The legendary Greek poet Homer is credited with writing two great works of literature, the Iliadand the Odyssey. These works, written in the eighth century B.C.E., were composed in a combination of Ionic and Aeolic Greek.
For centuries, the so-called Homeric question has been argued among scholars: Did a man named Homer really exist, and, if so, was he the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey? Many places claim to be the birthplace of Homer, but the most likely site is Smyrna (modern-day Izmir in Turkey). The only other consistent detail offered about the man is that he was blind.
Today, many scholars agree that there was a poet named Homer who lived before 700 B.C.E.and that he probably did write the Iliad. Homer’s source material was a product of a centuries-old oral tradition, but the work itself was original. The Odyssey, however, is different enough in style from the Iliad to have been written by a later poet.
Extensive study of the Iliad has revealed that many of the details included in this work can be traced as far back as the twelfth century B.C.E., hundreds of years before Homer is supposed to have lived. In the ﬁrst book of the poem, for example, a boar’s-tusk helmet is mentioned. Samples of this headgear have been discovered by modern archaeologists, yet these items had not been used since the twelfth century B.C.E.and would not have been known in Homer’s day. During the time Homer lived, however, bards, called rhapsodes, kept the oral tradition alive by reciting stories, poems, and myths in public assemblies or in the courts of kings. Rhapsodes had many centuries’ worth of material at their disposal, so Homer could very well have heard of the twelfth-century headgear in their tales.
Further evidence supporting Homer’s authorship of the Iliad includes analysis of the poem’s internal structure. For instance, the incident of Agamemnon’s embassy to Achilles is preceded by twenty-six days and followed by twenty-six days. Each period of twenty-six days is further divided into episodes of one, nine, one, twelve, and three days, the divisions mirroring one another on either side of the event. Also, the poem’s events are often presented symmetrically. A rally of the Achaeans at the beginning of the fourteenth book is balanced against a rally of the Trojans at the end of the book. Within these rallies are further similarities and symmetries. All these devices are not representative of an oral tradition but rather point to the presence of a sole author.
The Greeks in the Classical period (c. 500– 300 B.C.E.) viewed Homer as divine and used his characters as models of heroic conduct.