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The Fascinating Story Behind Homer

My jewelry is deeply inspired and rooted in history and it’s always been my goal to make history as easy and accessible as possible. I like to make history interesting for my wearers/viewers and now that I’m blogging more, I thought I’d use this space to share some of my findings and what I’ve learned over the years. I am by no means a scholar, I'm just an extremely curious person. I love details and I could spend months going from one idea to another to get to the very core of what I want to design and share with you visually.

I'm going to start with Homer, who is the most mysterious and alluring of anyone I’ve studied so far. The name alone has this massive presence, intimidating in a sense since what he’s known for, The Iliad and The Odyssey, are the two books that have shaped Western civilization more than anything else. Their impact is unprecedented and hasn’t quite been repeated which is why I’m so attracted to these stories. They are on everyone’s bookshelves even if haven’t been cracked open. And we all know somewhat what they’re about. Greece versus Troy, the Trojan horse, Odysseus/Ulysses, Achilles, Zeus, Poseidon, we have a very loose understanding of the stories even if we haven’t read them. We at least recognize a few character names, a few place names, and we definitely know how the Trojans were defeated by that wooden horse.

Who is Homer?

Well, Homer is actually a group of bards. He wasn’t a single man, a lone genius who came up with The Iliad and The Odyssey. There are studies dating back as far as Ancient Greece where scholars were questioning who Homer was? This quandary is called the ‘Homeric Question’ and it was finally answered in the 1930s by a man named Milman Parry and his assistant Albert Lord.

Around that time, scholars were studying The Iliad and The Odyssey to look for details within the texts that could possibly give hints as to who Homer was. What they found was that the poems were written as if they were memorized and performed. How would they figure that out? Throughout the books, there are repetitive phrases to describe certain characters and events. These phrases are called formulas and a bard, someone who travels from town to town reciting and performing stories, uses them frequently.

Milman Parry and Albert Lord traveled to Yugoslavia to some remote villages where bards still existed. They were testing to see if their theory was correct. These bards were the last of their era, and Parry and Lord studied their stories and songs to see how it could compare to how The Iliad/Odyssey would’ve been performed. They recorded one bard in particular, Avdo Mededovic, who was considered the best of the group they were studying. They recorded him one year and then returned and recorded him performing the same story the following year. He told a slightly different version of the story, but used the same idea of the formulas to retell it and they were able to see that it was similar to how the Homeric epics are written.

I love this concept so much and how it applies to Homer. Homer would’ve been a bard, who inherited this story from possibly his father who would’ve also been a bard. Homer would’ve had to memorize The Iliad and The Odyssey, each story taking several days to perform, and over time he’d have found ways to perfect his storytelling. The Iliad and The Odyssey are from around 1200 BC, but they think they were recorded in 800 BC.

At some point around 800 BC, someone realized that they needed to record The Iliad and The Odyssey in a written form since it had been passed down orally for hundreds of years. How did they find Homer? Was he the best bard like Avdo Mededovic? Was Homer the last of his era? There was no way to record Homer like Parry and Lord did with a machine, so was there a school of scribes busily writing down sections of the story and how did they compile it to create a whole? Did they follow Homer around as he performed so that they could get all versions of the story? Or was it done in one sitting and what we’re left with only being one version of the story?

I find this tidbit about Homer to be even more fascinating than the stories themselves. As I read them, I kept thinking about how they were performed. I imagined it to be a lot like hip hop where you have certain phrases repeated, the rhythm in which it was performed, how the story could change and evolve over the centuries.

Can you think of any stories that have been repeated to you? How have they shaped you? Maybe you have your own stories that you tell, do you use specific phrases or cues to retell a version of that story?

Thanks so much for reading, I've enjoyed your comments immensely.

Take care,


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