Who was Homer? - Ancient Greek poet
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Who was Homer?

men cheering a race from the stands
Cup by Sophilos, showing a race from the Iliad
(as the inscription says - Athens, ca. 570 BC)

January 2017 - To the classical Greeks, Homer's epics played very much the same role that the Bible plays for a lot of people today. People memorized big chunks of Homer's writings in school, and they repeated bits of it in order to convince other people to do something or think something.
Homer lived around 700 BC, in the Archaic period in Greece. Nobody knows where in Greece he lived. People said he was blind, but poets were often said to have been blind, so this might not be true (people say poets are blind because they think that being blind helps the poets to "see" things other people can't, like to know what the gods are doing).

When Homer was born, the Greeks had just recently learned how to use the alphabet from the Phoenicians or Carthaginians. Homer used the alphabet to write down two long epic poems called the Iliad and the Odyssey. Probably Homer didn't make up these stories, or even the words, himself. Some of the stories are descended from earlier Hittite or Akkadian or Sumerian stories. Poets or bards had been going around Greece telling these stories (and probably accompanying themselves on the lyre) for hundreds of years already. But Homer wrote them down in Greek. Probably he also did a lot of work on them, to make them as good as they are.

Learn by doing: make a Greek lyre
More about the Iliad
More about the Odyssey

Bibliography and further reading about Homer:

The Life and Times of Homer, by Kathleen Tracy (2004). Easy reading.

The Iliad of Homer (Oxford Myths and Legends), by Barbara Leonie Picard. A retelling of the story.

The Odyssey of Homer (Oxford Myths and Legends), by Barbara Leonie Picard.

Approaches to Teaching Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, by Kostas Myrsiades (1987).

The World of Odysseus, by Moses Finley and Bernard Knox (1954). A standard for anyone interested in Homer.

More about the Iliad
More about the Odyssey
Ancient Greece
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter.
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