Homer Wasn't 'a Person': Historian

Iliad , Odyssey were works of a culture, not a man: Adam Nicolson
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 11, 2015 1:38 PM CST
Homer Wasn't 'a Person': Historian
A Sotheby's auction house employee poses for photographs with the Francis Harwood marble bust of the ancient Greek poet Homer in London, Friday, Nov. 28, 2014.   (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

When we think of The Iliad and The Odyssey, we shouldn't give credit to a single man, says a historian: "It's a mistake to think of Homer as a person," historian Adam Nicolson tells National Geographic. "Homer is an 'it.' A tradition. An entire culture coming up with ever more refined and ever more understanding ways of telling stories that are important to it," adds the author of Why Homer Matters. Modern readers want to know the story of individual writers, but "Homer has no biography," Nicolson says. He also argues that the works may have emerged some 1,200 years before many historians say Homer lived; he dates the epic poems to around 2000 BC.

He supports his theory by noting that parts of Homeric stories "are shared among the Indo-European world as a whole, all the way from north India through Greece to Germanic and Icelandic stories." What's more, Greece, in The Iliad, is full of "barbarians," and that description "doesn't make sense any later than about 1800 to 1700 BC." The works combine the "hero-based culture of the Eurasian steppes" with the "sophisticated, authoritarian, and literate cities and palaces of the eastern Mediterranean," Nicolson writes, as Guardian reviewer Charlotte Higgins notes. Meanwhile, the Washington Post observes that questions over Homer's existence, or lack thereof, aren't new; no "reliable historical information" exists about the poet, Terrence McCoy writes. (Shakespeare, of course, is another writer whose identity has been questioned; some have said he wasn't alone in his work.)

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