12 julio, 2024

Homer: who was, biography, influence, works

Who was Homer?

Homer (ca. VIII century BC), was an ancient Greek aedus, who is credited with the authorship of two epic poems of great importance for Western literature: the iliad and the Odyssey. An aedo was, in ancient Greece, the artist who sang the epics of the heroes, which he accompanied with the zither.

There are doubts about the real existence of Homer. Tradition said that he was blind, and several cities claim his birthplace, for example, Izmir, Colophon, Athens, Rhodes, Argos, Salamis, Chios, Ithaca, Pylos, or Cumae.

Although the veracity of his existence is controversial, it was not an impediment for several authors, from Antiquity, to create mythical biographies with different information about his place or date of birth, family and cities in which he lived.

Another topic of debate among academics was whether Homer composed his works following an oral structure or whether, on the contrary, they were conceived from the beginning as literary creations. In any case, today there is still a debate about its real existence.

Homer Biography


Seven places are the most mentioned, since Antiquity, as the birthplace of Homer: Smyrna, Chios, Colophon, Cumae, Argos, Ithaca and Athens itself.

Others say that he was a native of Egypt or Cyprus, but nothing is certain. There is also no precision on the date, only that he was born and died in the 8th century BC.

traditional life

There are several stories about his life. The most renowned, and also the oldest, is the one written by Herodotus. In this version it is stated that the poet’s real name was Melesigenes and that he was born in Smyrna.

His mother was Criteis, an orphan who became pregnant without marrying, for which she was forced to leave her city, Cumae. Once established in her new home, she agreed to be with a teacher named Phemius, who recognized the young Melesigenes as his son.

According to the story, Melesigenes was a very intelligent boy, and that made him stand out among his peers. By reaching adulthood he had already matched, or surpassed, the skill of his teacher in the art of teaching. In fact, when Femius died, the school passed into the hands of his stepson.

Then, the young man set sail to see the world firsthand in the company of Mente, who was a sailor. After many adventures, Melesigenes became ill and then lost his sight. From then on he began to be called Homer, which meant «blind.»

Other versions

In other stories, it is said that he was the son of the river Meles, together with Criteis, and from there came his name, Melesígenes, which can be translated as born of –or in– Meles.

Some versions claim that the poet’s mother was not an ordinary woman, but a nymph. It was also said that Criteis had been kidnapped and forced to marry the Lydian king named Meon, from whom she conceived Homer. The boy, it seems, was born on the banks of the Meles River at the time his mother died.

In other cases, Homer was presented as the grandson of Odysseus. According to this version, the poet was the son of Telemachus and Polycasta, and it is assured that for this reason he told the story of his family, magnifying the achievements of his ancestors.

Those who supported the version of a foreign Homer thought that he was a poet, or bard, who sang to the military to entertain them. According to that story, «homero» corresponds to the word hostage. This version ensures that he or his father would have been prisoners of war at some point.


As for his death, two theories are the most widespread. The first, he died from a disease related to his loss of vision, and the other claims that he died as a result of shame for not being able to solve a riddle posed by some children.

Although hundreds of versions of Homer’s existence were created, none have been verified.

homeric question

Doubts about the real existence of some poet or author named Homer, or even Melesigenes, have been around for a long time, at least since the 18th century. Although the Greeks did not doubt its existence, they could not prove that it existed either.


Did Homer really exist? Was he a single man? He Was he the sole author of the iliad and the Odyssey? Was he a compiler of popular stories? When were his works made? Did the compositions follow the oral tradition or were they written that way?

This is just a portion of the questions that have not been satisfactorily answered in thousands of years and probably can never be fully clarified.

For certain academics, the only documents that can provide data on Homer are precisely his texts. Thanks to the rigorous study of these pieces, aspects of the language, the time or the number of authors can be glimpsed, but nothing can ever be definitively affirmed in this regard.


Since Hellenic times, intellectuals have debated, from different positions, about the work of Homer and the very existence of the Greek author. Then there were already at least seven different biographies in which each biographer changed the circumstances of his life.

