Homer the Preclassic

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Chapter Six: Variations on a theme of Homer

II 61. Rival datings of Homer

[GN 2010.12.17: In a forthcoming publication of the proceedings of the 22nd UCLA Indo-European Conference, I engage in new debates centering on the historical value of myths concerning the Aeolian Migration. Two most relevant publications are: Rose, C. B. 2008. “Separating Fact from Fiction in the Aiolian Migration.” Hesperia 77:399-430 and Parker, H. 2008. “The linguistic case for the Aiolian Migration reconsidered,” Hesperia 77:431-464.]]

II§8 In these two different versions of the Life of Homer, the immediate point of reference for dating the birth of Homer is the apoikia ‘colonization’ initiated by the Ionians. In the version reported by Aristarchus, as we have just seen, Homer was born at the time of this apoikia. In the version reported by Crates, by contrast, Homer was born well before this time.

II§9 By implication, the version of Aristarchus pictures Homer as an Ionian. The same goes for other sources that date the birth of Homer after the Ionian apoikia ‘colonization,’ notably Eratosthenes, who dates it one hundred years later (Vita 6.39–40) and Apollodorus, who dates it eighty years later (Vita 6.40). To be contrasted is the version of Crates, who dates the birth of Homer well before the Ionian apoikia ‘colonization’. By implication, that version pictures Homer not as an Ionian but as an Aeolian.

II§10 The differences between the Ionian Homer of Aristarchus and the Aeolian Homer of Crates reflect salient differences in the Life of Homer traditions. Once again, I focus on the narratives of two Lives in particular, Vita 1 and Vita 2. From the analysis I presented in Chapter 2, we saw that Vita 2 shows a distinctly Athenocentric outlook. That is, this narrative traces the unified cultural interests of the Athenian empire. By contrast, Vita 1 shows a pre-Athenocentric outlook. This narrative traces the diversified cultural interests of Aeolian and Ionian cities of Asia Minor and outlying islands. As we will now see, the pre-Athenocentric version of Vita 1 allows for an Aeolian Homer, while the Athenocentric version of Vita 2 requires an Ionian Homer.

II 62. A pre-Athenocentric Life of Homer

II§11 Vita 1 narrates the shaping of Homer’s songmaking career in terms that predate the Athenocentric version of Vita 2. A case in point is the narratological sequencing of {134|135} the cities that claim to have the closest ties to Homer. First in the narrative of Vita 1 is Cyme, explicitly described as an Aeolian city (Vita 1.3): it is mentioned in first place because it is recognized as the city of origin for Homer’s genealogy—and the city where he was actually conceived (1.3–17). Second in the narrative of Vita 1 is Smyrna, described as an Aeolian daughter city of Cyme (1.18–19). Smyrna is recognized as the city where Homer was born (1.17-31). The same point is made by Strabo (14.1.37 C646), who emphasizes the special claim of Smyrna on Homer. The cities of Cyme and Smyrna were members of an ancient federation of twelve Aeolian cities on the mainland of Asia Minor; this federation was known as the Aeolian Dodecapolis. Herodotus (1.149.1) lists the twelve cities of this Aeolian Dodecapolis in the following sequence: Cyme, Lērisai, Neon Teikhos, Tēmnos, Killa, Notion, Aigiroessa, Pitanē, Aigaiai, Myrina, Gryneia, and Smyrna. I highlight the fact that the first and the last cities to be mentioned are Cyme and Smyrna.

II§12 Homer’s songmaking career starts in Smyrna, upon his return from his journey to Ithaca: at the end of that journey (Vita 1.61–90), Homer is on his way back to Smyrna, but first he stops over at the Ionian city of Colophon, where he falls ill and becomes blind (1.90–92). Once Homer is back in Aeolian Smyrna, now a blind man, he embarks on a career of songmaking, poiēsis (1.92–94 ἐκ δὲ τῆς Κολοφῶνος τυφλὸς ἐὼν ἀπικνέεται εἰς τὴν Σμύρναν καὶ οὕτως ἐπεχείρει τῇ ποιήσει).

