Homer’s legacy

hom1

hom4The first time a man attempted to engrave a sign or a sketchy hunting scene on a rock, he was actually doing more than a simple drawing, he was defying time. That sign allowed him to overcome his transient nature, it was the everlasting witness of his existence, which could also become the legacy of his experience. Man, differently from any other species, soon understood that the transmission and storage of data was the key for his evolution and survival. The outcomes of present experience were to be passed to the next generations in order to be enriched with new developments and discoveries. It is the record of man’s achievements that allows us to overcome the limits our body, which is subjected to time and decay. But how could data be transmitted and stored in times when there was not the help of technology or not even the use of paper yet?

hom5The first rudimentary means could be only memory. Greek epic poems, for example, played an important part in maintaining a record of the great deeds and history of a culture, before the development of writing. At first they were memorized and only  later, they were written down. However, it was a huge effort, if you think that a popular translation of the Iliad runs to nearly to five hundred pages in small font, hence, one cannot but wonder on how the rhapsodes could sing their lengthy poems without any written texts. As far as we know, their performances could last many days. Techniques such as rhymes, rhythm, similes etc helped the bards memorize the lines for sure, but the story was the most helpful of all.

hom6The main actors of these stories where the heroes, who actually embodied the highest expression of  the values of their society: loyalty, honour, love for the country, sacrifice. With their deeds, they were the symbols of the power, pride but also ethics of their people, thus contributing, through a natural process of identification, in the making of what could be called national awareness. The Iliad, the Odyssey and the many poets and tragedians who followed up Homer‘s themes gave a “running” report of how to be Greek, which the young naturally learned to imitate. We have to consider, that at the time of Plato almost everyone could recite some or many portions of Homer or other poets, therefore, there were many who held in their memory not only the episodes of Polyphemus, Circe etc  among the others, but also the knowledge.of the agricultural, metallurgical and building techniques of the times, food recipes etc. thus making epic poetry a sort of tribal encyclopedia as Professor Eric Havelock defined it.

hom7The verses of Homer, in fact, not only guided archaeologists to the interpretation of the finds of  excavations, but they proposed significant elements for the study of the first agriculture and livestock in the Aegean world. The Odyssey, in particular, provides some important elements which are absolutely singular.  For example, when Odysseus visits the orchards of the King of the Phaeacian, he accurately gives details of  the  prodigy of irrigated agriculture of the time. Then, once landed in Ithaca he climbs through the woods and comes to the pigsty built by his servant Eumaeus, there he reports about a genuine breeding system for 600 sows, which seems to forerun modern farm models. Two prominent scholars of primitive agriculture, Antonio Saltini, professor of history of agriculture, and Giovanni Ballarini, a professor of veterinary pathology, were able to estimate, from the reading of Homer,  the amount of acorns that the oaks of Ithaca could produce and the number of pigs that were breeded. When Odysseus meets his father, he reminds him of the different plants that the old man had given him for his first garden, mentioning 13 varieties of pears, 10 of apples, 40 types of figs and 50 different grapes, as proof of the intensity of the test selection which man had already subjected the fruit species at the dawn of the first millennium BC.

Therefore, Homer and the poets were not only artists but rather “ the equivalent of mass media, Internet and official state religion rolled all in one“. In times when there was no other form of communication, they were those romantic figures who had the task to spread the seeds of knowledge in order they could grow and blossom to guide man to modernity.

 

 

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24 thoughts on “Homer’s legacy

  1. I haven’t read any Homer in translation for many years (I’ve even forgotten what ‘rosy-fingered Dawn’ is in Ancient Greek though I’m supposed to have studied classical languages as a 16-year-old) so naturally, as an urbanite especially, missed out on the subtleties of husbandry, viticulture and the rest. The shame of it! Your post has reminded me that a single reading is rarely enough to develop a deep understanding of any text, let alone one millennia old, so thanks, Stefy!

    • I have the same feeling with the same texts and authors I do every year. There is always something I didn’t know or I had missed, but this is the beauty of art, isn’t it ? 🙂

      • I totally agree: ‘a thing of beauty is a joy forever,’ and that applies equally to good literature — texts that we can keep on appreciating no matter how many times we peruse them.

      • They mostly paint how to survive …. i think sciences must work togheter i mean history is the right one but if you use also socology psicology and antropologie you can have a better thought ….. about the Great Flood which is present in every ancient culture aborigin in australia jews in europa induism india and something also in maya culture the are painting on rocks who teach how to survive i do not remember where they are but show some people and beast in higland on mountains normal with no ingiuries and ander everything is destroyed by water …. the meaning of arts changed a lot in thousand years in the beginning they show mostly how to find food than become religious and now estetic …. our generation is the wrost none has done so many damage to earth like us …. history is accelerating ?

      • I guess, every modern generation had the feeling of being more destructive, than the one that preceeded it. There is a passage in Gulliver’s Travels, in which Swift seems to share your thought. Gulliver boasts in front of the King of the Giants the incredible power and innovations of his country, at the end of his speech the king comments: ” I think you are the most pernicious race of little odious vermins that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth” . 🙂

    • True. Think about it, the mortal man has the power to create something which will survive him, eternal. The finite man could become infinite in the memory of others. Amazing, isn’t it?

  2. I read the Iliad and the Odyssey when I was eight or nine – I do need to read them again. Your post reminded me of how important bards have been to our history. Now we call them authors!

  3. If time travel were possible i wonder what Homer and friends would think if transported into our time. Sign them on to Twitter, Facebook and some Instagram for special fun.
    Hope you and Hubby are having a great summer. Is it warmer this year?

    • Uhmmmmm, modern men employ such a short, essential form of communication that I don’t think it would suit Homer. Homer on Twitter with only 140 characters??? Noooo. This years is veeeery hot. The usual Italian summer, so hot that it makes me miss the cold.
      Super hugs
      Stefy

  4. I have no idea who this Homer is, unless you´re talking about the Simpsons which at first I thought you would but then….. kidding.

    As always very interesting Mrs Tink. Who have thought that poets and artist would have played such a role in the evolution of humanity. Which actually makes me happy, humanity in hundreds of years will read my blog derive from it, well ofcourse…..wisdom. The best gift one can give

  5. Wow, this is such a great information and knowledge about Homer. Very fascinating and interesting. I used to read Homer many years ago. Thanks for reminding me.

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