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The Homeric Question: Theories and Hypotheses Concerning the Authorship of the Two Major Epics the Iliad and the Odyssey

A recurring topic in classical studies concerns the existence (or fabrication) of Homer, the author/poet of the Greek epics the Iliad and the Odyssey.  Many literary critics base their hypotheses upon the likelihood of whether the two major epics (the Iliad and the Odyssey) were possibly composed by the same author, and find that due to the differences between the works, if Homer did exist there is a chance he may not have been the poet who composed both epics. Whilst this subject matter may leave one wondering, "Why does it matter if Homer really existed?" it is obvious, due to the immense amount of studies and theorising on the subject, that many literary authors find this question compulsory, if not interesting. This assumption is verified by the controversial and conflicting essays/books surrounding the topic. Understandably, it would be an astonishing achievement for one man, one poet, to have composed such influential poems over 2,500 years ago which are still read, studied, and highly regarded today; and similar to debates concerning William Shakespeare's authorship, many intellectuals find it problematic to believe that such remarkable works could have been composed by one single mind and not a collaborative effort.  An essential question one studying authorship of the two epics must first consider is who Homer was.  Felton and Flaxman state in summary that after centuries of studies and research, that all of which is known of Homer's biography is that,

Homer was an Asiatic Greek, that he was a great traveller, that he chanted songs like the other bards, that he surpassed them all in genius, that the distinguished excellence of his songs caused so large a body of them to be preserved, and that he may at the close of his life have been blind."

In short, West is mentioning the commonly held theory that the Odyssey and the Iliad could not be written by the same author due to distinctive textual differences; differences that the "pre-Prolegomena" believe are due to Homer's age when writing each text and that he was of a different frame of mind and state of maturation.  Whilst West obviously relates this commonly held theory, he remains more concerned throughout the essay with the fabrication of the poet Homer overall than his improbable authorship of the two epics.

In conclusion, despite the disagreements of theorists and intellectuals alike regarding the authorship question of the Greek epics the Iliad and the Odyssey, it is, and will remain, a question with no feasible solution.  Whilst each theory has both positive and negative aspects, they continue to remain just theories, and in studying the ongoing debates and arguments of many theorists in the field of Homeric studies, I have found that the question of the "true author" of the works is insignificant.  In the contemporary climate of literary criticism, intellectuals and critics alike should focus less on authorship and more on content in considering these works.  From the earliest theories of Friedrich August Wolf to the more contemporary theories of Milman Parry and Martin Litchfield West, the debate/discourse concerning who was the poet Homer and whether or not he wrote the epics attributed to him, is vast.  With some believing that Homer was the original author as well as scribe of the works, and others believing it was a collaborative effort, and even more others who remain unsure, there are still many unanswered questions that will keep this debate permanently open-ended.  First of all, there are little to no known facts documented about a poet/bard by the name of Homer; second, it is possible that Homer was the name of the scribe who wrote out the poems rather than the poet(s) who composed them centuries before; and furthermore, regardless of who was the original author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, it is unquestionable that the texts studied in present day are not as they were originally composed. Besides the literal emendations of the text, the English language has gone through many changes over time with the replacement of archaic terms and the additions of new forms.  Basically, whether than analysing the author's name associated with the works, critics and scholars alike should instead read these epics for the content- the epic journeys of travels, fights, defeats, and struggles of the Greek tragic figures who have so significantly influenced society.  An influence which has shaped education from Greek and Roman times, throughout the Renaissance, and still today, in the twenty-first century; the influence and lessons from the epic stories, not from the poet Homer, whether he be a fictional creation of a clan of Homeridai on the island of Chios, or a real Greek classical genius. 

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