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The Greeks, and the Romans, were also unsure how Homer composed the poems. “They say that . . . Homer did not leave behind his poems in writing,” wrote the Roman historian Josephus in the first century AD, “but that they were transmitted by memorization and put together out of the songs, and that therefore they contain many inconsistencies.” The date of Homer's existence was controversial in antiquity and is no less so today. Herodotus estimates that Homer lived 400 years before his own time, which would place him at around 850 BC; but other ancient sources gave dates much closer to the supposed time of the Trojan War, perhaps from 1194 to 1184 BC. There were indeed inconsistencies. In the Iliad, for example, a warrior is described as groaning, even though he’s already died. It was easy enough to see why Homer would have had trouble keeping track of everything in the poems: the Iliad has about 16,000 lines and the Odyssey 12,000. Moreover, and more amazingly, as Josephus noted, Homer apparently composed both without the aid of pen or paper.

In 1795, the German scholar Friedrich Wolf added scholarship to Josephus’s speculation. Wolf noted that, other than a passing and dubious reference in the Iliad to a tablet with “baneful signs,” there was nothing in the poems that indicated Homer even knew what writing was. Wolf concluded that Homer must have composed orally, and that the poems must have been passed on and revised for generations before some editor wrote them down. Wolf's work paralleled that of eighteenth-century scholars of the Old Testament who reached the conclusion that the first five books of the Bible were once a number of separate works that an editor had woven together. Just as Moses did not write the “Books of Moses,” Homer did not write the Iliad or the Odyssey, except perhaps in some much shorter and irretrievable early version. The inconsistencies were not a lapse on the part of an author but of an editor.

Even if Homer existed, Wolf argued, the Iliad or the Odyssey could just as reasonably be credited to generations of anonymous bards. “I find it impossible to accept the belief to which we have become accustomed,”Wolf wrote, “that these two works of a single genius burst forth suddenly from the darkness in all their brilliance, just as they are, with both the splendor of their parts and the many great virtues of the connected whole.”

But locating Homer in time merely underscored the problem: the poems were composed during an age when writing no longer existed in Greece. It seemed inconceivable that without writing, any single poet could have remembered, let alone created, such long and complex masterpieces. Most scholars agreed with Wolf that while someone named Homer might once have existed and might have written some ur-epic, he was at most a link in an evolutionary chain that only much later culminated in the Iliad and the Odyssey as we know it.

Nineteenth-century archaeologists, most notably Heinrich Schliemann, uncovered evidence that Troy existed and that the Trojan War of the Iliad was, at least in part, a real event. But the archaeological discoveries also revealed that the world of the Trojans and Mycenaeans was very different from Homer’s descriptions. Nowhere in the poems was there anything resembling the huge Mycenaean tombs or palaces, or the tablets with Mycenaean writing called Linear B, or the centralized, hierarchical society those tablets revealed. Nowhere amid the archaeological finds was there evidence of independent chieftains like Achilles living in small houses and acting independently of the king.

According to Gregory Nagy, the Homeric poems became fixed texts in only the 6th century. The question of the historicity of Homer himself is known as the "Homeric question" no reliable biographical information has been handed down from classical antiquity, and the poems themselves seem to represent the culmination of many centuries of oral story-telling and a well-developed formulaic system of poetic composition. While according to Martin West, "Homer" is "not the name of a historical poet, but a fictitious or constructed name."

Sources :
Mysteries In History From Prehistory to the Present by Paul D. Aron;

Pic Source :
Mysteries In History From Prehistory to the Present by Paul D. Aron page 56

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  1. sometimes poems in songs makes it more interesting and easy to remember. and yet to read the poems of those made centuries ago is just something so beautiful and amazing..

  2. I once read an interesting book called The Nature of Narrative that went into some detail about the oral tradition and the way they weaved certain motifs and reoccurring phrases into the work as mnemonic devices and also as a natural result of the stories being passed down through the generations.


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