Biography of Homer

HOMER, the greatest name in the history of epic poetry, and who stands as high in that department as Shakspeare does in the drama, has come down to us in modern times, as unfortunately little better than a name, and presents but scanty materials for a biography. The details of the old Greek lives of Homer, are manifestly fictitous. The central facet in which all these legendary traditions agree, is that the poet was an Asiatic Greek, and though other places are named, the greatest amount of legendary evidence clearly points to Smyrna as the city of his birth. The age of Homer is much more doubtful, but it is certain that he lived considerably before the year 776 B.C., the commencement of Greek chronology by Olympiads. Herodotus places the age of Homer 400 years before his own time, that is about 850 B.C., and that date has been received as on the whole the most probable. Tradition represents Homer as blind, and as reciting his poems as he travelled from place to place. The principal poems which are accredited to Homer, are the Iliad and the Odyssey, and these stand as the greatest epics of any age. The Trojan war is the great central event which they celebrate. The materials out of which they are constructed, if not strictly historical in every detail of decoration, grow out of the real life of the people, and rest at least upon an honest historical substratum. In this view the Iliad is as valuable for the earliest history of the Hellenic race, as Herodotus or Thucydides are for the later periods. But it is not for the Greeks alone that Homer possesses an important historical value: he is for all ages an important record of the earliest stages of human society, second only to the books of Moses.

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