Little is known about the life of Homer, the author credited with composing The Iliad and The Odyssey who is arguably the greatest poet of the ancient world. Historians place his birth sometime around 750 BC and conjecture that he was born and resided in or near Chios. However, seven cities claimed to have been his birthplace. Due to the lack of information about Homer the person, many scholars hold the poems themselves as the best windows into his life. For instance, it is from the description of the blind bard in The Odyssey that many historians have guessed that Homer was blind.
There is much evidence to support the theory that The Iliad and The Odyssey were written by different authors, perhaps as much as a century apart. The diction of the two works is markedly different, with The Iliad being reminiscent of a much more formal, theatric style while The Odyssey takes a more novelistic approach and uses language more illustrative of day-to-day speech. Differing historical details concerning trade also lend credence to the idea of separate authors. It is certain that neither text was written down upon creation. By the eighth century BC written text had been almost entirely forgotten in Greece. Both The Iliad and The Odyssey conform to the diction of a purely oral and unwritten poetic speech that was used before the end of that century. Indeed, some scholars believe the name “Homer” was actually a commonly used term for blind men who wandered the countryside reciting epic poetry. Although Homer has been credited with writing a number of other works, most notably the Homeric Hymns, the same uncertainty about authorship exists. It is assumed that much of the poet’s work has been lost to time.
The formative influence of the Homeric epics in shaping Greek culture was widely recognized, and Homer was described as the “Teacher of Greece.” Homer’s works, some 50% of which are speeches, provided models in persuasive speaking and writing that were emulated throughout the ancient and medieval Greek worlds. Fragments of Homer account for nearly half of all identifiable Greek literary papyrus finds. The Odyssey‘s depiction of the bard as a minstrel in the service of local kings also gives some insight into the life of the poet practicing his craft. What is undeniable is that the works of Homer proved to be the most influential not merely for the poets of ancient times but also for the later epic poets of Western literature.