speakers. Cadmus, overthrown king of Thebes, reported to have been Phoenician, was probably seen as an "easterner", from the Semitic triliteral root q-d-m, "the east".[28] Priam was perhaps from Luwian Priya-muwa-, which means "exceptionally courageous". Many names have a derivation from a foreign language but also fit or partially fit derivations from Proto-Indo-European through Greek. There are but few rules to assist the linguist in identifying which is the most likely.

Etymologies for the name Homeros reach beyond the Greek. On the one hand, he may have a Hellenized Phoenician name. West conjectures a Phoenician prototype for Homer's name as a patronymic, Homeridae (male progeny from the line of Homer), *benê ômerîm ("sons of speakers")—i.e. professional tale-tellers.[29] Here the patronymic would designate the guild. In Greek, the Homer in Homeridae would have to be in the singular, the implied single ancestor of a clan practicing a hereditary trade. The hypothetical semitic ancestors are in the plural; where ben can be used for one father, the -id- construction can never designate a plural father.

On the other hand, Proto-Indo-European etymologies are also available. The poet's name is homophonous with Greek ὅμηρος (hómēros), "hostage" (or "surety").[30] This word is in the Attic dialect, and was a word in general use. In the vitae of Pseudo-Herodotus and Plutarch, it had a relatively obscure meaning "blind", which is interpreted as meaning "he who accompanies; he who is forced to follow (a guide)".[31] The geographic specificity of the word typically is explained by a presumption that it was known mainly in Aeolis on the coast of Asia Minor, the locale where Homer performed, and therefore is a word of the Aeolic dialect.[32] There is no linguistic reason other than usage for thinking so. The letter eta brands the word as being East Greek, as opposed to the West Greek Cretan form, which has an alpha instead. Ionic and Attic also were East Greek. Proclus' Chrestomathia, however, explicitly says, "the tuphloi were called homeroi by the Aeolians"[33] Throughout Pseudo-Herodotus, ὅμηρος (hómēros) is synonymous with the standard Greek τυφλός (tuphlós), meaning "blind".

The characterization of Homer as a blind bard begins in extant literature with the last verse in the Delian Hymn to Apollo, the third of the Homeric Hymns,[34] later cited to support this notion by Thucydides.[35] The author of the hymn claims to be a blind bard from Chios. This claim is quite different from the mere attribution of the hymn to Homer by a third party from a different time. The claim cannot be false without the supposition of a deliberate fraud, rather than a mere mistake. Also, critics have long taken as self-referential[36] a passage in the Odyssey describing a blind bard, Demodocus, in the court of the Phaeacian king, who recounts stories of Troy to the shipwrecked Odysseus.[37]

Despite the insistence of the surviving sources that Homer was blind, there are many serious objections to the "blind" theory. A few of the vitae imply that he was not blind. If he could not write, then he was illiterate and incapable of composition. A large poem would have been beyond the capacity of human memory without the assistance of written cues. Moreover, the images in the poem are very graphic, but a blind man would never have experienced the scenes of the images. Answers exist to all the objections.[38] The example of John Milton, who composed and dictated Paradise Lost while totally blind, demonstrates that a blind man can compose an epic. Albert B. Lord's The Singer of Tales, on the topic of epics sung by modern rhapsodes, shows that epics of that size have been in fact being composed spontaneously from memorized elements in modern times. The problem of visual cues can be solved if Homer can be presumed not to have been blind from birth, but to have become blind, which is the point of view of Pseudo-Herodotus.

In the latter source, Homer, after losing his sight to disease, embarks on a career as a wandering rhapsode, or impromptu composer of poems at public gatherings. Either at the beginning of his career or early in it, he assumes a stage name, reputedly "the blind man", which declares himself to be in the category of blind prophets, who see with inspired inner vision, but not with outer, bringing a sort of divine glamor to the performance. Not all the vitae agree on the meaning of the name. There is nothing biological about the Greek roots. The word is segmented Hom-eros, where Hom is from Greek homou, "together",[39] and the second -ar- in arariskein, "join together",[40] the eta in -eros being East Greek. The "blind" meaning joins together the blind man and his guide. Other unions are certainly possible, provided they are attested. Gregory Nagy uses a phrase, phone homereusai, "fitting [the song] together with the voice" found in Hesiod, a contemporary of Homer, to interpret Homeros as "he who fits (the song) together".[41]

Consideration of the name as a type leaves open the possibility that any rhapsode could conform to it—that is, there was no biographic original named Homer. West says, "The probability is that 'Homer' was not the name of a historical Greek poet but is the imaginary ancestor of the Homeridai; such guild-names in -idai and -adai are not normally based on the name of an historical person."[29] They were upholding their function as rhapsodes or "lay-stitchers" specialising in the recitation of Homeric poetry.

