Why the Humanities Suck

by F.

I can’t believe Discover picked this up. Oh. Wait. I can. Discover sucks.

Apparently, some dude named Dalby thinks Homer was a woman—and I don’t mean Lisa and Bart’s father. I’m talking about the person (or telekinetic barnacle—see below) who made up The Iliad and The Odyssey.

It’s an interesting idea, sort of like Harold Bloom’s assertion that certain parts of the old testament were penned by a woman. But Bloom doesn’t claim he’s doing anything more than speculating. Apparently, Dalby does.

Homer a woman? It’s certainly possible. And, if you think about it, is there much reason to think Homer was a man? No. I mean, that’s just oral tradition, too. So, really, we don’t know much if anything about Homer. We don’t even know he was blind. That’s part of the mythic history of the poems.

But let’s get on to the Discover article, which should help us with this conundrum. It doesn’t start off too well:

Aside from the poems themselves, no concrete clues exist to identify their author, but Dalby builds a case that the person probably was a woman.

OK, if no concrete clues exist, then… uh… Oh, never mind. How does that case get built? The Homer scholar pulls out this zinger:

“In many oral traditions, the best and most reliable creators, the ones who are used by folklore collectors, happen to be women,” he said.

I see! I’m convinced. Oh. Wait. There’s more?

Dalby explained that women throughout the ancient world were “often the last and most skillful exponents of an oral tradition.”

Often. OK, so it’s possible. Maybe. But isn’t that sort of where we started? Where’s “the case?” What about the textual evidence?

Dalby thinks both works were composed by the same person, but that the more developed female figures in the Odyssey — particularly the heroic character Penelope — reflect change in the author’s life.

Yeah, Penelope was really exciting—sitting at home waiting for Odysseus, working on that loom while her suitors plundered the palace. Amazing. Who could write that but a woman? I mean, Sophocles’ Antigone was completely flat by comparison, right? Remember her? The chick who flouted the laws of Thebes by burying her brother? She was nothing compared to the heroic Penelope. Clearly, that kind of realistic, strong female character could only be written by a woman. Like Sophocles.

And then there’s a tiny little problem with looking at “the text:”

no master copy of the poems exists…

OK, that’s not so bad, right? Wrong:

many different written versions of the poems were circulating in Greece by 300 B.C

Let me see if I’ve got this. We have numerous versions of a text for which no master copy exists. The author could have been a woman (or a talking Lemur or a telekinetic barnacle—it’s possible! Admit it!) There are cases of women storytellers in the ancient world. Therefore, The Illiad and The Odyssey were written by a woman.

Right? Shee–it. That’s some tight logic goin’ on there.

What the Discover article doesn’t discuss is my theory: Homer was a telekinetic barnacale. See, oral traditional says that Homer was blind. Barnacles are blind. And Homer didn’t write down his story. Barnacles don’t write down their stories. But how did Homer get around, then, if he was a barnacle? That’s where the telekinesis comes in. See, he used his psionic powers to make a tiny little chariot, and then he cruised around the ancient world telling tales in exchange for food. In fact, he had a sign pasted to the back of his chariot: “Will Sing for Plankton.”

Then there’s the textual evidence. There are a lot of POV descriptions of soldiers hitting the ground in The Iliad. Why? Well, because Homer was a barnacle, and, being only about one centimeter tall, he was able to get into the thick of battles and observe these things, close up, on his little chariot. And how do you think he got that compelling characterization of Charybdis? Obviously, only a crustacean could dream up that sort of convincing, realistic, multi-dimensional sea-life character.

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