In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Homer

  • Introduction
  • Biography
  • Bibliographies
  • Collections of Essays
  • Texts
  • Companions to the Poems in Translation
  • Scholia (Ancient Scholarship)
  • The Homeric Question
  • Oral Poetry
  • Heroic Warfare and Outlook
  • Gods and Religion
  • Relation to History
  • Reception

Classics Homer
R.B. Rutherford
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 February 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 February 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0026


“Homer” is the name given to the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, the greatest and probably earliest surviving Greek epic poems. Nothing whatsoever is known about his life and career: even his date is uncertain. Currently the general consensus is that he composed at some time in the period 750–650 BCE. Even in ancient times wide disagreement existed as to his place and date. The question whether the Iliad and the Odyssey were by the same poet was also already aired in Antiquity; in general, modern scholars have answered in the negative. Many other poems were sometimes ascribed to Homer in ancient literature, but these are now considered later and inferior; many of them do not survive. The question of authorship cannot be separated from the debate as to the nature of the poems’ composition and the processes of transmission, and much of the evidence derives from detailed study of the language, especially the so-called formulae (repeated phrases and lines that are usually taken as indications of oral composition). Several features of the poems are noteworthy in stylistic terms, especially the speeches and the similes.


Homer’s biography cannot be written, for no facts exist. This did not prevent ancient writers trying to construct a suitable semi-mythical biography, and various versions survive, some of them bringing him into contact and competition with his near contemporary, the poet Hesiod. The surviving lives (mostly quite short) are collected in West 2003. Lefkowitz 2012 attempts to analyze the material and demonstrate the assumptions underlying these and other ancient biographies of poets. Graziosi 2002 is a more recent scholarly monograph on the Homeric lives in particular.

  • Graziosi, Barbara. 2002. Inventing Homer: The early reception of epic. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    A recent monograph on the biographical traditions.

  • Lefkowitz, Mary R. 2012. The lives of the Greek poets. 2d ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press.

    See pp. 14–29 for Homer. First published in 1981.

  • West, Martin L., ed. and trans. 2003. Homeric hymns, Homeric apocrypha, Lives of Homer. Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

    Text, translation, and introductions to each text.

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