Dafato Team | Jun 24, 2022

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Homer (Ancient Greek: Ὅμηρος, Hómēros, pronunciation: , 8th century BCE) was a Greek poet identified historically as the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, the two greatest epic poems in Greek literature. Other works were also attributed to him in antiquity, including the playful poem Batracomiomachia, the so-called Homeric Hymns, the poem Margite, and several poems of the Epic Cycle.

The actual authorship of his work was already questioned in ancient times (from the 3rd century BC, at the philological school of Alexandria). In modern times, beginning in the second half of the 17th century, people began to question the poet's very existence, ushering in the so-called Homeric question.

The language in which his two works, the Iliad and the Odyssey, are written is the Homeric language, an exclusively literary language with composite characters that has traits of the major Greek dialects.

Its name, probably Greek, has been the subject of various paretimological explanations since antiquity:

The traditional biography of Homer that can be reconstructed from ancient sources is probably fanciful. Attempts to construct a biography of the man who has always been considered the first Greek poet have converged in a corpus of seven biographies commonly referred to as Lives of Homer. The most extensive and detailed is the one attributed, most likely erroneously, to Herodotus, and therefore referred to as the Vita Herodotea. Another very popular biography among ancient authors is the one attributed, but erroneously, to Plutarch. To them can be added as the eighth evidence of similar biographical interests the anonymous Agon of Homer and Hesiod. Some of Homer's mythical genealogies handed down by these biographies claimed that he was the son of the nymph Creteides; others wanted him to be a descendant of Orpheus, the mythical poet of Thrace who made beasts tame with his song.

A remarkably important part of Homer's biographical tradition revolved around the question of his homeland. In antiquity as many as seven cities competed for the right to have been Homer's birthplace: first of all Chios, Smyrna and Colophon, then Athens, Argos, Rhodes and Salamis. The majority of these cities are located in Asia Minor, specifically in Ionia. Indeed, the basic language of the Iliad is the Ionian dialect: however, this fact only attests to the fact that the formation of the epic is probably to be located not in present-day Greece, but in the Ionian cities of the Anatolian coast, and says nothing about Homer's actual existence, let alone where he came from.

The Iliad also contains, in addition to the Ionian base, many Aeolisms (Aeolian terms). Pindar therefore suggests that Homer's homeland might be Smyrna: a city on the west coast of present-day Turkey, inhabited precisely by both Ionians and Aeolians. This hypothesis was stripped of its foundation, however, when scholars realized that many of what were considered Aeolisms were actually Achaean words.

According to Semonides, on the other hand, Homer was from Chios; all we know for sure is that in Chios itself there was a group of rhapsodes who called themselves "Homerides." Moreover, in one of the many hymns to deities that came to be attributed to Homer, the Hymn to Apollo, the author calls himself a "blind man who lives in rocky Chios." Accepting therefore as written by Homer the Hymn to Apollo would explain both Chios' claim to the cantor's birthplace and the origin of the name (from ὁ μὴ ὁρῶν, ho mḕ horṑn, the blind man). These were probably the basis of Simonides' belief. However, both claims, Pindar's and Semonides', lack concrete evidence.

According to Herodotus Homer is said to have lived four hundred years before his time, thus around the middle of the ninth century BCE; in other biographies, however, Homer appears to have been born at a later time, mostly around the eighth century BCE. The contradictory nature of these reports had not soured in the Greeks the belief that the poet had really existed; on the contrary, it had contributed to making him a mythical figure, the poet par excellence. Discussion also developed over the meaning of Homer's name. In the Lives, Homer's real name is said to have been Melesigene, that is, (according to the interpretation contained in the Vita Herodotea) "born near the river Meleto." The name Homer would thus be a nickname: traditionally it was derived either from ὁ μὴ ὁρῶν ho mḕ horṑn, "the blind man," or from ὅμηρος hòmēros, which would mean "hostage."

Inevitably, further discussion turned on the chronological relationship existing between Homer and the other pivot of Greek poetry, Hesiod. As can be seen from the Lives, there were both those who thought that Homer lived at an earlier age than Hesiod and those who thought he was younger, and also those who wanted them to be contemporaries. In the aforementioned Agon there is a story of a poetic contest between Homer and Hesiod, held on the occasion of the funeral of Amphidamantus, king of the island of Euboea. At the end of the contest, Hesiod read a passage from the Works and Days devoted to peace and agriculture, Homer one from the Iliad consisting of a war scene.

