Homer Biography

Biography (Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

0111201554-Homer.jpgHomer (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Life

Very little is known about the author of the Iliad (c. 800 b.c.e.; English translation, 1616) and the Odyssey (c. 800 b.c.e.; English translation, 1616). The ancient Greeks attributed both to Homer, a bard who probably lived late in the ninth century b.c.e. Both long-standing tradition and linguistic analysis of the two epics indicate that their author was a native of Ionia in western Asia Minor. A number of cities claimed to be Homer’s birthplace, but he was probably a native either of the coastal city Smyrna, now Izmir in Turkey, or of nearby Chios, an island in the eastern Aegean Sea. Homer was said to be blind, like the bard Demodocus in the Odyssey, and to have earned a meager living by performing at one court after another. Supposedly he died and was buried on the Aegean island Ios.

Those scholars who believe that Homer was responsible for shaping the two great epics admit that he must have begun either with incomplete narratives that had been handed down in the oral tradition or with a number of songs, some of which could have dated back almost as far as the central historical event in both poems, the fall of Troy in 1250 b.c.e. However, Homer was no mere editor; he provided the unifying vision that is essential to the creation of great art. Moreover, even though excerpts from the epics were recited long after his time, the fact that the text changed very little indicates that Homer had his poems preserved in written form, perhaps by dictating them to a scribe.

Various theories have been advanced to explain the fact that the two works are very dissimilar in tone and outlook. One was that the Iliad was written in Homer’s youth and the Odyssey, in his later years; another, that the two poems had two different authors. Nineteenth century scholars debating the “Homeric question” concluded that each epic was produced by a group of writers. At the end of the twentieth century, that idea still had many adherents, but there was new evidence that the two epics were the work of one genius, thus demonstrating once again that tradition is often quite reliable.

Influence

Homer established the epic as a genre in Western literature and set the standards by which later works would be judged. Moreover, the values reflected in the Iliad and the Odyssey not only shaped Greek culture but also persisted into the Roman era and influenced the Renaissance. Allusions to Homer so permeate Western literature and his ideas are so basic to Western thought that his epics are ranked as two of the most important poems ever written, as well as two of the finest.

Further Reading:

Alden, Maureen J. Homer Beside Himself: Para-Narratives in the “Iliad.” New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. Advises students and others new to the Iliad on how to read, understand, and absorb the poetry, and then offers an analysis.

Brann, Eva. Homeric Moments: Clues to Delight in Reading the “Odyssey” and the “Iliad.”. Philadelphia: Paul Dry, 2002. A close and witty exploration of the experience of reading Homer.

Carlisle, Miriam, and Olga Levaniouk, eds....

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Homer Biography (Epics for Students)

Everything we know about Homer is either traditional, mythical, or based upon educated guesswork. Tradition tells us, probably following the Odyssey and one of the so-called "Homeric Hymns" from the middle of the seventh century BC, that Homer, like his own character Demodocus, was a blind bard or singer of tales.

At least seven different places claimed that Homer was born on their soil in the ancient world. The two with the strongest claims are the island of Chios and the city of Smyrna (modern Izmir, in Turkey). The consensus of opinion is that Homer probably lived and worked in Ionia, the region along what is now the west coast of Turkey. This conclusion is based on several ancient traditions about Homer and his origins, and also on clues in his works, chiefly the preponderance of Ionic dialect in the poems and the sketchy knowledge of the geography of western Greece displayed in the Odyssey (the overland chariot journey from Pylos to Sparta at the end of Book 3 would have been physically impossible, and Homer's description of Ithaca is so vague that some scholars have suggested he did not mean the island that currently bears the name), in contrast to the vivid depictions of Troy and its environs in the Iliad.

We can only guess at the time when Homer lived and wrote. Some ancient traditions suggested that Homer lived relatively close to the time of the events he described. The fifth-century historian Herodotus, on the other hand (Histories, II.53), said that Homer could not possibly have lived more than 400 years before his own time. The rediscovery of writing by the Greeks around 750 BC and the development, at about the same time, of some of the fighting techniques described in the Iliad have led scholars to assign Homer to the middle or late part of the eighth century BC.

Accurate dating of Homer's poems is impossible, but it is generally thought that the Iliad is older than the Odyssey, as that work displays some more "advanced" stylistic features. Both poems had to have been completed before the Peisistratid dynasty came to power in Athens in the sixth century BC, because it is known that a member of that family commissioned a "standard edition" of the poems. Also during the sixth century BC, both the Iliad and the Odyssey were recited in full at the Great Panathenaia, a religious festival in honor of Athena which was observed in Athens every four years.