Cultural background

Ancient Greek coast of Anatolia

William Ihne examining the sources counted as many 19 locations in classical times that claimed Homer as a citizen, including Athens, which accepted Smyrna as Homer’s native city, but insisted the city was its colony. The cause of these multiple claims was civic competition for the honor.[42] Ihne chose Smyrna because some of the Vitae identify the word Homer as Aeolic, and Smyrna had an Aeolic background. These circumstances give precedence to the longest, most detailed vita, that of Pseudo-Herodotus, which is one of the sources that identify Smyrna as originally Aeolian.

The Aeolians were one of the three major ethnic groups of ancient Greece, the other two being Ionians and Dorians. Aeolians came mainly from Thessaly, occupying also Boeotia at an early date, after the Trojan War, in parallel to the occupation of Peloponnesus by the Dorians. They had their own dialect of East Greek. Hesiod as a Boeotian was a member of the group, which is substantiated by the Aeolic phrases related to the name of Homer found in his works. The Aeolians colonized the northwest coast of Asia Minor, calling their region Aeolis, and Lesbos.[43] The villages to which they immigrated were already populated by the descendants of the Trojan War population. They were keeping the lore alive, according to Pseudo-Herodotus. Aeolis extended from the coast opposite Lesbos to Smyrna on the edge of Ionia. The Aeolian League contained 12 cities, including Smyrna. To the south were the 12 cities, or dodecapolis, of the Ionian League. At about 688 BCE Smyrna was taken by Colophonians who had ostensibly come to a festival there and it passed into Ionian hands.[44]

The political relevance of the two leagues came to a practical end in the latter half of the 5th century BCE when most of the cities around the Aegean joined, or were forced to join, the Delian League, a koine implementing the hegemony of Athens. Each city must contribute men and ships or money to a common defense force. The treasury was kept at Athens. The details and conjoined events are the topic of ThucydidesHistory of the Peloponnesian War. Inscriptions from those times offer a basis for the study of Aeolic. Buck distinguished three dialects, Thessalian, Boeotian, and Lesbian.[45]

The Ionian cities in Asia Minor spoke a dialect of Ionic. In the border region between Ionia and Aeolis it was modified to include features taken from Aeolic, creating an Ionic-Aeolic mixture similar to that of the Homeric poems.[46] For example, Chios had always been a member of the Ionian League,[47] and yet Chian “contains a few special characteristics, which are of Aeolic origin.”[48] The same sort of admixture did not occur at the Ionic-Dorian border in southwestern Anatolia.

From the fact that Lesbian acquired more Ionic features in poetry over the course of time Janko argues for “a northward expansion of Ionian population and speech at the expense of the Aeolians.”[49] Aeolic was gradually assimilating to Ionic, but after the 5th century BCE both began to assimilate to the now widespread sister dialect of Ionic, Attic, and the koine that developed from it in the Hellenistic period. Attic began to appear in the inscriptions of Ionia in the 4th century BCE and had displaced Ionian by about 100 BCE. In 281 BCE the new kingdom of Pergamon acquired the Aeolic coast of Anatolia, separating Lesbian, which was gone from the kingdom by the 3rd century BCE. Lesbian went on until the 1st century CE and was the last Aeolic dialect to disappear.[50]

G.S. Kirk, who tends to be somewhat skeptical concerning the biographic details given in the vitae, at least extends a limited credibility to some basic circumstances as “at all plausible.” Homer is most frequently said to have been born in the Ionian region of Asia Minor, at Smyrna, or on the island of Chios, dying on the Cycladic island of Ios.[51] These areas were either Aeolian or partially so. Smyrna had not yet been taken by the Ionians. Chios had been settled by pre-Hellenic tribesmen from Thessaly, but the language remains unknown. They may have been Aeolic-speaking. The association with Chios dates back to at least Semonides of Amorgos, who cited Iliad 6.146 as by "the man of Chios".[52] An eponymous bardic guild, known as the Homeridae (sons of Homer), or Homeristae ('Homerizers')[53] existed there, tracing descent from an ancestor of that name. On Ios were used some words known to be Aeolic; for example, Homêreôn was one of the names for a month in the calendar of Ios.[54] The Smyrna connection is alluded to in the original name posited for him by several vitae: Melesigenes, “born of Meles", a river which flowed by that city.

The poems give evidence of familiarity with the natural details and place-names of this area of Asia Minor;[55] for example, Homer refers to meadow birds at the mouth of the Caystros,[56] a storm in the Icarian sea,[57] and mentions that women in Maeonia and Caria stain ivory with scarlet.[58] However, Homer also had a geographical knowledge of all Mycenaean Greece that has been verified by discovery of most of the sites. Wilhelm Dörpfeld, the classical archaeologist,[59] suggests that Homer had visited many of the places and regions which he describes in his epics, such as Mycenae, Troy and more. According to Diodorus Siculus, Homer had even visited Egypt.[60]

Works attributed to Homer

Achilles being adored by princesses of Skyros, a scene from the Iliad where Odysseus (Ulysses) discovers him dressed as a woman and hiding among the princesses at the royal court of Skyros. A late Roman mosaic from La Olmeda, Spain, 4th–5th centuries CE
Detail of Achilles
Detail of Odysseus (Ulysses)

