Homer is known to be one of the first poets of Ancient Greece. Or, at least, one of the first of whom we preserve his work. We must bear in mind that, when we talk about works of Classical Antiquity, most have been lost or have arrived fragmented. In antiquity, there was no printing and the way of transmission and preservation of written texts was expensive. After the fall of the Roman Empire, much of the written texts are lost; although, in medieval times, the monasteries will be responsible for translating and copying Greco-Latin texts.
For example, it is counted that there were approximately 800 authors in Rome, of which only 140 are known. For this reason, the task of tracing and delimiting the works and authors of Antiquity is really difficult. Likewise, it is difficult to know with certainty the authorship of many of the most well-known works. In the case of Homer, the two main Greek epic poems are attributed to him: the Iliad and the Odyssey in the eighth century BC.
For many historians and writers, Homer opened the doors to the West for literary creation. In addition, he introduced Greek mythology and, thanks to it, we can get an idea of what Greek society was like at the time in which he lived. Therefore, when speaking of Homer we refer to the birth of Western literature, historical and ethnographic source, an example to follow as a great scholar of his time.
Who was Homer?
Although his two great works have been studied ad nauseam, the biography of Homer is not exactly known. As with many authors of his period, we have clues and assumptions, but we can not say anything for sure. There are indications of its origin in historical texts after its time, but in some cases, they contradict each other.
Therefore, it is considered that most of the biographies of Homer that circulated in Antiquity do not contain reliable data about the poet. However, current historians admit that Homer came from the Ionian colonial zone of Asia Minor, based on the linguistic features of his works.
Reality and fiction are very united in his figure, but also in his work. In Antiquity, the Iliad and the Odyssey were considered as historical texts, which narrated real events. Therefore, it is not surprising that there are contradictions about his biography.
Thus, the figure of Homer converges between reality and legend. For this reason, he is usually characterized as a blind poet who toured the Hellenic world sometime in the eighth century BC. In his travels, he exercised his profession of reciting his epic poems for those who would listen to him. Its spectators went from the flat town that was accumulated in a square to the nobility gathered in great dinners inside a palace.
We must bear in mind that the literary transmission was, for the most part, oral. This orality has prevented the preservation of many texts not only of classical period, but also medieval. The epic is a literary genre in which the exploits of the hero are narrated. The purpose of this genre is to praise the values of a people, therefore, had its peak in antiquity and remained (although with certain changes) in medieval period.
Some of these poems never went to writing or were lost over time. The Iliad and the Odyssey, in addition to having survived, were imitated and considered great models of antiquity for centuries. That is precisely the importance of Homer.
Doubts of its existence
Thanks to the meticulous analyzes that have been made of the Odyssey and the Iliad, it has been suggested that Homer, perhaps, did not exist as a single individual. Some people suggest that Homer would be a kind of low pseudonym in which various unknown authors would be grouped. These doubts about their existence have been called Homeric question.
In the debate among researchers of Homeric literature, two major questions arise:
Who or who were the authors of the Iliad and the Odyssey? To answer this question, researchers split into two groups. On the one hand, we find those who believe that they were written by several authors, due to the extension, anachronisms and the uses of different literary techniques and variations of the gri language.
On the other side, we have those who consider that its author was a person who was commissioned to create the work by collecting and synthesizing oral histories.
In what way were they elaborated? In the answer to this question, there is a greater consensus among researchers. It is considered that the work, either individual or collective, was the product of the compilation of popular oral compositions of the time.
Compositions that were transmitted through several generations and that were synthesized in writing in the Iliad and the Odyssey under the name of Homer.
Homer’s legacy to Western culture
Despite these debates, it is undeniable that Homer and his works are the pillars of Western literature. Anyone who studies literature or art history knows that Homer is the first name that appears in the literary canon. Homer was already imitated in Antiquity, thus, the Aeneid, the great epic of the Roman Empire, is a kind of rewriting of the works of Homer.
Few disciplines within the humanities can escape the work of Homer. From literature to philosophy, through archeology and history, they constantly quote Homer. Either as a source of inspiration or as a historical source to study Ancient Greece.
To reduce Homer’s work solely to the Iliad and the Odyssey would be to simplify his production too much. Currently, other works are attributed to it. For example, the comic minor epic that takes by name: Batracomiomaquia (The war of the frogs and the mice). He is also considered to have written the Homeric hymns and other fragmented works such as Margites.
It can be said that, in all his work, Homer embodied Greek society at the end of the Archaic period (VIII century BC). A society based on the caudillaje, where there was slavery and sacrifices to the gods. It also describes courts of justice and a society with certain ethical values based on respect for women, the elderly, beggars and the corpses of enemies.