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  • Cited by 5
  • Print publication year: 2004
  • Online publication date: May 2006

13 - Homer’s society

from Part 4 - Text and context



What sort of a world did Homer live in? What sort of a world does Homer create? If we allow that 'Homer' in these questions stands not for the text in the form we have it but for the whole tradition that created that text, the difficulty of answering these questions becomes plain. This chapter endeavours to explain what we know about the societies in which the epic tradition was shaped, to describe the social and political arrangements implied or alluded to in the Iliad and the Odyssey, and to examine the relationship between the worlds in which 'Homer' lived and the worlds which 'Homer' created.

Greek society in the Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age

The epic tradition which lies behind the Iliad and Odyssey was already flourishing in the late Bronze Age. Some of the evidence for that proposition is linguistic, some of it archaeological: words and objects (e.g. a boar’s tusk helmet, 10.261–5) appear in the poem whose presence cannot easily be explained by their survival or people remembering them into the time that the Iliad and Odyssey as we have them were put together. Any reading of the Iliad or Odyssey needs to be informed by an appreciation that the epic tradition had been formed and shaped through successive very different social arrangements and material cultures.