He was a man who may or may not have existed.
The story: he was a blind poet who was freaking awesome and created both The Illiad and The Odyssey and one day some sycophant wrote it all down for him.
The more probable truth: The Illiad and The Odyssey were oral tales told by wandering poets for generations and one day someone or someones decided to write them down for posterity.
Why is this more likely? Two reasons!
- Because both of Homer’s epic poems mix references to both The Stone Age and The Bronze Age. They cannot decide where in time they actually are.
- This is what happened with the Finnish Kalevala, giving us a historical precedent and all that. The Kalevala was an oral tradition and was later written down by Elias Lönnrot.
Maybe Homer was the Elias Lönnrot of the ancient Greek world, maybe not. HOWEVER: a random blind poet living in a cave is way more amusing, so we’re just going to pretend like he exists.
Question: Why was Homer a blind poet?
Answer: There are a collection of poems called The Homeric Hymns which were not all written by Homer (and maybe none of them were) but for quite some time people thought they WERE all written by Homer. In one of the poems, “Hymn 3 To Apollon” lines 171-173 to be exact, it says:
“Do tell him in unison that I am he,/a blind man, dwelling on the rocky island of Chios,/whose songs shall all be the best in time to come.”
[I am quoting Apostolos N. Athanassakis’s version, which is the one I own and highly recommend.]
This made people think that Homer is telling his audience that he is this blind man living on an island, which means it must be true, obvs.
*END OF EXTRA CREDIT*
There you have it! Now you know who the heck Homer is. Or. Um. Who he allegedly is. We still don’t know if he… actually… was. AHEM. Next time we will talk about The Problems of Author Bias.
IN THE MEANTIME: Here is a link to a picture of an idealized bust of Homer — which is hilarious to me, but probably isn’t supposed to be.
PLUS: My version of Homer…
Just chillin’ in his cave, singing about destruction and xenia.*
*Xenia: a Greek concept we’ll learn about more in the future.*