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Who Was Homer?

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  • Written By: Diane Goettel
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Images By: Lefteris Papaulakis, n/a
  • Last Modified Date: 27 August 2016
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Homer is the name of two great men, the ancient bard and the father figure on the hit cartoon “The Simpsons.” This article, however, deals primarily with the life, identity, and work of the Homer of antiquity. Homer is a name that has been attributed to the author of the ancient Greek poems the Odyssey and the Iliad. Although it has been agreed upon by scholars that these two poems were composed for oral presentation — and that the author may, in fact, have been illiterate — the authorship is widely debated. Some Homeric scholars believe that there may have been more than one person who had a hand in creating these two epic tales.

Whether “Homer” was one person or many, it is understood that he lived in the 8th or 7th century BC. We know very little about him. In fact, although historians and scholars of Literature have spent a great deal of time searching, there is no concrete evidence that he ever existed. The only pieces of information that we have about Homer have been passed down in traditional tales. These sources tell that Homer was blind, but disagree about his birthplace. Some say that he was born on the island of Chios. Others, however, claim that he was born in various Ionian cities.

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Although little is known about the identity (or identities) of Homer, his work is widely known. The Iliad and the Odyssey are two of the oldest pieces of literature. They come from what has been accepted as many generations of oral story-telling. No one can really know how many other such stories existed once. We simply know that these two were passed down long enough to make it to a time when people began recording information with the written word. If they had missed just one generation centuries ago, we would not be able to appreciate the work of Homer today.

There are some references to Homer in other pieces of literature from his time, or times shortly after his lifetime. Other Greek authors either directly discuss Homer or allude to a man much like him. A great deal of scholarship has gone into the study of these references. It does not seem, however, that any of the text devoted to Homer can offer concrete evidence about who he was. Barring some fantastic discovery in the future, the true identity of Homer will remain unknown. We will have to simply guess at who he was as we read his fantastic epic works.

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