The Homeric Poems after Ionia: A Case in Point
The general topic of this paper is the reception of the Homeric poems in mainland Greece after their substantial formation in Ionia in the late eighth and early seventh centuries B.C. The case in point is Sparta in the late seventh and early sixth centuries B.C. in the aftermath of the Second Messenian war. I argue that Sparta, after expelling a surviving Pylian population from the Peloponnesos in the Second Messenian war, began to promote the idea that the Homeric city of Pylos had not been in Messenia in the first place, but further north. The crucial evidence to be confronted in promoting this radical idea was precisely the Homeric poems, in which Nestor’s Pylos figures prominently. By following the details of the ensuing controversy, which affected the Homeric text in certain points, and which involved the Homeric Hymn to Apollo in a fundamental way, it is possible to assess more fully what the Homeric poems had become in the minds of mainland Greeks a century after the poems’ substantial formation in Ionia.
The argument, which involves close analysis of both texts and geography, is also meant to demonstrate that there was a “fixed text” of the Iliad and the Odyssey by the time the Pythian half of the Hymn to Apollo was composed in the late seventh century B.C. By “fixed text” I do not mean what was understood by this term in the nineteenth century, namely a written text. I operate under the assumption (which I defend elsewhere) that the Iliad and the Odyssey were first expanded on a monumental scale by a completely oral process, and that they were then maintained in a more or less fixed form by a further oral process, at least at first. Schools of rhapsodes, in particular the Homeridai of Chios, were in my view responsible for preserving the Homeric poems in a fixed oral form. At some point written texts also became a factor in the transmission of the poems; this stage can be demonstrated, I think, for late-sixth-century Athens. The period considered in this paper is a century before that, when written texts are possible, but by no means necessary. At the end of the second Messenian war, when the Hymn to Pythian Apollo was composed, I think that we confront something of a paradox: on the one hand poetry continued to be oral and creative; on the other hand the Iliad and the Odyssey had already achieved something like a fixed form and a fixed place in the Greek world.