On Homer

Homer is our primary source on the Trojan War.  He is the Ionian poet who is credited with having created the epic poems The Iliad and The Odyssey, although, it must be said that there are doubters that these works were composed by the same person and may have even been composed by several persons, but the most widely held position maintains that they are the creations of a single artistic mind (this reminds one of today’s disputes about William Shakespeare).  There are a number of other poets who have left us with pieces of their work on the Trojan War between the period 800-500 BCE, which have been lumped together as the ‘Epic Cycle’, but we have no names for them.

Hardly anything is known about the man, and stories when he lived and where he was born vary greatly.  There is a tradition that he was blind, and that he was from Smyrna (now Izmir, Turkey), but again, six other cities claim as being his birthplace, and that he most likely lived in the 8th century BCE.   There are some who doubt if he existed at all. He apparently voiced his work, following the oral traditions of his time, and it is believed that the stories he spoke of were not put into writing until the 6th Century BCE for use in Athens, in texts that were said to be slanted to increase the city’s role in Troy’s fall.  In the 2nd Century BCE, two renowned scholars in Alexandria, Aristarchus of Samothrace and Aristophanes of Byzantium, edited the texts again, giving us the version that is generally known today. 

Homer devised many of the techniques we associate with modern day structures of novels, such as flashbacks and parallel lines of action.  His narratives are appreciated for their simplicity, the descriptions of their characters, giving them unique personalities, and the realism of the action portrayed in the passages.  Even today, in reading his works, we are struck by the attention to details, the richness of the language employed -the heroes speak to us as if they were our contemporaries, presenting us with emotional conflicts no different from our own.  The Iliad is considered to be the greatest war epic ever written.  The adjective ‘Homeric’ is now used to reference the Bronze Age of the Achaean Greeks, a time period associated with great warriors performing heroic deeds, rich palaces, and epic events, evidently so memorable that four to five hundred years later they still evoked an almost nostalgic curiosity among the ancient Greeks. 

It should be mentioned here that Polyxena is unkown to Homer; she is the creation of later classical writers who were interested in romanticizing the stories of Troy’s fall.


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