“From Colophon some deem thee sprung,
From Smyrna some, and some from Cs; o
These noble Salamis have sung,
While those proclaim thee born in Ios;
And others cry up Thessaly
The mother of the Lapithæ."
"On Homer’s Birthplace” Antipater of Sidon
Translated by J. H. Merivale
“Homer is Thessalian”. I realize that is a ludicrous unfounded sounding statement, but follow along and see what you think. If you read the Iliad closely you will see something odd about the Nereid Thetis. Several authors have. Slatkins most famously in The Power of Thetis. For an obscure goddess of minor rank; Thetis is exceptionally powerful and influential among the Olympians. She rescues Zeus and none of the gathered rebels attempt to stop her (Iliad 1. 393). None of the sharp wagging tongues of the immortals criticize her thwarting the will of Zeus. (Put all the fancy words on it you want, bottom-line Thetis alters the will of Zeus at Iliad 1. 495.) She rescues the Olympian Hephaestus. (Iliad 18. 369) She rescues the Olympian Dionysus. (Iliad 6. 135) The gods have to beg her to rescue the body of Hector. ( Iliad 24. 77)
I have always assumed that the Olympic deference to Thetis was Homer’s nod to other theogonies. A famous such nod is to Oceanus and Tethys; when Hera referes to “Oceanus, whence the gods have risen, and Tethys our mother” (Iliad 14. 200) Homer might be us a sign about other such theogonies in the relationship of the Nereid Thetis and Oceanid Eurynome. Gods don’t have friends. Almost all divine relationships are with a family member. (See “Friendship Amongst the Gods.”) And yet here are two unrelated goddess dwelling on the shores of the great River Ocean. Thetis is a primordial goddess in the Spartan theogony of Alcman who “presented Thetis as the primal divine creative force, the generative principle of the universe”. (Power of Thetis, p82) Eurynome is a primordial goddess in other theogonies; “in the beginning, Ophion and Eurynome, daughter of Oceanus, governed the world from snow-clad Olympus; (Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1. 503) So I always assumed that Homer’s references to Oceanus, Thetis and Eurynome were just a tip of the hat.
But recently with Sarah at Hour 25 and Maya M on my blog I discussed Thetis and Emily Schurr’s opinion came up. Schurr suggests that Homer is not invoking the Muse at the start of the Iliad. The text in the original Greek does not say Μοῦσα (Muse) it says Qea (Goddess) . Schurr suggests the goddess in line 1 of the Iliad is Thetis. Now that’s a horse of a different color! It is almost as if the Iliad is actually the “Homeric Hymn to Thetis”. What came to my mind at this point in our conversation is the relationship of Hesiod and Hecate; the so-called "Hymn to Hecate". In the Theogony Hesiod goes way out of his way to grant the goddess unheard of honors and influence, what Clay refers to as “Hecate's special status.” In “Hesiod’s Cosmos” Clay dismisses the belief that “Hesiod's family had a special attachment to the Hecate cult,” or “Hecate cult was already well-established in Boeotia in Hesiod's time… Accordingly, we ought not to be surprised to find Hesiod giving a privileged position and rendering homage to the chief local goddess” .
How about we test the same logic on Homer’s adoration of Thetis? Aaron Atsma (www.theoi.com) lists three cult sites for Thetis; two are Peloponnesian and one in Thessaly where the Aeolic dialect is used. If Homer was Dorian we’d expect the Iliad’s theogony to be based on Alcman and vocabulary on the Doric dialect. Instead with find a poet with an Aeolic name settling his goddess in southern Thessaly with a mortal husband and son. So it would make more sense to associate Homer with the goddess cult site on the headland of Sepia in Euboea
There is a problem with the suggestion that Homer is Thessalian. He never mentions Thessaly in the Iliad and all the peoples the Achaeans conquer while waiting for Troy to fall are Aeolic I only see one way out of the dilemma. That is the application of the lesson from Matt 13:57, Luke 4:24 and Mark 6:4, that no man is a prophet in his home town. I am suggesting an Aeolic speaking Homer rejected by Thessaly, who traveled to Ionia where he found great success in their dialect. He wrought his revenge on those back home by deleting them from history and enslaving all the Aeolians. As Maya M asks, “Homer vents his menis by writing about the menis of Achilles?”
What do you think?
P.S. This paper was generated by a long rambling conversation between Bill Moulton and Maya M. Those interested may attempt to follow the conversation at; http://shortstories-bill.blogspot.com/2014/10/tftfbt-bella-rophan-at-palmer-house.html#comment-form