There have been any number of controversies about Homer since his time, beginning with the contention over just exactly where and when he was born, lived, and died. Others have questioned whether Homer existed at all, and whether a poet named Homer actually "wrote" the poems attributed to him or merely culled them from popular folklore. The question of whether the same person produced both the Iliad and the Odyssey has also been debated. English poet and critic Samuel Butler (1835-1902) suggested that the Odyssey was the work of a woman, but this view did not gain wide acceptance.

Most scholars at least agree that there was an epic poet called Homer, and that he played the primary part in producing the Iliad and Odyssey in their known forms.

Homer Biography (Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

A careful study of the Homeric Greek language, and of references to social customs that do not belong to that heroic age, or late Bronze Age, toward which the story line and some material objects point back, permits one to fix the time of Homer within that era of commercial redevelopment that occurred in the Aegean Basin during the Early Iron Age. Geometric art documents both the transitional era and the emergence of epic themes and characters. The earliest direct quote from the Iliad, by Semonides (c. 630 b.c.e.), calls its author “man of Chios.” Homer was identified and censured by Xenophanes (c. 550 b.c.e.); the poems were named specifically and Homer dated by Herodotus (c. 450 b.c.e.) as having lived “four hundred years earlier.” Some ancient commentators accepted the existence of an old, blind, wandering bard who composed first the Iliad and then the Odyssey. Nineteenth century scholarship was inclined to doubt that both works are by one man, and some doubted that either poem is the work of a single author. Nevertheless, as scholarly debate sharpens and arguments become more sophisticated, scholars continue to use the name “Homer” when speaking of the poems, and almost all readers of whatever maturity think of a man, Homer, who created two epic masterpieces.

Homer Biography (Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Other Literary Forms

Homer is noted only for his magnificent epic poems.

Achievements

Homer’s extant poetry consists of the Iliad, an epic of about sixteen thousand hexameter lines, and the Odyssey, a twelve-thousand-line poem in the same meter. A number of other poems attributed to Homer in late antiquity—the epigrams (twenty-six short poems contained in the Life of Homer that were attributed to Herodotus), Margites, Batrachomyomachia (battle of the frogs and mice), and the Homeric Hymns (thirty-three narrative hexameter poems in honor of various Greek divinities)—can be shown on the basis of style to postdate him. These latter...

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Homer Biography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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The ancient Greeks recognized the advantage of keeping vague the identity of the poet whom they universally called Omeros. The Iliad and Odyssey became, in effect, national epics half a millennium before anything like pan-Hellenism actually existed. In them, ancient Greece saw its tradition and its history, and they alone marked the transition from a nonliterate culture to a literary one. It is hardly surprising, then, that seven cities claimed Homer (HOH-mur) as their own or that a mass of manifestly false genealogical material appeared in ancient times, concocted to demonstrate that the poet of the Iliad (c. 750 b.c.e.; English translation, 1611) and...

(The entire section is 698 words.)

Homer Biography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

One could question whether even Odysseus and Penelope could recapture the same degree of happiness that they had enjoyed before the Trojan War and before the arrival of the suitors. Alfred, Lord Tennyson, in his poem “Ulysses,” strongly implies his hero’s disgust both with the Ithacans and with an “aged wife.” Nikos Kazantzakis, in his Odysseia (1938; The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel, 1958), even more definitely describes Odysseus’s need to face death in the midst of an active life. Happiness takes the form of completing the heroic mission, and Homer’s Odysseus and Achilles do this. For Achilles, completing the mission consists in the willingness to accept the destiny of a brief but glorious life, the...

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Homer Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

To assemble any biography of Homer (HOH-mur) in the contemporary sense of the genre is an impossibility. All that can be done is to theorize tentatively on the basis of conflicting traditions, evidence within his works the Iliad and the Odyssey, and some slight relevant archaeological evidence. The Homeric Question centers on whether one person could have written both the Iliad and the Odyssey and whether Homer wrote the major part of either epic. Some classical scholars have argued for single authorship of the great poems, whereas other scholars have argued for a community of authorship. Some twentieth century scholarship favored the theory of “oral-formulaic composition,” an elaborate...

