The Homeric Question

By | July 12, 2019

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The Apotheosis of Homer by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. Source: (Wikipedia)

Most people will recognize the name Homer as the composer of the famous epic poems, "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey." Homer is the earliest Western poet whose works remain intact. However, very little is known about who this man named Homer really was. In fact, many people wonder if the man existed at all.

Theories about Homer’s identity are broad. Some believe that the epic poems were composed by a single man named Homer. Others believe Homer is the name given to a group of people responsible for composing them. Still, others believe Homer was a single man but that the stories were passed down orally and he simply memorized and recited them. The question of his identity is considered by many to be the greatest literary mystery of all time.

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A painting depicting the Trojan War. Source: (Wikiwand)

Even those who believe Homer to be a single man, there are a lot of questions. One of those questions is when Homer was born. Most believe his birthdate falls sometime between 750 B.C. and 1200 B.C. The later date would make him a contemporary of Hesiod; however, the earlier would have him living closer in time to the Trojan War which is the main plot of The Iliad. The Greek historian Herodotus, who lived from 484 - 425 B.C., believed Homer to have been born around 850 B.C. The lack of a chronological dating system during his time makes it impossible to pinpoint an exact date.