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Have you ever ventured into the Octagon, which used to be the Queen Mary library, for meetings or lectures and has your eye started wandering around the room? In doing so your gaze may have rested on the gold plated names etched in the base of the dome. These are the names of eight Greek and Roman philosophers and poets that lived in the ancient world, whose works are still read today. This week the focus is on Homer. A series by Special Collections Information Assistant Anne Marie McHarg.


Homer is one of our greatest poets of the ancient world, whose legacy has endured throughout world history.

We do not know for certain when or where he lived, or what sort of childhood, or family background he came from. Like everything else about Homer, the rumours that surround him became myths and legends, fact and fiction entwined. This includes where he was born, seven cities claimed to be his birthplace - Athens, Colophon, Ithaca, Argos, Rhodes, Smyrna and Chios. There are other scholars who name Homer, a blind poet that may have been born in Chilos, and maybe the son of the river gods Meles and the nymph Cretheis.

It is thought that Homer and his friends would go from city to city and court to court performing their work in a small troop of wandering bards. Throughout his time as a bard, he continued to compose, and these works were known as the “Homerica”.

There is no written record to be found of this period. It is through the oral tradition that we shine a light on the stories that have been passed down by word of mouth. There are of course various myths that surround Homer's name; and yet, these stories were believed by the Greeks themselves. The earliest references can be traced back to the Greek poets from the early seven centaury onwards. Their subjects being Troy and Odysseus which contained lines like some of those which appear in modern text of the Iliad and Odyssey.

Modern scholars who have studied the history and language of Ancient Greece think there probably never was a single poet named Homer that wrote all the poems that are supposed to be his. One theory is that over several years poems that had existed before in the culture were put together under one name: Homer.

Works of Homer

Homer’s works consist of narrative poems in hexameter verse. These have survived from the earliest of Greek literature. Homer’s two most famous poems are the Iliad and the Odyssey; there are also the so-called Homeric Hymns and Homeric Epigrams, which survived along with the Margites, which was discovered in fragile fragments. To the Greeks writing under Roman Empire, he was referred to as “the Poet” par excellence.

What we do know is that Homer and his successors had an impact only because their words were recorded in a form that allowed their thoughts to be transferred easily from generation to generation. The Greeks, so the argument runs, would not be influential but for the invention, that fixed their writings, their invention that they named after their two signs – Alpha and Beta – The Alphabet.

Homer will always be remembered for the two epic poems the Iliad and the Odyssey, that have stood the test of time.

Books in our collection

We hold a number of books in our rare books collection which include Homer’s works and information about him including:

An Enquiry into the Life and Writings of Homer Thomas Blackwell (1756)

This book has an engraved title page; and head and tailpieces. Black and white, and sepia engravings, a leaf of plates folded and illustrated, and a map.

Homeri Ilias & Odyssea : et in easdem scholia, sive interpretatio Didymi, cum Latina versione accuratissima, indiceque Graeco locupletissimo rerum ac variantium lection / accurante Corn. Schrevelio (1656)

The two best known ancient biographies of Homer are the life of Homer by the Pseudo-Herodotus and the Contest of Homer and Hesiod.

H*erodotou Halikarnass*eos Histori*on logoi ennea ... = Herodoti Halicarnassei Historiarum libri IX : IX. musarum nominibus inscripti ; Eiusdem narratio vitae Homeri : cum Vallae interpret. Latina historiarum Herodoti / ab Henr. Stephano recognita & spicilegio Frid. Sylburgii. Excerpta è Ctesiae libris de rebus Persicis & Indicis & iisdem fragmenta auctiora (1618)

Translation: Herodotus Halikarnassus Historiarum Book IX: IX. inscribed with the names of the muses; The story of the life of Homer The history of Herodotus / by Henr. Stephano recognita & spicilegio Frid. Sylburgii Excerpts from Ctesias' books on Persian and Indian affairs, and even greater fragments from them

Every Friday our Special Collections' librarian Anne-Marie will be introducing you to each of the writers featured in the Octagon in this blog series.



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