gigatos | November 14, 2021


Homer (ancient Greek: Ὅμηρος, Hómēros, pronunciation: , 8th century BC) is the name by which is identified historically the Greek poet author of the Iliad and Odyssey, the two greatest epic poems of Greek literature. In antiquity he was also attributed other works, including the playful poem Batracomiomachia, the so-called Homeric Hymns, the poem Margite and several poems of the Epic Cycle.

The actual authorship of his work was already in doubt in ancient times (from the third century BC, at the philological school of Alexandria). In modern times, from the second half of the seventeenth century, it began to question the very existence of the poet, inaugurating the so-called Homeric question.

The language with which his two works, the Iliad and the Odyssey, are written is the Homeric language, an exclusively literary language with composite characters that has traits of the main Greek dialects.

Its name, probably Greek, has been the subject of various paretimological explanations since ancient times:

The traditional biography of Homer that can be reconstructed from ancient sources is probably fanciful. Attempts to build a biography of the man who has always been considered the first Greek poet have resulted in a body of seven biographies commonly referred to as Lives of Homer. The most extensive and detailed is the one attributed, most likely erroneously, to Herodotus, and therefore called Vita Herodotea. Another biography very popular among ancient authors is the one attributed, but erroneously, to Plutarch. To these may be added as an eighth testimony to similar biographical interests the anonymous Agon of Homer and Hesiod. Some of the mythical genealogies of Homer handed down by these biographies claimed that he was the son of the nymph Creteides; others wanted him to be a descendant of Orpheus, the mythical poet of Thrace who made beasts tame by his song.

A very important part of the biographical tradition of Homer revolved around the question of his homeland. In antiquity, seven cities competed for the right to have given birth to Homer: first of all Chios, Smyrna and Colophon, then Athens, Argos, Rhodes and Salamis. The majority of these cities are located in Asia Minor, specifically in Ionia. In fact, the basic language of the Iliad is the Ionian dialect: this fact, however, attests only that the formation of the epic is probably to be located not in modern Greece, but in the Ionian cities of the Anatolian coast, and says nothing about the real existence of Homer, nor even less about his origin.

The Iliad also contains, in addition to the Ionian base, many Aeolisms (Aeolian terms). Pindar therefore suggests that the homeland of Homer could be Smyrna: a city on the west coast of present-day Turkey, inhabited precisely by both Ionians and Aeolians. This hypothesis, however, was deprived of its foundation when scholars realized that many of what were considered aeolianisms were actually Achaean words.

According to Semonides, instead, Homer was from Chios; we only know for sure that in the same Chios there was a group of rhapsodists who called themselves “Homerides”. Moreover, in one of the many hymns to gods that were attributed to Homer, the Hymn to Apollo, the author defines himself “blind man who lives in the rocky Chios”. Accepting therefore as written by Homer the Hymn to Apollo, one would explain both the claim of the singer”s birth by Chios, and the origin of the name (from ὁ μὴ ὁρῶν, ho mḕ horṑn, the blind man). These were probably the basis of Simonides” belief. However, both claims, that of Pindar and that of Semonides, lack concrete evidence.

According to Herodotus Homer would have lived four hundred years before his time, then in the middle of the ninth century BC, in other biographies Homer is born in later times, mostly around the eighth century BC. The contradictory nature of these reports had not soured in the Greeks the belief that the poet had really existed, indeed had contributed to make a mythical figure, the poet par excellence. Even on the meaning of the name of Homer developed discussion. In the Lives, it is said that the real name of Homer would have been Melesigene, that is (according to the interpretation contained in the Vita Herodotea) “born near the river Meleto”. The name Homer would therefore be a nickname: traditionally it was derived either from ὁ μὴ ὁρῶν ho mḕ horṑn, “the blind”, or from ὅμηρος hòmēros, which would mean “hostage”.

Inevitably, a further discussion arose about the chronological relationship between Homer and the other mainstay of Greek poetry, Hesiod. As we can see from the Lives, there were both those who thought that Homer had lived in an earlier age than Hesiod, and those who thought he was younger, and also those who wanted them to be contemporaries. In the already mentioned Agon it is told of a poetic competition between Homer and Hesiod, organized on the occasion of the funeral of Amphidamantus, king of the island of Euboea. At the end of the race, Hesiod read a passage of the Works and Days dedicated to peace and agriculture, Homer one of the Iliad consisting of a scene of war.

