Homeric Question

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Homeric Question


the totality of problems related to the person of Horner and the authorship of the ancient Greek narrative poems attributed to him, the Iliad and the Odyssey; in a broader sense, the totality of problems related to the origin and development of the ancient Greek epics.

Even in antiquity it was proposed that Homer had lived in the time before the adoption of alphabetic writing and that his poems had been passed on orally; there was a related report that the Athenian tyrant Pisi stratus had ordered the preparation of an official text of Homer’s poems. But the Homeric question was first seriously considered in relation to the interest in folk poetry that was current in the period of the Enlightenment. The German philologist F. A. Wolf in his Introduction to Homer (1795) arrived at the conclusion that the Iliad and the Odyssey were collections of various songs; in 1796 the German critic F. von Schlegel expressed the view that the Homeric epics were simply the fruit of the collective creativity of folk poets. The successors of Wolf, the so-called analysts, dealing with contradictions in the plot and stylistic differences within the poems, attempted to separate the component parts in the text itself. However, all such proposals turned out to be subjective and arbitrary. The opponents of Wolf, such as V. G. Belinskii, pointed outfeatures of artistic unity in each of the poems. The question of the actual history of the making of the Homeric poems with their indubitable features of unity and their equally indubitable internal contradictions remains controversial.

The study of the Homeric question in the broader sense of the term attained more positive results. The historical basis of the central portion of the legends of the Greek epics is the so-called Mycenaean period of the 16th to the 13th centuries B.C. The social structure and material culture depicted in the poems contain, in addition to Mycenaean features, those of later periods as well, even up to the eighth century B.C. Comparing the Homeric poems with the living epics of contemporary peoples, including the peoples of the USSR, reveals many traces in them of the level of song and semi-improvisation in epics; nevertheless, this comparison leads to the conclusion that what is being considered is not a record of a folkloric text, but literature that is already formed. The majority of scholars date the final form of the Iliad at the last third of the eighth century B.C. and the Odyssey somewhat later.


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