What do we know about Homer?

A question from Yahoo! Answers:

When I was growing up, it was believed that Homer (the author of The Odyssey) was a blind black man. Was he?

There is no evidence whatsoever that Homer actually existed. For starters, his birthplace is disputed, which is an unusual situation for a historical person in ancient Greece. Usually, the birthplace is either known (and undisputed) or unknown (but, again, undisputedly so). With Homer, neither applies. Several Greek cities bitterly argued over which one of them was Homer’s birthplace. Compare this with his supposed contemporary Hesiod, whose birthplace is commonly believed to be a village near Thespiae in Boeotia.

Another hint at Homer’s being a legend is the fact that he was worshiped as a demi-god in several cities, some of which claimed to be his birthplace. This makes Homer look more like Hercules than Hesiod.

The notion that Homer was blind may actually be a reflection of the fact that in Aeolian dialect of ancient Greek, “homēros” actually means “blind”.

As to Homer being black, this is highly unlikely. There is no evidence that black people lived in Greece at the time. Even if they did, they would most likely be either slaves or foreigners, and neither would be revered by Greeks as a poet regardless of the quality of poetry.

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