A record of one of the world’s oldest literary works has been unearthed in Greece.
Legend has it that after the fall of Troy, the Greek hero and king of Ithaca Odysseus (known as Ulysses in Roman myths) wandered for 10 years as he tries to return home and reclaim his throne. The Odyssey — named after the hero — tells this amazing story, intertwined with myth and reality both.
Scholars believe Homer, the author of both the Odyssey and the Iliad, developed these works sometime around the late 7th or early 8th century BC. The stories were likely passed down in an oral tradition (through spoken word, without being written down) for hundreds of years before they were inscribed on tablets like the one researchers have now found.
The clay tablet was discovered near the ruined temple of Zeus, in Ancient Olympia in the Peloponnese peninsula — coincidentally also the birthplace of the Olympic Games. It holds 13 verses from the Odyssey’s 14th Rhapsody, including a dialogue between Odysseus and his lifelong friend, Eumaeus.
The tablet was not dated yet, but likely belongs to the Roman era, so it likely hails from the 2nd or 3rd century BC — a thousand years after Homer’s lifetime, when his stories were already the stuff of legends.
“If this date is confirmed, the tablet could be the oldest written record of Homer’s work ever discovered in Greece,” the culture ministry said in a press release.
Although its age has not yet been confirmed, the plaque is still “a great archaeological, epigraphic, literary and historical exhibit,” the ministry added.
Homer remains one of the most intriguing authors in history, so much so that many historians even question wether he was a single person. The ancient Greeks held that Homer was a blind poet from Chios or Smyrna, but there’s no way to be absolutely certain of this. Both of his two monumental works have been preserved orally throughout several centuries, so it’s very likely that the works we know today were quite different from the originals — and there were several “Homers” over the years, as each storyteller forgot, added, and improved upon the original work (a universal occurence in oral tradition).
The Odyssey spans some 12,000 lines and is considered to be one of the most influential works of literature in the Western World. It was written in Homeric, or Epic Greek — a mixture of several dialects from different centuries. You can read a free English translation here.