Homer

Homer is a legendary ancient Greek epic poet. No reliable biographical information about him survives from classical antiquity. Apparently Homer was a pseudonym. His given name was Melesigenes. The Iliad and the Odyssey are considered by most scholars to be the products of a centurieslong tradition of orally composed poetry; the role of an individual poet, or poets, in composing them is a matter of dispute. According to some scholars, the Iliad and the Odyssey are the product of the same poet, but for others, they were composed by different poets. For other scholars, the epics are not the creation of any individual, but rather slowly evolved towards their final form over a period of centuries; in this view, they are the collective work of generations of poets.

The study of Homer is one of the oldest topics in scholarship, dating back to antiquity. It is one of the largest of all literary sub-disciplines: the annual publication output rivals that of Shakespeare. The aims and achievements of Homeric studies have changed over the course of the millennia; in the last few centuries they have revolved around the process by which the Homeric poems came into existence and were transmitted down to us, first orally, and later in writing. Many people believe that Homer learned his material from story telling, and then he wrote it down in his two epics.

No other texts in the Western imagination occupy as central a position as the epic poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey. They both concern the great defining moment of Greek culture, the Trojan War. Whether or not this war really occurred, or occurred as the Greeks narrate it, is an unanswerable question. We know that such a war did take place around a city that quite likely was Troy, that Troy was destroyed utterly, but beyond that it’s all speculation. This war, however, fired the imaginations of the Greeks and became the defining cultural moment in their history. It would not be unfair to regard the Homeric poems as the single most important texts in Greek culture. While the Greeks gained their collective identity from the Trojan War, that collective identity was concentrated in the values, ethics, and narrative of Homer’s epic poems.

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