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Author Biography

Learn more about Homer's life and the personal experiences that inspired his epic poem The Iliad in Course Hero's video study guide.

Homer | Biography

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Not much is known about Homer except that he is the poet to whom ancient Greeks attributed the epic poems The Iliad and its sequel, The Odyssey. Most of what is understood about Homer is inferred from the poems themselves. From the language used, scholars believe he lived in around the early 9th or late 8th century BCE in Ionia, a region in what is now Turkey. Based on his description of a poet/singer in The Odyssey, which many take as describing himself, Homer is often depicted as blind.

Features such as repetition and formulaic descriptions in the poems indicate that Homer belonged to an oral poetry tradition. These stories were passed down through memorization and were sung by a poet for an audience. Traditionally, these stories were likely of a length that could be performed from beginning to end in the course of an evening. Homer's innovation seems to have been to stitch a number of such stories together into a complex epic. Such a poem could only have been performed over the course of many days.

At the time of the most likely development of The Iliad, around the 8th century BCE, the Greek alphabet was coming into increased use. The earliest written version of The Iliad was recorded using this alphabet and contains elements of the earliest form of Greek writing. This new technique of writing undoubtedly played a part in the development and preservation of such a long and complex work. Whether Homer was purely an oral poet who dictated The Iliad to a literate assistant or someone who was experienced in the oral tradition but composed in writing continues to be debated.

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