For this reason the king Panede, brother of the dead Amphidamant, assigned the victory to Hesiod. Surely, in any case, this legend is completely without foundation. Basically, in conclusion, none of the data provided by the ancient biographical tradition allows even possible statements to establish the real historical existence of Homer. Also for these reasons, as well as on the basis of detailed considerations on the probable oral composition of the poems (see below), the critics have long since almost generally concluded that there has never been a distinct author of the name Homer to which lead back in their integrity the two major poems of Greek literature.

The ancient age

The numerous problems related to the real historical existence of Homer and the composition of the two poems gave rise to what is usually called the “Homeric question”, which for centuries has sought to establish whether there really existed a poet named Homer and what works, among all those related to his figure, could possibly be attributed to him, or, alternatively, what was the process of composition of the Iliad and the Odyssey. The authorship of the question is traditionally attributed to three scholars: François Hédelin abbot d”Aubignac (1604-1676), Giambattista Vico (1668-1744) and especially Friedrich August Wolf (1759-1824).

Doubts about Homer and the real extent of his production, however, are much older. Already Herodotus, in a passage of his history of the Persian wars (2, 116-7), devotes a brief digression to the question of the Homeric authorship of the Cypria, concluding, on the basis of narrative inconsistencies with the Iliad, that they cannot be the work of Homer, but must be attributed to another poet.

The first evidence relating to a comprehensive drafting, in the form of two poems, of the various songs before spread separately dates back to the sixth century BC, and is linked to the name of Pisistratus, tyrant of Athens between 561 and 527 BC. In fact, Cicero says in his De Oratore: “primus Homeri libros confusos antea sic disposuisse dicitur, ut nunc habemus” (It is said that Pisistratus first ordered the books of Homer, first confused, as we now have them). It was thus supported a hypothesis that the library that, according to some sources, Pisistratus would have organized in Athens contained the Iliad of Homer, made by his son Hipparchus. However, the thesis of the so-called “Pisistrate”s redaction” has been discredited, as well as the very existence of a library in Athens in the sixth century BC: the Italian philologist Giorgio Pasquali stated that, assuming the existence of a library in Athens at that time, it is hard to see what it could have contained, for the still relatively small number of works produced and for the not yet prominent use of writing to entrust them.

A part of the ancient critics, represented mainly by the two grammarians Xenone and Ellanico, known as the χωρίζοντες (chōrìzontes, or “separatists”), confirmed the existence of Homer, but believed that not both poems were to be attributed to him, and therefore only attributed the Iliad, while they believed the Odyssey composed over a hundred years later by an unknown aedo.

In antiquity were mainly Aristotle and Alexandrian grammarians to deal with the issue. The first affirmed the existence of Homer, but, among all the works related to his name, he attributed to him the composition only of Iliad, Odyssey and Margite. Among the Alexandrians, the grammarians Aristophanes of Byzantium and Aristarchus of Samothrace formulated the hypothesis destined to remain the most widespread until the advent of oral philologists. They sustained the existence of Homer and attributed to him only the Iliad and the Odyssey; moreover, they arranged the two works in the version that we have today and they expunged the passages that they said were corrupt and integrated some verses.

A clarification of the thesis of Aristarchus can be considered the conclusion, due to stylistic reasons, which comes from the anonymous Sublime, according to which Homer would have composed the Iliad at a young age and the Odyssey as an old man.

The new modern formulation of the question

Similar discussions received a shock with the composition of the work of the abbot d”Aubignac Conjectures académiques ou dissertation sur l”Iliade (1664, but published posthumously in 1715), in which it was argued that Homer had never existed, and that the poems as we read them are the result of an editorial operation that would have brought together in a single text epic episodes originally isolated.

In this new phase of Homeric criticism, Giambattista Vico”s position, which only in recent times has become part of the history of the “Homeric question”, actually plays a very important role. Just in the chapter of the Scienza Nuova (last edition of 1744) dedicated to “the discovery of the true Homer” there is in fact the first formulation of the original orality of the composition and transmission of the poems. In Homer, according to Vico (as already stated by d”Aubignac, whom Vico did not know), we must not recognize a real historical figure of a poet, but “the Greek people poetante”, that is a personification of the poetic faculty of the Greek people.

