Epic Genes: Dating The Iliad

Bible and archaeology news

This 3-inch-high bronze statue from Crete, dating to the early seventh century B.C.E., depicts a young boy and a blind musician. According to ancient tradition, Homer was a blind poet. J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

The Iliad, an epic poem describing the heroes and events of Trojan war, is one of the oldest extant pieces of Western literature. But just how old is it?

A new study uses linguistic genetic relationships to compare the vocabulary used in The Iliad with Modern Greek and an earlier (and distantly related) Hittite lexicon. The study dates the text to around 762 B.C.E.—supporting the traditional, but often debated, eighth century B.C.E. date. The epic refers to events at the end of the Late Bronze Age, several centuries before the poem was composed, and it was considered an early literary achievement by classical Greeks centuries after its composition. The Iliad likely began as a diverse group of poems passed down by oral poets over a long period before reaching its present form. Traditionally attributed to the enigmatic bard Homer, the new study decontextualizes the epic—as we know it today—from its murky origins by relying entirely on statistical analysis.

Read more.

The Historic Homer in the BAS Library

Thomas, Carol G. “Homer & Troy: Searching for the Historical Homer.” Archaeology Odyssey, Winter 1998, 26-33, 70.

Griffin, Jasper. “Homer & Troy: Reading Homer After 2,800 Years.” Archaeology Odyssey, Winter 1998, 34-37, 39.

Is Homer Historical? An Archaeology Odyssey Interview.” Archaeology Odyssey, May/Jun 2004, 26-35, 62-63.

Leith, Mary Joan Winn. “Biblical Views: Yahweh as Achilles.” Biblical Archaeology Review, Jan/Feb 2008, 24, 81.

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