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Homer and Epic
Who was Homer?
Homer   Homer was the composer of the Iliad and the Odyssey, the two oldest and most important works of Greek literature. We know nothing certain about him. Though there is still disagreement, most people suspect his epics were written down around 750 B.C.E. In earlier centuries, many scholars argued that Homer was not one person, but a traditional name attached to works that were really collectively composed. This theory arose because of the huge success of a similar theory in biblical criticism, and because scholars were able to hear distinctive voices within the Homeric texts. More recently scholars have once again begun to entertain the idea that the Homeric texts were composed by a single person, based mainly on the intricacy and consistency of the plot and character construction. Was this person Homer? One famous saying claims, "either Homer or someone of the same name." Homer likely made his living as a rhapsode, a professional singer of verses, also known as a bard. Rhapsodes performed in competition at festivals and were probably also hired out to perform for the wealthy. Seven different places claimed in antiquity to be the birthplace of Homer. Two of the likely candidates are Smyrna and Chios, both among the many Greek settlements in Asia Minor or the west coast of modern-day Turkey. Early Greeks ascribed to Homer the Iliad and the Odyssey, as well as several other works, including the Homeric Hymns. Scholars today doubt that a single person wrote these hymns, and consider them a traditional collection to which many poets added, under Homer's name.
What is Epic?
   Epic poetry such as Gilgamesh, an Assyrian epic and the oldest example of epic in existence, Beowulf, and Homer's Iliad and Odyssey are lengthy tales of the deeds of superhuman heroes of the past, who were often involved in great wars. Future generations often measured their own virtue against that of the epic heroes they read about. Homer's Iliad and Odyssey focus on the exploits of a single protagonist: the godlike warrior Achilles in the Iliad and the wily, cunning Odysseus in the Odyssey. The events Homer narrates have to do especially with the Trojan War and its aftermath, around the year 1250 B.C.E. at the end of the Bronze Age, a period named for the metal that was then chiefly in use. (Iron was rare and expensive at the time.) Typical of their genre, these epics depict great battles, solemn burials, lively feasts, rowdy assemblies, and powerful speeches. Homer's poetry was sung by bards, often to the accompaniment of a lyre. It is written in dactylic hexameter, a metrical pattern in which the line is broken up into six feet, each foot consisting of a long syllable followed by two short syllables. In any foot the two short syllables may be replaced by a second long syllable. Every single line of Greek in Homer's work follows this meter. In order to meet these tight metrical constraints, line-opening or line-closing epithets that meet the metrical standards, such as "godlike Achilles" or "much-enduring Odysseus," permeate the Homeric epics. These stock phrases make memorization as well as on-the-spot composition much easier for the bard. (See Homeric Composition).
Timeline of Relevant Events
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