In 1788 were finally published by Jean-Baptiste-Gaspard d”Ansse de Villoison the Homeric scolii contained in the margin of the most important manuscript of the Iliad, the Venetian Marcian A, which are a fundamental source of knowledge on the critical activity carried out on the poems in the Hellenistic age. Working on these scolii, Friedrich August Wolf in the famous Prolegomena ad Homerum (1795) traced for the first time the history of the Homeric text as it can be reconstructed for the period from Pisistratus to the Alexandrian period. Going then even further back, Wolf advanced again the hypothesis that had already been of Vico and d”Aubignac, supporting the original oral composition of the poems, which would then have been transmitted orally at least until the fifth century BC.

Analytical and unitary

Wolf”s conclusions that the Homeric poems were not the work of a single poet, but of several authors who worked orally, led the critics to orient themselves in two camps. The first to develop was the so-called analytical or separatist criticism: subjecting the poems to a thorough linguistic and stylistic investigation, the analytical proposed to identify any internal caesuras in the two poems with the aim of recognizing the personalities of the different authors of each episode. The main analytics (chorizontes) were: Gottfried Hermann (1772-1848), according to whom the two Homeric poems would derive from two original cores (“Ur-Ilias”, around the wrath of Achilles, and “Ur-Odyssee”, centered on the return of Odysseus), to which additions and expansions would be made; Karl Lachmann (1793-1851), whose theories find some analogy with those of Hédelin d”Aubignac, according to whom the Iliad is composed of 16 popular songs brought together and then transcribed by order of Pisistratus (Adolf Kirchoff, who, studying the Odyssey, theorized that it was composed of three independent poems (Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff (1848-1931), who argued that Homer had collected and reworked traditional songs, organizing them around a single theme.

To this line of criticism were naturally opposed the positions of those scholars who, like Wolfgang Schadewaldt, believed they could find in the various internal references to the poems, in the procedures of anticipation of episodes not yet happened, in the distribution of time and in the structure of the action the evidence of a unity of origin in the conception of the two works. The two poems would have been composed from the beginning in a unitary way, with a well thought out structure and a series of episodes specially prepared in view of an end, without denying any possible insertions made later, in the course of the centuries and with the progress of the performances. It is certainly significant that Schadewaldt, one of the main exponents of the unitary current, has also given faith to the central nucleus, if not to the single narrative details, of the Homeric Lives, trying to extrapolate the truth from the legend and to reconstruct a figure of Homer historically plausible.

The oralistic hypothesis

At least in the terms in which it was traditionally formulated, the Homeric question is far from being resolved, because in reality it is probably insoluble. In the last century, the now classic questions around which the Homeric question had hitherto hinged actually began to lose their meaning in the face of a new approach to the problem made possible by studies on the processes of composition of the epic in pre-literary cultures carried out in the field by some American scholars.

The pioneer of these studies, and the principal among those who are called “oralist philologists,” was Milman Parry, an American scholar, who formulated the first version of his theory in L”epithète traditionelle dans Homère. Essai sur un problème de style homérique (1928). In the theory of Parry (who was not specifically a Homerist), aurality and orality are the key to understanding: the aedes would have sung by improvising, or rather by setting innovative elements on a standard matrix; or they would have declaimed to the public after having composed in written form. Well, Parry hypothesized a first moment in which the two texts had to circulate from mouth to mouth, from father to son, exclusively in oral form; subsequently, for practical and evolutionary needs, someone intervened to unify, almost “sewing”, the various tissues of the Homeric epos, and this someone could be a real lived Homer or a rhapsodic team specialized under the name “Homer”. The focus of Parry”s research concerns, as the title of his essay declares, the traditional epic epithet, that is, the attribute that accompanies the name in the Homeric texts (“swift foot Achilles,” for example), which is studied in the context of the formular nexus that the name-epithet set determines. The cardinal conclusions of Parry”s theory can be summarized as follows:

The principles thus constituted of the traditionality and formularity of epic diction lead Parry to pronounce on the Homeric question, destroying its presuppositions in the name of the only certainty that such a formal study of the poems allows one to reach: in their structure, the Iliad and the Odyssey are absolutely archaic, but this only allows one to assert that they reflect an established tradition of aedi. This justifies the stylistic similarity that exists between the two poems. However, it does not allow to say anything certain about their author, nor about how many may have been their authors.