For this reason King Panedes, brother of the dead Amphidamantus, assigned the victory to Hesiod. Certainly, in any case, this legend is completely without foundation. Basically, in conclusion, none of the data provided to us by the ancient biographical tradition allows even possible statements to establish the real historical existence of Homer. For these reasons, too, as well as on the basis of extensive considerations of the probable oral composition of the poems (see below), critics have long since almost generally concluded that there never existed a distinct author named Homer to whom the two major poems of Greek literature can be traced in their entirety.

The ancient age

The numerous problems concerning the real historical existence of Homer and the composition of the two poems gave rise to what has come to be known as the "Homeric question," which for centuries has sought to determine whether there ever really existed a poet named Homer and which works, of all those related to his figure, could possibly be attributed to him; or, alternatively, what the process of composing the Iliad and the Odyssey was. The authorship of the question is traditionally attributed to three scholars: François Hédelin abbot d'Aubignac (1604-1676), Giambattista Vico (1668-1744) and especially Friedrich August Wolf (1759-1824).

Doubts around Homer and the real extent of his production are much older, however. Already Herodotus, in a passage in his history of the Persian Wars (2:116-7), devotes a brief digression to the question of the Homeric authorship of the Cypria, concluding, on the basis of narrative inconsistencies with the Iliad, that they cannot be the work of Homer but must be attributed to another poet.

The earliest evidence concerning an overall redaction, in the form of the two poems, of the various cantos previously circulated separately goes back as far as the 6th century BCE, and is linked to the name of Pisistratus, tyrant of Athens between 561 and 527 BCE. In fact, Cicero says in his De Oratore, "primus Homeri libros confusos antea sic disposuisse dicitur, ut nunc habemus" (Pisistratus is said to have first ordered Homer's books, which were previously confused, as we now have them). Thus, a hypothesis has been put forward that the library that, according to some sources, Pisistratus organized in Athens contained Homer's Iliad, which his son Hipparchus had made. However, the thesis of the so-called "Pisistratean redaction" has been discredited, as has the very existence of a library in Athens in the 6th century B.C.: the Italian philologist Giorgio Pasquali argued that, assuming the existence of a library in Athens at that time, it is hard to see what it could have contained, because of the still relatively small number of works produced and the not yet prominent use of writing to entrust them to.

A section of the ancient critics, represented mainly by the two grammarians Xenon and Ellanicus, known as the χωρίζοντες (chōrìzontes, or "separatists"), instead confirmed the existence of Homer, but believed that not all two poems could be traced back to him, and therefore attributed only the Iliad to him, while they considered the Odyssey composed over a hundred years later by an unknown aedo.

In antiquity it was mainly Aristotle and the Alexandrian grammarians who dealt with the issue. The former affirmed the existence of Homer, but, of all the works associated with his name, attributed to him the composition of only the Iliad, Odyssey and Margites. Among the Alexandrians, the grammarians Aristophanes of Byzantium and Aristarchus of Samothrace formulated the hypothesis destined to remain the most widespread until the advent of the oralist philologists. They maintained the existence of Homer and attributed only the Iliad and the Odyssey to him; moreover, they arranged the two works in the version we possess today and expunged passages they said were corrupt and supplemented some verses.

A clarification of Aristarchus' thesis can be considered the conclusion, due to stylistic reasons, reached by the anonymous Sublime, that Homer composed the Iliad at a young age and the Odyssey as an old man.

The new modern formulation of the question

Similar debates received a jolt with the composition of Abbot d'Aubignac's work Conjectures académiques ou dissertation sur l'Iliade (1664, but published posthumously in 1715), in which it was argued that Homer never existed, and that the poems as we read them are the result of an editorial operation that would have brought together originally isolated epics into a single text.

In this new phase of Homeric criticism, Giambattista Vico's position, which has only recently become part of the history of the "Homeric question," actually plays a very important role. Indeed, it is in the very chapter of the Scienza Nuova (last edition of 1744) devoted to "the discovery of the true Homer" that we have the first formulation of the original orality of the composition and transmission of the poems. In Homer, according to Vico (as d'Aubignac, whom Vico did not know, had already stated), one should not recognize a real historical figure of a poet, but "the poetical Greek people," that is, a personification of the poetic faculty of the Greek people.