Today only the Iliad and Odyssey are associated with the name 'Homer'. In antiquity, a very large number of other works were sometimes attributed to him, including the Homeric Hymns, the Contest of Homer and Hesiod, the Little Iliad, the Nostoi, the Thebaid, the Cypria, the Epigoni, the comic mini-epic Batrachomyomachia ("The Frog-Mouse War"), the Margites, the Capture of Oechalia, and the Phocais. These claims are not considered authentic today and were by no means universally accepted in the ancient world. As with the multitude of legends surrounding Homer's life, they indicate little more than the centrality of Homer to ancient Greek culture.[61][62][63]

Identity and authorship

Statue of Homer outside the Bavarian State Library in Munich

The idea that Homer was responsible for just the two outstanding epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey, did not win consensus until 350 BCE.[64] Although some scholars, such as W. B. Stanford,[65] argue that the stylistic similarities are too consistent to support the theory of multiple authorship, more recent scholars, such as Gregory Nagy[66] and Martin West,[67] find it unlikely that both epics were composed by the same person. Martin West writes: "Most scholars nowadays consider that the Iliad and the Odyssey are the work of different authors. This is what is indicated by the many differences of narrative manner, theology, ethics, vocabulary, and geographical perspective, and by the apparently imitative character of certain passages of the Odyssey in relation to the Iliad."[68]

Most scholars agree that the Iliad and Odyssey underwent a process of standardisation and refinement out of older material beginning in the 8th century BCE. An important role in this standardisation appears to have been played by the Athenian tyrant Hipparchus, who reformed the recitation of Homeric poetry at the Panathenaic festival. Many classicists hold that this reform must have involved the production of a canonical written text.

Other scholars[who?] still support the idea that Homer was a real person. Since nothing is known about the life of this Homer, the common joke—also recycled with regard to Shakespeare—has it that the poems "were not written by Homer, but by another man of the same name."[69][70] Samuel Butler argues, based on literary observations, that a young Sicilian woman wrote the Odyssey (but not the Iliad),[71] an idea further pursued by Robert Graves in his novel Homer's Daughter and Andrew Dalby in Rediscovering Homer.[72]

Independent of the question of single authorship is the near-universal agreement, after the work of Milman Parry,[73] that the Homeric poems are dependent on an oral tradition, a generations-old technique that was the collective inheritance of many singer-poets (aoidoi). An analysis of the structure and vocabulary of the Iliad and Odyssey shows that the poems contain many formulaic phrases typical of extempore epic traditions; even entire verses are at times repeated. Parry and his student Albert Lord pointed out that such elaborate oral tradition, foreign to today's literate cultures, is typical of epic poetry in a predominantly oral cultural milieu, the key words being "oral" and "traditional". Parry started with "traditional": the repetitive chunks of language, he said, were inherited by the singer-poet from his predecessors, and were useful to him in composition. Parry called these repetitive chunks "formulas".

Exactly when these poems would have taken on a fixed written form is subject to debate. The traditional solution is the "transcription hypothesis", wherein a non-literate "Homer" dictates his poem to a literate scribe between the 8th and 6th centuries BCE. The Greek alphabet was introduced in the early 8th century BCE, so it is possible that Homer himself was of the first generation of authors who were also literate. The classicist Barry B. Powell suggests that the Greek alphabet was invented c. 800 BCE by one man, whom he calls the "adapter," in order to write down oral epic poetry.[74] More radical Homerists like Gregory Nagy contend that a canonical text of the Homeric poems as "scripture" did not exist until the Hellenistic period (3rd to 1st century BCE).

New methods also try to elucidate the question. Combining information technologies and statistics stylometry analyzes various linguistic units: words, parts of speech, and sounds. Based on the frequencies of Greek letters, a first study of Dietmar Najock[75] particularly shows the internal cohesion of the Iliad and the Odyssey. Taking into account the repartition of the letters, a recent study of Stephan Vonfelt[76] highlights the unity of the works of Homer compared to Hesiod. The thesis of modern analysts being questioned, the debate remains open.

Homeric studies

The study of Homer is one of the oldest topics in scholarship, dating back to antiquity. The aims and achievements of Homeric studies have changed over the course of the millennia. The initial problem of ancient Greek scholarship was establishing a canonical text of the poems, explaining points that were difficult (whether linguistically or culturally).[77] The Byzantine scholars such as Eustathius of Thessalonica and John Tzetzes produced commentaries, extensions and scholia to Homer, especially in the 12th century.[78] The first printed edition of Homer was produced in 1488 in Milan. Virgil was more widely read during the Renaissance and Homer was often seen through a Virgilian lens.[79] Friedrich August Wolf's Prolegomena ad Homerum launched modern Homeric scholarship, arguing that the poems were assembled at a late date by literate authors from a large group of much shorter poems that were originally transmitted orally. Wolf and the 'Analyst' school, which led the field in the 19th century, sought to recover the original, authentic poems which were thought to be concealed by later excresences. In contrast the 'Unitarians' saw the later additions as superior, the work of a single inspired poet.[80][81] In the 20th century, Milman Parry and Albert Lord, after their studies of folk bards in the Balkans, developed the 'Oral-Formulaic theory' that the Homeric poems were originally improvised. This theory found very wide scholarly acceptance.[82] The 'Neoanalysts' sought to birdge the gap between the 'Analysts' and 'Unitarians'.[83][84] Today Homeric scholarship continues to develop.[85]