Parry”s theses were immediately extended to a wider field than the name-epithet pair. Walter Arend, in a famous book of 1933 (Die typischen Szenen bei Homer), proposing the theses of Parry, noted that not only there are repetitions of metric segments, but also fixed or typical scenes (descent from the ship, description of the armor, death of the hero, etc..), ie scenes that are repeated literally every time an identical context in the narrative. Identified therefore of the global compositional canons, which would organize the entire narrative: the catalog, the ring composition and the schidione.

Finally, Eric Havelock hypothesized that the Homeric work was actually a tribal encyclopedia: the tales would be used to teach morals or transmit knowledge, and thus the work should have been constructed according to an educational structure.


The Iliad and the Odyssey were fixed in writing in the Ionian region of Asia, around the eighth century BC: the writing was introduced in about 750 BC, it is assumed that thirty years later, in 720 BC, the aedi (professional singers) could already use it. It is probable that more aedi began to use writing to fix texts that they entrusted completely to memory; writing was nothing more than a new means to facilitate their work, both to be able to work more easily on the texts, and not to have to entrust everything to memory.

In the age of aurality, the epic magma began to settle into its structure while maintaining a certain fluidity.

It is probable that initially there were a great number of episodes and rhapsodic sections related to the Trojan Cycle; various authors, in the age of aurality (i.e. around 750 BC) made a selection, choosing from this huge amount of stories a smaller and smaller number of sections, number that if for Homer was 24, for other authors could be 20, or 18, or 26, or even 50. What is certain is that Homer”s version imposed itself on the others; although after him other aedi had continued to select episodes to create “their” Iliad, they took into account that the version of the Iliad more in vogue was that of Homer. In essence, not all aedi sang the same Iliad, and there was never a standard text for all; there were a myriad of texts similar to each other, but with slight differences.

During aurality, The Poem does not yet have a definitively closed structure.

We do not have the oldest original of the work, but it is likely that already in the sixth century BC circulated copies.

The aurality did not allow to establish canonical editions. From the Homeric scolii we have news of editions of the poems prepared by individual cities and therefore called κατὰ πόλεις (katà pòleis): Crete, Cyprus, Argos and Marseille had each its local version of the poems of Homer. The various κατὰ πόλεις editions were probably not very discordant with each other. We also have news of editions prior to Hellenism, called πολυστικός polystikòs, “with many verses”; these editions were characterized by a greater number of rhapsodic sections than the Alexandrian Vulgate; various sources tell us about them, but we do not know their origin.

In addition to these editions prepared by the various cities, we also know of the existence of κατ” ἄνδρα (kat”àndra) editions, i.e. editions prepared by individuals for famous people who wished to have their own editions. A famous example is that of Aristotle, who had an edition of the Iliad and the Odyssey created for Alexander the Great, his disciple, to read around the end of the fourth century BC.

In this state of affairs, the Homeric poems were inevitably subject to alterations and interpolations for almost four centuries before the Alexandrian age. The rhapsodes, reciting the text transmitted orally, and therefore not fixed permanently, could insert or subtract parts, reverse the order of certain episodes, shorten or expand certain others. Moreover, since the Iliad and the Odyssey were the basis of elementary education (generally, little Greeks learned to read by practicing Homer”s poems), it is not unlikely that teachers simplified the poems so that they would be easier for children to understand, even if recent criticism tends to minimize the extent of these scholastic interventions.

Probably more extensive were the interventions aimed at correcting some rough details belonging to customs and beliefs no longer in agreement with the modern mentality, especially with regard to the attitude towards the gods. In fact, from the beginning the excessively earthly representation of the Homeric gods (quarrelsome, lustful and basically not unrelated to the various vices of men) troubled the most attentive recipients (especially famous is the criticism addressed to the Homeric gods by Xenophanes of Colophon). The scolii attest a certain number of interventions, sometimes quite substantial (sometimes could be deleted even dozens of consecutive verses) intended precisely to smooth these aspects no longer understood or shared.

Some scholars believe that, over time, a sort of basic Attic text, an Attic Vulgate, was arrived at (the word Vulgate is used by scholars in reference to the Vulgate of St. Jerome, who at the beginning of the Christian era analyzed the various existing Latin versions of the Bible and unified them into a definitive Latin text, which he called the Vulgate – for the vulgate, to be disseminated).

