When was the Iliad Written?

Instructor: Ronald Speener

Ronald, with my Masters in English, has taught composition, literature, humanities, critical thinking and computer classes.

The great Greek epic poem the Iliad is traditionally ascribed to the writer Homer, who is believed to have lived sometime in the 8th or 9th century BCE. In this lesson, we will explore the evidence for when the Iliad was written by exploring what the Ancient Greeks believed, what archaeological evidence shows, and, finally, what textual analysis reveals.

When was the Iliad Written?

The Background to the Iliad

Trying to discover when the Iliad was written is like exploring a dark closet. You never know what you will find it in the closet; the one light does not shine in all the corners. You pull things out one-by-one. Some of the objects are tattered and faded, almost unrecognizable. Emptying the closet becomes a game and an exploration because you never know what you will find, or won't find.

The date the Iliad was written is important because the Iliad is considered the first great work of Greek literature. Its influence on western culture is immense. The story is set in the last year of the ten-year Trojan War. It follows about 51 days in the life of Achilles. Achilles is like a star high school defensive back who refuses to play because of a girl. He is in a snit. This changes when his best friend, Patroclus, is killed. Achilles avenges his death by killing the Trojan's star fighter, Hector. Achilles refuses to return the body to the Trojans until Hector's father personally begs for the return. Achilles returns the body; end of the story.

So why is there so much fuss over a rather simple story? Because the story is rich in details, fight scenes, personal drama, and imagination. Tradition has always ascribed this poem and the companion poem, the Odyssey, to Homer. Although the reason for this is lost in a past that lies in myth. It is a major foundation for much of western culture and literature, so the question has long been, Who wrote the Iliad and when?

Bust of Homer-Roman copy

What Did the Ancient Greeks Believe?

The ancient Greeks are of little help in the quest to discover who wrote the Iliadand when it was written. Tradition has the author of the Iliad as being the blind poet Homer; besides this, the Greeks knew little for certain. The ancient Greeks had no firm date for when Homer lived. They guessed that he lived between 1100 and 800 BCE. They had several stories about where he was born and lived, but there was little consistency in their beliefs. However, they all agreed that he is the first and greatest Greek poet, and that his works are the foundation of their Greek identity. They also agreed that Homer recited the poem from memory. Peisistratus in the 6th century BCE first edited the poem from several different version for one official version. This version was recited annually at a festival. The earliest manuscript fragment is from the 2nd century BCE and all our copies come from an edited version compiled in Alexandria around 200 BCE.

Greek Krater (Wine bowl) from c 650

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