Homeric Greek

The Homeric epics are written in an artificial literary language or 'Kunstsprache' only used in epic hexameteric poetry. Homeric Greek is shows features of multiple regional Greek dialects and periods, but is fundamentally based on Ionic Greek, in keeping with the traditional that Homer was from Ionia. Linguistic analysis suggests that the Iliad was composed slightly before the Odyssey, and that Homeric formulae preserve older features than other parts of the poems.[86][87]

Homeric style

Homer in the company of Calliope, the Muse of epic poetry (replica of Roman Imperial mosaic, c. 240 CE, from Vichten)

Aristotle remarks in his Poetics that Homer was unique among the poets of his time, focusing on a single unified theme or action in the epic cycle.[88]

The cardinal qualities of the style of Homer are well articulated by Matthew Arnold:

[T]he translator of Homer should above all be penetrated by a sense of four qualities of his author:—that he is eminently rapid; that he is eminently plain and direct, both in the evolution of his thought and in the expression of it, that is, both in his syntax and in his words; that he is eminently plain and direct in the substance of his thought, that is, in his matter and ideas; and finally, that he is eminently noble.[89]

The peculiar rapidity of Homer is due in great measure to his use of hexameter verse. It is characteristic of early literature that the evolution of the thought, or the grammatical form of the sentence, is guided by the structure of the verse; and the correspondence which consequently obtains between the rhythm and the syntax—the thought being given out in lengths, as it were, and these again divided by tolerably uniform pauses—produces a swift flowing movement such as is rarely found when periods are constructed without direct reference to the metre. That Homer possesses this rapidity without falling into the corresponding faults, that is, without becoming either fluctuant or monotonous, is perhaps the best proof of his unequalled poetic skill. The plainness and directness of both thought and expression which characterise him were doubtless qualities of his age, but the author of the Iliad (similar to Voltaire, to whom Arnold happily compares him) must have possessed this gift in a surpassing degree. The Odyssey is in this respect perceptibly below the level of the Iliad.

Rapidity or ease of movement, plainness of expression, and plainness of thought are not distinguishing qualities of the great epic poets Virgil, Dante,[90] and Milton. On the contrary, they belong rather to the humbler epico-lyrical school for which Homer has been so often claimed. The proof that Homer does not belong to that school—and that his poetry is not in any true sense ballad poetry—is furnished by the higher artistic structure of his poems and, as regards style, by the fourth of the qualities distinguished by Arnold: the quality of nobleness. It is his noble and powerful style, sustained through every change of idea and subject, that finally separates Homer from all forms of ballad poetry and popular epic.

Like the French epics, such as the Chanson de Roland, Homeric poetry is indigenous and, by the ease of movement and its resultant simplicity, distinguishable from the works of Dante, Milton and Virgil. It is also distinguished from the works of these artists by the comparative absence of underlying motives or sentiment. In Virgil's poetry, a sense of the greatness of Rome and Italy is the leading motive of a passionate rhetoric, partly veiled by the considered delicacy of his language. Dante and Milton are still more faithful exponents of the religion and politics of their time. Even the French epics display sentiments of fear and hatred of the Saracens; but, in Homer's works, the interest is purely dramatic. There is no strong antipathy of race or religion; the war turns on no political events; the capture of Troy lies outside the range of the Iliad; and even the protagonists are not comparable to the chief national heroes of Greece. So far as can be seen, the chief interest in Homer's works is that of human feeling and emotion, and of drama; indeed, his works are often referred to as "dramas".

Historicity of the Homeric epics

Greece according to the Iliad

Scholars continue to debate questions such as whether the Trojan War actually took place - and if so when and where - and to what extent the society depicted by Homer is based on his own or one which was, even at the time of the poems’ composition, known only as legend.