The ancient Alexandrian grammarians between the third and second centuries BCE focused their work of text philology on Homer, both because the material was still very confused and because he was universally recognized as the father of Greek literature. The work of the Alexandrians is generally referred to by the term emendatio, the Latin version of the Greek διώρθωσις, which consisted in eliminating the various interpolations and in cleaning up the poem from the various supplementary formular verses, variant formulae that also entered all at once. A definitive text was thus arrived at. The main contribution was that of three great philologists, who lived between the middle of the third century and the middle of the second: Zenodotus of Ephesus perhaps worked out the alphabetical numbering of the books and almost certainly invented a critical sign, the obelos, to indicate the verses he considered interpolated; Aristophanes of Byzantium, of whom nothing remains, but it seems he was a great commentator, inserted the prosody, the critical signs (Aristarchus of Samothrace made a wide (and today considered excessive) atticalization, since he was convinced that Homer was from Athens, and took care to choose a lesson for each “doubtful” word, taking care also to put an obelos with the other discarded lessons; it is not yet clear to what extent he relied on his own judgment and to what extent on the comparison of the various copies at his disposal.

According to the most likely interpretation, Alexandrian grammarians explained their textual choices in separate commentaries, to which they referred the various critical marks affixed to the actual text. These commentaries were defined by the term ὑπομνήματα (commentarii), none of which have been preserved. From them, however, derive the marginal remarks handed down together with the text of the poems in the medieval codices, the scolii (σχόλια), which represent for us rich repertoires of remarks to the text, notes, lessons, comments. The fundamental nucleus of these scolii was probably formed in the first centuries of the Christian era: four grammarians (Didymus, Aristonicus, Nicanor and Herodianus), who lived between the third and the second century B.C. by Alexandrian scholars, devoted linguistic and philological comments to the Homeric poems (especially the Iliad), based on the critical observations of the Alexandrian grammarians. The studies of these four grammarians were then summarized by a later scholiast (perhaps from the Byzantine era) in the work commonly known as the Commentary of the Four.

Around the middle of the second century, after the work of Alexandria, the Alexandrian text and remnants of other versions were therefore circulating. Certainly the Alexandrians established the number of verses and the subdivision of the books.

Since 150 BC disappeared the other textual versions and imposed a single text of the Iliad, all papyri found from that date onwards correspond to our medieval manuscripts: the medieval Vulgate is the synthesis of everything.

The Middle Ages

In the Western Middle Ages the knowledge of Greek was not widespread, not even among people like Dante or Petrarch; one of the few who knew it was Boccaccio, who learned the first rudiments of it in Naples from the Calabrian monk Barlaam and later consolidated his knowledge thanks to the collaboration with the Greek scholar Leonzio Pilato. The Iliad was known in the West thanks to the Ilias translated in Latin of Neronian age.

Before the work of the Alexandrian grammarians, Homer”s material was very fluid, but even after that other factors continued to modify the Iliad, and we have to wait until 150 BC to get to the Homeric κοινή. The Iliad was much more copied and studied than the Odyssey.

In 1170 Eustatius of Thessaloniki made a significant contribution to these studies.

Modern and contemporary age

In 1920 we realized that it was impossible to make a codicum for Homer because, already in that year, excluding papyrus fragments, there were as many as 188 manuscripts, and because we cannot trace an archetype of Homer. Often our archetypes date back to the ninth century A.D., when in Constantinople Patriarch Photius took care that all texts written in the upper-case Greek alphabet were transliterated into lower case; those that were not transliterated were lost. For Homer, however, there is no single archetype: transliterations occurred in several places at once.

Our oldest complete master manuscript of the Iliad is the Marcianus 454a, preserved in the Biblioteca Marciana in Venice, which dates back to the tenth century AD: during the fifteenth century it was brought to the West by Giovanni Aurispa. The first manuscripts of the Odyssey are instead of the eleventh century AD.

The editio princeps of the Iliad was printed in 1488 in Florence by Demetrio Calcondila. The first Venetian editions, called aldine by the printer Aldo Manuzio, were reprinted three times, in 1504, 1517, 1521, index this without doubt of the great success on the public of the Homeric poems.

A critical edition of the Iliad was published in 1909 in Oxford by David Binning Monro and Thomas William Allen. The Odyssey was edited in 1917 by Allen.

The Greek religion was strongly anchored in myth and in fact in Homer unfolds all the Olympic religion (panhellenic character).

According to some, Homeric religion has strong primitive and recessive characters:

According to Walter F. Otto, Homeric religion is the most advanced model the human mind has ever conceived, because it splits being from being state.

