Homer

c. 850 BC

Homer is allegedly buried in a tomb at Plakotos, Island of Ios, Greece, Europe.

In 1771, the Dutch archeaologist Pasch van Krienen discovered some Hellenistic period tombs in this area and claimed that one bore the name of Homer. Some coins bearing Homer's head were also discoverd and the historians Pausanias, Pliny and Herodotus do link Homer to the island. However, virtually nothing is known for certain about Homer's life or death so these claims can easily be disputed.
 



Homer (idealised statue from Hellenistic period)



Signpost to Homer's Tomb, Isle of Ios.

In fact, some doubt whether Homer existed as an individual at all. He is certainly attributed with the authorship of the Odyssey and the Iliad though his identity remains a mystery. Some suggest that Homer was a blind minstrel and that he composed his works orally while others say there was no such person as Homer or that the works attributed to him were written by different authors. According to Herodotus Homer lived four hundred years before him which would place him about 850 BC - but again there is no confimation of this.

Although they differ in style, both the Odyssey and the Iliad concern the Trojan Wars. The Odyssey concerns the adventures of Odysseus on his return from the Trojan Wars - detailing his exploits before being reunited with his wife Penelope in the kingdom of Ithaca - whereas the Iliad concerns the war waged by Achaean princes against Troy to recover Helen, the wife of Menelaus, who had been carried off by Paris the son of King Priam of Troy. Both were witten in unrhymed dactylic hexameter (or heroic hexameter) consisting of six dactylic feet - a dactyl being a front stressed 3 syllable foot. Greek is an accented language - unlike English - so it is hard to provide an exact metrical translation of either the Odyssey or the Iliad. Both of these epic poems are regarded as being the forerunners of western poetry. However, it is easier to view the Odyssey as being more akin to a modern day novel - with its characters and plot structures.

In England, John Dryden stimulated interest in Homer with his translations towards the end of the 17th Century. Pope followed suit with versions of both the Odyssey and the Iliad between 1715 and 1720 - money from which enabled him to rent a villa at Twickenham. Homer's estimation increased further during Victorian times with Tennyson using material in his The Lotos-Eaters and Matthew Arnold lecturing extensively on translating Homer.

Homer is still held in the highest regard today and is still being translated by poets of whom Christopher Logue and Peter Reading are good examples. Both men were inspired by the violence of the original text. Here is a section from Peter Reading's Homeric which appeared in his 1994 collection Last Poems:

After Odyseus had slaughtered the Suitors he
grimly surveyed them -
Sprawling in crans in a welter of blood and
muck, like the beached fish
dragged up by driftnetters onto the sand to
gulp for the grey brine
till in the heat of the sun they expire, so
lay the slain Suitors.

(from Homeric by Peter Reading)
 

 


 

 

 
 
 
 

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