The Iliad and The Odyssey loom large in European literary history and the tradition of epic poetry. Readers in both the ancient and modern worlds have been fascinated by the heroic exploits of Achilles and Odysseus and the idealized past the epics portray. Heinrich Schliemann was so taken by the events relayed in these Homeric epics that he sought to excavate the site of the Trojan War (Hisarlik, Turkey) that had been identified in 1822.
Although a man named “Homer” was accepted in antiquity as the author of the poems, there is no evidence supporting the existence of such an author. By the late 1700s, careful dissection of the Iliad and Odyssey raised doubts about their composition by a single poet. Since then, scholars have used literary and archaeological evidence to address the “Homeric question,” which involves debates about the identity of Homer, authorship of the Homeric epics, and the historicity of the society depicted in them. Though aspects of this question remain hotly contested today, most scholars now accept that the poems are the product of a gradual process of oral dissemination.
Explore more about the “Homeric question” and the influence of these epics in the infographic below. To discover more about Homer, the Iliad, and the Odyssey, check out the digital edition of the Oxford Classical Dictionary, which is now available for subscription.
Featured image credit: Homer, by Rufus46 (Own work). CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.