Epic narrative had a long and proud literary tradition even before the Roman poets attempted to create their own epic narratives. Homer had composed the Odyssey and the Iliad , probably around the 8th century B.C. and ever since then the Greeks had regarded this as one of the main poetic forms. Imitation of Homer continued throughout both Greek and Roman literature, and even Virgil's Aeneid, the pinnacle of Roman epic, contains many allusions and references to Homer. Although it is clear that many epic poems were written by the Greeks, the only other surviving example of Greek epic prior to the beginnings of Latin literature is the Argonautica of Apollonius. Although these are the only complete surviving Greek epic poems prior to the beginning of Latin epic, although it is certain that far more was written which has since been lost, and we have fragments of a number of authors. Nonetheless, even with the little we have, it is still possible to note the huge impact these poems had on the Roman epicists - echoes of Homer and Apollonius can be found everywhere.
It is unknown, indeed it is a matter of some dispute, where or when Homer lived, if, he indeed lived at all, and whether he was the author, in any sense, of the Odyssey and the Iliad. A late 8th century B.C date seems to fit the surviving evidence best. One of the problems of dating Homer is that he includes details from the bronze age, which cannot have belonged to the times in which he lived. At least two objects in the Iliad are certainly Bronze age in origin : a bronze cup belonging to Nestor (11.632) and a helmet made of boars tusks(10.261). It has been suggested that the Iliad was a Bronze Age poem, or that it stems from the Dark Ages. Certainly it appears as though a number of long-standing oral traditions were distilled by 'Homer' into his own poetry. The Iliad and the Odyssey form a pair, the one relating the battle and fall of Troy, and the latter telling of Odysseus' long journey home after the fighting is over. There seem to be a number of stylistic differences between the poems and it is possible they were written by different people, potentially up to a century apart. The presence of the Iliad within theOdyssey certainly seems to be significant at various points. (Left : Bust of Homer)
In the Hellenistic period (3rd century B.C.), Apollonius of Rhodes created his own epic, known as the 'Argonautica'. Apollonius Rhodius was a scholar-poet, a native of Alexandria who spent part of his life in Rhodes. He is said to have been a pupil of Callimachus, although the theory of a literary quarrel between the two has been discredited. Unfortunately, little of his life is known to us, since the bibliographic material of later writers presents chronological and interpretative difficulties.
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