Finally, in 1788, the Homeric scolii contained in the margins of the most important manuscript of the Iliad, the Venetian Marcian A, were published by Jean-Baptiste-Gaspard d'Ansse de Villoison, and they constitute a fundamental source of knowledge about the critical activity carried out on the poems in the Hellenistic age. Working on these scolii, Friedrich August Wolf in the celebrated Prolegomena ad Homerum (1795) traced for the first time the history of the Homeric text as it can be reconstructed for the period from Pisistratus to the Alexandrian era. Pushing back even further, Wolf again advanced the hypothesis that had already been Vico's and d'Aubignac's, arguing for the original oral composition of the poems, which would then always be transmitted orally until at least the fifth century BCE.

Analytical and unitary

Wolf's conclusions that the Homeric poems were not the work of a single poet, but of multiple authors working orally, led critics to orient themselves into two camps. The first to develop was the so-called analytic or separatist criticism: subjecting the poems to a thorough linguistic and stylistic investigation, the analytics aimed to identify all possible internal caesuras within the two poems with the aim of recognizing the personalities of the different authors of each episode. The main analytics (chorizontes) were: Gottfried Hermann (1772-1848), according to whom the two Homeric poems were derived from two original cores ("Ur-Ilias," around the wrath of Achilles, and "Ur-Odyssee," centering on the return of Odysseus), to which additions and expansions were made; Karl Lachmann (1793-1851), whose theories find some similarity with those of Hédelin d'Aubignac, according to whom the Iliad is composed of 16 popular cantos brought together and then transcribed by order of Pisistratus (Adolf Kirchoff, who, studying the Odyssey, theorized that it was composed of three independent poems (Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff (1848-1931), who argued that Homer had collected and reworked traditional songs and organized them around a single theme.

Naturally opposed to this direction of criticism were the positions of those scholars who, like Wolfgang Schadewaldt, believed that they could find in the various internal references within the poems, in the processes of anticipation of episodes that had not yet occurred, in the distribution of time and in the structure of the action, evidence of a unity of origin in the conception of the two works. The two poems would have been composed from the outset in a unified manner, with a well-thought-out structure and a series of episodes specially arranged with an end in view, without thereby denying any insertions that occurred later, over the centuries and as the plays proceeded. It is undoubtedly significant that Schadewaldt himself, one of the leading exponents of the Unitarian current, also gave credence to the central core, if not the individual narrative details, of the Homeric Lives, attempting to extrapolate truth from legend and to reconstruct a historically verifiable figure of Homer.

The oral hypothesis

At least in the terms in which it was traditionally formulated, the Homeric question is far from being resolved, because in reality it is probably insoluble. In the last century, the now-classic questions around which the Homeric question had hitherto hinged actually began to lose their meaning in the face of a new approach to the problem made possible by studies of the processes of epic composition in pre-literary cultures carried out in the field by a number of U.S. scholars.

The pioneer of these studies, and the principal among what are called "oralist philologists," was Milman Parry, an American scholar, who formulated the first version of his theory in L'epithète traditionelle dans Homère. Essai sur un problème de style homérique (1928). In Parry's theory (who was not specifically a Homerist), aurality and orality are key: aedi would have sung by improvising, or rather by setting gradually innovative elements on a standard matrix; or they would have declaimed to the audience after composing in written form. Well Parry hypothesized an early time when the two texts had to circulate from mouth to mouth, from father to son, exclusively in oral form; later for practical and evolutionary needs someone intervened to unify, almost "stitching" them together, the various tissues of the Homeric epos, and this someone could be a really lived Homer or a rhapsodic team specialized under the name "Homer." The focus of Parry's research concerns, as the title of his essay declares, the traditional epic epithet, i.e., the attribute that accompanies the name in Homeric texts ("swift Achilles' foot," for example), which is studied in the context of the formular nexus that the name-epithet set determines. The cardinal conclusions of Parry's theory can be summarized as follows:

The principles thus constituted of the traditionality and formularity of epic diction lead Parry to pronounce on the Homeric question, destroying its presuppositions in the name of the only certainty that such a formulaic study of the poems allows: in their structure, the Iliad and the Odyssey are absolutely archaic, but this only allows one to say that they reflect an established tradition of aedi. This justifies the stylistic similarity that exists between the two poems. However, it does not allow us to say anything certain about their author, nor about how many may have been their authors.

