Two Lives of Homer, One Rather Strange

The first ‘life’ of Homer listed below is extremely strange. The other is a rather short but typical variation on the others. For some additional “lives” see earlier posts.


Life of Homer 7 (Allen; Eustathius Comm. Ad. Od. 1713.17)

“Alexander the Paphian records that Homer was the son of Aithra and Dmasagoras, Egyptians and that his nurse was a prophetess, a certain daughter of Oros, a priest of Isis, from whose breasts once flowed honey into the child’s mouth. Then the child uttered nine voices during the night: a swallow’s, a peacock’s, a dove’s, a crow’s, a partridge’s, a water hen’s, a starling’s, a nightingale’s, and a blackbird’s.

The child was found playing with nine doves on his bed along with the Sybil who was being entertained among the child’s doves and had been inspired to improvise epic lines which began “Dmasagoras, man of much victory…” in which she also addressed Homer’s father as “very-famous” and “prince” and ordered him to build a temple for the nine Pierian Muses. And she was revealing the muses to him [Dmasagoras].Then he did that [what she ordered] and showed the accomplishment to the human child. And thus the poet reverenced the animals he played with as a child and he made the doves carry ambrosia to Zeus.”

᾿Αλέξανδρος δὲ ὁ Πάφιος ἱστορεῖ τὸν ῞Ομηρον υἱὸν Αἰγυπτίων Δμασαγόρου καὶ Αἴθρας· τροφὸν δὲ αὐτοῦ προφῆτίν τινα θυγατέρα ῎Ωρου ἱερέως ῎Ισιδος, ἧς ἐκ τῶνμαστῶν μέλι ῥεῦσαί ποτε εἰς τὸ στόμα τοῦ παιδίου. καὶ τὸ βρέφος ἐν νυκτὶ φωνὰς ἐννέα προέσθαι· χελιδόνος, ταῶνος, περιστερᾶς, κορώνης, πέρδικος, πορφυρίωνος, ψαρός, ἀηδόνος καὶ κοττύφου. εὑρεθῆναί τε τὸ παιδίον μετὰ περιστερῶν ἐννέα παῖζον ἐπὶ τῆς κλίνης, εὐωχουμένην δὲ παρὰ τοῖς τοῦ παιδὸς τὴν Σίβυλλαν ἐμμανῆ γεγονυῖαν ἔπη σχεδιάσαι, ὧν ἀρχὴ
Δμασαγόρα πολύνικε,

ἐν οἷς καὶ μεγακλεῆ καὶ στεφανίτην αὐτὸν προσειπεῖν, καὶ ναὸν κτίσαι κελεῦσαι ἐννέα Πιερίδων· ἐδήλου δὲ τὰς μούσας. τὸν δὲ καὶ τοῦτο ποιῆσαι καὶ τῷ παιδὶ ἀνδρωθέντι ἐξειπεῖν τὸ πρᾶγμα. καὶ τὸν ποιητὴν οὕτω σεμνῦναι τὰ ζῷα οἷς βρέφος ὢν συνέπαιζε, καὶ ποιῆσαι αὐτὰ τῷ Διὶ τὴν ἀμβροσίαν κομίζοντα.


Life of Homer 4 (Allen; 8 Most, Vita Scorialensis 1)
“Homer, the poet, was the son of Maiôn and Hurnetho, according to some. According to others, he was the son of Melês. Others attribute his lineage to Kalliopê the Muse. They say that he was named Melêsigenes or Melianaks, but after he was blinded he was named Homer—for the Aeolians call blind people “Homers”. Some say his country was Smyrna, others say it was Khios; even others say Kolophôn and some claim it is Athens. He traveled around singing his poems. Later, Peisistratos gathered together his poems, as this epigram shows:

The people of Erektheus ran me out of town after I was a tyrant
Three times and took me back three times.
Peisistratos, tremendous in councils, who gathered up
all the Homer that was sung separately before.
That golden one is our citizen
If we believe that Athens founded Smyrna

They say that he died after starving himself due to grief on the island Ios because he could solve the riddle which was posed to him by the fishermen. When he encountered them he asked: “Fisherman from Arcadia, what do you have?”
And they answered: “However much we caught, we left behind; but whatever we didn’t, we bring.”

And written on his gravestome is:

Here the earth covers over this sacred head,
The master of heroic men, godly Homer.”

