Homer and the Origins of Literature. Who was Homer and why and how did his poems get written down?. 5 Key Points of Lecture. Who Was Homer? What is the Homeric Question? Homer and the Origins of Writing The Man Who Overcame Death Why Is This Important?.
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Who was Homer and why and how did his poems get written down?
His work shows a knowledge of the Greek World and Near East
Later tradition has him born in Asia Minor
Stories circulate about him in the Greek world saying he was blind and told “all the best stories.”Who Was Homer?
The Iliad is set over the course of several weeks, during the ninth year of the Trojan War.
Its principle theme is “The Wrath of Achilles.”
But the texts are really the culmination of a long tradition going back years before the 8th century.
The Odyssey narrates the return of Odysseus to his home after 20 years. It is filled with folktales.Homer is credited with having composed two epic poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey
Homer and oral composers like him probably sang their songs to the social elite at banquets and athletic events.
His audiences were probably mostly male
We do not know when or where poems as long as the Odyssey and Iliad may have been presentedWhat was Homer’s world like?
The Near East to the social elite at banquets and athletic events.
Greek ColoniesSome Maps of the Ancient World
The Greeks were colonizing as early as the 9 to the social elite at banquets and athletic events.th century
Trade and exchange of ideas with other cultures existed long before Homer.
If Homer was from Chios, the way stories written about him after his death claim, then he lived in a place that was just a few miles away from another culture and languageWhy are these maps significant?
Homer did exist to the social elite at banquets and athletic events.
He was an oral poet
He was illiterateMost Scholars Now Agree on the Following . . .
How did the poems originate?
Could a bunch of short poems have been put together to make a longer poem?
Some scholars felt that the work was too long to have been composed without writing. We have 16,000 lines of the Iliad and 12,000 lines of the Odyssey
But Homer’s world does not contain writing . . .But how did Scholars Even Come To Agree On These Three Things?
By the 1920’s, scholars had come up with two basic answers to the Homeric Question
Many “Homers” singing tales which later became a coherent whole (Analysts)
One single, very gifted individual was responsible for both poems (Unitarians)
In the 1930’s a scholar named Milman Parry changed the debate by studying oral poets in what is now the former Yugoslavia . . .The Homeric Question
A guslar is essentially a modern version of Homer, who has been trained in the traditional themes and narratives and in the use of formulas, who can compose an original poem using a very flexible poetic pattern and sing the song in accompaniment to his gusle, a stringed instrument.The Guslar and His Gusle
It is possible for illiterate, oral poets to compose very long poems without the help of writing.
The poems contained “essential ideas” rather than rigid plots.
He suggested that what we are really looking at is an oral Homeric tradition, which acknowledged a generations old-tradition of verse-making that was the collective inheritance of many poets in Ancient Greece.What did Parry prove by looking at oral tradition?
The poems were not pasted together composites of shorter poems like the Analysts claimed
Nor were they the long, free-standing poems like the Unitarians claimed
The stories can be adapted to the time and place of performance – if the poet performs for a famous king, then the poem is about his ancestors
The poem never is performed exactly the same – each performance is differentWhat else can we learn from Milman Parry?
Epos = song poems like the Analysts claimed
Epic Distance = the world the poet is creating is distant, or different from his or her own
This is why heroes of past times are always better than today’s humans
If you want to understand what is going on in Homer, you need to lose your reality expectation -- rivers and horses will speak, so JUST DEAL WITH IT!Some things to know about ancient Greek epic
The poems exist for us today, but they come from a largely oral tradition and were created by a system that is hostile to writing
Writing is known to the Greeks as “the drug of forgetfulness, silent but speaking”.
It seems as if writing was invented around 800 BCE, the exact time when Homer’s poems were composed
Now the Greeks no longer had to use their minds to remember words, but had a system of symbols to use which stood for specific sounds in their language.Homer and the Origins of Writing
Homer’s story is part of a larger epic tradition, which incorporates elements from other cultures in the Near East along with uniquely Greek elements
In particular, the themes of the traveling sailor and the struggle for what it means to be human and face death.The Man Who Overcame Death
The enemies of Odysseus are allies of death incorporates elements from other cultures in the Near East along with uniquely Greek elements
Sleep, the brother of death (Somnus)
Eternal life = death (if it means loss of new experiences)
Look for scenes of rebirth in the Odyssey
“Never forget me, for I gave you life.”
Nausicaa to OdysseusOdysseus conquers death
Who am I? incorporates elements from other cultures in the Near East along with uniquely Greek elements
How do I fit into humankind?
What is my role in life?
What is my relationship to other humans?
Life triumphs over death
Ordered world wins out over disordered
Right over wrongHomer’s Other Questions and Themes
What I hope you have learned from today’s lecture . . . incorporates elements from other cultures in the Near East along with uniquely Greek elements
Homer’s appeal to modern audiences is that he creates characters and develops them to the point where we feel what they feel
As though we were witnessing the lives of real men and women, the complexity and emotional development of Homer’s characters touch us even today.Why is this important?