II§13 After an extended stay in Aeolian Smyrna, Homer sets out to Aeolian Cyme (Vita 1.95–96), but first he stops over at another Aeolian city, Neon Teikhos (1.96–97), which is explicitly described as a daughter city of Cyme (1.97–98). After a phase of composing and performing at Aeolian Neon Teikhos (1.97–122), Homer proceeds to another such phase of songmaking, at Cyme (1.123–189), and here he changes his name from Melēsigenēs to Homēros (1.162–166). At this point in the narrative, we see that two alternative names of Homer, Melēsigenēs and Homēros, are being explained in terms of a change from one name to another. In the myth as narrated in Vita 1, the change of Homer’s name from Melēsigenēs to Homēros is signaled by Homer’s leaving Smyrna, which later changed from an Aeolian to an Ionian city, and by his relocation to Cyme, which stayed an Aeolian city. As we will see later, the name Homēros was associated with the old Aeolian traditions of Cyme, and it is relevant to something that happened to Melēsigenēs when he was still in Smyrna.

II§15 For the Aeolians, the association of the proper noun Homēros with the Aeolian city of Cyme was parallel to the association of the common noun homēros, which has the general meaning of ‘hostage’, with the special meaning of ‘blind’ in Cymaean—or, more generally, in ‘Aeolic’—traditions. In the Lives of Homer, the primary mediator of Cymaean traditions is Ephorus of Cyme (FGH 70, Vitae 3a.8, 24; 3b.10–11; 5.7; 6.11). According to Vita 1 (164–165), it is a Cymaean usage to call blind people homēroi. So the idea that Homer was recognized as a homēros in Cyme is directly connected with Homer’s name. We may contrast the reportage of Vita 3a (23), where we read that the Cymaeans and all the Ionians exemplify this usage. The overall source here is named as Ephorus of Cyme (Vita 3a.8). I note with interest here the Ionian appropriation of a usage stemming from an Aeolian city, Cyme. Elsewhere, the usage of homēroi to designate blind people is described as Aeolic in general (Vitae 2.31, 4.6, 11.19). I will have more to say later on about the meaning ‘blind’ attributed to the word homēros. For now, I highlight simply the Aeolian and specifically Cymaean associations of this meaning.

II§16 After Homer’s stay in Aeolian Cyme, the Aeolian phase of Homer’s Life in Vita 1 comes to an end. Now starts an Ionian phase. From Aeolian Cyme Homer goes to Ionian Phocaea for another extended stay (Vita 1.190–224), after which he prepares to go to Ionian Chios (1.224–225). Before he reaches Chios, Homer has various other adventures, including a stopover at Ionian Erythrai (1.225–275). After his extended stay in Ionian Chios (1.346–398), he heads for Athens, making a transitional stopover at Ionian Samos (1.399–484).

II§17 From what we have seen so far, it is evident that the narrative of Vita 1 goes out of its way to stress that the origins of Homer are Aeolian, not Ionian. At the end of the narrative, Homer’s Aeolian identity is made explicit:

IIⓣ1 Vita 1.517–522

Ὅτι δὲ ἦν Αἰολεὺς Ὅμηρος καὶ οὔτε Ἴων οὔτε Δωριεύς, τοῖς τε εἰρημένοις δεδήλωταί μοι καὶ δὴ καὶ τοῖσδε τεκμαίρεσθαι παρέχει. ἄνδρα ποιητὴν τηλικοῦτον εἰκός ἐστι τῶν νομίμων τῶν παρὰ τοῖς ἀνθρώποις ποιοῦντα ἐς τὴν ποίησιν ἤτοι τὰ κάλλιστα ἐξευρόντα ποιέειν ἢ τὰ ἑωυτοῦ, πάτρια ἐόντα. {136|137}

That Homer was an Aeolian and not an Ionian nor a Dorian is demonstrated by what has been said so far, and it can be proved even more decisively by way of the following: it is likely that a songmaker [poiētēs] who is of such ancient pedigree, and who draws upon ancestral customs prevalent among humans, would be making [poieîn] things take place inside his songmaking [poiēsis] that were either the most beautiful things he could ever make [poieîn] with his poetic invention or his very own things as he inherited them from his ancestors.

