Ancient Epic Poetry: Homer, Apollonius, Virgil: With a Chapter on the Gilgamesh Poems

By Charles Rowan Beye | Go to book overview
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Oral Poetry

Pierian Muses, who give glory through song, come
here, sing in me Zeus, hymning your father, by whom
mortals are either unmentioned or mentioned,
spoken of, made famous, or not by the will of Zeus.

—Hesiod Works and Days 1–4

On the two of us Zeus set a vile destiny; so that
hereafter we shall be made into things of song for
the men of the future.

—Helen, speaking of herself and Paris, Iliad 6.357f.

Once he "the Trojan ally, Iphidamas" was married
he left the marriage chamber, looking for glory
from the Achaeans, coming with the twelve curved
ships which followed along after him.

Iliad 11.227f.

It is ironic that the books of the Hebrew Bible and the Homeric epics, which are the most prominent and influential works of literature in the Western world, have such obscure authorship. It is easy enough to attribute the creation of the former to God, but readers of the latter have had to conjure up a human poet, wanting to imagine an author or authors for such sublime and authoritative narratives. Greek historical thinking always insisted upon ascribing every act, no matter how general or sweeping, to a single person; in Greek tradition the Iliad and the Odyssey were composed by a certain Homer, a blind singer from the island of Chios, whom they calculated to have lived at the latest in the ninth century B.C.E. The author of the so-called

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