How Homer Made His Living

Most people who think of the “Contest of Homer and Hesiod” remember the fact that Homer and Hesiod competed and that there was a mixed verdict (with Hesiod taking the prize).  The account, however, also details legendary travels of Homer. Wherever he goes, he composes poems, almost pathologically.

Here is an excerpt:

“When the sons of king Midas, Xanthos and Gorgos, heard Homer’s poetry they commissioned him to compose an epigram for their father’s tomb which was marked by a bronze maiden mourning Midas’ death. Homer made this:

“I am a bronze girl, and I sit on the grave of Midas.
As long as water flows and trees grow long,
While the rivers fill and the sea resounds,
As long as the sun rises to shine and the bright moon too,
I will remain here on this much-wept mound
A sign to those who pass by that Midas here is buried.”

He received from them a silver cup, which he inscribed and dedicated at Delphi to Apollo:

“Lord Phoibos, I Homer give you this fine gift
in exchange for your wisdom. May you always grant me fame.”

Then he composed the Odyssey (which is 12,000 lines) when he had already finished the Iliad (15,500 lines). They say that he left there and was entertained in Athens at the house of the king of the Athenians, Medon. In the council chamber, when it was cold and there was a fire burning, the story is that he improvised these lines:

“A man’s crown is his children; the city has its towers;
Horses decorate a plain and ships are the jewels of the sea.
The people who sit in the agora are an adornment to be seen;
But when a fire burns it makes a house a prouder sight
On a winter’s day when Kronos’ son sends snow.”

ἀκούσαντες δὲ τῶν ἐπῶν οἱ Μίδου τοῦ βασιλέως παῖδες Ξάνθος καὶ Γόργος παρακαλοῦσιν αὐτὸν ἐπίγραμμα ποιῆσαι ἐπὶ τοῦ τάφου τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτῶν, ἐφ’ οὗ ἦν παρθένος χαλκῆ τὸν Μίδου θάνατον οἰκτιζομένη. καὶ ποιεῖ οὕτως•

χαλκῆ παρθένος εἰμί, Μίδου δ’ ἐπὶ σήματος ἧμαι.
ἔς τ’ ἂν ὕδωρ τε νάῃ καὶ δένδρεα μακρὰ τεθήλῃ
καὶ ποταμοὶ πλήθωσι, περικλύζῃ δὲ θάλασσα,
ἠέλιος δ’ ἀνιὼν φαίνῃ λαμπρά τε σελήνη,
αὐτοῦ τῇδε μένουσα πολυκλαύτῳ ἐπὶ τύμβῳ
σημανέω παριοῦσι Μίδης ὅτι τῇδε τέθαπται.

λαβὼν δὲ παρ’ αὐτῶν φιάλην ἀργυρᾶν ἀνατίθησιν ἐν Δελφοῖς τῷ ᾿Απόλλωνι, ἐπιγράψας

Φοῖβε ἄναξ δῶρόν τοι ῞Ομηρος καλὸν ἔδωκα
σῇσιν ἐπιφροσύναις• σὺ δέ μοι κλέος αἰὲν ὀπάζοις.

μετὰ δὲ ταῦτα ποιεῖ τὴν ᾿Οδύσσειαν ἔπη μβ′, πεποιηκὼς ἤδη τὴν ᾿Ιλιάδα ἐπῶν μεφ′. παραγενόμενον δὲ ἐκεῖθεν εἰς ᾿Αθήνας αὐτὸν ξενισθῆναί φασι παρὰ Μέδοντι τῷ βασιλεῖ τῶν ᾿Αθηναίων. ἐν δὲ τῷ βουλευτηρίῳ ψύχους ὄντος καὶ πυρὸς καιομένου σχεδιάσαι λέγεται τούσδε τοὺς στίχους•

ἀνδρὸς μὲν στέφανοι παῖδες, πύργοι δὲ πόληος,
ἵπποι δ’ αὖ πεδίου κόσμος, νῆες δὲ θαλάσσης,
λαὸς δ’ εἰν ἀγορῇσι καθήμενος εἰσοράασθαι.
αἰθομένου δὲ πυρὸς γεραρώτερος οἶκος ἰδέσθαι
ἤματι χειμερίῳ ὁπότ’ ἂν νείφῃσι Κρονίων.

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