In 1934 Milman Parry discovered a Serbian bard who could neither read nor write, but could recite a poem the length of the Odyssey, making up bits along the way to fit the meter. This recitation substantiated the legend about the blind Greek bard named Homer. According to Finley, about a third of the Iliad "consists of lines or blocks of lines which occur more than once." When the original bard delivered the Trojan War stories, they were not in fixed and memorized form. He could use certain set phrases whenever the meter demanded them. Familiar events were repeated for reinforcement and to allow bard and audience to rest. Finley does believe the Iliad and Odyssey that we know, the product of generations of such recitations, were composed in writing.
The World of Odysseus was first published in 1954. This was about the time that Michael Ventris and John Chadwick deciphered the Mycenaean clay tablets that had been written in the early Greek language known as Linear B.
The latest (2002) edition of The World of Odysseus is introduced by Bernard Knox who points out minor shortcomings of Finley's "model," before calling the book a classic "indispensable to the professional" and "accessible to the general reader."