August 31, 2006

Homer In Drag?

Via John J. Miller at the Corner this morning comes this article in which a Brit historian makes the claim that The Iliad and The Odyssey were probably written by a woman:

Aside from the poems themselves, no concrete clues exist to identify their author, but Dalby builds a case that the person probably was a woman.

"In many oral traditions, the best and most reliable creators, the ones who are used by folklore collectors, happen to be women," he said.

Dalby explained that women throughout the ancient world were "often the last and most skillful exponents of an oral tradition."

For example, the world’s first named poet was a Sumerian woman named Enheduanna, who lived from around 2285-2250 B.C. Dalby said women also saved the ancient oral poetry of the northern Japanese, many Irish traditions, and numerous English folk ballads.

I've often heard the argument that The Iliad and The Odyssey probably were not composed by the same person. I've also heard before the argument that The Odyssey may very well have been written* by a woman, especially given its emphasis on domestic detail. Indeed, Robert Graves makes this the central tenant of a very entertaining novel called Homer's Daughter, which I highly recommend. (I believe Stephen makes a reference to this theory in one of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin novels as well.) Is it true? I dunno.

But The Iliad? Not a chance. At the risk of setting off political correctness alarums, that epic has more testosterone per word than any other that I can think of off the top of my head. Between the violence, bloodshed, male bonding and the rest of it, I simply cannot conceive that the original poet did not have a full set of what Jayne would call "man parts".

*Yes, yes. I know it's silly to talk about these epics being "written", given that they came out of oral tradition and were not actually written down until quite some time after they had been in circulation.

Posted by Robert at August 31, 2006 08:41 AM | TrackBack

Considering these were odes probably recited at court, one would imagine that the author would include details that would appeal to both genders -- kind of like a date movie.

It's the kind of speculation, though, that folks can safely engage in, knowing that we'll never find out the answer.

Posted by: The Colossus at August 31, 2006 09:14 AM

Not only where these epics written by a woman, she had to be a lesbian.

Posted by: LMC at August 31, 2006 09:14 AM

Well, Samuel Butler also argued that the Odyssey was written by a young Sicilian woman. But the notion that the strong female characters in the Odyssey says anything about the gender of the author is a little sketchy. By that logic, Shakespeare was probably a woman and Jane Austen was a man.

Dalby's logic is even worse. If I can trust that article, he's saying: 1) Many fine poets have been women; 2) Homer was a fine poet; 3)therefore, Homer was probably a woman. If there's anything more to his case, that article doesn't reveal it. This is why I hate reading articles in the MSM about any topic that's even slightly scholarly. The scary thing is that their coverage of politics and current events is probably every bit as good.

Posted by: utron at August 31, 2006 09:37 AM

I'll have to reread them from the viewpoint of an oppressed womyn speaking truth to power against a racist sexist patriarchial system. How I could have missed that the first time, I don't know. (must be my white male blindness).

Posted by: rbj at August 31, 2006 12:46 PM