Friday Filosophy v.08.19.2022
Homer is the legendary author to whom the authorship of the Iliad and the Odyssey (the two epic poems that are the foundational works of ancient Greek literature) is attributed. He is regarded as one of the greatest and most influential authors of all time. For example, in Dante Alighieri‘s Divine Comedy, Virgil refers to him as “Poet sovereign”, king of all poets; in the preface to his translation of the Iliad, Alexander Pope acknowledges that Homer has always been considered the “greatest of poets”.
The Iliad is set during the Trojan War, the ten-year siege of the city of Troy by a coalition of Mycenaean Greek kingdoms. It focuses on a quarrel between King Agamemnon and the warrior Achilles lasting a few weeks during the last year of the war. The Odyssey focuses on the ten-year journey home of Odysseus, king of Ithaca, after the fall of Troy.
The Homeric epics were a defining influence on ancient Greek culture and education. To Plato, Homer was simply the one who “has taught Greece”. From antiquity until the present day, the influence of Homeric epic on Western civilization has been great, inspiring many of its most famous works of literature, music, art and film.
The question of by whom, when, where and under what circumstances the Iliad and Odyssey were composed continues to be debated. It is generally accepted that the two works were written by different authors. It is thought that the poems were composed at some point around the late eighth or early seventh century BC. Many accounts of Homer’s life circulated in classical antiquity, the most widespread being that he was a blind bard from Ionia, a region of central coastal Anatolia in present-day Turkey. Modern scholars consider these accounts legendary.
The poems are in Homeric Greek, also known as Epic Greek, a literary language which shows a mixture of features of the Ionic and Aeolic dialects from different centuries; the predominant influence is Eastern Ionic. Most researchers believe that the poems were originally transmitted orally.
Today only the Iliad and the Odyssey are associated with the name ‘Homer’. In antiquity, a very large number of other works were sometimes attributed to him, including the Homeric Hymns, the Contest of Homer and Hesiod, the Little Iliad, the Nostoi, the Thebaid, the Cypria, the Epigoni, the comic mini-epic Batrachomyomachia (“The Frog-Mouse War”), the Margites, the Capture of Oechalia, and the Phocais. These claims are not considered authentic today and were by no means universally accepted in the ancient world. As with the multitude of legends surrounding Homer’s life, they indicate little more than the centrality of Homer to ancient Greek culture.
Some ancient claims about Homer were established early and repeated often. They include that Homer was blind (taking as self-referential a passage describing the blind bard Demodocus), that he was born in Chios, that he was the son of the river Meles and the nymph Critheïs, that he was a wandering bard, that he composed a varying list of other works (the “Homerica”), that he died either in Ios or after failing to solve a riddle set by fishermen, and various explanations for the name “Homer”.
In the early 4th century BC Alcidamas composed a fictional account of a poetry contest at Chalcis with both Homer and Hesiod. Homer was expected to win, and answered all of Hesiod’s questions and puzzles with ease. Then, each of the poets was invited to recite the best passage from their work. Hesiod selected the beginning of Works and Days: “When the Pleiades born of Atlas … all in due season”. Homer chose a description of Greek warriors in formation, facing the foe, taken from the Iliad. Though the crowd acclaimed Homer victor, the judge awarded Hesiod the prize; the poet who praised husbandry, he said, was greater than the one who told tales of battles and slaughter.
- There is nothing nobler or more admirable than when two people who see eye to eye keep house as man and wife, confounding their enemies and delighting their friends.
- Wise to resolve, and patient to perform.
- In youth and beauty, wisdom is but rare!
- Light is the task where many share the toil.
- A sympathetic friend can be quite as dear as a brother.
- Yet, taught by time, my heart has learned to glow for other’s good, and melt at other’s woe.
- Words empty as the wind are best left unsaid.
- Be still my heart; thou hast known worse than this.
- For rarely are sons similar to their fathers: most are worse, and a few are better than their fathers.
- The difficulty is not so great to die for a friend, as to find a friend worth dying for.
- The charity that is a trifle to us can be precious to others.
- And what he greatly thought, he nobly dared.
- But curb thou the high spirit in thy breast, for gentle ways are best, and keep aloof from sharp contentions.
The Time is Now.
Did you enjoy this blog? Read more great blog posts here.
For our course lists, please click here.