The Greeks were fond of recounting personal details about their great men, but they were unable to tell about a real Homer. The later legends concerning his life are meager, and almost wholly disregarded by the scholars of Alexandria. His blindness is a trait often remarked to-day among the popular singers in the villages of Greece and Macedonia. It is beautifully portrayed in the well-known bust in the Naples Museum. Seven cities claimed the honor of being his birthplace. They were mostly on the shores of Asia Minor or the adjacent islands—a fact which attests what we knew before from the language of the poems, that their latest composers were Ionian Greeks, and that the poems had a vogue on that coast a long time before wandering rhapsodists carried them to the mainland. It is not known when they were first committed to writing. Although the Greeks knew how to write as early as the ninth century before Christ, and possibly long before that time—indeed, writing is mentioned once by Homer—it played no important part in the earlier transmission of the poems, and it was not until the reign of the tyrant Pisistratus in Athens, in the sixth century, that they were gathered together and set down definitely in the form in which we have them. Thus virtually committed to the guardianship of the Athenians, who were the leaders of culture from the sixth to the third centuries, the poems passed to the custody of the Alexandrines, who prepared elaborate editions with notes, and divided them into the “books”—twenty-four each—in which they appear to-day.

The Romans studied them sedulously, and to Quintilian, as to Plato, Homer was the fountain of eloquence. The western world during the Middle Ages had more frequent recourse to Roman versions of the tale of Troy, but with the revival of learning Homer sprang almost immediately into his rightful position at the head of the ancients, and has ever since held firm hold of the affections of all cultivated men and women.

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