Immediately Parry's theses were extended over a wider field than the name-epithet pair. Walter Arend, in a famous book of 1933 (Die typischen Szenen bei Homer), reiterating Parry's theses, noted that not only are there repetitions of metrical segments, but also fixed or typical scenes (descent from the ship, description of the armor, death of the hero, etc.), i.e., scenes that are literally repeated every time an identical context occurs again in the narrative. He then identified global compositional canons that would organize the entire narrative: the catalog, the ring composition, and the schidione.

Finally, Eric Havelock hypothesized that the Homeric work was actually a tribal encyclopedia: the tales would be used to teach morals or transmit knowledge, and thus the work should have been constructed according to an educational structure.


The Iliad and Odyssey were fixed in writing in the Ionia of Asia, around the 8th century B.C.: writing was introduced in about 750 B.C.; it has been assumed that thirty years later, in 720 B.C., aedi (professional singers) could already use it. It is likely that more aedi began to use writing to fix texts that they entrusted completely to memory; writing was nothing more than a new means of facilitating their work, both so that they could work more easily on texts and so that they did not have to entrust everything to memory.

In the age of aurality, the epic magma began to settle into its structure while maintaining a certain fluidity.

It is likely that initially there were a very large number of episodes and rhapsodic sections related to the Trojan Cycle; various authors, in the age of aurality (i.e., around 750 B.C.) made a selection, choosing from this large number of tales an ever-diminishing number of sections, a number that if for Homer it was 24, for other authors could be 20, or 18, or 26, or even 50. What is certain is that Homer's version prevailed over the others; although after him other aedi had continued to continually select episodes to create "their" Iliad, they kept in mind that Homer's version of the Iliad was the most in vogue. In essence, not all aedi sang the same Iliad, and there never came to be a standard text for all; there were a myriad of texts similar to each other, but with slight differences.

During aurality, The Poem does not yet have a definitively closed structure.

We do not possess the earliest original of the work, but it is likely that copies were circulating as early as the 6th century BC.

Aurality did not allow canonical editions to be established. From the Homeric scolii we have news of editions of the poems prepared by individual cities and therefore called κατὰ πόλεις (katà pòleis): Crete, Cyprus, Argos, and Marseilles each had its own local version of Homer's poems. The various κατὰ πόλεις editions were probably not very discordant with each other. We also have news of pre-Hellenic editions, called πολυστικός polystikòs, "with many verses"; these editions were characterized by a greater number of rhapsodic sections than the Alexandrian Vulgate; various sources tell us about them, but we do not know their origin.

In addition to these editions prepared by the different cities, we also know of the existence of κατ' ἄνδρα (kat'àndra) editions, that is, editions prepared by individuals for distinguished people who wished to have their own editions. A famous example is that of Aristotle, who had an edition of the Iliad and Odyssey created for his disciple Alexander the Great to read around the end of the fourth century BCE.

In this state of affairs, the Homeric poems were inevitably subject to alterations and interpolations for nearly four centuries before the Alexandrian age. The rhapsodes, reciting the orally transmitted, and therefore not permanently fixed, text, could insert or subtract parts from it, reverse the order of certain episodes, shorten or expand certain others. Moreover, since the Iliad and Odyssey were the basis of elementary education (generally the little Greeks learned to read by practicing Homer's poems) it is not unlikely that teachers simplified the poems so that they would be easier for children to understand, although recent criticism tends to minimize the extent of these scholastic interventions.

Probably more extensive were the interventions aimed at correcting some of the rough details belonging to customs and beliefs no longer in accord with the more modern mentality, especially with regard to attitudes toward the gods. In fact, from the very beginning the excessively earthly portrayal of the Homeric gods (quarrelsome, lustful and basically not unrelated to the various vices of men) troubled the most attentive recipients (the criticism addressed to the Homeric deities by Xenophanes of Colophon is especially famous). The scolii attest to a number of interventions, even quite conspicuous ones (sometimes even dozens of consecutive verses could be suppressed) intended precisely to smooth out these aspects that were no longer understood or shared.

Some scholars believe that, over time, a kind of basic Attic text, an Attic Vulgate, was arrived at (the word Vulgate is used by scholars in reference to the Vulgate of St. Jerome, who at the beginning of the Christian era analyzed the various existing Latin versions of the Bible and unified them into a definitive Latin text, which he called the vulgata-for the vulgate, to be popularized).

