Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Homer and the Epic Poems Odyssey and Iliad

There has been much discussion about Homer as a person and his relationship to The Odyssey and The Iliad. Scholars have speculated about the man (if he was a man at all), and when he lived, in addition to whether he was the author of the poems. In reading Early Greece, The Bronze and Archaic Ages by M.I. Finley, I became interested in his discussion of the poems and their origin.

He places the poems into the Dark Ages using their content as clues, establishing they were written in Ionia between the middle and end of the eighth century B.C. by two different writers. These writers were documenting a tradition going back to the Heroic age told through the centuries by professional bards who traveled the Greek world.

The authors of the poems had a working knowledge of Mycenae, but did not mention settlements in Ionia. They reference objects that became important during the Dark Ages, such as “bronze tripods” and glittering cauldrons”, and they also reference cremation. The Mycenaeans buried their dead, but later, in about 1050 B.C, the Greeks began cremation as a practice. After 200 years, the burial ritual began again. These facts place the origin of the poems in the early Dark Ages.

They also describe a society with few political institutions. i.e. pre-archaic. The leaders had power because they were wealthy and no other political groups are mentioned. The common people are silent as in the assembly meeting when Telemachus asked for their support against the suitors. The references to the Greeks themselves are also interesting. They are called Achaeans, Argives, and Danaans rather than Hellenes although the latter was in common use in the eighth century.

Finley makes a compelling argument that the poems did in fact represent a centuries-old tradition begun in the early Dark Ages, that they were modernized over time, and then finally written down at the beginning of the archaic period.


400 BC said...

Anything about 'contamination' from later ages before the poems were put into written (more static) form? Are there some bits from a more recent age that seem to have been included at some point?

Indeed, Omeric heroes lived in a world where they did not have to answer to assemblies or councils. Agamennon didn't have to justify his actions to the assembled free adult male population upon his return (he had another kind of wrath to content with though).

These archetypes could have been used as inspiration/justification by commanders on the field to ditch their orders and lead the campaign as they see fit (Demosthenes?).

I like the blog, thanks!

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