Homer – myth or reality?

«Epidemic fashion for black glasses, so that

everyone wants to be Homer just for a while»

Andrey Voznesenskiy

It is generally known that myths are ancient tales about gods and legendary heroes, about the origin of the world and life on earth. But, more often, myth is understood somewhat fantastic, unlikely, unreal and concocted. In fact, it isn’t so, since man, being a product of Nature, is not capable to devise what has never been, or won’t ever happen.

It has been believed for a long time that the Illiad and the Odyssey is Homer’s fiction that is not based on a historic truth, and Homer himself was not considered their author because he didn’t sign any of his works with his name. Moreover there was no real biography of him. Don’t be surprised but the only reason that we have been attributing these epic poems to Homer is justified by the fact that they were recited each time on  Panathenaia at the beginning of VI century B.C., as his works. That situation remained unchanged until the publication of research by the famous German philologist F.A.Wolf «Prolegomena ad Homerum» in 1795. Using the principle of contradictions and making note and underlining, in his opinion, numerous weak points of the epic poems in relation to the place of action, or topos, Wolf tried to prove that the Illiad and the Odyssey could not be attributed to one and the same author, but were the result of creative work of many singers and poets. Unification of separate songs into two large epic poems occurred many centuries after the time of composing them.  Reduction and editing of the songs were done by the people of little talent and the final edition was made by 602 editors at the court of Athenes under tyrant Pysystratus at the beginning of 602VI century B.C. In this way the grounds of “Homeric problem” were founded: has Homer existed in reality?

But, as is said in the New Testament, “Belief is realization of the expected and confidence in the existence of invisible” (Hab. 11:1). As soon as Heinrich Schlimann believed in true nature of what Homer’s description of Troy location in the Illiad, he, being an amateur archaeologist, discovered the city where no one looked for it. And in addition to it, as an award for his persistence, he found Priam’s treasure. Then, Agamemnon’s treasure was found by him in Mycenae. It’s a pity that we cannot date all our archeological findings. Nevertheless, H. Schlimann’s discoveries put forward the issue of Homer as a real historic personality, who described quite real historic events. Our outstanding philosopher and person of encyclopaedic learning A.F. Lossev, having summarized the results of two centuries researches of the world Homeric studies, came to the conclusion that Homer had lived on the border of VII-VI centuries B.C. and, like the majority of the world writers, had been an immanent author. It means that he wrote mostly about real events having direct relationship to his own life. This can explain why Schlimann was not mistaken in his confidence in Homer. But precise dates of events, as well as the life of Homer, have remained unclarified so far. Therefore all encyclopaedia presumably consider that Homer lived in IX century B.C., and Troyan war events are referred to XII century B.C. A question arises in connection with it whether Homer’s texts comprise indications to exact dates of events and details of his biography. And if they do, how should we carry on “archeological excavations” of the text in order to find the truth hidden by the author thousands of years ago?

Let’s try to find the answer to the question: which is the least structure of the texts of such epic poems as the Illiad or the Odyssey, larger than letters and words? Perhaps, it’s the next level going after them,- verse line called hexameter. We won’t stick to the historic details fixed by ancient Greeks themselves that Hyperboreans, i.e. Cimmerians and Scythes had taught the former to compose hexameters. Hexameter is that key structure of the text that allows us to space the line written continuously, as well as gives the chance to check up integrity and even quality of Homer’s text. The loss of one hexameter can also be observed during the text analysis.

Still another, larger structure is spacing each epic poems into songs. It has been assumed that this work was done by Alexandria scientists instead of Homer. As it has been discovered, the original texts with author’s spacing came to us. One more structural division of the text of narration according to days and nights was suggested by V.A.Zhukovskiy taking use of Homer’s formula phrases denoting the beginning of the day, for example, such as “Has risen from a gloom young with fingers purple Aurora (Έως)”. Being guided by it he divided the narration of the Odyssey into 40 days, though there were other viewpoints dealing with that fact. A detailed analysis of all  the narration of Odyssey’s (allegorical meaning of the name of “Odyssey” – “It’s me”)  10-year sailing proved that Homer confined it into 58 days, which were completed by his 58th anniversary and the words “I was born in Alibant”, put into the last 24th song, 304th hexameter, having the ordinal number 119 of the name of Alibant. The question arises: how could Homer encipher these key years and dates for the future?

Prior to answering the question, we have to turn to the chronology that could exist at that time. Naturally, Homer didn’t know about Christ’s birth and Anno Domini connected with it.

It’s presumed that in the IY century B.C. people counted the number of years starting with the first Olympiad when at first the names of its winners had been inscribed. And it happened in 776 B.C. Then, all further years were counted by the number of Olympiad and the number of years before or after it. It is possible that it was Homer who proposed to carry on chronology from the year of 776 B.C.