In ancient Greek chronology, the sack of Troy was dated to 1184 BC. By the nineteenth century there was widespread scholarly skepticism that Troy or the Trojan War had ever existed, but in 1873 Heinrich Schliemann announced to the world that he had discovered the ruins of Homer’s Troy at Hissarlik in modern Turkey. Some contemporary scholars think the destruction of Troy VIIa circa 1220 BC was the origin of the myth of the Trojan War, others that the poem was inspired by multiple similar sieges that took place over the centuries. Homer depicts customs that are not characteristic of any one historical period. For instance, his heroes use bronze weapons, characteristic of the Bronze Age rather than the later Iron Age during which the poems were composed; yet they are cremated (an Iron Age practice) rather than buried (as they were in the Bronze Age).[91][92][93] The decipherment of Linear B in the 1950s by Michael Ventris and continued archaelogical investigation has increased modern scholars' understanding of Aegean civilisation, which in many ways resembles the ancient Near East more than the society described by Homer.[94]

Transmission and publication

A Reading from Homer by Lawrence Alma-Tadema

An account of the transmission of the Iliad from oral tradition through wax pad, papyrus, parchment, to paper (editio princeps) is given by Nioletseas M.M[95] Though evincing many features characteristic of oral poetry, the Iliad and Odyssey were at some point committed to writing. The Greek script, adapted from a Phoenician syllabary around 800 BCE, made possible the notation of the complex rhythms and vowel clusters that make up hexameter verse. Homer's poems appear to have been recorded shortly after the alphabet's invention: an inscription from Ischia in the Bay of Naples, c. 740 BCE, appears to refer to a text of the Iliad; likewise, illustrations seemingly inspired by the Polyphemus episode in the Odyssey are found on Samos, Mykonos and in Italy, dating from the first quarter of the seventh century BCE. We have little information about the early condition of the Homeric poems, but in the second century BCE, Alexandrian editors stabilized this text from which all modern texts descend. Homer's works, which are about fifty percent speeches,[96] provided models in persuasive speaking and writing that were emulated throughout the ancient and medieval Greek worlds.[97] Fragments of Homer account for nearly half of all identifiable Greek literary papyrus finds in Egypt.[98]

In late antiquity, knowledge of Greek declined in Latin-speaking western Europe and, along with it, knowledge of Homer's poems. It was not until the fifteenth century CE that Homer's work began to be read once more in Italy. By contrast it was continually read and taught in the Greek-speaking Eastern Roman Empire where the majority of the classics also survived. The first printed edition appeared in 1488 (edited by Demetrios Chalkokondyles and published by Bernardus Nerlius (it), Nerius Nerlius, and Demetrius Damilas (el) in Florence, Italy).

One often finds books of the Iliad and Odyssey cited by the corresponding letter of the Greek alphabet, with upper-case letters referring to a book number of the Iliad and lower-case letters referring to the Odyssey. Thus Ξ 200 would be shorthand for Iliad book 14, line 200, while ξ 200 would be Odyssey 14.200. The following table presents this system of numeration:

Iliad Α Β Γ Δ Ε Ζ Η Θ Ι Κ Λ Μ Ν Ξ Ο Π Ρ Σ Τ Υ Φ Χ Ψ Ω
book no. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24
Odyssey α β γ δ ε ζ η θ ι κ λ μ ν ξ ο π ρ σ τ υ φ χ ψ ω

