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BACKGROUND INFORMATION - BIOGRAPHY
It is assumed that Homer composed his famous epic poems, The Iliad and The Odyssey, around 850 B.C. Since the fifth century B.C., the poems have been the subject of constant study. In spite of the scholarly attention, little is known for certain about the life of Homer, a famous poet of antiquity who greatly influenced all subsequent Western literature.
Ancient tradition says that Homer was the son of Maeon. Seven cities also claimed him as a citizen, including Smyrna, Rhodes, Colophon, Salamis, Chios, Argos, and Athens. The claims of Smyrna and Chios seem to be the most reasonable, for ancient testimony indicates that Homer was an Asiatic Greek. Of the remaining information about his life, most is legend, including the belief that Homer became blind in his old age.
Most scholars agree that both The Iliad and The Odyssey are compositions of Homer. Two other works, The Margites and The Battle of the Frogs and Mice, are also ascribed to him even though they are quite unlike The Iliad and The Odyssey and have been preserved only in fragmented form. Another group of works by the poet is known as the Homeric Hymns, but there is reason to belief that these hymns may have been composed by the descendants of Homer.
The Trojan War serves as a massive backdrop for the poem. There are many myths dealing with the Trojan War and its beginnings. However, none is more important to the understanding of the divine and human levels than the legend of Paris and the abduction of Helen. Before giving birth to her son, Hecube, wife of Troy's King Priam, dreamed that she bore a firebrand that set the whole city aflame. Consequently, when the boy Paris was born, he was immediately taken to Mt. Ida and left. He was soon found and reared by a shepherd. Eventually Paris learned his true identity and made his way back to Troy. There he was again accepted by Priam as his son.
When Thetis, the sea goddess, and Peleus, the king of the Myrmidons, were being married, all the gods were invited to the ceremonies except Eris, goddess of discord. Angered at her exclusion, Eris tossed a golden apple bearing the inscription, "To the Fairest," into the midst of the guests. Each of the goddesses - Hera, Aphrodite, and Athena - claimed the apple for herself. Zeus, king of the immortals, brought the contending goddesses to Mt. Ida. There he entrusted the decision concerning the apple's possession to Paris. In trying to persuade the boy to choose her, each goddess promised him something of great value. Hera promised to give him Asia for his domain. Athena offered fame in warfare. Aphrodite offered him the fairest of all women for his wife. True to his character, Paris awarded the apple to the goddess of love. He, thus, earned for Troy the everlasting hatred of Hera and Athena. Now, under the protection of Aphrodite, Paris sailed to Sparta, the home of Menelaos and his wife, Helen. There the Trojan was hospitably received and entertained by the king.
One fine day Menelaos awoke to find that his wife was missing. In abducting Helen, Paris brought upon himself and his city the condemnation of Zeus, the protector of guests and hosts. On the human level, Menelaos, in order to revenge the crime of Paris, joined forces with his brother, Agamemnon, who was the king of the most powerful Mycenaean state, Argos. He was named leader of the Greek expedition against Troy.