Homeric man is particularistic, because he is the sum of different parts:

The Homeric hero bases the recognition of his own value on society”s consideration of him. This statement is so true that some scholars, in particular E. Dodds, define this society as “society of shame”. In fact it is not so much the guilt or the sin, but the shame that sanctions the decay of the excellence of the hero, the loss of his condition of exemplarity. Therefore a hero becomes a model for his own society in the measure in which he is recognized heroic actions, while in case these are no longer attributed to him, he decays from being a model and sinks into shame.

The hero aspires to glory (κλέος klèos) and has all the qualities to achieve it: physical strength, courage, strength of endurance. He is not only strong, but also beautiful (kalokagathia) and only other heroes can face him and win. Great warriors are also eloquent, they give long speeches in the assembly before and during the fight. We are in a society dominated by the warrior aristocracy in which nobility of lineage is emphasized by the mention of father, mother and often ancestors. The hero has or wishes to have male descendants to perpetuate the prestige of the family since society is essentially a society of men, because the man represents the continuity of the lineage: it is he who is killed, while women survive as prey in war and become the slaves or concubines of the victors. The prize of valor, as well as victory over the enemy, is also represented by the prey, so the Homeric heroes are rich and greedy for wealth and at home they own land, livestock, precious objects.

Agamemnon must accompany with gifts the ambassadorship that he sends to Achilles; the latter returns the corpse of Hector, because the gods want it that way, but at the same time accepts the precious peplos, gold talents and other objects that Priam offers him. Disagreements between heroes are inevitable since they are very jealous of their honor (τιμή tīmḕ), as appears for example in the clash between Agamemnon and Achilles in which each would feel diminished in their honor if they gave in (Agamemnon exercises the rights of a king, Achilles was taken away from him as to the strongest of warriors). Unknown is the pity for the vanquished, even more so if it is a matter of revenge: Telemachus hangs by his own hand the unfaithful handmaidens; Hector is unable to obtain from Achilles even the commitment to return his body. But he had killed Patroclus, and friendship is an essential trait of the heroic world. Death is always accepted naturally, and in battle it is the only alternative to victory: this is how honor wants it (even if in reality many heroes turn to flee, and are criticized for having fled, both among the Greeks, including Odysseus and Diomedes, and among the Trojans, like Aeneas). And the Homeric narrative is dignified and calm even in describing the horrors of battle, the wounds, the killings. No reward awaits the hero in the afterlife: he receives the funeral honors due to his rank. As for the female figures they are complex and their role is mainly passive, suffering and waiting, they are the eternal victims of war (Andromache, Penelope). However, unlike other later poets, there is a certain neutrality towards the figure of Helen, seen as the bearer of its own fate, and not traitor or deceiver.

The conception of the gods in Homer is, as already mentioned, anthropomorphic. The ups and downs of war are decided on Olympus. The gods speak and act as mortals. They have human qualities in incomparably superior measure. Their laughter is unquenchable (Ἄσβεστος γέλος,àsbestos ghèlos, “unquenchable laughter”), their lives are spent in the midst of festive banquets: it is what man dreams of. Their feelings, the motions of the soul are human: they provoke each other, are sensitive to flattery, angry and vengeful, give in to seduction, if they commit a fault they can also be punished. Husbands and wives cheat on each other, preferably with mortal beings, without these episodic loves endangering the divine institutions. Over men they have absolute, sometimes capricious power, and they make even cruel use of it. Hera would consent to Zeus destroying Argos, Sparta, Mycenae, the three cities dear to her, as long as he satisfied her desire and broke the truce between Greeks and Trojans. The gods assist mortals in dangers, they are often tender, but they can also be ruthless. Athena attracts Hector in the deadly duel presenting him in the form of his brother Deiphobo and the hero, unaware, follows her, meanwhile Apollo has fled in front of Achilles and abandoned to his fate his favorite warrior. There is then, above the gods, the Moira (Μοῖρα), the Fate. The gods are immortal, but not invulnerable, Diomedes, in the fifth book of the Iliad, wounded consecutively Aphrodite and Ares.

The gods mentioned by Homer are both many of those also present in Mycenaean mythology, both those who were added later, at the head of the Olympians is placed Zeus, and not Poseidon as it seems at the time of the Mycenaean palaces, most of the post-Mycenaean gods (such as Apollo) side with the Trojans.