See also


  1. ^ Wilson, Nigel. Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece. Routledge. p. 366. ISBN 9781136788000. Retrieved 22 November 2016. 
  2. ^ Romilly, Jacqueline de. A Short History of Greek Literature. University of Chicago Press. p. 1. ISBN 9780226143125. Retrieved 22 November 2016. 
  3. ^ a b Graziosi, Barbara. Inventing Homer: The Early Reception of Epic. Cambridge University Press. p. 15. ISBN 9780521809665. Retrieved 22 November 2016. 
  4. ^ Croally, Neil; Hyde, Roy. Classical Literature: An Introduction. Routledge. p. 26. ISBN 9781136736629. Retrieved 23 November 2016. 
  5. ^ Hose, Martin; Schenker, David. A Companion to Greek Literature. John Wiley & Sons. p. 445. ISBN 9781118885956. 
  6. ^ Miller, D. Gary. Ancient Greek Dialects and Early Authors: Introduction to the Dialect Mixture in Homer, with Notes on Lyric and Herodotus. Walter de Gruyter. p. 351. ISBN 9781614512950. Retrieved 23 November 2016. 
  7. ^ Ahl, Frederick; Roisman, Hanna. The Odyssey Re-formed. Cornell University Press. ISBN 0801483352. Retrieved 23 November 2016. 
  8. ^ Latacz, Joachim. Homer, His Art and His World. University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0472083538. Retrieved 22 November 2016. 
  9. ^ Too, Yun Lee. The Idea of the Library in the Ancient World. OUP Oxford. p. 86. ISBN 9780199577804. Retrieved 22 November 2016. 
  10. ^ MacDonald, Dennis R. Christianizing Homer: The Odyssey, Plato, and the Acts of Andrew. Oxford University Press. p. 17. ISBN 9780195358629. Archived from the original on 30 June 2017. Retrieved 22 November 2016. 
  11. ^ Saïd, Suzanne (2011). Homer and the Odyssey. OUP Oxford. pp. 14–17. ISBN 9780199542840. 
  12. ^ Graziosi, Barbara (2002). Inventing Homer: The Early Reception of Epic. Cambridge University Press. pp. 90–92. ISBN 9780521809665. 
  13. ^ Fowler, Robert; Fowler, Robert Louis (2004). The Cambridge Companion to Homer. Cambridge University Press. pp. 220–232. ISBN 9780521012461. 
  14. ^ Hall, Jonathan M. (2002). Hellenicity: Between Ethnicity and Culture. University of Chicago Press. pp. 235–236. ISBN 9780226313290. 
  15. ^ West, Martin L. (2012). "Date of Homer". The Homer Encyclopedia. Blackwell Publishing Ltd. doi:10.1002/9781444350302.wbhe0330/abstract;jsessionid=f237f171e98ed309c3fe21243e81c3f6.f01t02. 
  16. ^ Burgess, Jonathan S. (2003). The Tradition of the Trojan War in Homer and the Epic Cycle. JHU Press. pp. 49–53. ISBN 9780801874819. 
  17. ^ A summary of the sources and an analysis of textual uniformity can be found in Murray 1960, Chapter 12 The Text of Homer From Known to Unknown.
  18. ^ Murray 1960, pp. 297–98
  19. ^ West, Martin (1999). "The Invention of Homer". Classical Quarterly. 49 (364). 
  20. ^ Taplin, Oliver (1986). "2 Homer". In Boardman, John; Griffin, Jasper; Murray, Oswyn. The Oxford History of the Classical World. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press. p. 50. 
  21. ^ Kirk, G.S. (1985). The Iliad: A Commentary. Volume I: books 1–4. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 1. 
  22. ^ Nagy, Gregory (2001). "Homeric Poetry and Problems of Multiformity: The "Panathenaic Bottleneck". Classical Philology. 96: 109–19. doi:10.1086/449533. 
  23. ^ Watkins, Calvert (1995). How to Kill a Dragon: Aspects of Indo-European Poetics. New York; Oxford: Oxford University Press; Internet Archive. 
  24. ^ Graziosi, Barbara (2002). Inventing Homer: The Early Reception of Epic. Cambridge University Press. p. 138. ISBN 9780521809665. 
  25. ^ Odyssey, 8:64ff.
  26. ^ Lefkowitz, Mary R. (2013). The Lives of the Greek Poets. A&C Black. pp. 14–30. ISBN 9781472503077. 
  27. ^ Kelly, Adrian D. (2012). "Biographies of Homer". The Homer Encyclopedia. Blackwell Publishing Ltd. doi:10.1002/9781444350302.wbhe0243/abstract. 
  28. ^ "Appendix II – Semitic Roots". The American Heritage Dictionary. 
  29. ^ a b West, M.L. (1997). The East Face of Helicon: West Asiatic Elements in Greek Poetry and Myth. Oxford: Clarendon Press. p. 622. 
  30. ^ Liddell & Scott 1940, ὅμηρος
  31. ^ Chantraine, P. (1968). "Homer". Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue grecque (in French). vol. 2 (3–4). Paris: Klincksieck. p. 797.  This long-standing view is the one adopted by many Greek etymological dictionaries. See also the word history at the name Homer in Liddell & Scott 1940, Ὅμηρος
  32. ^ Silk 1987, p. 4. Silk generalizes to "Aeolic-speaking districts", but the only district mentioned in Pseudo-Herodotus is Cyme (Aeolis). Still, he did perform over the entire area, according to the source, and many cities of the region claimed to be his native city.
  33. ^ Allen p. 99.
  34. ^ Homeric Hymns 3:172–73
  35. ^ Thucidides, The Peloponnesian War 3:104
  36. ^ Graziosi 2002, p. 133
  37. ^ Odyssey, 8:64ff.
  38. ^ Beecroft, Alexander (2011). "Blindness and Literacy in the Lives of Homer". Classical Quarterly. 61.1: 1–18. doi:10.1017/S0009838810000352. 
  39. ^ Liddell & Scott 1940, ὁμοῦ
  40. ^ Liddell & Scott 1940, ἀραρίσκω
  41. ^ Nagy 1979, pp. 296–300
  42. ^ Smith 1876, Homerus
  43. ^ Smith 1876, Aeolis
  44. ^ Smith 1876, Smyrna
  45. ^ Buck 1928, pp. 147–56
  46. ^ Beaumont, Lesley (2013). "Smyrna". In Wilson, Nigel. Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece. New York: Routledge. 
  47. ^ Smith 1876, Chios
  48. ^ Buck 1928, p. 143
  49. ^ Janko 1982, p. 178
  50. ^ Browning, Robert (1983). Medieval & Modern Greek (2nd ed.). Cambridge: University of Cambridge. p. 51. 
  51. ^ Kirk, G.S. (1965). Homer and the Epic: A Shortened Version of the Songs of Homer. London: Cambridge University Press. p. 190. ISBN 0-521-09356-2. 
  52. ^ Semonides (1989). "Fragment 19". In West, Martin L. Iambi et Elegi Graeci ante Alexandrum cantati (2nd ed.). Oxford: Clarendon Press. 
  53. ^ Gilbert Murray, The Rise of the Greek Epic, p. 307