Some Greeks argued that given the stylistic differences between the iliad and the Odyssey, it was shown that each text was written by a different person. This group received the title of coryzbut his affirmation did not achieve the approval of the intellectuals of his time.

modern debates

The Homeric question is still a matter of discussion, but it was especially so after the publication of a 17th century text by François Hédelin, Abbe of Aubinac. He denied the physical existence of Homer and brought the controversial issue into the public arena once more.

This current suggested that the term «Homer» was an allusion to the anonymous Greek poets who composed their stories in ancient times, but whose names did not individually pass into the memory of the people for whom they sang.

One or many Homers?

At the end of the 18th century, figures such as Giambattista Vico and Friedrich August Wolf defended what was proposed by the Abbe d’Aubinac.

No one thought that the iliad wave Odyssey they would have been written by a single man, since they found many differences of style within the same text.

Some were inclined to think of Homer as a compiler who could elegantly piece together a handful of chants from different provenances to orchestrate two of the most important works in Western literature.

But there were also those who thought of Homer as the greatest poet of Antiquity, who was able to carry out his extensive work in a masterful way. Among them was Franchesco de Sanctis, one of Wolf’s main detractors and his supporters.

The issue today

During the last century, the voice of those academics who argued that the texts attributed to Homer had to have been conceived in an oral tradition gained prestige, especially due to the discoveries associated with the ancient Greek civilization.

Milman Parry and Albert Lord were two of the great exponents of the current of oral tradition. They supported their assertions in the text itself, since they considered that the existence or not of the author had passed into the background.

What seemed to prove, according to Parry and Lord, that Homer’s texts were not composed as an original piece of writing was, among other things, the mixture of dialects. So did repetitions that emulated a constant formula and anachronisms in language.

core discussion

In our time, the idea that the texts included oral tradition is one of the most accepted approaches, since it offers a solution to many doubts that arise around Homer and his work.

Despite the discrepancies, some affirm that through this theory there may be a consensus between both positions.

The fundamental issue for current scholars focuses especially on Homer’s own work, since no other source can provide, until now, accurate data related to the author or his creation.


In Chios there was a group of people who called themselves, or were known, as homēridai, that is, «sons of Homer». However, it is not known if they were real descendants of the mythical poet or if they were a guild that followed his example.

The second option is the most plausible, since there were more similar cases in Greek society during that time. The doctors of that time called themselves clepidaein homage to its greatest exponent in medicine, Asclepius.

Despite the fact that no records have been found to prove the existence of Homer, historical data have been found on the Homeridae, who worked as poets or rhapsodes and whose oldest references can be traced back to the 6th century BC.

work of the heirs

Plato and Isocrates referred to these Homeric heirs in their works. It is believed that at first the so-called Homeric interpreters limited themselves to transmitting Homer’s work, but over time they gave way to new voices with the same Homeric style and tone.

Some of the homeric hymnswere really written by the Homerids and it is thought that they too could have influenced the work as it is known today, although it cannot be known to what extent.

Homer’s language

The texts attributed to Homer and the Homerids, both in the iliad and the Odysseyas in the later homeric hymns, They used a form that was called «Homeric language», in other cases, language or Homeric language. The language was a variety of archaic Greek, the Ionian.


Homeric language was used in epic works, since it was adapted to the metric known as catalectic dactylic hexameter. This shape is known as a hexameter because it consisted of six feet.

Those feet could consist of a dactyl, which is a long syllable followed by two short ones, but they could also be replaced by a spondeo, which are two long syllables with the same duration as a dactyl.

Normally, a dactyl was used on the fifth foot and a spondeus on the sixth. The hexameter was used until the fourth century.

Another notable aspect of Homeric Greek is the lack of a definite article, which did exist in the classical form of the same language.

Approximately 9,000 words were used in the writing of the Homeric works, of which 1,382 are proper names and 2,307 are ápax, that is, words that only appear once in a text and whose meaning is elucidated by inference.

Works attributed to Homer

Despite doubts about its existence, or the authorship of the iliad and the Odyssey, these are the only works attributed to Homer today. However, in the past he was thought to have authored many others, including:

batrachomyomachy (The war of the frogs and the mice).
homeric hymns.
Homer and Hesiod’s contest.
ilias parva (the little iliad).
Nostoi (Returns).
Cypria (Cypriaeither Cyprian songs).
The capture…

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