Life of Homer (Pseudo-Herodotus)

The "Life of Homer" — its unknown author is referred to as Pseudo-Herodotus — is one among several ancient biographies of the Greek epic poet, Homer. It is distinguished from the others by the fact that it contains, in its first lines, the claim to have been compiled by the early historian Herodotus: [Translation by Mary R. Lefkowitz.]

Herodotus of Halicarnassus wrote the following history of Homer's background, upbringing and life, and sought to make his account complete and absolutely reliable.

Even though written in the Ionic dialect, it is not generally, and has not been since a time before the publication of books, considered to be the work of Herodotusfact|date=September 2008 and therefore according to current scholarly conventions the author merits the name "Pseudo-Herodotus." Although used in this context as a proper name, it is also used as a common name, "the pseudo-Herodotus," whenever a writer questions the authorship of any or any part of the writings of Herodotus.

The text concludes [Section 38.] with a calculation showing that Homer was born 168 years after the Trojan War and 622 years before Xerxes I of Persia (a major figure in the real Herodotus's "Histories") invaded Greece. That invasion took place in 480 BC; by this calculation, therefore, Homer was born in 1102 BC. This contradicts the estimate given by the real Herodotus, that Homer lived "not more than 400 years before our own time", thus around 850 BC.

Epistemological interpretations

The conclusion that this Herodotus is really Pseudo-Herodotus places the narrator in an ethically and epistemologically reprehensible position. He has been caught not in an error but a lie, and if he lied about the authorship, how can any credibility be extended to the content of the narrative?

The most skeptical interpretation is that the text is patently false. It was, in this view, written long after Herodotus' time, perhaps in the third or fourth centuries AD, when there was apparently an audience for literary pastiches, such as the "Letters" of Alciphron, and fraudulent attributions, as in the "Historia Augusta" Harv|Lefkowitz|1981|p=20. Thus the "Life of Homer" would be best treated as historical fiction.

However, there appears to be a certain overlap of Pseudo-Herodotus on other works, including "the Odyssey"; for example, the "Life" mentions Phemius, a school-master, Mentes, a ship-captain, Mentor, a man of Ithaca, and Tychius, a leather-maker Harv|Geddes|1878|p=318. "The Odyssey" features Phemius, the bard, Mentes, a mariner, Mentor of Ithaca, and Tychius, a leather-worker. Moreover, some of the epigrams are in other "Lives." Strongest of all is the character of the wandering blind bard, Demodocus, in "the Odyssey", who fits the characterization of Homer in the "Life."

The appearance of these elements can be explained by back-formation; that is, the liar manufactured stories to explain elements already known. This argument defeats its own intent, as it proves that the "Life" is repeating elements and is not manufacturing the whole thing de novo. The main line of scholarly thought therefore has accepted and used elements from the "Life", knowing that they may be lies, since at least the time of Guillaume Bude, who "accepted Peudo-Herodotus' method and results" Harv|Grafton|1997|p=165.

The main problem with the "Life" is identifying elements to which limited credibility might be extended, how limited, and why. For example, one reason for some credibility is that all the "Lives" were "compiled from the Alexandrian period onward but sometimes incorporating stories from the classical age" Harv|Kirk|1965|p=190.


Ingeniously linking the famous poet with various places that figure prominently in his works and in well-known legends about him, the "Life" depicts Homer as the illegitimate son of Cretheis of Argos and his ward, who was the daughter of Melanopus of Cyme in Aeolis (Asia Minor). Homer, whose name at birth was Melesigenes, was born at neighbouring Smyrna. He went with his schoolteacher on a voyage to Ithaca, where he stayed with a certain Mentor; later he would include Mentor as a character in the "Odyssey" as acknowledgment to his host. Already a sufferer from eye disease, Homer became blind during the return journey from Ithaca, at Colophon. He then took up poetry in order to make a living.

Having failed in a bid for municipal sponsorship at Cyme, he moved to Phocaea, where another schoolteacher, Thestorides, offered him food and lodging in exchange for the right to record his poetry in writing. Homer had little choice but to accept, and recited to Thestorides the "Iliad" and the "Odyssey".

Thestorides afterwards moved to Chios, where he performed Homer's poems as if they were his own and became famous. Homer heard rumours of this and eventually travelled to Chios also, where he found work as a tutor. Thestorides retreated hastily, and it was in Chios that Homer composed those of his supposed works that were meant for children, including the "Batrachomyomachia" or "Battle of the Frogs and Mice". At the end of his life Homer travelled to Samos; he died at Ios in the course of a voyage to Athens.

Notable features

The Pseudo-Herodotean "Life of Homer" is unique among ancient versions of the poet's life in claiming that writing was known in Homer's circle and that the poems were written down from his recital Harv|Dalby|2006|p=29.



*Harvard reference | given=Theodore Alois | Surname=Buckley | authorlink=Theodore Alois Buckley | Title=The Odyssey of Homer: with the Hymns, Epigrams, and Battle of the Frogs and Mice: Literally Translated, with Explanatory Notes | Publisher=George Bell and Sons | Place=London | Year=1891 Downloadable Google Books.
*Harvard reference | Surname=Dalby | Given=Andrew | Authorlink=Andrew Dalby | Title=Rediscovering Homer | Publisher=Norton | Place=New York, London | Year=2006 | ISBN=0393057887
*Harvard reference | Surname=Geddes | Given=William | authorlink=William Duguid Geddes | Title=The Problem of the Homeric Poems | Publisher=Macmillan and Co. | Place=London | Year=1878
*Harvard reference | Surname=Grafton | Given=Anthony | authorlink=Anthony Grafton | Title=Commerce with the Classics: Ancient Books and Renaissance Readers | Publisher=The University of Michigan Press | Place=Ann Arbor | Year=1997 | ISBN=0472106260
*Harvard reference | Surname=G.S. | Given=Kirk | title=Homer and the Epic: A Shortened Version of The Songs of Homer | Publisher=Cambridge University Press | Place=Cambridge | Year=1965
*Harvard reference | Surname=Lefkowitz | Given=Mary R. | Authorlink=Mary Lefkowitz|Title=The lives of the Greek poets | Publisher=Duckworth | Place=London | Year=1981 | ISBN=0715615904

ee also

* Homer

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