Thus, all coming years were counted by a number of Olympiad and by the number of years before or after it. It could be possible that it was Homer who proposed this system of chronology from the year of 776. It can be supported by the measure of attention that Homer paid to the description of sports games in the Illyad and the Odyssey. Probable Olympiads prompted Homer to divide each poem into 24 songs, and together into 48 songs, that symbolize 48 months or 4 years, that co-relate with the periodicity of Olympic games. All that means that the chronology records by the Olympiad dates did not appear in the IY century B.C. but much earlier, i.e. after holding Panathenaia games in the beginning of the YI century B.C.

Let me stop here getting into complicated counting of months in old Greek chronology and think of the way to close a year if months were alternatively divided into 30 and 29 days. There were no weeks at that time and a month was divided into three decades (ten-day period). I will only indicate that Homer could develop his calendar for his personal use, which was close to ours, after 7 year stay in Egypt. Its year is divided into 12 months with alternation in each month called the Ides and dedicated to different Gods and events. The odd months comprised 31 days and even ones contained 30. The Ides called  “a month of mutual food treatment” falling upon our 15 February- 15 (16) March, had in regular years 28 days and 29 days in leap years, i.e. one day was added as “treatment”. Leap years fell in Homer on even years between the years of Olympiad holding. The beginning of the year was different in various polices of Old Greece. Homer oriented hic chronology onto Athens where a year started after summer solstice (about the beginning of August) which takes place on the 22 June by our calendar. That is why their first day of the month corresponded the second half of our July and the first half of August. 16th of July is considered the first day of old Greek year.

Now, if we were in Homer’s shoes, and take into consideration all complexity of year counting, let’s ask ourselves: how can we encode the number of years and days in a simple and reliable way starting from the first Olympiad? Probably, it could be the account of the number of hexameters from the poem beginning till key words, as the number of years and days after the new year changing each other, without indication of a month.

In this case even partial loss of the text threatened the loss of the number of days, but not years at most. But to complete it they should have been noted as one figure, i.e. 10 years and 250 days should have made 10,250 hexameters. Or it could be 102 years and 50 days. When this idea came to my mind, I started to look for key words in the end of the Odyssey which could indicate the day of Homer’s birth taking into account the immanent character of his creative work. It influenced creating epic poems of such vast amount.

Herewith is what has come out of it. Old Greek text of the Odyssey which was at my disposal comprised 12106 hexameters. The 304th poem of the XXIY song contains the phrase “I was born in Alibant”. The summarized figure of the number of hexameters showed that this key phrase falls on 11,862 hexameter. Since the figure of 862 is too large for 365 days in a year, the number of years passed after the 1st Olympiad should be counted as equal to 118, and the number of days equal to 62 after the new year (since 16 July by our calendar) and in result we have obtained the day of Homer’s birth being 15 September 657 B.C.

But this is more to it. Homer could have understand well that the date should be fixed in a more reliable way than the summarized account of hexameters whose loss is more probable than, for instance, the names indicated inside the text of one song. It was then when we had to focus our attention on the above-indicated figures at the name of Alibant: 304th hexameter and 119th ordinal number of the song. In result the date has been defined more exactly: we subtracted 304 from 365 days of 119 year and obtain the precise date of birth after expiry of 118th year. That is 365-304=61st day by our system it is 14 September 657 B.C. Since this calculation is more exact  a priory, we can state that one extra hexameter appeared in one of the texts of the Odyssey, but it was not in the 24th song. These calculations demonstrate the patience with which Homer’s texts were rewritten. Opponents or critics can say that my pathos is not justified because there are only two such cases. But I can prove today there exist several dozens of cases confirming this date not only from the texts written on papyrus or parchment, but also in epigraphic lines on the so called Mastor’s stone.

This stone was found on the Berezan island in 1900 by Skadovskiy and its text was decoded by a well-known epiograph V.P.Yailenko. Completion of decoding was done by me concerning only 3 letters out of 45, and only those that were readable. In result it appeared that it had been an epitaph  devoted to Homer. It is understood that the epitaph would not be read as an open text. One can get informed with details of finding acrotelestic on Mastor’s stone, as well as with the identification of all places visited by Odyssey and their co-relation with real objects, in my book “Homer. The immanent biography” (Nikolaev, 2006, p. 99). Having read acrotelestic of epitaph we have confirmed Homer’s date of birth obtained from completely different material – the text of Odyssey, and the date of Homer’s death has been found – 14 August 581 B.C. The most striking is the fact that according to the myth of Odyssey death, he was buried on the Ea island (Beresan) where Circe had lived, and it found its confirmation. What can we now say about the precision of myths?!