῞Ομηρος ὁ ποιητὴς υἱὸς ἦν κατὰ μέν τινας Μαίονος καὶ ῾Υρνηθοῦς, κατὰ δ’ ἐνίους Μέλητος τοῦ ποταμοῦ καὶ Κριθηίδος νύμφης. ἄλλοι δ’ αὐτοῦ τὸ γένος εἰς Καλλιόπην τὴν Μοῦσαν ἀναφέρουσιν. φασὶ δ’ αὐτὸν Μελησιγένη ἢ Μελησιάνακτα κεκλῆσθαι, τυφλωθέντα δ’ αὐτὸν ὕστερον ῞Ομηρον κληθῆναι· οἱ γὰρ Αἰολεῖς τοὺς τυφλοὺς ὁμήρους καλοῦσιν. πατρίδα δ’ αὐτοῦ οἱ μὲν Σμύρναν, οἱ δὲ Χίον, οἱ δὲ Κολοφῶνα, οἱ δ’ ᾿Αθήνας λέγουσιν. περιιὼν δὲ τὰς πόλεις ᾖδε τὰ ποιήματα. ὕστερον δὲ Πεισίστρατος αὐτὰ συνήγαγεν, ὡς τὸ ἐπίγραμμα τοῦτο δηλοῖ·

τρίς με τυραννήσαντα τοσαυτάκις ἐξεδίωξε
δῆμος ᾿Ερεχθῆος καὶ τρὶς ἐπηγάγετο,
τὸν μέγαν ἐν βουλαῖς Πεισίστρατον ὃς τὸν ῞Ομηρον
ἤθροισα σποράδην τὸ πρὶν ἀειδόμενον·
ἡμέτερος γὰρ κεῖνος ὁ χρύσεος ἦν πολιήτης
εἴπερ ᾿Αθηναῖοι Σμύρναν ἐπῳκίσαμεν.

φασὶ δ’ αὐτὸν ἐν ῎Ιῳ τῇ νήσῳ διὰ λύπην ἀποκαρτερήσαντα τελευτῆσαι διὰ τὸ μὴ λῦσαι τὸ ζήτημα τὸ ὑπὸ τῶν ἁλιέων αὐτῷ προτεθέν. ὁ μὲν γὰρ ἐπιστὰς ἤρετο·
ἄνδρες ἀπ’ ᾿Αρκαδίης ἁλιήτορες ἦ ῥ’ ἔχομέν τι;
οἱ δ’ ἀπεκρίναντο·
ὅσσ’ ἕλομεν λιπόμεσθ’, ὅσα δ’ οὐχ ἕλομεν φερόμεσθα.
ἐπιγέγραπται δ’ ἐν τῷ μνήματι αὐτοῦ
ἐνθάδε τὴν ἱερὴν κεφαλὴν κατὰ γαῖα καλύπτει
ἀνδρῶν ἡρώων κοσμήτορα, θεῖον ῞Ομηρον.

Homer’s Name and Blindness: Hostage-Taking and Helen’s Rage (Life of Homer 6, Part 2)

(This is the second half of the so-called Roman Life of Homer)

“Concerning the dates for Homer’s life, the following is reported. Heraclides argues that he is older than Hesiod; Pyrander and Hypsicrates of Amisos claim he was the same age. Krates of Mallos says that he was full-grown sixty years after the end of the Trojan War; but Eratosthenes says it was a hundred years after the Ionian migration; Apollodorus makes it eighty years.

From birth Homer was called Melesigenes or Melesagoras. Later he was called Homer in the Lesbian dialect because of the harm that came to his eyes–the Lesbians call the blind Homeroi. Another account is that the name came because he entrusted to the king as a hostage (Homeros can mean a guarantee).

They say that he was blinded in the following way. When he came to the tomb of Achilles he prayed that he might see the hero as he was when he went into battle arrayed with his second set of arms. When Achilles appeared to him, Homer was blinded by the weapons’ gleam. Because Thetis and the Muses took pity on him, they endowed him with the poetic art.

Others say that he suffered this thanks to to the rage of Helen who was angry at him because he claimed that she abandoned her first husband to follow Alexander. For this reason, the ghost of Helen appeared to him at night and advised him to burn his poems to make himself safe. He could not make himself do this.

People say that he died on the island of Ios when he found himself undone because he could not solve the riddle of the fishing boys. The riddle was: “We left whatever we caught and carry whatever we didn’t”. On his tomb the following epigram is inscribed:

“Here the earth covers the sacred head
of divine Homer, the artist of heroic men”

[For the answer to the Riddle, see below]

περὶ δὲ τῶν χρόνων καθ’ οὓς ἤκουεν ὧδε λέγεται. ῾Ηρακλείδης μὲν οὖν αὐτὸν ἀποδείκνυσι πρεσβύτερον ῾Ησιόδου, Πύρανδρος δὲ καὶ ῾Υψικράτης ὁ ᾿Αμισηνὸς ἡλικιώτην. Κράτης δ’ ὁ Μαλλώτης μεθ’ ἑξήκοντα ἔτη τοῦ ᾿Ιλιακοῦ πολέμου φησὶν ἀκμάσαι, ᾿Ερατοσθένης δὲ μεθ’ ἑκατὸν τῆς ᾿Ιώνων ἀποικίας, ᾿Απολλόδωρος δὲ μετ’ ὀγδοήκοντα.

