Homer was a legendary ancient Greek poet who wrote the epics, the “Iliad” and the “Odyssey”. These epics were a part of Western canon of literature and greatly influenced the history of literature. The actual time and location of his living is still controversial. The ancient Greek historian, Herodotus estimates that Homer lived 400 years before him, which was around 850 BC, whereas the other ancient sources placed him around Trojan War in 12th century BC. But the modern scholars determine his time of living by referring the period in which the epics were written. They state that the two epics were created around 8th century BC and that the “Iliad” was written few decades before the “Odyssey”. Some later scholars estimated the date of creation of epics around 7th-century. Few scholars even say that the Homeric poems gradually developed and became fixed texts only in 6th century. Scholars like Martin West, states that “Homer” is “not the name of a historical poet, but a fictitious or constructed name.” The Homeric epics were widely credited for influencing the Greek culture and Homer was considered the teacher of Greece.
There is no reliable biographical information about the life of Homer. His historicity is still a question of debate, often called as “Homeric question”. It was said that when the Emperor Hadrian asked the Oracle at Delphi about Homer, the Pythia predicated that he was Ithacan, the son of Epikaste and Telemachus, referring to Odyssey. The most frequent accounts states that he was born in the Ionian region of Asia Minor, at Smyrna, or on the island of Chios. Some ancient sources showed his connection with Smyrna and alluded his original name as Melesigenes. He was also associated with Chios and dated back to at least Semonides of Amorgos, who mentioned a famous line in the “Iliad” (6.146) as by “the man of Chios”. There were traces of an eponymous bardic guild, known as the Homeridae (sons of Homer) existing at that place. The famous German architect and archaeologist, Wilhelm Dörpfeld advised that Homer probably visited many of the places and regions, which he mentioned in his epics, such as Mycenae, Troy, the palace of Odysseus at Ithaca and others. His name is homophonous with the word, hómçros meant, “hostage” and also referred as “blind” in some dialects, which led to the speculations that probably he was a hostage or a blind man. While some other scholars put his name into a generic function. Gregory Nagy states that his name means “he who fits (the Song) together”. According to Ancient Lives, Homer was a wandering minstrel, like Thamyris or Hesiod, who walked Chalkis to sing at the funeral games of Amphidamas. Based on the evidences from poems, it was said that the singers were divided into categories such as the court singer or the wandering minstrel and Homer belonged to category of the wandering minstrel.
Apart from writing the epics, Homer was also credited to write other exceptional epics. He was believed to have written the entire epic cycle. His other writings included further poems on Trojan War such as the “Little Iliad”, the “Nostoi”, the “Cypria”, and the “Epigoni”. He also wrote the Theban poems about Oedipus and his sons. He was also credited to have written other ancient works like the corpus of “Homeric Hymns”, the comic mini-epic “Batrachomyomachia” (The Frog-Mouse War), and the “Margites”. Homer is also attributed to have written two other poems the “Capture of Oechalia” and the “Phocais”. Until 350 BC, the majority of people didn’t believe the idea that Homer created the two great epics the “Iliad” and the “Odyssey”. While many found it highly unlikely for a person to compose both the epics, others considered the idea of multiple authorship based on the fact of stylistic similarities in the two epics. One of the possible explanations in the support of Homer could be that Homer composed “Iliad” in his maturity whereas he wrote “Odyssey” in old age. Some scholars made a consensus that these epics went through a process of standardization and refinement out of older material since 8th century BC. While others scholars still hold the idea of Homer being a real person, prominent authors like Samuel Butler, Robert Graves and Andrew Dalby base their arguments on literary observations and state that, “Odyssey” was written by a young Sicilian woman.
The famous scholar Milman Parry put forward his theory of oral tradition. According to him, the Homeric poems are dependent on the oral tradition which is a generations-old technique carrying the collective inheritance of many singer-poets. A thorough analysis of the structure and vocabulary of these epics shows that the poems comprise of many formulaic phrases distinctive of extempore epic traditions and also has repeated entire verses at times. The exact time of the fixation of these poems into written form is also a question of debate. The traditional explanation puts forward the “transcription hypothesis", which says a non-literate “Homer” dictated his poem to a literate scribe between the 8th and 6th centuries. The other theory states that Greek alphabet was introduced in the early 8th century, and there are likely chances of Homer being the first generation of authors who were also literate. This theory was strengthened by the views of classicist Barry B. Powell who suggests that the Greek alphabet was invented c. 800 BC by one man, probably Homer, in order to write down oral epic poetry. This theory is opposed by more radical Homerists like Gregory Nagy who argue that a canonical text of the Homeric poems as “scripture” didn’t exist until the Hellenistic period.
One of the basic characteristics of Homer’s literary style was his extensive use of hexameter verse. One of the common attributes of earliest literature was that the evolution of thought or the grammatical form of sentence was dependent by the structure of the verse. In this early literature, the correspondence obtained between the rhythm and the syntax was divided into tolerable uniform pauses hence, producing a swift-flowing movement. Homer possessed this great quality of rapidity and the fact that he didn’t fall into the corresponding faults, that is, without becoming either fluctuant or monotonous, showed his unequalled poetic skill. The plainness and directness of both thought and expression were doubtless qualities of his times which were surpassed by the author of “Iliad”. Homer can not be placed among other great epic poets Virgil, Dante, and Milton as his noble and powerful style, sustained through every change of idea and subject separated him from all forms of ballad-poetry and popular epic. His poetry is indigenous like the French epics, such as the Chanson de Roland and is distinguishable from the works of Dante, Milton and Virgil due to its simplicity and ease of movement. His works were also different from others because of their lack of underlying motives or sentiment. In Virgil's poetry, we witness a sense of greatness of Rome and Italy partly hidden by the considered delicacy of his language. Dante and Milton depicted religious and political views of their time. Unlike others, Homer’s works were purely dramatic irrespective of race, religion or political events.