The ancient Alexandrian grammarians between the third and second centuries B.C. concentrated their work of text philology on Homer, both because the material was still very confused and because he was universally recognized as the father of Greek literature. The work of the Alexandrians is generally referred to by the term emendatio, a Latin version of the Greek διώρθωσις, which consisted of removing the various interpolations and cleaning up the poem of the various supplementary formular verses, variant formulae that also came in all at once. A final text was thus arrived at. The main contribution was that of three great philologists, who lived between the middle of the third century and the middle of the second: Zenodotus of Ephesus perhaps devised the alphabetical numbering of the books and almost certainly invented a critical sign, the obelos, to indicate the verses he considered interpolated; Aristophanes of Byzantium, of whom nothing remains, but he seems to have been a great commentator, inserted the prosodion, critical signs (Aristarchus of Samothrace operated a wide (and today considered excessive) Atticalization, since he was convinced that Homer was from Athens, and took care to choose a lesson for each "doubtful" word, also taking care to put an obelos with the other discarded lessons; it is still unclear to what extent he relied on his own judgment and to what extent on the comparison of the various copies available to him.

According to the most likely interpretation, Alexandrian grammarians explained their textual choices in separate commentaries, to which they referred the various critical marks affixed to the actual text. These commentaries were called ὑπομνήματα (commentarii), none of which have been preserved. From them, however, derive the marginal remarks handed down along with the text of the poems in medieval codices, the scolii (σχόλια), which represent for us rich repertoires of remarks to the text, notes, lessons, and comments. The basic core of these scolii was probably formed in the first centuries of the Christian era: four grammarians (Didymus, Aristonicus, Nicanor, and Herodianus), who lived between the third and second centuries B.C. by Alexandrian scholars, devoted linguistic and philological commentaries to the Homeric poems (especially the Iliad) that drew on the critical observations of the Alexandrian grammarians. The studies of these four grammarians were later summarized by a later scholiast (perhaps from the Byzantine era) in the work commonly known as the Commentary of the Four.

Around the middle of the second century, after the Alexandrian work, the Alexandrian text and remnants of other versions were thus circulating. Certainly the Alexandrians established the number of verses and the subdivision of the books.

From 150 B.C. the other textual versions disappeared and a single text of the Iliad was imposed; all papyri found from that date onwards correspond to our medieval manuscripts: the medieval Vulgate is the synthesis of everything.

The Middle Ages

In the Western Middle Ages, knowledge of Greek was not widespread, even among people like Dante or Petrarch; one of the few who knew it was Boccaccio, who learned its first rudiments in Naples from the Calabrian monk Barlaam and later consolidated his knowledge through collaboration with the Greek scholar Leonzio Pilato. The Iliad was known in the West through the Ilias translated into Latin of the Neronian age.

Before the work of the Alexandrian grammarians, Homer's material was very fluid, but even after that other factors continued to modify the Iliad, and we have to wait until 150 BCE to arrive at the Homeric κοινή. The Iliad was much more copied and studied than the Odyssey.

In 1170 Eustatius of Thessaloniki made a significant contribution to these studies.

The modern and contemporary ages

In 1920 it was realized that it was impossible to make a codicum stemma for Homer because, even in that year, excluding papyrus fragments, there were as many as 188 manuscripts, and because we cannot trace an archetype of Homer. Often our archetypes date back to the ninth century CE, when in Constantinople Patriarch Photius took care that all texts written in the uppercase Greek alphabet were transliterated into lower case; those that were not transliterated were lost. For Homer, however, there is no single archetype: transliterations occurred in several places at once.

Our oldest complete progenitor manuscript of the Iliad is Marcianus 454a, preserved in the Biblioteca Marciana in Venice, which dates from the 10th century AD: during the 15th century it was brought to the West by Giovanni Aurispa. In contrast, the earliest manuscripts of the Odyssey are from the 11th century AD.

The editio princeps of the Iliad was printed in 1488 in Florence by Demetrio Calcondila. The first Venetian editions, called aldine by the printer Aldo Manuzio, were reprinted three times, in 1504, 1517, 1521, an indication this no doubt of the great success on the public of the Homeric poems.

A critical edition of the Iliad was published in 1909 in Oxford by David Binning Monro and Thomas William Allen. The Odyssey was edited in 1917 by Allen.

Greek religion was strongly anchored in myth, and in fact in Homer the entire Olympian religion (pan-Hellenic character) unfolds.

According to some, Homeric religion has strong primitive and recessive characters:

According to Walter F. Otto, Homeric religion is the most advanced model the human mind has ever conceived, because it splits being from being-state.

