Have you ever heard of The Iliad or The Odyssey? If you haven’t run into them in the classroom, then you’ve most likely heard an allusion or two to the famous epic poems by Homer the famous Greek poet. These poems are transformative pieces of literature that undoubtedly helped lay the brick-work for modern-day storytelling. Despite the magnificent words he left behind, we have very little information about Homer himself.
Who Was Homer?
Sometime between 12-8th BC, it is believed that Homer was born along the Coast of Asia Minor but beyond those scant details, Homer’s history largely remains a mystery. Some scholars believe that Homer was not an individual, but rather, a name that stood in for the group of people that penned and told his powerful works. If he was indeed a real person, he probably would’ve been a street poet that recited tales from memory.
How Is His Writing Style Characterized?
Whoever Homer was, he had a unique style. His works were written to be told and performed orally. In other words, Homer was most likely a street poet. Furthermore, there is a musical echo to his poems, which have repetitive features, much like a chorus. All that said, Homer isn’t so easily pegged. His work is categorized as an epic as opposed to a lyric, which is similar to modern-day spoken-word poetry.
All of this information is well and good, but it is overshadowed by a question that has baffled the literary world for centuries: Did Homer even exist?
When Was Homer Born?
Scholars struggle to locate Homer’s exact date of birth. The range of dates could be anywhere from 750-1200 BC. Why such a stretch? The guesses around Homer’s birth are linked to the content within The Illiad. The story encompasses the Trojan War, which is why some scholars think it is fitting to place the birth range in conjunction with that event. Others base their guess on Homer’s poetic style as opposed to his content. His style suggests that he lived and wrote well past the age of the Trojan War.
Where Was He Born?
It is also a challenge to determine where Homer was born. Scholars have narrowed it down to Ionia, Smyrna, the island of Chio, or the coastal areas of Asia Minor. However, there is no shortage of Greek cities that want to claim Homer as their “native son.”
The Iliad and The Odyssey were, in fact, written in “Asiatic Greek” so any of those cities could be right. There are also many references in his works to the winds blowing from the northwest from Thrace. Combined, these elements of his work gives scholars insight into where the famous historical figure may have lived.
Who Was Homer as a Person?
Once again, everything we know about Homer is gathered from his poems. The Odyssey has a character that is a blind minstrel or poet named Demodokos. For this reason, scholars infer that Homer may have been blind. They take this hint from the way in which Demodoks is ushered into a crowded space and impresses his impromptu audience with epic tales and music. Many believe this story was a parallel to Homer’s own personal experience. Some people also argue that the statues that have been erected of Homer suggest he was blind, as his eyes appear “sightless.”
Did Scholars Invent Some of His Traits?
The Greek Genius and Its Influence: Select Essays and Extracts, a work that was published in 1917, portrays Homer as a man of clarity that “refrain(ed) from much.” Cooper wasn’t the first scholar to speak about the personality traits and characteristics of the famous writer. Many have scoured through the poems to gain insight into the mind and unique qualities of the impressive writer.
Of course, scholars can only make generalizations about Homer’s traits from his writing. So take any definitive claims about who Homer was with a grain of salt. They were likely made up or based on assumptions.
Test your knowledge of these poems.
Homer’s epic poems have guided our understanding of human society. Perhaps the most striking feature of good literature is that it applies across time. His stories, wrote thousands of years ago, still hold valuable life lessons for us today.
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