Homer c. 700 Author Biography Everything we know about Homer is either tradi­



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The Odyssey


Homer c. 700 Author Biography

Everything we know about Homer is either tradi­tional, mythical, or based upon educated guess-work. Tradition tells us, probably following the Odyssey and one of the so-called "Homeric Hymns" from the middle of the seventh century BC, that Homer, like his own character Demodocus, was a blind bard or singer of tales.

At least seven different places claimed that Homer was born on their soil in the ancient world. The two with the strongest claims are the island of Chios and the city of Smyrna (modern Izmir, in Turkey). The consensus of opinion is that Homer probably lived and worked in Ionia, the region along what is now the west coast of Turkey. This conclusion is based on several ancient traditions about Homer and his origins, and also on clues in his works, chiefly the preponderance of Ionic dialect in the poems and the sketchy knowledge of the geogra­phy of western Greece displayed in the Odyssey (the overland chariot journey from Pylos to Sparta at the end of Book 3 would have been physically impossi­ble, and Homer's description of Ithaca is so vague that some scholars have suggested he did not mean the island that currently bears the name), in contrast to the vivid depictions of Troy and its environs in the Iliad.

We can only guess at the time when Homer lived and wrote. Some ancient traditions suggested that Homer lived relatively close to the time of the events he described. The fifth-century historian Herodotus, on the other hand (Histories, 11.53), said that Homer could not possibly have lived more than 400 years before his own time. The rediscovery of writing by the Greeks around 750 BC and the development, at about the same time, of some of the fighting techniques described in the Iliad have led scholars to assign Homer to the middle or late part of the eighth century BC.

Accurate dating of Homer's poems is impossi­ble, but it is generally thought that the Iliad is older than the Odyssey, as that work displays some more "advanced" stylistic features. Both poems had to have been completed before the Peisistratid dynasty came to power in Athens in the sixth century BC, because it is known that a member of that family commissioned a "standard edition" of the poems. Also during the sixth century BC, both the Iliad and the Odyssey were recited in full at the Great Panathenaia, a religious festival in honor of Athena which was observed in Athens every four years.

There have been any number of controversies about Homer since his time, beginning with the contention over just exactly where and when he was born, lived, and died. Others have questioned whether Homer existed at all, and whether a poet named Homer actually "wrote" the poems attributed to him or merely culled them from popular folklore. The question of whether the same person produced both the Iliad and the Odyssey has also been debat­ed. English poet and critic Samuel Butler (1835-1902) suggested that the Odyssey was the work of a woman, but this view did not gain wide acceptance.

Most scholars at least agree that there was an epic poet called Homer, and that he played the primary part in producing the Iliad and Odyssey in their known forms.

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