Homer (Ancient Greek Poet)

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

Homer is the earliest poet in Western culture who, given his presence in writings of antiquity and the later legends surrounding him, was a central figure of and great importance to ancient Greek culture.

Although no-one actually knows where and when he was born (historians have suggested it was somewhere between the 12th and 8th centuries BC) , Homer was clearly of great status and influence to other Greek writers of the time such as Archilochus, Alcman, Callinus, and others. Many other writers over the following centuries attributed works to him and penned accounts of his life, although they don’t provide much in the way of historical value.

Homer is known for two epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey, which were used in Greek and Hellenistic education and would later influence Western ideas. The poems were composed somewhere in the 8th or early 7th century BC. It appears that Homer conveyed his poems through oral practices as opposed to writing them down. They make use of similes, metaphors, and repetitive elements similar to the likes of a chorus which suggests a musical element was involved. As an epic poet Homer probably spoke and recited his work with a lyre in hand.

However, scholars hold to a range views on the epics which is referred to as the Homeric Question which seeks to determine the author of the poems, as well as when and where they were composed. Some historians, for instance, think that the stories in the Iliad and the Odyssey were the products of a group as opposed to a single individual. They incorporate older oral traditions and the differences between in style, theology, ethics, vocabulary, and geographical perspective suggest that they come from different authors. Some have too suggested that the two poems were composed centuries apart, and on this view it is possible that Homer did not actually exist as a historical figure. Other historians posit that an individual, Homer, did in fact compile the stories and then recited them to memory. It is clear, independent of whether a single Homer actually composed the epics or not, that they were significant in terms of moral and practical wisdom and instruction to the ancient Greeks.

The Iliad tells of the siege of the city of Troy during the legendary Trojan War fought between the Greeks and the Trojan army. It narrates the conflict between the commander of the united Greek armed forces, King Agamemnon, and the warrior, Achilles, who was said to have bested Hector, the greatest and most skilled warrior on the side of Troy. Legend also has it that Achilles died after being shot in the heel with an arrow towards the conclusion of the Trojan War. The historicity of the events described in the Iliad have been a topic of much debate by historians. Not only does it appear that Homer invented certain details concerning the city of Troy but many references within the poem suggest that it incorporated different periods of Greek history, which might be explained by the 400 or so years of oral tradition before the poems were composed.

The Odyssey, perhaps acting as a sequel to the Iliad, focuses on later events, particularly the journey home of the hero Odysseus, the king of Ithaca, around 20 years after the fall of Troy during the Trojan War. On their journey, Odysseus and his men encountered all kinds of ominous creatures such as witches, nymphs, man-eating giants, and water monsters. They were also at the mercy of the gods who would intervene in their affairs, and only Odysseus returned home alive after his men perished in a shipwreck that he survived.


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