Homeric man is particularistic because he is the sum of different parts:

The Homeric hero bases his recognition of his own worth on society's consideration of him. This statement is true to such an extent that some scholars, notably E. Dodds, call such a society a "society of shame." For it is not so much guilt or sin but shame that sanctions the decay of the hero's excellence, the loss of his exemplary status. Thus a hero becomes a model for his society to the extent that he is credited with heroic deeds, while in case these are no longer attributed to him, he lapses from being a model and sinks into shame.

The hero therefore aspires to glory (κλέος klèos) and possesses all the qualities to conquer it: physical vigor, courage, strength of endurance. He is not only strong but also handsome (kalokagathia) and only other heroes can face him and overcome him. Great warriors are also eloquent, giving long speeches in the assembly before and during combat. We are in a society dominated by the warrior aristocracy in which nobility of lineage is emphasized by mention of father, mother, and often ancestors. The hero has or wishes to have male offspring to perpetuate the prestige of the family since the society is essentially a society of men, for the man represents the continuity of the lineage: it is he who is killed, while the women survive as the prey of war and become the slaves or concubines of the victors. The prize of valor, in addition to victory over the enemy, is also represented by prey, so Homeric heroes are rich and greedy for wealth and at home they own land, livestock, precious objects.

Agamemnon must accompany with gifts the ambassadorship he sends to Achilles; the latter returns Hector's corpse, because the gods want it that way, but at the same time accepts the precious peplos, gold talents and other items that Priam offers him. Discord between heroes is inevitable since they are very jealous of their honor (τιμή tīmḕ), as appears, for example, in the clash between Agamemnon and Achilles in which each would feel diminished in his honor if he yielded (Agamemnon exercises the rights of a king, Achilles was deprived of what he was entitled to as to the strongest of warriors). Unknown is pity for the vanquished, all the more so when it comes to revenge: Telemachus hangs the unfaithful handmaids by his own hand; Hector cannot even get Achilles to pledge to return his body. But he had killed Patroclus, and friendship is an essential trait of the heroic world. Death is always accepted naturally, and in battle it is the only alternative to victory: so honor dictates(although in fact many heroes turn to flight, and are scorned or criticized for fleeing, both among the Greeks, including Odysseus and Diomedes, and among the Trojans, such as Aeneas). And the Homeric narrative is dignified and calm even in describing the horrors of battle, the wounds, the killings. No reward awaits the hero in the afterlife: he receives the funeral honors due to his rank. As for the female figures they are complex and their role is mainly passive, one of suffering and waiting; they are the eternal victims of war (Andromache, Penelope). However, unlike other later poets, there is a certain of neutrality toward the figure of Helen, seen as the bearer of her own fate, and not a traitor or deceiver.

The conception of the gods in Homer is, as already mentioned, anthropomorphic. The ups and downs of war are decided on Olympus. The gods speak and act as mortals. They have human qualities to an incomparably greater degree. Their laughter is unquenchable (Ἄσβεστος γέλος,àsbestos ghèlos, "unquenchable laughter"), their lives spend amid festive banquets: it is what man dreams of. Their feelings, the motions of the soul are human: they provoke each other, they are susceptible to flattery, wrathful and vindictive, they succumb to seductions, if they commit a fault they may even be punished. Husbands and wives cheat on each other, preferably with mortal beings, without these episodic loves endangering divine institutions. Over men they have absolute, sometimes capricious power, and they make even cruel use of it. Hera would consent to Zeus destroying Argos, Sparta, and Mycenae, the three cities dear to her, as long as it would gratify her desire and break the truce between Greeks and Trojans. The gods assist mortals in dangers; they are often tender, but they can also be ruthless. Athena draws Hector into the mortal duel by presenting herself to him in the form of her brother Deiphobo, and the hero, unaware, follows her; meanwhile, Apollo has fled before Achilles and abandoned his own favorite warrior to his fate. There is then, above the gods, Moira (Μοῖρα), Fate. The gods are immortal, but not invulnerable; Diomedes, in Book V of the Iliad, wounded Aphrodite and Ares consecutively.

The gods mentioned by Homer are both many of those also present in Mycenaean mythology and those that were added later; at the head of the Olympians is placed Zeus, and not Poseidon as it seems at the time of the Mycenaean palaces; most of the post-Mycenaean gods (such as Apollo) side with the Trojans.