ἐκαλεῖτο δ’ ἐκ γενετῆς Μελησιγένης ἢ Μελησαγόρας, αὖθις δ’ ῞Ομηρος ἐλέχθη κατὰ τὴν Λεσβίων διάλεκτον, ἕνεκεν τῆς περὶ τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς συμφορᾶς, οὗτοι γὰρ τοὺς τυφλοὺς ὁμήρους λέγουσιν, ἢ διότι παῖς ὢν ὅμηρον ἐδόθη βασιλεῖ, ὅ ἐστιν ἐνέχυρον.

τυφλωθῆναι δ’ αὐτὸν οὕτω πως λέγουσιν• ἐλθόντα γὰρ ἐπὶ τὸν ᾿Αχιλλέως τάφον εὔξασθαι θεάσασθαι τὸν ἥρωα τοιοῦτον ὁποῖος προῆλθεν ἐπὶ τὴν μάχην τοῖς δευτέροις ὅπλοις κεκοσμημένος• ὀφθέντος δ’ αὐτῷ τοῦ ᾿Αχιλλέως τυφλωθῆναι τὸν ῞Ομηρον ὑπὸ τῆς τῶν ὅπλων αὐγῆς, ἐλεηθέντα δ’ ὑπὸ Θέτιδος καὶ Μουσῶν τιμηθῆναι πρὸς αὐτῶν τῇ ποιητικῇ.

ἄλλοι δέ φασι τοῦτο αὐτὸν πεπονθέναι διὰ μῆνιν τῆς ῾Ελένης ὀργισθείσης αὐτῷ διότι εἶπεν αὐτὴν καταλελοιπέναι μὲν τὸν πρότερον ἄνδρα, ἠκολου-θηκέναι δ’ ᾿Αλεξάνδρῳ• οὕτως γοῦν ὅτι καὶ παρέστη αὐτῷ φασὶν νυκτὸς ἡ ψυχὴ τῆς ἡρωίνης παραινοῦσα καῦσαι τὰς ποιήσεις αὐτοῦ … εἰ τοῦτο ποιήσοι πρόσχοι. τὸν δὲ μὴ ἀνασχέσθαι ποιῆσαι τοῦτο.

ἀποθανεῖν δ’ αὐτὸν λέγουσιν ἐν ῎Ιῳ τῇ νήσῳ ἀμηχανίᾳ περιπεσόντα ἐπειδήπερ τῶν παίδων τῶν ἁλιέων οὐχ οἷός τ’ ἐγένετο αἴνιγμα λῦσαι• ἔστι δὲ τοῦτο•
ἅσσ’ ἔλομεν λιπόμεσθ’ ἅσσ’ οὐχ ἕλομεν φερόμεσθα.
καὶ αὐτοῦ ἐπὶ τῷ τάφῳ ἐπιγέγραπται ἐπίγραμμα τοῦτο•
ἐνθάδε τὴν ἱερὴν κεφαλὴν κατὰ γαῖα καλύπτει
ἀνδρῶν ἡρώων κοσμήτορα θεῖον ῞Ομηρον.

In case any readers are overwhelmed by the riddle and may suffer faint-hearted Homer’s fate, other Homeric Lives provide an interpretation of the riddle. In the Pseudo-Plutarchean Vita (71) we get the following explanation:

“They were obscuring in riddle the fact they actually had discarded whichever of the lice they had caught and killed; but they would still be carrying the lice they did not catch in their clothing. Because he was not able to interpret this, Homer died because of despair.”

αἰνισσόμενοι ὡς ἄρα οὓς μὲν ἔλαβον τῶν φθειρῶν ἀποκτεί-ναντες κατέλιπον· οὓς δ’ οὐκ ἔλαβον ἐν τῇ ἐσθῆτι φέροιεν. ὅπερ οὐ δυνηθεὶς συμβαλεῖν ῞Ομηρος διὰ τὴν ἀθυμίαν ἐτελεύτησε.

The Vita Herodotea contains a similar explanation but contests the cause of Homer’s death:

“When those who were present were not able to interpret what had been said, the boys explained that they were able to catch nothing while fishing but that they were attacked while sitting on land. And they left behind however many of the lice they caught but were carrying home all those they couldn’t. Homer, when he heard these things, spoke these verses:

You are born from the blood of the kinds of fathers
Who are neither wealthy nor tend numerous flocks.

Then it happened that Homer died because of a sickness on Ios, not because he couldn’t interpret what the children said, as some believe, but because of weakness.”

