Ancient Greek Literature
Who was Homer? The truth is, we don't know. We believe the Iliad and the Odyssey were written down by a Greek (or Greeks) living in Ionia, on the coast of western Turkey.
The poems were probably written sometime during late 8th / early 7th century BC. The dating evidence is both linguistic and by references to cultural and social developments which appear to presuppose the poems in the form we have them.
The dialect in which the poems are composed provides more precise evidence. The poems are written in an artificial mixture of dialects. Ionic (Greek dialect of central Asia Minor coastal region) predominates with a strong mixture of Aeolic (dialect of the northern part of Asia Minor coast and the Troad area).
Some scholars believe the poet(s) originated from the city of Smyrna where both dialects were spoken but no archaeological evidence has survived. Smyrna was a post-Mycenaean city in the 8th century BC. Its cemetery has yielded Minyan pottery and pottery similar to that found in Troy which confirms that Smyrna was trading with Troy to the north and Hittites to the east.
Some similes in the Iliad have geographical references e.g., the river Kaystros and region of Ikaria are in Ionia on the Asia Minor coast, an area of Greek settlement from 1000BC and earlier Mycenaean settlement. Similes as comparisons work best if they refer to places and situations familiar to the poems’ audience ... maybe Homer’s earliest audiences lived in this geographical area.
The Odyssey existed as an orally-recited poem for possibly hundreds of years before it was preserved in writing. We can identify techniques of oral composition in the poems such as ring composition, repetition of blocks of text, for example, the sequence for welcoming a guest (Odyssey), arming scenes (Iliad), and epithets (e.g., thoughtful Telemachos, gray-eyed Athene, rosy-fingered Dawn).
An American scholar named Milman Parry studied Serbo Croat bards in the early 1930s. He travelled to the then Yugoslavia with recording equipment to study the living oral tradition of illiterate and semi-literate bards who told poetic folk tales about the mythical and semi-historical events of the Serbian past. Parry was killed by an accidental gunshot at the age of 33 but his student Albert Lord carried on with their work. The Parry-Lord hypothesis states that oral poetry has certain distinctive features, all of which can be seen in the Homeric poems, e.g., formulae, which enable the oral poet to compose at the speed of speech. The oral poet is unable to pause to consider their choice of words and they need to be able to maintain fluency. We need to remember that the Odyssey is not an ‘oral poem’ rather a written text based on an oral tradition.