The New Student's Reference Work/Homer

Ho′mer, the greatest name in epic poetry, has come down to us as, unfortunately, little better than a name, and many theories of the origin of the Homeric poetry hardly leave us even the name. The traditions agree in making Homer an Asiatic Greek, probably born at Smyrna about 850 B. C. He is represented as blind and as reciting his poems from place to place. All scholars agree that the poems were not written, but handed down from memory, as there is little evidence that in Greece writing was practiced at so early a period. One theory of their authorship is that they are the work or compilation of a company of poets or Homeric guild, who composed, collected and handed down in this form these legends of early history. The Iliad and the Odyssey are sometimes referred also to different writers and sometimes to early and later periods of Homer's genius. They are the greatest epics of any age; the Iliad is called the “beginning of literature.” Tennyson called Homer “the Ionian father of the rest.” The Trojan War is the event celebrated, and the story, if not strictly historical, is based on the real life of the people. The poems of Homer have been translated into all the languages of Europe, among the best English translations being those of Pope, Bryant, Butcher, Lang and Palmer. “You have given us a very pretty poem, Mr. Pope, but it is not Homer,” said Evelyn or Pepys. See Studies on Homer by Gladstone and Lectures on the Translation of Homer by Matthew Arnold.