οὐ δυναμένων δὲ τῶν παρεόντων γνῶναι τὰ ῥηθέντα, διηγήσαντο οἱ παῖδες ὅτι ἁλιεύοντες οὐδὲν ἐδύναντο ἑλεῖν, καθήμενοι δὲ ἐν γῇ ἐφθειρίζοντο, καὶ ὅσους μὲν ἔλαβον τῶν  φθειρῶν κατέλιπον· ὅσους δὲ μὴ ἐδύναντο ἐς οἴκους ἀπεφέροντο. ὁ δὲ ῞Ομηρος ἀκούσας ταῦτα ἔλεξε τὰ ἔπεα τάδε·

τοίων γὰρ πατέρων ἐξ αἵματος ἐκγεγάασθε,
οὔτε βαθυκλήρων οὔτ’ ἄσπετα μῆλα νεμόντων.

᾿Εκ δὲ τῆς ἀσθενείας ταύτης συνέβη τὸν ῞Ομηρον τελευτῆσαι ἐν ῎Ιῳ, οὐ παρὰ τὸ μὴ γνῶναι τὸ παρὰ τῶν παίδων ῥηθέν, ὡς οἴονταί τινες, ἀλλὰ τῇ μαλακίῃ.

(There are other versions as well, but all variations on the same idea.)

Homer’s Golden Words: When Hesiod and Homer Throw Down, Meles’ Son Wins the First Round

From the Contest of Homer and Hesiod (lines 71-94), most likely a text from the Roman Imperial age drawing upon earlier material. The story has it that Hesiod eventually wins, but Homer takes the first round.


“Although both poets competed wonderfully, they report that Hesiod gained the trophy in the following way. After he entered the middle of the contest ground, he inquired from Homer certain questions, and Homer answered. Hesiod said:

“Son of Meles, Homer who knows the mysteries of the gods,
Tell me foremost what is best for mortals?”

Homer Answered:

“First, it is best for mortals to not be born.
If born, to pass through Hades’ gates as soon as possible.”

Hesiod asked a second question:

“Tell me this too, Homer so like the gods,
What do you think is the fairest thing for mortals?

And Homer answered:

“ When merriment overtakes the whole people
as they feast in the halls and listen to a singer,
sitting in order next to tables filled with
food and meat as a cup-bearer draws wine from a bowl
and carries it to pour in all their cups.
This seems to my thinking to be the fairest thing.”

And when these words were uttered, they say that everyone was so amazed at them that the Greeks called them “the golden words” and even to this day everyone pronounces them before feasts or libations.”

ἀμφοτέρων δὲ τῶν ποιητῶν θαυμαστῶς ἀγωνισαμένων νικῆσαί φασι τὸν ῾Ησίοδον τὸν τρόπον τοῦτον• προελθόντα γὰρ εἰς τὸ μέσον πυνθάνεσθαι τοῦ ῾Ομήρου καθ’ ἓν ἕκαστον, τὸν δὲ ῞Ομηρον ἀποκρίνασθαι. φησὶν οὖν ῾Ησίοδος•
υἱὲ Μέλητος ῞Ομηρε θεῶν ἄπο μήδεα εἰδὼς
εἴπ’ ἄγε μοι πάμπρωτα τί φέρτατόν ἐστι βροτοῖσιν;
ἀρχὴν μὲν μὴ φῦναι ἐπιχθονίοισιν ἄριστον,
φύντα δ’ ὅμως ὤκιστα πύλας ᾿Αίδαο περῆσαι.
῾Ησίοδος τὸ δεύτερον•
εἴπ’ ἄγε μοι καὶ τοῦτο θεοῖς ἐπιείκελ’ ῞Ομηρε,
τί θνητοῖς κάλλιστον ὀίεαι ἐν φρεσὶν εἶναι;
ὁ δέ•
ὁππότ’ ἂν εὐφροσύνη μὲν ἔχῃ κατὰ δῆμον ἅπαντα,
δαιτυμόνες δ’ ἀνὰ δώματ’ ἀκουάζωνται ἀοιδοῦ
ἥμενοι ἑξείης, παρὰ δὲ πλήθωσι τράπεζαι
σίτου καὶ κρειῶν, μέθυ δ’ ἐκ κρητῆρος ἀφύσσων
οἰνοχόος φορέῃσι καὶ ἐγχείῃ δεπάεσσιν.
τοῦτό τί μοι κάλλιστον ἐνὶ φρεσὶν εἴδεται εἶναι.

ῥηθέντων δὲ τούτων τῶν ἐπῶν, οὕτω σφοδρῶς φασι θαυμασθῆναι τοὺς στίχους ὑπὸ τῶν ῾Ελλήνων ὥστε χρυσοῦς αὐτοὺς προσαγορευθῆναι, καὶ ἔτι καὶ νῦν ἐν ταῖς κοιναῖς θυσίαις πρὸ τῶν δείπνων καὶ σπονδῶν προκατεύχεσθαι πάντας.