Homer, the Founder of European Literature
When we think of poetry, most of us bring into mind probably one or more modern poets, that have influenced international poetry and literature during the last few centuries. Even non Greeks must have surely heard about Homer, the founder of European literature, and who is exactly the person that comes into my mind when I am asked the same thing.
Homer is the first poet in Europe whose work was saved, or at least parts of it, if you prefer. By doing a small research I found out that actually homer is the first “writer” among European Civilizations, in other words the first person that used writing to complete his work. In fact, for about four hundred years before Homer’s birth, poetry in the Greek world and away, was exclusively oral. We know for sure that even 400 years before Homer, people used writing and poetry, but there is no clear evidence of that, since no script are saved. Actually it’s Homer whose poems were first recorded in Greece.
Studying Homer at school
As I personally learnt in school, since the study of Homer’s poems is done during middle school and high school, it is so important for the Greek and European culture that these first records of poetry were initially created about 2700 years ago. This timing has been determined with accuracy. The works that we are being taught at school are Homer’s most famous, the Iliad and the Odyssey.
They are actually narrative poems and despite the fact that they are very long, many people in Greece learn them by heart and remember them. This is actually a tradition that has been kept live for thousands of years, but to tell you the truth, the last one that I can remember to know the Iliad of the Odyssey by heart was my long dead grandfather. Sure, I can remember many parts, and so can many others in Greece, but not the whole work.
My personal favorite and most people I think would agree with me is the Odyssey. It’s more interesting as a story because it is about the numerous adventures of King Odysseus of Ithaca, on his ten-year journey from Troy to his home place after the war. The Illiad, which is about the Trojan war, is also an epic poem, but is a bit more “static” than the Odyssey and thus many people, especially students who study it at school.
Nevertheless, as I remember from my school years, they were by far the most popular subjects in Greek literature, because of all the action, the epic quests and deeds that one can find in both works.
Having another look
When I grew up and studied Greek literature at the University, I made a more detailed study on Homer’s work. From what I found out, Homer’s poems also hide another innovation, besides being the first written works in European literature. This is objectivity and social relations. The poems are a mix of both historical and fictional events, and it’s rather difficult to tell one from another in many situations.
But as it was later found, there is objectivity found in historical narrations, although Homer was a poet and not a historian, although history as a science was not actually introduced yet. Also, a large part in all of Homer’s work is dedicated to explaining social relations at a time when writing was more or less a way to just note down things just for records and orders and while the society was using writing in a couple of areas, it was actually the first time that writing was used in such a way.
Although I am not an expert and have studied Homer purely as literature, these two facts I just highlighted above make Homer’s work more important and interesting, if we see it from another angle, as an ethnologist, an anthropologist, a sociologist, a historian or a communications specialist for example. We are talking about a rich source of information on society from a time that very little information is available.
This is why Homer’s work surpasses the borders of literature and why it is not being taught and studying solely in his home place, Greece, but in schools and universities around the world.