9. The Poems Ascribed to Homer Were Composed Hundreds of Years Before His Birth
Homer’s poems were first composed during a centuries-long period of societal and cultural collapse known as the “Greek Dark Ages” in which literacy vanished. They were transmitted orally for generations, until writing was rediscovered. Composed to be memorized and sung, the poems utilize a formulaic style and structure that relies heavily on stock phrases and repeated verses that lend themselves to memorization.
Memorization was further eased by reliance on a number of fixed phrases to express ideas in similar parts of verse. E.g.; referring to Odysseus with the single word “divine”, two worded “many counseled”, or three worded “much-enduring divine”. The choice depended on where “Odysseus” was inserted in a verse, and how much space was left in that verse that needed filling to make it come out in the desired hexameter. In essence, once a bard learned the limited number of stock phrases, he need not memorize the entire poem, such as the 16,000 verses of the Iliad, but only the key words. Once a particular word is mentioned, the singer need simply select from the limited number of appropriate stock phrases, depending on where in a verse the key word is mentioned.