II§20 What Herodotus says about the festival of the Apatouria stands in sharp contrast with what is said in what is generally known as the “pseudo-Herodotean” narrative of {137|138} Vita 1. There we see a decidedly pre-Athenocentric outlook. By contrast with the formulation of Herodotus (1.147.2), for whom the heortē ‘festival’ of the Apatouria as celebrated in Ionian cities is proof that these cities were founded by Athens as their metropolis or ‘mother city’, the narrative of Vita 1 shows a most revealing set of details pointing to an alternative explanation of the relationship between the city-state of Athens and the Ionian city-states. One such detail emerges in the narrative of Vita 1 concerning Homer’s stopover at the Ionian island-state of Samos: there he performs his poetry for a body of men called the phrētores (φρήτορες or, in Attic, φράτορες 1.404, 405, 408, 430), who are members of a civic confraternity or phrētrē (φρήτρη 1.421). This group had invited Homer to participate in celebrating a heortē festival’ (συνεορτάσοντα 1.407–408), specified as the heortē of the Apatouria (ἔτυχον δὲ οἱ ἐκεῖσε τὸν τότε καιρὸν ἄγοντες ἑορτὴν Ἀπατούρια (1.401–402). The Samian political terms phrētores and phrētrē, mentioned in the context of the Apatouria of Samos, are evidently cognate with the Athenian political term phratriai ‘phratries’: it is relevant that the festival of the Apatouria in Athens was in fact the occasion when new members were enrolled into the phratriai ‘phratries’ (scholia for Aristophanes Acharnians 146). To say that these Athenian and Ionian forms are cognate with each other is not to say that the second set of forms is derived from the first. On the basis of what we have just seen, I infer just the opposite, that the two sets are in fact independent of each other. In other words, the Samian tradition of the phrētrē and phrētores is not derived from the Athenian tradition of phratriai. Rather, the two traditions are independent of each other, though they are cognate with each other. Later on, I will argue that the Samian setting of this detail in Vita 1 derives from the poetics and politics represented by Polycrates, tyrant of Samos.

II§21 A more direct example of a pre-Athenocentric outlook in the narrative of Vita 1 is its stance concerning the city of Smyrna: basically, Vita 1 ignores the historical fact that Aeolian Smyrna eventually became transformed into Ionian Smyrna. For background on this transformation, I turn to Herodotus, who gives us once again a classic formulation.

II§22 I summarize here the relevant account of Herodotus (1.149.1–1.151.2). On the mainland of Asia Minor, facing the outlying island of Lesbos, was a federation of twelve Aeolian cities—an Aeolian Dodecapolis—headed by the city of Cyme (1.149.1). The Aeolian cities on the mainland of Asia Minor in the region of Mount Ida were grouped separately from the Aeolian Dodecapolis (1.151.1). Herodotus does not list these cities by name. As for the island of Lesbos, it was politically organized as a federation of five Aeolian cities (1.151.2). Of the twelve Aeolian cities of the Aeolian Dodecapolis on the mainland of Asia Minor, one city was ‘detached’ (paraluein) by the Ionians; as we know from Herodotus, that city was Smyrna (1.149.1 μία γάρ σφεων παρελύθη Σμύρνη ὑπὸ Ἰώνων).

IIⓣ2 Herodotus 1.143.3

αἱ δὲ δυώδεκα πόλιες αὗται τῷ τε οὐνόματι ἠγάλλοντο καὶ ἱρὸν ἱδρύσαντο ἐπὶ σφέων αὐτέων, τῷ οὔνομα ἔθεντο Πανιώνιον, ἐβουλεύσαντο δὲ αὐτοῦ μεταδοῦναι μηδαμοῖσι ἄλλοισι Ἰώνων—οὐδ’ ἐδεήθησαν δὲ οὐδαμοὶ μετασχεῖν ὅτι μὴ Σμυρναῖοι

But these twelve cities took pride in the name [‘Ionian’] and established a sacred space of their own, giving it the name Panionion, and they wished to give membership to no other Ionians [= Ionian cities]—nor did any Ionians [= any other Ionian city] request it except for the Smyrnaeans.