Similarly, the time of Homer’s sister, Helen’s arrival to Illion can be determined as well as the beginning of the Troyan war. The key extract from the Illiad is Helen’s mourns for Hector, starting with the 765 verse in the  XXIV-th song: “For this is now the twentieth year from the time when I went thence and am gone from my native land, but never yet heard I evil or despiteful word from thee;..” and up to the words i.n the end of the monolog: «… that is gentle to me or kind; but all men shudder at me.» in the 775 verse. Here the beginning of the text extract differs from the end by 10 hexameters, which points simultaneously to the difference of days and years between Helen’s arrival in Illion and the beginning of the Troyan war. The total number of verses up to the last verse of this monolog, which falls on the 775th line, varies among four versions of the Illiad within the boundaries of 15659 and 15664 hexameters. It means that Helen arrived in Illion on the 2nd – 7th September 619 B.C.

Hence it becomes clear that the prototype of the Troyan war was, for Homer, a well-known war of Milet with Lydia which it held for the outcome into the Black sea. Historians consider that Ardis’s successor, Sadiatt (end of 7th century B.C.) started the last 12-year war with Milet that resulted in peace agreement in about 600 B.C. In reality, the war was started by Ardis (by Paris according to Homer), it lasted about 10 years and ended in 609 under Sadiatt. And this means that Schlimann (academic world blamed him for discovering later Troya), found that  same Troy which had been described by Homer. Here I have to make a note that the later date of Homer’s life solves a great number of problems of “Homer’s question”, starting with the answer to the most important issue how it had been possible to preserve the ancient texts.

It is known from the Troyan war myths (see, for instance, Robert Graves, Myths of Ancient Greece. Transl. From English. Ed. With afterward by A.A.Takho-Godi, – Progress, 1992) that Agamemnon gathered Greek fleet twice in Avlid for the voyage to Illion. For the first time, right after Helen’s abduction the storm scattered the ships and they returned home. For the second time, Agamemnon gathered the fleet 10 years later, but he had to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia, due to the prediction of Kalahant, so that the ships could reach Troy without hindrance.

Immanent reading and interpretation of Illiad allowed us to find out that land-based siege had been preceded by the naval 10-year war, which was not known to historians, in the course of which Greek navy consisting of 415 ships under the command of Achilleus and Agamemnon destroyed 800 Troyan ships. During this war Achyl rammed Troyan ships, destroyed them at a distance with stones thrown with slings, and ignited them with sulfur bombs. He had been fighting not only in the Aegean and Marmara seas, but in the Black sea either, i.e. closer to his motherland. For all of this he achieved the greatest glory in Greece as an invincible admiral. Only after that Greeks, without bewaring attacks from the sea, could drag out their ships on the shore near Troy. Homer did not participate in this war as he had been on service of Psammetikh I for 7 years and he also stayed one year in Phoenicia at his relatives.

If Homer described 10 years of his life in the Odyssey, in the Illiad  the last 10 years were described, and, to put it more correctly, the text is squeezed within the description of the last 49 days of his twin brother’s life, Achilleus, that perished on the 8th October, 609 B.C. on the 49th year of his life. Thus, the text embraces the time from 21 August till 8 October. In the 19th song the birthday of Achilleus was described falling on 15 September, 657 B.C. Pay attention to hexameters 243-247 in the song where the presents given to Achilleus on that day are enumerated:  7 tripods + 20 plates + 12 horses + 8 wives with Brisseida + Odyssey’s gold = 48 years. At the same place Homer marked his seniority over Achilleus (by one day only!) with certain amount of humour in the 219th hexameter. Family composition and friendship with his native brother was described by Homer in the myths on Leda, Dooscur’s brothers and in Heracule’s feats  about his life from 15 till 27 years old.

Thus, as it comes out from the above-indicated, defining of only a few dates gives us an instrument to restore more or less real biography of Homer by epic poems, myths and hymns, as well as his Cimmerian and Greek origin. But we’ll leave these issues till later. On my party, I’ll repeat the words by Jean-Jeaques Rousseau: “My duty is to tell the truth but not make someone believe it”.

From the very beginning of the world literature till present time, genuine literature relied on both inner (hidden – inside-out) and outer sign nature and symbolism (metametaphor). That is, metametaphor and inside-out, discovered by a poet and philosopher K. Kedrov, that make up the essence of all world literature where the choice between Myths and Reality remains for Kedrov’s “OR”.

Anatoliy Zolotoukhin,

Mykolayiv, Ukraine

The article was published in the “POets Journal” No.1(26), “Ekho planety”, Moscow, 2011, c.33-36 («Журнал ПОэтов» №1(26), «Эхо планеты», М., 2011, с. 33-36).

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