  54. ^ Liddell & Scott 1940, Ὁμηρεών
  55. ^ Scott, John Adams (1965). The Unity of Homer. New York: Biblio & Tanner Publications. pp. 4–8. 
  56. ^ Iliad 2.459–63
  57. ^ Iliad 2.144–46
  58. ^ Iliad 4.142
  59. ^ "Troja und Ilion" and "Alt-Ithaka: Ein Beitrag zur Homer-Frage, Studien und Ausgrabungen aus der insel Leukas-Ithaka"
  60. ^ The Historical Library of Diodorus Siculus, Book I, ch. 12.10.
  61. ^ Kelly, Adrian D. (2012). "Homerica". The Homer Encyclopedia. Blackwell Publishing Ltd. doi:10.1002/9781444350302.wbhe0606/abstract. 
  62. ^ Graziosi, Barbara; Haubold, Johannes (2005). Homer: The Resonance of Epic. A&C Black. pp. 24–26. ISBN 9780715632826. 
  63. ^ Graziosi, Barbara (2002). Inventing Homer: The Early Reception of Epic. Cambridge University Press. pp. 165–168. ISBN 9780521809665. 
  64. ^ Gilbert Murray: The Rise of the Greek Epic, 4th ed. 1934, Oxford University Press reprint 1967 p. 299
  65. ^ W. B. Stanford, "The Ulysses Theme", Ann Arbor Paperbacks, 1968, p. v
  66. ^ Gregory Nagy: "Homer the Preclassic", passim
  67. ^ Green, Peter (9 September 2015). "Who wrote the ‘Odyssey’?". Times Literary Supplement. Archived from the original on 14 January 2016. 
  68. ^ West, M.L. (1999), "The Invention of Homer", Classical Quarterly 49.2, p. 364.
  69. ^ "Classics in the History of Psychology – Baldwin (1913) Volume I, Preface". Archived from the original on 2006-05-05. 
  70. ^
  71. ^ Butler, Samuel (1897) The authoress of the Odyssey : where and when she wrote, who she was, the use she made of the Iliad, and how the poem grew under her hands London: Longmans, Green
  72. ^ "Mary Ebbott "Butler's Authoress of the Odyssey: gendered readings of Homer, then and now," ([email protected]: Issue 3)" (PDF). 
  73. ^ Adam Parry (ed.) The Making of Homeric Verse: The Collected Papers of Milman Parry, Clarendon Press, Oxford 1987.
  74. ^ "Signs of Meaning" Science 324 p. 38, 3 April 2009, reviewing Powell's Writing and citing Powell's Homer and the Origin of the Greek Alphabet CUP 1991
  75. ^ Najock, Dietmar (1995). "XXXI, 1 à 4". Letter Distribution and Authorship in Early Greek Epics (PDF). Revue informatique et Statistique dans les Sciences Humaines. pp. 129–54. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-09-05. 
  76. ^ Vonfelt, Stephan (2010). "Archéologie numérique de la poésie grecque" (PDF). Université de Toulouse. Archived from the original (PDF) on 17 December 2013. 
  77. ^ Dickey, Eleanor (2012). "Scholarship, Ancient". The Homer Encyclopedia. Blackwell Publishing Ltd. doi:10.1002/9781444350302.wbhe1307/abstract. 
  78. ^ Kaldellis, Anthony (2012). "Scholarship, Byzantine". The Homer Encyclopedia. Blackwell Publishing Ltd. doi:10.1002/9781444350302.wbhe1308/abstract. 
  79. ^ Heiden, Bruce (2012). "Scholarship, Renaissance through 17th Century". The Homer Encyclopedia. Blackwell Publishing Ltd. doi:10.1002/9781444350302.wbhe1310/abstract. 
  80. ^ Heiden, Bruce (2012). "Scholarship, 18th Century". The Homer Encyclopedia. Blackwell Publishing Ltd. doi:10.1002/9781444350302.wbhe1311/abstract. 
  81. ^ Heiden, Bruce (2012). "Scholarship, 19th Century". The Homer Encyclopedia. Blackwell Publishing Ltd. doi:10.1002/9781444350302.wbhe1312/abstract. 
  82. ^ Foley, John Miles (1988). The Theory of Oral Composition: History and Methodology. Indiana University Press. ISBN 0253342600. 
  83. ^ Heiden, Bruce (2012). "Scholarship, 20th Century". The Homer Encyclopedia. Blackwell Publishing Ltd. doi:10.1002/9781444350302.wbhe1313/abstract. 
  84. ^ Edwards, Mark W. (2012). "Neoanalysis". The Homer Encyclopedia. Blackwell Publishing Ltd. doi:10.1002/9781444350302.wbhe0968/abstract. 
  85. ^ Latacz, Joachim; Bierl, Anton; Olson, S. Douglas (2015). "New Trends in Homeric Scholarship" in Homer's Iliad: The Basel Commentary. De Gruyter. ISBN 9781614517375. 
  86. ^ Willi, Andreas (2012). "Language, Homeric". The Homer Encyclopedia. Blackwell Publishing Ltd. doi:10.1002/9781444350302.wbhe0792/abstract. 
  87. ^ Bakker, Egbert J. (2010). A Companion to the Ancient Greek Language. John Wiley & Sons. p. 401. ISBN 9781444317404. 
  88. ^ Aristotle, Poetics, 1451a 16–29. Cf. Aristotle, "On the Art of Poetry" in T.S. Dorsch (tr.), Aristotle, Horace, Longinus: Classical Literary Criticism, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1965 ch. 8 pp. 42–43
  89. ^ Matthew Arnold, 'On Translating Homer' (Oxford Lecture, 1861) in Lionel Trilling (ed.) The Portable Matthew Arnold (1949) Viking Press, New York 1956 pp. 204–28, p. 211
  90. ^ Dante has Virgil introduce Homer, with a sword in hand, as poeta sovrano (sovereign poet), walking ahead of Horace, Ovid and Lucan. Cf. Inferno IV, 88
  91. ^ Sacks, David; Murray, Oswyn; Brody, Lisa R. (2014). Encyclopedia of the Ancient Greek World. Infobase Publishing. p. 356. ISBN 9781438110202. 
  92. ^ Morris, Ian; Powell, Barry B. (1997). A New Companion to Homer. BRILL. pp. 434–435. ISBN 9789004217607. 
  93. ^ Boardman, John; Griffin, Jasper; Murray, Oswyn (2001). The Oxford Illustrated History of Greece and the Hellenistic World. Oxford University Press. pp. 66–68. ISBN 9780192854384. 
  94. ^ Morris, Ian; Powell, Barry B. (1997). A New Companion to Homer. BRILL. p. 625. ISBN 9789004217607. 
  95. ^ Nikoletseas, M. M. (2012) The Iliad – Twenty Centuries of Translation. pp. 19–40. ISBN 978-1-4699-5210-9
  96. ^ Griffin, Jasper (2004). "The Speeches". In Fowler, Robert. Cambridge Companion to Homer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 156. 
  97. ^ Nünlist, René (2012). "Homer as a Blueprint for Speechwriters: Eustathius’ Commentaries and Rhetoric". Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies. 52: 493–509. Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. 
  98. ^ Finley 2002, pp. 11–12 Finley's figures are based upon the corpus of literary papyri published before 1963.

