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  • Print publication year: 2007
  • Online publication date: March 2009

2 - Homer and Greek Myth

from Part I - Sources and Interpretations

In the classical period of Greek literature, Homer was the primary representative of what we know as epic. The figure of Homer as a poet of epic was considered to be far older than the oldest known poets of lyric, who stemmed from the archaic period. It was thought that Homer, acknowledged as the poet of the Iliad and the Odyssey, stemmed from an earlier age. Herodotus (second half of the fifth century BCE) says outright that Homer and Hesiod were the first poets of the Greeks (2.53.1-3). It does not follow, however, that the myths conveyed by the poetry of Homer and Hesiod are consistently older than the myths conveyed by the poetry of lyric. In fact, the traditions of Greek lyric are in many ways older than the traditions of Greek epic, and the myths conveyed by epic are in many ways newer than the myths conveyed by lyric.

As we saw in the previous chapter, the traditions of Greek lyric were rooted in oral poetry. If, then, Homer as a poet of epic was thought to have lived in an even earlier era than the era of the earliest known poets of lyric, it follows that the traditions of epic as represented by Homer were likewise rooted in oral poetry.

The oral traditional basis of Homeric poetry can be demonstrated by way of comparative as well as internal analysis. The decisive impetus for comparative research comes from the evidence of living oral traditions. The two most prominent names in the history of this research are Milman Parry (collected papers published posthumously in Parry 1971) and Albert Lord (definitive books published in 1960, 1991, 1995).

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The Cambridge Companion to Greek Mythology
  • Online ISBN: 9781139001731
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