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About this poet

Little is known about the life of Homer, the author credited with composing The Iliad and The Odyssey and is arguably the greatest poet of the ancient world. Historians place his birth sometime around 750 BC and conjecture that he was born and resided in or near Chios. However, seven cities claimed to have been his birthplace. Due to the lack of information about Homer the person, many scholars hold the poems themselves as the best windows into his life. For instance, it is from the description of the blind bard in The Odyssey that many historians have guessed that Homer was blind. The Odyssey's depiction of the bard as a minstrel in the service of local kings also gives some insight into the life of the poet practicing his craft. What is undeniable is that the works of Homer proved to be the most influential not merely for the poets of ancient times but also for the later epic poets of Western literature.

There is much evidence to support the theory that The Iliad and The Odyssey were written by different authors, perhaps as much as a century apart. The diction of the two works is markedly different, with The Iliad being reminiscent of a much more formal, theatric style while The Odyssey takes a more novelistic approach and uses language more illustrative of day-to-day speech. Differing historical details concerning trade also lend credence to the idea of separate authors. It is certain, that neither text was written down upon creation. By the eighth century BC written text had been almost entirely forgotten in Greece. Both The Iliad and The Odyssey conform to the diction of a purely oral and unwritten poetic speech that was used before the end of that century. Indeed, some scholars believe the name "Homer" was actually a commonly used term for blind men who wandered the countryside reciting epic poetry.

Although Homer has been credited with writing a number of other works, most notably the Homeric Hymns, the same uncertainty about authorship exists. It is assumed that much of the poet's work has been lost to time.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Iliad (1987)
Iliad (1975)
Iliad (1998)
Odyssey (1999)
Odyssey (1998)
Odyssey (1999)
The Homeric Hymns (1975)

The Iliad, Book I, Lines 1-16

Homer
Anger be now your song, immortal one,
Akhilleus' anger, doomed and ruinous,
that caused the Akhaians loss on bitter loss
and crowded brave souls into the undergloom,
leaving so many dead men--carrion
for dogs and birds; and the will of Zeus was done.
Begin it when the two men first contending
broke with one another--
				    the Lord Marshal
Agamémnon, Atreus' son, and Prince Akhilleus.

Among the gods, who brought this quarrel on?
The son of Zeus by Lêto. Agamémnon
angered him, so he made a burning wind
of plague rise in the army: rank and file
sickened and died for the ill their chief had done
in despising a man of prayer.

From Iliad, by Homer, translated by Robert Fitzgerald and published by Anchor Books © 1975. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

 

From Iliad, by Homer, translated by Robert Fitzgerald and published by Anchor Books © 1975. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

 

Homer

Little is known about the life of Homer; the author credited with composing The Iliad and The Odyssey and is arguably the greatest poet of the ancient world.

by this poet

poem
"Sleeping so? Thou hast forgotten me,
Akhilleus. Never was I uncared for
in life but am in death. Accord me burial
in all haste: let me pass the gates of Death.
Shades that are images of used-up men
motion me away, will not receive me
among their hosts beyond the river. I wander
about the wide gates and the hall
poem
        An old trunk of olive
grew like a pillar on the building plot,
and I laid out our bedroom round that tree,
lined up the stone walls, built the walls and roof,
gave it a doorway and smooth-fitting doors.
Then I lopped off the silvery leaves and branches,
hewed and shaped that stump from the roots up
into
poem
SPEAK, MEMORY—
                                        Of the cunning hero,
The wanderer, blown off course time and again
After he plundered Troy's sacred heights.

                                                         Speak
Of all the cities he saw, the minds he grasped, 
The suffering deep in his heart at