Selected bibliography


Texts in Homeric Greek

Interlinear translations

English translations

This is a partial list of translations into English of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey.

General works on Homer

Influential readings and interpretations


Dating the Homeric poems

  • Janko, Richard (1982). Homer, Hesiod and the Hymns: Diachronic Development in Epic Diction. Cambridge Classical Studies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-23869-2. 

Further reading

  • Buck, Carl Darling (1928). The Greek Dialects. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 
  • Evelyn-White, Hugh Gerard (tr.) (1914). Hesiod, the Homeric hymns and Homerica. The Loeb Classical Library. London; New York: Heinemann; MacMillen. 
  • Ford, Andrew (1992). Homer : the poetry of the past. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. ISBN 0-8014-2700-2. 
  • Graziosi, Barbara (2002). Inventing Homer: The Early Perception of Epic. Cambridge Classical Studies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 
  • Kirk, G.S. (1962). The Songs of Homer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 
  • Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert (1940). A Greek-English Lexicon (Revised ed.). Oxford: Clarendon Press; Perseus Digital Library. 
  • Murray, Gilbert (1960). The Rise of the Greek Epic (Galaxy Books ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. 
  • Schein, Seth L. (1984). The mortal hero : an introduction to Homer's Iliad. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-05128-9. 
  • Silk, Michael (1987). Homer: The Iliad. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-83233-0. 
  • Smith, William, ed. (1876). A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. Vol. I, II & III. London: John Murray. 

External links

  • Works by Homer at Project Gutenberg
  • Works by or about Homer at Internet Archive
  • Works by Homer at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
  • Homer; Murray, A.T. The Iliad with an English Translation (in Ancient Greek and English). I, Books I–XII. London; New York: William Heinemann Ltd.; G.P. Putnam's Sons; Internet Archive. 
  • The Chicago Homer
  • Daitz, Stephen (reader). "Homer, Iliad, Book I, lines 1–52". Society for the Reading of Greek and Latin Literature (SORGLL). 
  • Heath, Malcolm (May 4, 2001). "CLAS3152 Further Greek Literature II: Aristotle's Poetics: Notes on Homer's Iliad and Odyssey". Department of Classics, University of Leeds; Internet Archive. Archived from the original on September 8, 2008. Retrieved 2014-11-07. 
  • Bassino, Paola (2014). "Homer: A Guide to Selected Sources". Living Poets: a new approach to ancient history. Durham University. Retrieved November 18, 2014. 
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