Were the Iliad and the Odyssey Written by a Woman?

That’s the question in a new book. According to Discovery News. Here is the argument:

Homer’s link to the poems, Dalby writes, stems from an “ill-informed postclassical text, the anonymous Life of Homer, fraudulently ascribed to Herodotus,” a respected Greek historian who lived from around 484-425 B.C.
Herodotus does mention Homer in his work Histories, but by then the legend of the mysterious, blind, male poet had already taken root, Dalby says.
Dalby explained to Discovery News that the earliest references to Homer by writers such as Herodotus and the Greek poet Pindar indicate the poet lived around 800 B.C.
But based on geographical references in the poems, Dalby believes the Iliad was composed in 650 B.C., while the Odyssey was written in 630 B.C., well after Homer’s supposed lifetime.

This is approximately the time period during which the poems were written down according to some.

Aside from the poems themselves, no concrete clues exist to identify their author, but Dalby builds a case that the person probably was a woman.
“In many oral traditions, the best and most reliable creators, the ones who are used by folklore collectors, happen to be women,” he said.
Dalby explained that women throughout the ancient world were “often the last and most skillful exponents of an oral tradition.”


Dalby thinks both works were composed by the same person, but that the more developed female figures in the Odyssey — particularly the heroic character Penelope — reflect change in the author’s life.
“By the time she came to create her second masterpiece, the woman poet understood at last that in consigning her work to writing, she was able to address a whole new audience (including women),” he said.</blockquote
Although I hate to judge a book without reading it based on what Discovery has to say I'm skeptical…

3 Responses

  1. Speculating about the authorship of the Iliad and the Odyssey is as venerable a tradition as speculating about the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays. And usually based on about as much evidence. A classicist, who went to grad school with, said he had proof that the Iliad and the Odyssey were not written by Homer, they were written by someone just like Homer, who lived at the same time as Homer, and also named Homer. I gathered that this was a very old joke among classicists.

  2. Yeah, it’s a really old joke…and a lot of ink has been spilled on the subject. The Shakespeare analogy is a good one…but now that I think about it maybe Bacon wrote the Iliad and the Odyssey 😉

  3. I doubt that anyone will read this, but here goes. I read the theory that “Homer” was a woman long ago, in the 1990s, and the author had written it a hundred years earlier for very Victorian reasons that would not fly today. However, folklorists and linguists would point out that no single person “wrote” the Iliad and Odyssey at all. They were originally oral poetry, rather like playground rhymes were in my childhood, except much longer, of course. Perry Lloyd (spelling?) was the scholar who originally demonstrated that through analysis of motifs in the poetry, which included those repeated epithets — wily Odysseus, gray-eyed Athena, steep Ilios, golden Mycenae, etc., etc. If Homer existed, he was probably a particularly gifted oral poet, not the original author. The epics contain motifs shared by many Indo-European traditions, including the Ramayana of India, Camillus’ battles in ancient Rome, and an old Irish epic which sounds like a cattle raid. If you want to know something like the real events of the Bronze Age behind the story, read Nancy Sandars’ book on the Sea People (or my novels “Golden Mukenai” and “Steep Wilusiya” available on Amazon’s electronic book, the Kindle).

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