II 63. An Athenocentric Life of Homer

II§24 By contrast with the pre-Athenocentric outlook of the narrative in Vita 1, where Homer is born in the Aeolian city of Smyrna and must be an Aeolian, the Athenocentric outlook prevails in the narrative of Vita 2, The Contest of Homer and Hesiod: in this narrative, Homer must be an Ionian. In Vita 2, the various appropriations of Homer by various Aeolian and Ionian cities of Asia Minor and outlying islands become merged and unified into a singular appropriation of Homer by Athens as the metropolis or ‘mother city’ of the notional realm that is ‘Ionia’. This Ionia is composed of all the Ionian cities of Asia Minor and the offshore Ionian island-cities of Chios and Samos. In terms of the narrative of Vita 2, Homer must be coeval with the Ionian apoikia ‘colonization’, when the cities of this Ionia were being founded by Athens as their metropolis or ‘mother city’.

II§27 In the post-Athenocentric versions represented by the other Lives of Homer, by contrast, the prestige of Athens as the metropolis or ‘mother city’ of Ionia became devalued, whereas the older prestige of the various Aeolian and Ionian cities of Asia Minor and outlying islands could be revalidated. The rival versions of the various cities tend to be hierarchically arranged in the individual narratives of the post-Athenocentric Lives, though different Lives may privilege different versions at different points in their narratives. The post-Athenocentric Lives can bypass the Athenocentric period and revert to the pre-Athenocentric period, recapitulating many of {140|141} the rival versions stemming from the Aeolian and Ionian cities. The dominant phase, in all the attested Lives except Vita 1 and Vita 2, is the post-Athenocentric. Even in the post-Athenocentric Lives, however, as also in the Athenocentric Life of Vita 2, we find that the three Ionian cities of Smyrna, Chios, and Colophon—in that order—take pride of place in their claims on Homer.

II 64. An Aeolian dating of Homer

II§28 At the end of the narrative of Vita 1, the so-called “pseudo-Herodotean” Life of Homer, we find a relative chronology reaffirming the pre-Athenocentric idea that Homer was an Aeolian:

  • One hundred thirty years after the Capture of Troy as narrated by the Homer of this Life of Homer, Aeolian cities were founded on the island of Lesbos (Vita 1.540–543), which had previously existed without any city (1.543 apolis).
  • Twenty years after this settlement, Aeolian Cyme was founded (1.543–544).
  • Eighteen years after this founding, Aeolian Smyrna was founded by Cyme and, at this moment, Homer was born (1.545–547); thus Homer was born 168 years after the Capture of Troy (1.552–553).
  • Six hundred twenty-two years after the birth of Homer, Xerxes crossed the Hellespont from Asia Minor to Europe (1.547–550).

II 65. Homer the Aeolian

II§30 In the pre-Athenocentric narrative of Vita 1, not only Cyme but even Smyrna is still Aeolian. That is, Smyrna has not yet turned Ionian. Thus the birthplace of Homer is an Aeolian city, and Homer is an Aeolian by birth. In the Athenocentric narrative of Vita 2, by contrast, Homer is born in Smyrna when it is already Ionian, and so Homer is an Ionian by birth. To put it another way, we see here the Homer of a diminished Aeolian Dodecapolis who is becoming redefined as the Homer of an augmented Ionian Dodecapolis. At a later point, I will take a closer look at the concept of the Ionian Dodecapolis, a federation composed of twelve Ionian cities and complemented by additional Ionian cities like Smyrna. For now I focus on the rival federation of the Aeolian Dodecapolis and on the Aeolian island of Lesbos. Lesbos was politically organized as a federation of five cities, visualized by Strabo (13.2.1 C616) as a single unified state that claimed to be the metropolis or ‘mother city’ of the Aeolian cities on the Asiatic mainland. There is a comparable description in the “pseudo-Herodotean” Vita 1 of Homer: as we just saw, we read there that the cities on the island of Lesbos were the first Aeolian cities to be founded after the Capture of Troy. In that sense, Lesbos was the epicenter of the Aeolian Migration.

