Homer the Bard (dates unknown)Homer (dates unknown) - Who was Homer? He is one of the more enigmatic figures in history as not much is really known about him. It's not even certain that he was a single person. But assuming that he was, perhaps the biggest reason virtually nothing is known about him is because he lived at the time of the Greek Dark Ages. This was the approximately 400 year period (ca. 1150-750 B.C.), from the fall of the Mycenaean civilization brought about by the Dorian invasions from the North, to the beginning of the classical era. Greek progress came to a halt and written records are almost non-existent.


This second point (about written records) provides a possible clue as to when Homer lived. Since he presumably is the author of the The Iliad and The Odyssey, he probably lived toward the end of the dark ages as writing was making a comeback. Until then, the two epic poems survived by oral tradition. In illiterate and semi-literate societies oral tradition was a vital method of passing knowledge from one generation to the next. A study of oral poets has revealed that they were very deliberate in their method of learning and imparting historical information onto others. They did not memorize stories word for word. Instead, they simply learned the essential facts of the event and then took the liberty of making the story their own by adding to and embellishing it. What this means is that, before they were written down, the stories of The Iliad and The Odyssey likely existed in dozens or even hundreds of versions, as many different poets told the tales their own way.


All of them contained the essential facts, but each would have been told in a slightly different manner. And, therefore, when Homer's version was written down, it became the "codified" version as it survived, and the others died out with the rebirth of writing and eventual extinction of oral tradition. While Homer, whoever he was, was probably the author of the poems, he likely was not the writer. For one thing the rumor is that he was blind; although there is no way of knowing if this is true or not. Regardless, he probably never learned to write. Someone who did know how to write likely listened to the bard and committed the tales to script. Good thing too, because The Iliad and The Odyssey are two of the most influential works of literature in history.