“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

“Impetuous! Homeric!”

So this ‘polish’ of the latest tome, CRIME ALWAYS PAYS, has turned into something a little more comprehensive, as these things are wont to do, which means that normal service here is still experiencing a hiatus. Apologies, yet again.
  If you’ll allow me to go off at a tangent, though, I came across a fascinating little snippet whilst doing some on-line research. The second half of the book is set on Ios, as I’ve mentioned before, which is one of the places claimed as the final resting place of Homer (right) – one of the scenes in the book (how could I resist?) is set at Homer’s Tomb. I’d always thought, or was taught, that The Iliad and The Odyssey were composed circa 850-750 BCE, but I found this terrific history of Ios, courtesy of Mapmistress, which has this to say about Homer and his origins:
I would like to contest Homer’s age. For some reason, most place Homer’s age c. 850 B.C.E. which is far too young. Homer was translated into Greek from the earliest version of the Phoenician alphabet. That version of the Phoenician alphabet dates to c. 1000 B.C.E. But there is strong evidence that Homer was in another alphabet and that the Phoenicians translated that one into their language. Most of Homer’s terms for names of places comes from what is known as Linear B from Crete, which dates to around 1500 B.C.E. But the possibility exists that Homer may have been written in Linear A from Crete, and that the Phoenicians translated Homer from Linear A rather than Linear B. Linear A from Crete has never been fully deciphered. It originates c. 1700 B.C.E. around the time of Mycenaean invasions. Linear A (although never fully deciphered) is said to be closer to the Hittite language. And since the Hittite language is closer to the Phoenician language, it may very well be that the Phoenicians took Homer from Linear A and translated it into the first Phoenician alphabet. (1050 B.C.E.)
  Either way, Homer still had to be in Linear B or older, since all the terms for names of places which Homer uses exist in Crete’s Linear B dating to 1500 B.C.E. But if my theory is right and Phoenicians translated Homer from Linear A (closer to Hittite language), then Homer could have been written between 1700-1500 B.C.E. which would actually make sense. Homer’s heroes are Mycenaeans invading other islands and coasts which began c. 1700 B.C.E. archeologically speaking anyway.
  Any Homeric scholars out there with any thoughts on this?


Gavin said...

Not a Homeric scholar, but I've read a lot about it, and that doesn't sound right to me. For one thing, the Iliad as we have it is from the iron age (in Greece, that puts you at 1000 BCE, give-or-take).

Not only that, but the reference to iron arrowheads is a sign that iron was seen as something you could throw away, which means iron isn't something super-rare, which puts you even later.

For another thing, these works are oral poetry, not written down. So it doesn't really make sense to say they were written in Hittite then translated. My understanding is that they may have been originally written in the Phoenecian alphabet, but in Greek, which doesn't make a lot of sense if Phoenecians were the ones doing the translating. (The same way we use the Roman alphabet, but are not writing Latin).

Declan Burke said...

Good points, Gavin. It also strikes me that if the Iliad and the Odyssey had been 'written' as early as 1700 BCE, then we'd probably have access to similar work from that period. It's unlikely such epic works would appear in isolation.

I do love this kind of theorising, though ...

Cheers, Dec

Richard L. Pangburn said...

It is too bad that, by some magic, we can't obtain an annotated copy of Homer which could point out how the original story had been modified by different speakers (or perhaps different Homers) with different political and social agendas.

Was Helen kidnapped or did she leave willingly? Was she the seduced or the wily seductress? Such questions were bantered about by the Greeks even way back then.

I don't see a means to resolving such questions--until someone invents a wayback machine.

Declan Burke said...

Heh. 'A wayback machine'. I like it ... Somebody should make that so, stat.