II§31 As we know from Thucydides, the federation of five cities on the island of Lesbos was dominated by one city in particular, Mytilene, as if all five cities had become united as a single unified city: the special political term for this union was sunoikisis (Thucydides 3.3.1). Accordingly, instead of specifying Mytilene or any of the other four cities that belonged to the federation of five cities in Lesbos (Mytilene, Methymna, Antissa, Eresos, Pyrrha), Thucydides generally refers to the whole island as if it were a single city-state, Lesbos, just as the island of Chios is conventionally equated with the city of Chios. In the work of Thucydides, we see the actual collocation of Khioi ‘Chiotes’ with Lesbioi ‘Lesbians’ (at 1.19 and 1.116.2, for example). A notable exception for Thucydides is the context at hand (3.1–3): here he focuses on a single Lesbian city, Methymna, which maintained its allegiance to Athens in the summer of 428 BCE when the rest of the sunoikisis of Lesbos revolted from the Athenian empire. The exception proves the rule: the island of Lesbos was dominated by the city of Mytilene, best known to classicists as the poetic setting of Alcaeus and Sappho.

II§32 Already in the earliest historical times that we can reconstruct for this part of the Greek-speaking world, in the late seventh century BCE, the control exercised by the city of Mytilene over the island of Lesbos and its mainland territories in Asia Minor was threatened by the city of Athens. The threat was intensified in the sixth century, in the era of the tyrants of Athens, the Peisistratidai. As we saw in Chapter {142|143} 1, a predemocratic Athenian empire was already evolving and expanding in the era of these tyrants, and a prime objective of their expansionism was the domination of the Ionian cities situated on the islands to the east and, farther east, on the coastline of Asia Minor. As we are now about to see, another prime objective was the domination of Aeolian cities farther to the north, which had been dominated up to that time by the Aeolian city of Mytilene. As we saw in Chapter 1, a vital aspect of Athenian imperial interests was the appropriation of Homer as a symbol of Ionian cultural identity. Now we are about to see another vital aspect, that is, the appropriation of Troy as a symbol of Aeolian cultural identity. As we will also see, the Athenians’ appropriation of an Aeolian Troy resulted in their appropriation of an Aeolian Homer as well.

II§36 At some point during the ongoing war between Mytilene and Athens over Sigeion, this city and its environs must have reverted to Mytilene before reverting once again—and this time finally—to Athens. Herodotus specifies that Sigeion had to be recaptured from the Mytilenaeans by the Athenians under the leadership of Peisistratos, who installed his son Hegesistratos as the tyrant there (5.94.1). Herodotus goes out of his way to emphasize that this reversion of Sigeion from Mytilene to Athens in the era of Peisistratos was indeed final.

II§38 It is in this context that we must view the retrospective statement made by Herodotus (5.95.2) about an earlier time when the city of Sigeion had been taken away from Mytilene and awarded to Athens as the result of an arbitration conducted by the tyrant Periander of Corinth. From the overall narrative of Herodotus (5.94–95), we can see what was really at stake in the arbitrated dispute between the two cities over the possession of Sigeion—a dispute that continued all the way to the time when Peisistratos finally succeeded in securing permanent Athenian control over the city. In the course of describing the rival claims and counterclaims in this continuing dispute between Mytilene and Athens, Herodotus makes it clear that these {144|145} two cities equated the possession of the territory of Sigeion with the possession of the epic of the Trojan War. At stake was the poetic space of the Trojan War, to which Herodotus refers as hē Ilias khōra—simultaneously the territory of the epic of Troy (that is, of the Iliad) as well as the territory of the city of Troy (that is, of Ilion):

IIⓣ3 Herodotus 5.94.2

οἱ μὲν ἀπαιτέοντες τὴν χώρην, Ἀθηναῖοι δὲ οὔτε συγγινωσκόμενοι ἀποδεικνύντες τε λόγῳ οὐδὲν μᾶλλον Αἰολεῦσι μετεὸν τῆς ᾿Ιλιάδος χώρης ἢ οὐ καὶ σφίσι καὶ τοῖσι ἄλλοισι, ὅσοι Ἑλλήνων συνεπρήξαντο Μενέλεῳ τὰς Ἑλένης ἁρπαγάς.

They [= the Mytilenaeans] were demanding the return of the territory [khōra], but the Athenians rejected the demand, trying to demonstrate by way of what they said that the Aeolians were no more entitled to the Iliadic territory [khōra] than were they [= the Athenians] and all the other Hellenes who had joined forces in avenging Menelaos for the abduction of Helen.

II§40 That the Aeolians equated Sigeion and its environs with ‘Iliadic territory’ is also evident from information dating back to the earlier Aeolian phase of Sigeion. As we read in Strabo (13.1.38 C599), the Mytilenaeans under the leadership of one Archeanax built the walls of the city of Sigeion from the stones of the ruined walls of the ancient city of Troy.


