Insights & Perspectives
Linguistic evidence supports date for Homeric epics
Article first published online: 18 FEB 2013
Copyright © 2013 WILEY Periodicals, Inc.
Volume 35, Issue 5, pages 417–420, May 2013
How to Cite
Altschuler, E. L., Calude, A. S., Meade, A. and Pagel, M. (2013), Linguistic evidence supports date for Homeric epics. Bioessays, 35: 417–420. doi: 10.1002/bies.201200165
- Issue published online: 12 APR 2013
- Article first published online: 18 FEB 2013
- Homeric epics;
The Homeric epics are among the greatest masterpieces of literature, but when they were produced is not known with certainty. Here we apply evolutionary-linguistic phylogenetic statistical methods to differences in Homeric, Modern Greek and ancient Hittite vocabulary items to estimate a date of approximately 710–760 BCE for these great works. Our analysis compared a common set of vocabulary items among the three pairs of languages, recording for each item whether the words in the two languages were cognate – derived from a shared ancestral word – or not. We then used a likelihood-based Markov chain Monte Carlo procedure to estimate the most probable times in years separating these languages given the percentage of words they shared, combined with knowledge of the rates at which different words change. Our date for the epics is in close agreement with historians' and classicists' beliefs derived from historical and archaeological sources.