“The Poet of the Iliad” by H.T. Wade-Gery

An eye-opening book; why did no one put this my way when I was studying Homer properly (or perhaps they did)? Probably because there was a reaction against detailed historical reconstruction, seen as sterile and unliterary. Yet Wade-Gery’s lectures are a really exciting combination of meticulous research (genealogies, Dark-Age Greek migrations to Asia Minor, textual enquiries), literary understanding (he’s very good on Achilles, and the gods – see below), and a style which is a combination of almost-fun combativeness and gentle exposition (it is a collection of lectures, after all).
Notes ad loc.:

Hesiod made poetry personal.
Evidence of three Ionian festivals (πανεγυρεις) in the Iliad and Odyssey: and they’d provide an audience.
The break in our thinking about myth and history rests on the invention of the alphabet.
The Greeks liked the alphabetical system because it showed how many syllables were in a word so it was a mode of representing verse.
Three-day performance, similar in size to Wagner’s Ring or all plays in the Great Dionysia. The Iliad’s existence presupposes such a panegyris.
1: start to end of IX; 6,000 lines
2: interlude (X); to XVIII; 6,000
3: interlude (Shield); to end; 4,000

Goethe: “mythologie: luxe de croyance”

Herodotus says Homer <;400 years previous. He must have worked this out from real pedigrees, so is therefore to be believed.

Earliest quotation from the Iliad is 600BC.

The Homeridae began as Homer’s actual descendants, performing his work, but were ousted by professional rhapsodes, growing literacy, and new genres like comedy and tragedy.

Lecture III:
Really interesting Shakespearian parallels: the gods are like the fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream; and Patroclus’ death loads the air with tragedy in the same way as that of Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet – till then there had only been intrigue.

Appendix on the Catalogue of Ships: convincing argument that Homer lifted it from somewhere else (possibly a poem describing the muster at Aulis), but then integrated it fully into his poem. Clues are the added explanations of why Protesilaus and Philoctetes weren’t there, although included in the lists.

In short, I feel much more able to think about the historical context, the historical reality, of Homer’s poems, and (dare I say) feel closer to Homer the poet.

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