[ back ] 1. See Colbeaux 2005:226 on the research of Theagenes of Rhegium (DK B 2) concerning the patris ‘fatherland’ of Homer. West 2003a:309 notes in passing that Ios—not only Smyrna and Chios—figures as the home of Homer already in such sources as Simonides, Pindar, and Bacchylides.

[ back ] 2. How and Wells 1928 I 123–124.

[ back ] 3. West 2003a:310 translates Melēsigenēs as ‘caring about his clan’. I propose, however, that the component genos implies not ‘clan’ but ‘genealogy’ in the sense of finding out about origins.

[ back ] 4. PH 12§22 (= pp. 347–348).

[ back ] 5. The locating of Aeolian Cyme as a point of transition from Aeolian to Ionian phases of Homer in Vita 1 may be relevant to a story we find embedded in the Hesiodic Works and Days: according to this story, the father of Hesiod emigrated from the mainland of Hellas to the city of Cyme on the mainland of Asia Minor—only to emigrate back to the mainland of Hellas. I propose that this story is an aetiology accounting for the fact that the diction of Hesiodic poetry is Ionic, not Aeolic.

[ back ] 6. Herodotus 1.147.2 adds that the Ionian cities of Ephesus and Colophon are exceptional in not celebrating the festival of Apatouria.

[ back ] 7. Frame 2009 §4.7n19 dates the refounding of Smyrna somewhere between the late fourth and early third centuries BCE.

[ back ] 8. In this context, Vita 2 (14–15) refers to the Homēridai as surviving descendants of Homer in Chios. More later on the Homēridai as described in Vita 2.

[ back ] 9. The main claim of Colophon for possession of Homer is the Margites, which is supposedly Homer’s first composition (Vita 2.17).

[ back ] 10. The persona of Peisistratos, in an epigram (Vita 4.11–16 = Vita 5.29–34 = Greek Anthology 11.442), claims that the Athenians even founded Smyrna: εἴπερ ᾿Αθηναῖοι Σμύρναν ἐπῳκίσαμεν (Vita 4.16 = Vita 5.34). At a later point, I will argue that there are two phases involved in the Athenian imperial appropriation of Homer: an earlier phase, where Smyrna is the focus of Athenian claims, and a later phase, where Chios, as the home of the Homēridai, becomes the centerpiece of Homeric poetry.

[ back ] 11. I have already noted a case where the reporting of a Cymaean usage of homēroi as referring to blind people in Vita 1.164–165 is redefined in terms of a Cymaean and Ionic usage in Vita 3a.23. For another example of a recessive Cymaean tradition embedded within a predominantly Ionian context, see Vita 1.286–287. Also, the narrative of Vita 1 goes out of its way to emphasize the unimportance of Cyme in the shaping of Homer’s repertoire: at the end of his visit to Cyme, Homer curses the Cymaeans, praying that their city should never produce an accomplished poet (Vita 1.190–192).

[ back ] 12. As we have seen, the story of Homer’s conception in Ios was accepted by Aristotle (F 76 ed. Rose, via Vitae 3a.25–26, 3b.10, and 6.13–14). The same island of Ios, as we have also seen, is commonly figured as the place of Homer’s death.

[ back ] 13. Graziosi 2002:99.

[ back ] 14. Cook 1984:167.

[ back ] 15. Cook 1973:178–188; Rose 2006:141; Erskine 2001:107–108; Hall 1997:42–44.

[ back ] 16. Aloni 2006:87–92. See also Antonelli 2000.

[ back ] 17. Robertson 1996:70n55. Also Frame 2009 §3.74. See also Rose 2006:142–143 on the temple of Athena at Assos, which was similar in its Doric architecture to the temple of Athena at Sigeion.

[ back ] 18. On the special ties between Athens as mother city and Miletus as daughter city, I refer to the work of Frame 2009 ch. 10.

[ back ] 19. Dué 2006:98–99; on the role of the Athenian hero Menestheus in the Iliad, see Dué pp. 92–95.

[ back ] 20. For a historical and archaeological overview of the New Ilion, see Rose 2006.