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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Dating Homer

From Geneticists Estimate Publication Date of  the "Iliad."
Of course, publication is not exactly the term one would use for an oral work, which, as the research shows seemed to have grown out of various other oral traditions that go back another 500 years or so before the "publication" date. Still, the language itself served as the bread crumbs that mark the trail of origins to when the compilation of stories known as the Iliad became set in the form that has been passed down to generations.
"Languages behave just extraordinarily like genes," Pagel said. "It is directly analogous. We tried to document the regularities in linguistic evolution and study Homer's vocabulary as a way of seeing if language evolves the way we think it does. If so, then we should be able to find a date for Homer."

The date they arrived at was 763 BCE, give or take 50 years.

The researchers employed a linguistic tool called the Swadesh word list, put together in the 1940s and 1950s by American linguist Morris Swadesh. The list contains approximately 200 concepts that have words apparently in every language and every culture, Pagel said. These are usually words for body parts, colors, necessary relationships like "father" and "mother."They looked for Swadesh words in the "Iliad" and found 173 of them. Then, they measured how they changed.
 They took the language of the Hittites, a people that existed during the time the war may have been fought, and modern Greek, and traced the changes in the words from Hittite to Homeric to modern. It is precisely how they measure the genetic history of humans, going back and seeing how and when genes alter over time.

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