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Homer, the first poet


By Aliki Ammerman


The true story of Homer is lost to us, perhaps forever.

According to tradition, he is the poet who composed the “Iliad” and the “Odyssey,” the oldest poems people still read and enjoy today. Many scholars have studied the poems and have formed theories about Homer.

The result?

The Homeric issue! Which is a long dispute as to who Homer was, whether he wrote the poems, or whether he even existed.

The most likely theory is that Homer was a storyteller who collected old stories and worked them into the two famous poems.

The “Iliad” tells the story of the last weeks of the Trojan War between the Greeks and the Trojans; and the “Odyssey” tells the story of the Greek hero Odysseus as he tries to get back home at the end of the Trojan War.

Like older storytellers, Homer travelled from place to place playing his lyre and reciting his poems. People ran to hear him wherever he went, because Homer’s way was the best. After he died, his stories were not forgotten. People kept asking for them and storytellers all over Greece would not refuse. They performed them at banquets and gatherings like Homer had done.

For four hundred years there could be no gathering without Homer’s poems. The ruler of Athens Peisistratos loved these stories, which were scattered in the minds of the storytellers. He asked them to collect them, and present them at the festival of the goddess Athena.

They set out to work. They wrote down all the stories they knew, and when they finished they had produced the most complete versions of the “Iliad” and the “Odyssey.”

Soon, many people wanted to have their own copies of the poems, and scribes began to produce handwritten copies—for a price, of course!

Sometimes the scribes made mistakes when they copied, which is a problem later scholars had to face. Another problem for scholars is the various local versions of the poems. Besides the Athenian version, the cities of Argos and Marseille and the islands of Crete, Cyprus, and Chios had their own local versions of the original poems.

The fame of the poems grew like wildfire. Besides being popular, people recognized their importance as being the oldest record of their past. They started using them as textbooks in schools, and students had to learn them by heart.

But the mystery of Homer remains.

Where was he from? And when did he live?

The language of the poems points to two dialects: the one spoken in the island of Chios or the dialect of the city of Smyrna on the coast of Asia Minor. It is very likely that Homer came from one of these two places.

As to when he lived, both ancient and modern scholars disagree. The closest they have come to is a range of years, and this is between 850 and 700 BC.

Many centuries passed, and those who read the poems thought the heroes and events were just myths. But Heinrich Schliemann, a millionaire from Germany, believed they were real. He looked for the lost city of Troy, and then he excavated in Mycenae and other places. What he found proved that many aspects of these poems were actually true. Bronze Age cities came to light, after remaining buried for three thousand years. Archeologists found the boar tusk helmets, figure-of-eight shields, and other objects Homer described so beautifully in the poems.




Click here for an activity on Homer

Print it, and work on it when you can.

Try also these!

This drawing of a minstrel sitting on a rock comes from a wall painting in the palace of Nestor in Pylos,

ca. 1400 BC

Notice: This page is from the author’s e-book “Let’s learn about Greece” and is the copyrighted property of Aliki Ammerman. Permission is given to children and teachers to use the material on this page for educational purposes only. For more pages like this, as well as facts about Greece, order the book “Let’s learn about Greece” at:

Thank you!


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