Steiner's interpretation

According to Rudolf Steiner, epic poetry such as Homer's draws divine inspiration. In the incipit of the Iliad we find, "Sing to me, O diva, of the hairless Achilles...," as well as in the Odyssey, "Muse, that man of multiform wits..." In both cases reference is made to the deity as an inspirational source, as a "thought" that guides the hand so that it can express what the deity wants to convey to humans.

There are words in the Homeric language that stand out for their semantic value and evocative power. They are:


For centuries in the Greek world Homer's text was regarded as the source of all teaching, and even in later centuries the Homeric poems, in addition to being prodigious poetic creations, are also extraordinary sources for understanding the political customs, metallurgical techniques, building, and food consumption of Mediterranean peoples in the protohistoric age.

Homer's verses have assured archaeologists a thousand threads for the interpretation of excavated finds in the furthest spheres of civilized life. If, moreover, the Iliad does not offer significant elements for the study of early agriculture and farming in the Aegean world, the Odyssey provides some absolutely singular highlights: a guest of the king of the Phaeacians, Odysseus visits their gardens, a true prodigy of irrigated agriculture; having landed in Ithaca, he climbs through the woods and arrives at the pigsty built by his own servant Eumeus, an authentic "breeding plant" for 600 sows, then thousands of piglets: an authentic precursor of modern livestock farms. Two influential scholars of primitive agriculture, Antonio Saltini, professor of agricultural history, and Giovanni Ballarini, professor of veterinary pathology, have proposed, based on Homer's verses, two contrasting estimates of the amount of acorns that Ithaca's oak groves could produce, and the number of pigs that the island was, therefore, able to maintain.

Meeting his father, Odysseus then reminds him of the different plants the old man had given him for his first garden, mentioning 13 varieties of pear, 10 of apple, 40 of fig, and 50 different grapes, evidence of the intensity of the selection to which man had already subjected fruit-bearing species at the dawn of the first millennium B.C.

The world of Homer

The world is described by Homer as a disk four thousand kilometers in diameter: Delphi, and thus Greece, is the center of the disk. This disk, also divine and referred to by the name Gaia (Γαῖα, also Γῆ, Gaea), is in turn surrounded by a wide river (and god) referred to by the name Ocean (Ὠκεανός, Ōkeanòs) whose waters correspond to the Atlantic Ocean, the Baltic Sea, the Caspian Sea, the northern shores of the Indian Ocean, and the southern border of Nubia. The sun (also divine and referred to as Ἥλιος Hḕlios) passes through this disk in its rotation, but its shining face illuminates only it; it follows that the world beyond the disk and thus the sun's rotation, that is, what is beyond the river Ocean results lightless. From Oceano originate the other waters, even the infere waters such as the Styx through subterranean connections. When celestial bodies set, they bathe in the Ocean, so the Sun itself, after setting, passes through it by means of a golden bowl to rise from the East the following morning. Beyond the River Ocean, there is darkness, there are the openings to the Erebo, the underworld. There, by these openings, live the Cimmerians.

The terrestrial disc surrounded by the god-river Ocean is divided into three parts: northwest inhabited by the Hyperboreans; the south, after Egypt, is inhabited by the devout Ethiopians, men with Sun-burnt faces; beyond the lands in which the Pygmy dwarfs live (between these two ends is the temperate zone of the Mediterranean in the center of which is Greece. From the vertical point of view, the Homeric world has as its roof the Heavens (also divine by the name of Uranus, Οὐρανός Ūranòs), consisting of bronze, which demarcates the path of the Sun. At the limits of the Heavens hover the gods who like to sit on the mountaintops and from there contemplate the affairs of the world. Home to the gods is one of them, Mount Olympus. Below Earth is Tartarus (also a deity), a dark place where the Titans (Τιτάνες Titánes), deities defeated by the gods, are chained, a place surrounded by bronze walls and closed by gates fabricated by Poseidon. The distance placed between the summit of Uranus and the Earth, says Hesiod in the Theogony, is traversed by an anvil dropped from there that will reach the surface of the Earth at the dawn of the tenth day; same distance opposes the Earth from the base of Tartarus. Between Uranus and Tartarus thus lies that "middle world" inhabited by celestial and subterranean gods, demigods, humans and animals, the living and the dead.

Homer crater, on the surface of Mercury, and an asteroid, 5700 Homerus, were named after Homer.


  1. Homer
  2. Omero