The Homeric Poems First of All

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There is little doubt: it is not from Thales but from Homer that we must start. The stories sung by the rhapsodes tell us of the phase in which valid singers became convinced that it was worth investing in those narratives without holding back, to the point of giving them a rather precise identity, with people who did not fail to express a vast appreciation for those ways of entertaining the public. All this when there were still no Hellenic people. The Hellenes became a people as a not insignificant nucleus of singers began to pleasantly entertain this public with their stories, as those stories turned out to be attractive and became well-known and recognisable, while the dissemination of the Greek colonies in much of the Mediterranean area went about hand in hand with the spread of songs associated with the name of Homer.

There is little doubt: it is not from Thales but from Homer that we must start. 

All this should have occurred, to a very significant extent – or, at least, it certainly began – decades before 700 BC, at a time when it does not appear that the Greek cultural offer included other comparable ingredients.

Of course, Delphi and Olympia established themselves at the time, but it does not appear that the sanctuary and the Pythia, or the Panhellenic games, became the subject of songs even if, in principle, this would have been possible. It is as if the word had resounded only through the crowd of hexameters with which dozens and dozens of ‘Homeric’ singers dedicated themselves to entertaining ‘the square’ in the most far-flung locations.

Judging by the available clues, the initial public consensus (before 700 BC) was renewed for generations, to such an extent that the sung narratives of the Homeric cycle were so widespread that they became an identity trait of the Hellenes, while the reference to ‘Homer’, although necessarily vague, ended up becoming a guarantee of recognition at many levels, including a large number of epithets and some recurring verses (in the case of the so-called formular language). In fact, we have solid clues to think that in very early times a vast dissemination of rhapsodes and chants took off, hence the affirmation of ‘Homer’, among many (or, perhaps, among the generality) of the urban towns where Greek was spoken, therefore not only along the whole northern side of the Mediterranean but also along substantial portions of its southern side.

This way, a society as such (not only the poets of the seventh and subsequent century) ‘forgot’ the more or less grim tales of previous eras (e.g. those concerning Tantalus), ‘recognized’ the existence of the gods of Olympus, and set about building temples while becoming familiar with a shared language. A phenomenon of uncommon magnitude therefore occurred, and to understand what happened is so important that, if the sense of such a unique and so peculiar macro-event escaped us, essential …

Originally appeared on Daily Philosophy Read More

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