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Homer Biography

Introduction

Who is Homer? To this day, there is continuing debate over whether or not the ancient poet actually existed. And if he did, there are serious doubts about his authorship. Some contend that there is artistic unity within each of his epic poems, yet others believe the works to be the effort of multiple contributors. The style of the poetry has its roots in oral tradition, and some liken Homer’s writings to the Sanskrit epic The Mahabharata, a poetic work that was edited, expanded, and rewritten by many hands over its lengthy history. Although these issues of authorship can never be resolved conclusively, the man known as Homer—whether fiction, legend, or flesh-and-blood poet—is still revered for his epic and highly influential works, The Iliad and The Odyssey.

Essential Facts

  1. Although there are multiple accounts of Homer’s origins and life, scholars have been unable to validate the historical accuracy of any of them.
  2. Homer’s reputation in the classical period reached its apex when a religious following of the poet emerged. These followers believed Homer to have been divinely inspired in his writing.
  3. For many centuries, Homer’s work remained somewhat obscure. It was only during the neoclassical movement of the Renaissance that his writing regained prominence.
  4. The Trojan War, which provides the basis for The Iliad, may not have happened. While it is probably based on an actual war, many believe Homer’s account of it to be a fictionalization.
  5. The Coen Brother’s 2000 film, O Brother, Where Art Thou, is a retelling of Homer’s The Odyssey set in 1930s America.

Homer Biography (Historic Lives: The Ancient World, Prehistory-476)

0111201554-Homer.jpgHomer (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Article abstract: Greek poet{$I[g]Greece;Homer}{$I[g]Asia Minor;Homer} Homer wrote two Greek epic poems that played a crucial role in the birth of classical Greek civilization. These works greatly influenced history, theology, and literature in Greece and in the entire Western world.

Early Life

The Greeks were not sure where Homer (HOH-muhr) was born, when he lived, or even if such a person actually existed. The name “Homer” may simply be a generic term denoting “one who fits a song together.” Still, various sources provide some information about the provenance of the Iliad (c. 750 b.c.e.; English translation, 1611) and the Odyssey (c. 725 b.c.e.; English...

(The entire section is 2358 words.)

Homer Biography (Epics for Students)

Everything we know about Homer is either traditional, mythical, or some kind of an educated guess. Tradition tells us, probably following the Odyssey and one of the so-called “Homeric Hymns” from the middle of the seventh century BC, that Homer, like his own character Demodocus from the Odyssey, was a blind bard or singer of tales.

At least seven different places claimed that Homer was born on their soil in the ancient world. The two with the strongest claims are the island of Chios and the city of Smyrna (modern Izmir, in Turkey). Because he records many details of Ionian geography and seems to know less about other areas (like western Greece, where the Odyssey is set), and because the most common dialect in Homer’s Greek is Ionic, most scholars now believe that Homer probably lived and worked in Ionia, the region along what is now the west coast of Turkey.

We can only guess at the time when Homer lived and wrote. Some ancient writers believed that Homer lived relatively close to the time of the events he described. The fifth-century historian Herodotus, on the other hand (Histories, 11.53), said that Homer could not possibly have lived more than 400 years before his own time. The rediscovery of writing by the Greeks around 750 BC and the development, at about the same time, of some of the fighting techniques described in the Iliad have led scholars to assign Homer to the middle or late part of the eighth century BC.

Accurate dating of Homer’s poems is impossible, but it is generally thought that the Iliad is older than the Odyssey, as that work displays some more “advanced” stylistic features. Both poems had to have been completed before the Peisistratid dynasty came to power in Athens in the sixth century BC, because it is known that a member of that family commissioned a “standard edition” of the poems. Also, during the sixth century BC, both the Iliad and the Odyssey were recited in full at the Great Panathenaia, a religious festival in honor of Athena, which was observed in Athens.

There have been any number of controversies about Homer since his time: beginning with contention over just exactly where and when he was born, lived, and died. Others have questioned whether Homer existed at all, and whether a poet named Homer actually “wrote” the poems attributed to him, or merely culled them from popular folklore. The question of whether the same person produced both the Iliad and the Odyssey has also been debated. The English poet and critic Samuel Butler (1835-1902) suggesed that the Odyssey was the work of a woman, but this view did not gain wide acceptance.

Most scholars, at least, agree that there was an epic poet named Homer, and that this poet was instrumental in producing the Iliad and Odyssey in their known forms.