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Homer, Epic: Bibliography

Homer's Place in the Genre of Ancient Epic Poetry


Flood Tablet

Neo-Assyrian clay tablet. Epic of Gilgamesh, Tablet 11: Story of the Flood. Known as the "Flood Tablet". British Museum.

CC Flickr User rvacapinta
Today, the majority opinion is that the Trojan War epic poems attributed to Homer were not written by a single individual. If that is true, even if Homer happens to be the name of the author of one of the poems -- something that is nowhere near certain, there must be another name associated with the other poem(s). With that caveat in mind, since it is far more convenient not to have to qualify the usage of the great poems' writer(s)' nom de plume each and every time, when I use the name Homer, it refers to the person or people who wrote the works that are usually credited to him. If you want a reasoned and short look at the information on this topic, please read:
"The Invention of Homer," by M. L. West; The Classical Quarterly, New Series, Vol. 49, No. 2 (1999), pp. 364-382.

People often ask me about the connection between Homer and other epics, especially the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh or the epic cycle, which is the source of many of the details we have about the Trojan War that Homer excludes (for reasons Griffin [below] discusses). Regrettably, I am frequently at a loss for answers. If this is an area that interests you and you have already read a couple of translations of the Gilgamesh epic (if you can make sense of the Akkadian, you are way beyond anything I can help with) and the works of Homer, especially The Iliad and The Odyssey, you probably want more. For starters, take a look at my review of Ancient Epic, by Katherine Callen King, a small Wiley Blackwell book directly related to the topic. King analyzes The Epic of Gilgamesh, which is the first poetic epic, The Iliad and The Odyssey, The Argonautica, The Aeneid, and Ovid's Metmorphoses. It may be exactly what you are looking for.

There is a massive amount of material on Homer and his place in ancient poetry -- specifically, epic. If you have access to L'Année philologique or JSTOR, you should make use of them. In case you don't, you should try Oxford Bibliographies. Here are a few primarily English works, both books and articles, on the general topic of the position of Homer vis a vis ancient poetry, culled from the Oxford Bibliography on Homer.

1. Burgess, Jonathan S. 2001. The Tradition of the Trojan War in Homer and the Epic Cycle. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press.

2. Burkert, Walter. 1992. The Orientalizing Revolution: Near Eastern Influence on Greek Culture in the Early Archaic Age. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

3. Foley, J. M., ed. 2005. A Companion to Ancient Epic. Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell.

4. Griffin, Jasper. 1977. "The Epic Cycle and the Uniqueness of Homer." Journal of Hellenic Studies 97:39-53.

5. Janko, Richard. 1982. Homer, Hesiod and the Hymns: Diachronic Development in Epic Diction. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

6. Kirk, G. S. 1962. The Songs of Homer. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

7. West, Martin L., ed. and trans. 2002. Greek Epic Fragments From the Seventh to the Fifth Centuries BC. Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.
West, Martin L. 1988. "The rise of the Greek epic." Journal of Hellenic Studies 108:151-172.

Also see: my review of the 1954 classic by Moses I. Finley, The World of Odysseus and my chapter by chapter summary of Barry Strauss' The Trojan War: A New History.

Study Guides for 'The Odyssey'
Study Guides for 'The Iliad'

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