Homer was the most famous poet in the ancient world, even more renowned than he is today, so naturally everyone wanted to claim him as their own. A ton of different city-states in Greece and Turkey said he hailed from their towns, but where did Homer actually call "home"?
Even ancient poets debate which hometown was Homer's. Writes one anonymous source, "Seven cities claim to be the root of Homer: Cyme, Smyrna, Chios, Colophon, Pylos, Argos, Athens." Another has a similar list, but says, "Seven cities strive for the learned root of Homer: Smyrna, Chios, Colophon, Ithaca, Pylos, Argos, Athens." In a fake dialogue with Homer, an unnamed poet can't get him to name where he's from. In response, Homer quips, "I know for sure that if I tell the truth, I shall make the other cities my enemies."
What's so interesting about this debate is that the cities are the ones vying for the honor of claiming Homer as their own, rather than the other way around. That's a true testament to his reputation in ancient Greece a few centuries after he lived. Depending on the account, Homer hails from different parts of the Hellenic world. Some say he was an Aeolian, others that he was an Ionian. These ancient political divisions (in two different confederations) defined themselves geographically, linguistically, and culturally, but some cities that were once Aeolian eventually became Ionian, and vice-versa.
The Aeolians, Ionians, and other groups of Greeks, distinguished linguistically in the classical period, a few centuries after Homer would have lived. Image via Wikimedia Commons.
Classicist Gregory Nagy makes the distinction beautifully:
"From a purely linguistic point of view, an ‘Aeolian’ was whoever spoke a dialect known as Aeolic, which along with Ionic and Doric was a major dialectal grouping of the Greek language. From an anthropological point of view, however, there is more to it: as we see from such sources as Herodotus in the fifth century BCE, an Aioleús ‘Aeolian’ was whoever belonged to a social and cultural grouping of Greeks who distinguished themselves in their rituals and myths from other social and cultural groupings. Thus the Aioleîs ‘Aeolians’ were socially and culturally distinct from, say, the Iōnes ‘Ionians.'"
The ancients argued relentlessly among themselves about Homer's own allegiance in his time based on rituals he cites in his poems and words he uses, again, all trying to make him their own. The Ionians competed with the Aeolians for Homer as their homeboy, but so did an entire family! There was a clan on the island of Chios called the Homeridae, a group of poets who claimed descent from our favorite blind singer. Or the Homeridae may have been a guild of epic poets and reciters, naming themselves after the most famous epic poet of all, existing from around the sixth century BCE on. Or they were associated with being taken hostage, since that's the meaning of homeros.
Feature image via Wikimedia Commons.