Steiner”s interpretation

According to Rudolf Steiner, epic poetry such as Homer”s draws divine inspiration. In the incipit of the Iliad we find: “Sing to me, O diva, of the hairy Achilles…”, as well as in the Odyssey: “Muse, that man of multiform wits…”. In both cases reference is made to the divinity as an inspirational source, as a “thought” that guides the hand so that it can express what the divinity wants to convey to humans.

In the Homeric language there are some words that stand out for their semantic value and evocative power. They are:


For centuries in the Greek world the text of Homer was considered as a source of all teaching and even in later centuries the Homeric poems as well as prodigious poetic creations, are also extraordinary sources for the understanding of political customs, metallurgical techniques, construction, food consumption of the Mediterranean peoples in protohistoric times.

Homer”s verses have provided archaeologists with a thousand threads for the interpretation of excavated finds in the most distant spheres of civil life. If, however, the Iliad does not propose significant elements for the study of the first agriculture and breeding in the Aegean world, the Odyssey provides some elements of absolutely singular importance: as a guest of the king of the Phaeacians, Odysseus visits the gardens, a true prodigy of irrigated agriculture; having landed in Ithaca, he climbs through the woods and reaches the pigsty built by his servant Eumeo, an authentic “breeding plant” for 600 sows, and therefore thousands of piglets: an authentic precursor of modern breeding. Two authoritative experts on primitive agriculture, Antonio Saltini, professor of agricultural history, and Giovanni Ballarini, professor of veterinary pathology, have proposed, on the basis of Homer”s verses, two opposing estimates of the quantity of acorns that the oak woods of Ithaca could produce, and of the number of pigs that the island was, therefore, able to maintain.

Meeting his father, Odysseus reminds him, therefore, of the different plants that the old man had given him for his first garden, mentioning 13 varieties of pear tree, 10 of apple tree, 40 of fig tree and 50 of different grapes, the proof of the intensity of the selection to which man had already subjected the fruit species at the dawn of the first millennium BC.

The world of Homer

The world is described by Homer as a disk with a diameter of four thousand kilometers: Delphi, and therefore Greece, is the center of the disk. This disk, also divine and indicated with the name of Gaia (Γαῖα, also Γῆ, Gea), is in turn surrounded by a wide river (and god) indicated with the name of Ocean (Ὠκεανός, Ōkeanòs) whose waters correspond to the Atlantic Ocean, the Baltic Sea, the Caspian Sea, the northern coasts of the Indian Ocean and the southern border of Nubia. The Sun (also divine and indicated by the name of Ἥλιος Hḕlios) crosses in its rotation this disk, but its shining face illuminates only it, it follows that the world beyond the disk and then the rotation of the sun, or what is beyond the river Ocean is devoid of light. From Ocean originate the other waters, even the inferior ones such as the Styx through underground connections. When the celestial bodies set they bathe in the Ocean, so the same Sun, after setting, crosses it by means of a golden cup to rise again from the East the following morning. Beyond the river Ocean, there is darkness, there are the openings to Erebo, the underworld. There, at these openings, live the Cimmerians.

The terrestrial disk surrounded by the god-river Ocean is divided into three parts: the north-west inhabited by Hyperboreans, the south, after Egypt, is inhabited by the devout Ethiopians, men with a face burned by the Sun, beyond the lands in which live the Pygmy dwarfs (between these two ends there is the temperate zone of the Mediterranean in the center of which lies Greece. From the vertical point of view, the Homeric world has as roof the Sky (also divine with the name of Uranus, Οὐρανός Ūranòs), made of bronze, which delimits the path of the Sun. At the limits of the Sky fly the gods who love to sit on the tops of the mountains and from there contemplate the events of the world. The home of the gods is one of them, Mount Olympus. Under the Earth is located the Tartarus (gods too), dark place, where they are chained Titans (Τιτάνες Titánes), gods defeated by the gods, a place surrounded by walls of bronze and closed by doors made by Poseidon. The distance between the top of Uranus and the Earth, says Hesiod in the Theogony, is covered by an anvil dropped from there that will reach the surface of the Earth at dawn on the tenth day; the same distance opposes the Earth from the base of Tartarus. Between Uranus and Tartarus is therefore located that “middle world” inhabited by celestial and subterranean gods, demigods, men and animals, the living and the dead.

Homer crater, on the surface of Mercury, and an asteroid, 5700 Homerus, were named after Homer.


  1. Omero
  2. Homer
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