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Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(circa 800 BCE-circa 700 BCE) The most famous of early Greek poets, whether or not one or more individuals, or a guild of homers who recited poetry, and whose birth and death dates remain speculative; his or their birth and death may have occurred between the dates given above. Samuel Butler, in The Authoress of the Odyssey (1897), argued for female authorship of the Odyssey, and Robert Graves, in his novel Homer's Daughter (1955), argued that a woman wrote both epics. Homer is generally supposed to be the author of the Iliad, the tragedy of Achilleus (or Achilles), and (rather later) the Odyssey, the comedy of Odysseus's return; these were probably not written down until the sixth century BCE, and come to us from much later manuscripts, the earliest of which dates from the tenth century CE. Julian Jaynes, in The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (1976), argues the case for at least two Homers, the author(s) of the Iliad, the last and greatest presentation of pre-conscious bicameral man, and the much later author(s) of the Odyssey, with its portrait of Odysseus as the first self-conscious human being to be recognized and described in a work of art.

The most evocative element in the Iliad, as far as the focus of this encyclopedia is concerned, may be the god-smith Hephaestus's forging of "automatoi", tripodal constructs that wheel themselves to various locations (Book 18) (see Robots). The Odyssey is not, of course, sf, but stands paradigmatically at the head of the Proto SF genre of the Fantastic Voyage. Though Odysseus's Great Wanderings traverse a great Archipelago clearly not wholly mappable for later readers, it would be inaccurate to suggest that in Homer's day the Mediterranean was a tabula rasa, any more than the Solar System is today; the Islands and coastlines visited by Odysseus range from the known (and recognizably named) to the imaginary (and perhaps first named here). The Odyssey has all the same understandably served as a kind of first-millennium-BC template for Planetary Romance, perhaps mainly through the compact vividness of Odysseus's own embedded first-person recounting of his adventures to the Phaiakians his hosts, during the course of which most of the clearly legendary or manufactured locations he visits are iconically particularized. But the exploits and ordeals depicted in the Odyssey itself are retrospectively framed within the story of the Hero's or Antihero's ultimately triumphal return (see Mysterious Stranger); the Odyssey does not end in a vision of horizons to explore, but in closure. Most of the uses of the epic instanced in this encyclopedia, however, use the term "odyssey" to describe an epic passage onwards.

Both the Iliad and the Odyssey are retold in Brian Stableford's Dies Irae trilogy beginning with The Days of Glory (1971), and underpin Dan Simmons's Ilium books, Ilium (2003) and Olympos (2005); Terence Hawkins's The Rage of Achilles (2009) takes solely from the Iliad. Andrew Lang's Helen of Troy (1882) carries an ageing Odysseus to Egypt, a voyage replicated at least in part in The World's Desire (1890) with H Rider Haggard; in Odysseia (1938; trans Kimon Friar as The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel 1958) by Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957), the aged hero quests relentlessly across the world for metaphysical solace, dying at last in what reads (very abstractly) like a Lost World in an Antarctica described in terms evocative of Edgar Allan Poe's Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (1838). Episodes from the Odyssey are explicitly homaged in several sf novels, including Negative Minus (1963) by R L Fanthorpe (execrably), Space Chantey (1968 dos) by R A Lafferty (notably and with rumbustious humour), and Cross the Stars (1984) by David A Drake. [JC/PN]

see also: Music; Mythology.


born circa 800 BCE

died circa 700 BCE


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