In his book Homeric Questions, Gregory Nagy explains his choice of title as follows:
The title of this work is marked by the word Questions, in the plural. It takes the place of the expected singular, along with a definite article, associated with that familiar phrase, “the Homeric Question.” Today there is no agreement about what the Homeric Question might be. Perhaps the most succinct of many possible formulations is this one: “The Homeric Question is primarily concerned with the composition, authorship, and date of the Iliad and the Odyssey.” Not that any one way of formulating the question in the past was ever really sufficient. Who was Homer? When and where did Homer live? Was there a Homer? Is there one author of the Iliad and Odyssey, or are there different authors for each? Is there a succession of authors or even of redactors for each? Is there for that matter a unitary Iliad, a unitary Odyssey?
I choose Homeric Questions as the title of this book both because I am convinced that the reality of the Homeric poems, the Iliad and Odyssey, cannot possibly be comprehended through any one Question and also because a plurality of questions can better recover the spirit of the Greek word zḗtēma, meaning the kind of intellectual ‘question’ that engages opposing viewpoints. In Plato’s usage, zḗtēma refers to a question or inquiry of a philosophical nature. This is the word used in the title of Porphyry’s Homeric Questions, a work that continues in a tradition that can be traced as far back as Aristotle. As Rudolf Pfeiffer writes, “probably over a long period of time Aristotle had drawn up for his lectures a list of ‘difficulties’ [aporḗmata or problḗmata] of interpretation in Homer with their respective ‘solutions’ [lúseis]; this custom of zētḗmata probállein may have prospered at the symposia of intellectual circles.”
Some of our community members recently sat down with Leonard Muellner to explore questions surrounding the Iliad, Odyssey and Homeric traditions.
Additional readings on Homeric Questions
Lord, A. B. 1960. The Singer of Tales. Second edition 2000, edited and with introduction by S. Mitchell and G. Nagy [vii–xxix]. Harvard Studies in Comparative Literature 24. Cambridge, MA.
Nagy, G. 1996. Homeric Questions. Austin. Available online at the Center for Hellenic Studies:
Nagy, G. “Pindar’s Homer is not “our” Homer.” Classical Inquiries. 2015.12.24
Parry, M. 1928. L’Épithète Traditionnelle dans Homère : Essai sur un problème de style Homérique. Paris. [Published both for Société d’éditions “Les belles lettres” (Paris) and as a minor thesis (Doctorat es lettres) for the Université de Paris.] Available online at the Center for Hellenic Studies: