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Homer: A Cultural

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Running Head: CULTURAL GENIUS

Homer: A Cultural Genius


Chad A. Cohan
University of Phoenix
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Homer: A Cultural Genius

Many influential persons have existed throughout history. One person, however, stands

out and can be shown to have had a significant influence throughout history and modern times.

Homer, the author of the epics The Iliad and The Odyssey, has had a significant impact on

ancient writers and subsequently current Western beliefs such as Christianity. The Iliad and The

Odyssey were cited in Greek schools daily. Greek students were familiar with Homeric epics and

were taught to rewrite them into new prose tales, a process termed mimesis ("Mimesis," 2009, ¶

1). Homer was a cultural genius because his unique epics have influenced so many popular

writings, such as the Christian Bible’s Gospel of Mark and Virgil’s The Aeneid.

Not much is known about Homer. Historically, Homer was believed to have been blind.

Some sources say that Homer was born on the island of Chios, whereas others say that he was

born in various Ionian cities (“Who was Homer,” 2009, ¶ 2). Furthermore, sources believe that

he lived around the time of the Trojan War, dated around 1300 BC and 1200 BC (Crystal Links,

n.d., ¶ 1). The Iliad is the first known epic attributed to Homer. The Iliad is divided into

24books: the story is about Achilles, who is angry and determined, and ultimately kills the

Trojan hero Hector (“What is The Iliad,” 2009, ¶ 5). The Odysseyis the second known epic

credited to Homer. Written in 24 books also, The Odyssey begins nearly 10years after the fall of

Troy. The Odyssey is a tale of the character Odysseus on a voyage that he takes at the end of the

Trojan War to return to Ithaca (“What is the Odyssey,” 2009, ¶ 1).

It can be argued that Homer’s epics have influenced Western culture and will continue to

do so in the foreseeable future. The most followed religion in Western society--and indeed in the

world--is Christianity. Approximately two billion believers in Christianity are in existence

today--worldwide (Islam, n.d., ¶ 1). If the evidence is justified and Homer did indeed influence
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the author of the Gospel of Mark, then Homer has influenced some of the core beliefs of

Christians. One might ask how influencing only one book in the Bible, out of many,can

influence such a large and powerful religion. The reason is because the core beliefs of Christians

are outlined in the Gospel of Mark and because Mark was the first gospel written. Hence, if

Mark borrowed from Homer, then Mark's modified ideas were the first ones to have originated

before the other three gospels in the Bible, making him the precursor to the other gospels.

Moreover, if you read all four gospels, they're almost word-for-word, suggesting that one copied

from the other.

Dennis R. MacDonald (2000) argues that Mark used mimesis for his gospel to update and

perfect the obsolete heroic values posited by Homer. For example, Jesus in the Bible rises from

the dead, unlike the hero Hector; for Christians, Jesus’ rising from the dead is a true sign of

superiority (MacDonald, 2003). If MacDonald (2000) is right, and Mark gave Jesus features to

make Him appear superior to those of Homer’s characters, then Homer has influenced the basic

beliefs of Christianity as outlined in the Gospel of Mark--such as Jesus rising from the dead,

being the Messiah, and one can reach eternal salvation through believing in Him (D’Angelo,

1984, ¶ 1). These beliefs show that Jesus was indeed superior to Homer’s characters.

If the evidence is right, then Homer will continue to influence Western culture in that

Christianity is growing at an extremely fast pace, both domestic and foreign, even though Islam

is the fastest growing religion today (Young, 1997, ¶ 6). For example, in 1900, there were

approximately 10 million Christians in Africa. Figures suggest that by 2025, there will be 633

million Christians in Africa (Colson, 2002, ¶ 4). According to Charles Colson (2002), there will

be about three billion Christians in the world by 2050. This is about one and a half times the

number of Muslims, the second most followed religion in the world. Colson (2002) also argues

that by 2050, there will be almost as many Pentecostal Christians worldwide as are Muslims
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today (¶ 5). Jim Rutz (2005) argues in his book Megashift that "By tomorrow, there will be

175,000 more Christians than there are today.”

Out of all the four gospels in the Christian Bible, Mark is the earliest known gospel (“The

Gospel,” 2009, ¶ 1). The Gospel of Mark was thought to have been written sometime after

Peter’s death in Rome in 64 AD and before the Jewish War in 67-70 AD (Bible, Prayer, Homily

Resources, 2009, ¶ 9). Homer was thought to have written The Odyssey sometime around 800

BC (Crystal Links, n.d., ¶ 2). Another important factor to consider is that the Gospel of Mark

was originally written in Greek (IBS-TL Global, 2008, ¶ 4). Thus, it can be concluded that since

Greeks learned to write from Homer, Mark was likelyfamiliar with the works of Homer. Given

the fact that Greeks learned to write from Homer and the similarities between Mark and Homer

in their respective writings, one can conclude that Mark was at least in some form inspired by

Homer.

Aside from the Gospel of Mark and Christianity, Homer has also influenced the writings

of Virgil, in particular The Aeneid. The Aeneid was about an obliterated city and its survivors

that search for a different home in a different country; furthermore, the story is about life

evolving out from atrophy and death (“About The Aeneid,” 2009, ¶ 1). Virgil was Latin, and as a

result, The Aeneid was written in Latin, the language created by the Romans (Martin, n.d.).

Virgil is a great deallike Homer in that little is known about Virgil. He was born on October 15,

70 B.C.E. He was born in Mantua in Northern Italy in a small village. Virgil, much like Homer,

has been influential to Western writings. What makes things apparent is that Virgil had taken his

literary model from Homer in his book The Aeneid (Virgil, 2009, ¶ 2).

Many similarities can be found when comparing Virgil’s The Aeneid with Homer’s The

Iliad and The Odyssey. First, realize that Achilles is a central character in Homer's The Iliad and

Aeneas is the protagonist of Virgil's The Aeneid. The first similarity between The Aeneid and
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The Odysseyis that they both recount a plurality of Mediterranean adventures and significant

homecoming. Aeneas’ abandonment from the city of Carthage has some similarities; for

example, this has many similarities with Odysseus’ abandonment from Ogygia, where the

paladin lived for several years with Kalypso (Cox, n.d., ¶ 6). Furthermore, Mandy Green (n.d.)

explains the following similarities between The Aeneid and The Iliad:

“Virgil refigures basic skeletal units of The Iliad: funeral games are held in memory of a
loved one, a catalogue or review of military forces, a night expedition into the enemy
camp, together with hotly debated councils of war, rallying or defiant speeches, fiercely
contested battle scenes, as well as aristeia – the deeds of heroic prowess performed by
individual heroes – culminating in a climactic single combat fought between the
champions of the opposing forces.” (¶ 3)

Virgil has also imitated Homer in writing about Aeneas’ affair with Dido; this can be compared

to when Odysseus, on his way home, trifled with many ladies. (Cox, n.d., ¶ 6).

Similarities between the Gospel of Mark and The Odyssey become abundant with respect

to the anguishing hero; Odysseus is portrayed as the most ideal example of a man, just like Jesus

in the Gospel of Mark. What is astonishing is the specific similarities of Jesus and Odysseus;

according to MacDonald (2000), both of the men faced supernatural confrontations; each of them

had accomplices to travel with, with an inability to bear the catastrophe of the trip, and each of

them reappeared to a household overrun with arch enemies, who would strive to murder him the

minute they found out who his identity was. Both heroes also returned from Hades alive.

What is particularly notable, relative to the similarities between the Gospel of Mark and

The Odyssey, is in the details of the contrast between the characters Eurylochus and Peter. Both

of them spoke on behalf of all their zealots; both of them questioned the forecast of the Last Day

of their leader at their own risk; both of them were arbitrarily implicated from their ruler of being

under the jurisdiction of a malevolent devil, and both of them "broke their vows to the hero in the

face of suffering" and they "represented the craven attitude toward life." (MacDonald, 2000, pp.
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22-23) Beginning in both of the stories, they also call for their own Muse. In terms of Homer,

it’s the Muse herself. In Mark, it’s the Prophet Isiah. In both of the stories, the inheritance of the

son is established by a bird that was a god, and this ratification anticipates the hero to square off

with an adversary in the following applicable set: with Telemachus, it was the suitors; with

Jesus, it was Satan. (Carrier, n.d., ¶ 8)

Mark also apparently borrowed text from The Iliad. The Iliad adumbrates the deaths of

its heroes, namely Achilles and Hector; according to MacDonald (2003), this provides Mark with

a “possible model for his repeated predictions of Jesus’ death.” (p. 172) According to

MacDonald (2003):

“Homer did not narrate the death of Achilles, but Mark found the death of Hector and the
rescue of his corpse promising prototypes for his Passion Narrative. Like Hector, Jesus
heroically refused wine and felt abandoned by his god. Elijah did not appear to help
Jesus just as Deiphobos failed to help Hector. Three women lamented Jesus' death, like
Hecuba, Andromache, and Helen, who lamented Hector. Joseph of Arimathea plays the
role of Priam in courageously rescuing Jesus' corpse at night.” (p. 172)

MacDonald (2003) argues that Mark did not copy accidentally from the epics; MacDonald

(2003) argues that Markreconstructed the epics to portray Jesus as superior to the likes of

Odysseus and Hector. One important contrast to note here with respect to the Gospel of Mark

and The Iliad is that Jesus, unlike Hector, rises from his grave--a true sign of superiority

(MacDonald, 2003).

Homer’s influence on Virgil and Mark is significant. It takes the work of a genius to have

inspired so many popular writings. Having a few similarities is one thing, but to have countless

examples of similarities amongst the stories istruly fascinating. If the evidence is correct and

Mark did copy from Homer to perfect the obsolete values attributed to Homer’s characters, then

Homer has had one of the most efficaciouswritings of all time. Christianity is the number one

followed religion in the world today, and will remain so for decades to come (Colson, 2002, ¶ 2).
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Homer’s epics are truly the work of a genius to have influenced so many people. The similarities

amongst Virgil, Homer, and Mark discussed in this essay only scratched the surface.

Although not much is known about Homer, one thing is clearly obvious. Homer has had

a deep and lasting impact on writers, especially the authors of the Gospel of Mark and The

Aeneid; they were thoroughly familiar with the works of Homer. Similarities are especially

prevalent between Mark and Homer. When one realizes that Greek students were taught to re-

write Homeric epics into new prose tails using new vocabulary, it can be easily believed that the

author of the Gospel of Mark was familiar with the works of Homer. The similarities amongst

Virgil, Mark, and Homer are more than just a coincidence and should be carefully examined by

the reader. I myself am a Christian, but appreciate the arguments that MacDonald has to offer. It

gets one to think. Perhaps, according to MacDonald, Virgil and Mark were trying to expand--

and indeed improve--on Homer’s epics to create some of the most unique and powerful writings

of all time. Homer is truly a cultural genius for his inspirations.

References

About The Aeneid. (2009). Cliffs Notes. Retrieved on May 29, 2009, from
http://www.cliffsnotes.com/WileyCDA/LitNote/Aeneid-About-The-Aeneid.id-
3,pageNum-13.html
Bible, Prayer, Homily Resources. (2009). When Did Mark Write the Gospel. Retrieved on May
29, 2009, from http://www.frtommylane.com/bible/enjoying_the_bible/02_nt.htm
Carrier, R. (n.d.). [Review of the book The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark].

Retrieved on May 29, 2009, from


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http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/homerandmark.html

Colson, C. (2002). How Christianity is Growing Around the World. Retrieved on May 22,
2009 from
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http://www.hope.edu/academic/ids/171/Aeneid.html

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IBS-TL Global. (2008). In What Language Was the Bible First Written. Retrieved on May 29,

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MacDonald, D.R. (2000). The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark. Yale University Press

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Martin, P. (n.d.). Roman Achievements and Inventions. Retrieved on May 28, 2009 from

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