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What reader could fail to be enthralled by the Iliad and the Odyssey, those greatest heroic epics of antiquity? Yet the author of these immortal texts remains, in the end, an enigma. The central paradox of 'Homer' is that – while recognized as producing poetry of incomparable genius – even in the ancient world nobody knew who he was. As a result, the mythmaker became the subject of myth. For the satirist Lucian (c 125 – c 180 CE) he was a captive Babylonian. Other traditions have Homer born on Smyrna or the island of Chios, or portray him as a blind and wandering minstrel. In his new and authoritative introduction, Jonathan Burgess addresses fundamental questions of provenance and authorship. Besides conveying why these epics have been cherished down the ages, he discusses their historical sources and the possible impact on the Iliad and Odyssey of Indo-European, Near Eastern and folktale influences. Tracing their transmission through the ancient, medieval and modern periods, the author further examines questions of later reception and the use made of Homer in colonialism and imperialism.
Jonathan S Burgess is Professor of Classics at the University of Toronto, Canada. He is the author of The Tradition of the Trojan War in Homer (2001, paperback 2004) and the Epic Cycle and The Death and Afterlife of Achilles (2009).