The Homeric Question
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.
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.
Another unanswered question about Homer is where he was born. Like his birthdate, the exact location of his birth is impossible to determine; however, there are seven cities which claim to be his birthplace. Most scholars believe it to have been somewhere along the coast of Asia Minor. This theory is supported by the dialect in which The Iliad and The Odyssey are written. Other supporting evidence is the familiarity with the local phenomena of these areas which is exhibit in his poems.
While failing to ascertain specific biographical information about Homer, many scholars have attempted to determine the poet’s personality. Based solely on a character in "The Odyssey," many scholars have determined that Homer was blind. As a result, many statues of Homer depict him as such. Other scholars have concluded him to have been insightful and reserved based solely upon the content of his poems which demonstrate how little human society has changed over the centuries.
Despite the lack of concrete data about his life, Homer’s impact on literature and history cannot be denied. Along with Hesiod, he is the main source of all that is known about the gods and goddesses of ancient Greece. Adaptations of his works are constantly being made both in literature and film. Whether he was one man or many, he remains a godfather of Greek culture and history.
Tags: Homer | poetry | a godfather of Greek culture
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