HOMER (Lat., from Gk.'Ompos). A mime for the early epic poetry of (:recce. The less critical of the ancients attributed to Homer many minor poems, as the Hymns. the Maryitcs, the late Batrachomyomachia (Battle of the Frogs and Mice), and many of the lost so-called Cyclic Epics, dealing with the early TO the more thoughtful he was the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey. The skeptical 'separators' (chorizontes) denied him the Odyssey. To us he is the unknown poet who chiefly shaped the Iliad and possibly the Odyssey. Ills date is placed by Ilerodotus about u.c. 850; by the mod erns, anywhere from 900 to 1100. At any rate, lie is the first name in European literature. The Iliad is an episode in the legendary siege of Troy, or Ilium, a real town of which Schliemanii has excavated the remains at Ilissarlik, a hillock in Northwestern Asia .11inor. This siege is prob ably an idealization of the prolonged struggh•s of Acloean and _Eolian invaders from Greece with the old (Phrygian?) possessors of the soil. Tn legend it is undertaken to recover the beautiful 'Helen, wife of King _Men•laus of Sparta. who had eloped with Paris, son of King Priam of Troy. In the tenth year of the war Achilles, the Aelocan (Thessalian) hero, quarrels with the commander•ill-chief, Agamemnon, King of Myeen e. about a captive girl, Briseis, and sulks in his lent, to the great loss of the Greeks. until aroused by the death of his dearest friend Patroclus. he hurls himself into the battle again and slays the slayer, 'Hector, the chief bulwark of Troy, with whose solemn burial the poein concludes.
The Odyssey relates, likewise in twenty-four hooks. the surprising experiences of Odysseus after (lie ten years' siege of Troy, wandering for ten years more. yearning to see the rocky isle of 1th:tea. Underplots describe the life of his faithful wife, Penelope, persecuted by the im portunate wooing of rude suitors, and the mil of his son, Telemachus, who in the tenth year goes forth in search of his father. In the end. Odysseus returns, joins Telemachus, slays the suitors, and is at last reeognizcd by Penelope. A literature does not thus begin with two long artistic and skillfully eonst meted epics. We must assume behind the Mud shorter epic ballads such as the hard Phemins in the Odyssey chants to the suitors, and Demodo•us recites at the Plocacian Court. hymns to the gods, and songs of the 'glory of men,' such as Achilles, idle in his tent. sings to the musie of a lyre won from the spoils of a captive town. The system atic mythology of the poems, the number of clearly defined personalities which they present, the profusion of detail about things and per sons and places, their literary art, poetical dic tion, and mastery of the hexameter—ail these things presuppose a long historical and literary development. But of this we know nothing ex cept by analogy and inference from the poems themselves. The manifestly spurious ancient
`lives' are fictions, in many eases fashioned from minor poems attributed to 'Homer.' Homer, they tell us, was born of the nymph Critheis and the river Metes (at Smyrna), and hence called Melesigenes. The name 'Homer' was vari ously derived from the Greek word for hostage, because he was a hostage in youth, or from a dialectic word for blind, because he lost his sight. Homer, the 'Lives' continue, wandered from city to city of Asia Minor earning his bread by recit ing his poetry or by 'teaching,' and immortalized by name in his poems many of those who treated him kindly. Some poems he actually gave to others who won fame by them—to Stasinus of Cyprus, e.g. he gave as his daughter's dowry the Cypria, one of the so-called Cyclic Epics. of which only a few fragments remain. He died, as an oracle had foretold, through chagrin at his in ability to read the riddle of the fishermen: "What we caught we left, what we caught not we bring," which referred not to fishes, hut to an animal more 'familiar to man.' After his death, "Seven cities claimed the mighty Homer dead, where liv ing Homer begged his daily bread." All this and much more is fable. Modern scholars ask, rather: What is the origin of epic poetry in Greece? Can we detect in the Iliad traces of the ballads or shorter lays out of which we may conceive it to have been composed? Can we break up the Iliad into two chief groups of lays—the wrath of Achilles proper. and the general picture of the siege of Troy, by which this original framework was enlarged? What features of style, language, and manners mark the Odyssey as later than the Iliad? What parts of the Iliad most resemble the Odyssey in these features? Can we dissect the Odyssey into a `return of Odysseus' and a `Telemachiad'? Was the 'story of Achilles' originally composed in Thessaly in the _Eolie dialect, then transferred to the scene of the struggles of early Greek colonists in Northwestern Asia Minor, and final ly lonicized, enlarged, embellished, and chanted by minstrels in the halls of Ionian nobles and merchant princes on the Lydian coast? Does the Odyssey reflect the travelers' tales brought back to Ionian seaports by the first navigators of the Euxine and the Mediterranean? What is the precise relation of the life depicted by Homer to the traditional legend of early Greek history on the one hand, and on the other to the appar ently similar civilization revealed at Troy. My celia-, and Tiryns by the spade of Sehliemann, and conjecturally carried hack to the third mil lennium n.c. by recent discoveries in Crete? These questions are debated by specialists. but with little unanimity of result. Meanwhile the Iliad and the Odyssey abide. They may he stud ied: (1) As a picture of early Greek life; (2) as literature; (3) in their historic influence.