It’s about identity. Definition. Distinction. What Derrida termed différance — the ever-reductive process of making meaning about the world by defining things by what they are not. Red is not blue, nor is it green or yellow or brown. It stands next door to, say, pink, with purple over there on the other side, whose further neighbor is in fact blue. Red is red.
“Homer,” as traditionally understood, was a blind bard who rattled off the Iliad and Odyssey one night by the campfire and the poems became what we know them as today. That’s complete bunk. “Homer” was but one of thousands of traveling singers who collectively but also independently constructed the documents that you and I now call the Iliad and the Odyssey. These stories were told millions of times over, over the course of millennia, and they crystallized over time into what I can hold in my hands and call “the Iliad.”
Thing is, there were, are, have been, infinite Iliads. Infinite Odysseys. These stories originated in Mesopotamia with the Gilgamesh, then slowly made their way west to Greek speakers who were all too eager to develop that saga of travel and nature-vs.-culture for their own specific cultural and artistic ends. Poetry, according to Aristotle, is the first human, imitative act. Go try to run through your ABCs without dropping into the sing-song cadence. It’s impossible.
“Homer,” then, is a myth. He’s Aquaman. A culture hero and avatar for the composition of two monumental documents that stand as the incipit of western literature. “Homer” told book 10 of the Iliad — the Doloneia, my favorite book of the poem — differently in Sparta on Monday than he did in Athens on Friday, because Sparta and Athens fucking hate each other. “Homer” — thousands many thousands of brigand traveling bards — tweaking and updated their versions of these myths on a weekly and daily basis, because they were playing different venues every night. Shoutout the 404, 770, and 678.
Further still, and even more interestingly, none of these men could read. They did it all off the top of their mortal human heads. They memorized and internalized gigantic pieces of Greek oral poetry and screamed it out at audiences nightly — and they improvised. It must have been incredible to watch — these passionate, feeling people waxing on, in song no less, about Achilles and Patroclus’ love affair. About the death of Hector, whom Achilles dragged around the walls of Troy for three consecutive days.
This is high, high epic poetry in action. Perhaps you’ve never asked yourself, “wait, who was the first to transcribe the Iliad and Odyssey onto paper, and how did that happen?” I’ll straight up tell you that it happened in Athens, that much is for sure. It probably happened sometime early in the fifth century BCE. We know that Plato had a physical copy of both poems, because he tells us so much.
But the point here is that “Homer” was not one man. He was thousands and thousands of men. Singing, traveling bards who made a living on the force of their voice and ability to string together a compelling story every night. Tip the entertainment, please.
The quarterback situation at Ole Miss is not confined to one man. Well, for the time being and the rest of the season, it is. The quarterback for the Ole Miss Rebels is Jordan Ta’amu now. Ta’amu is but one man who’s shown himself to be a fairly impressive quarterback even when chucked into an impossible situation. Ole Miss is a chaos team — now even more so — and Arkansas can achieve equally sublime levels of chaos, which always renders this game one of the zaniest of the year.
The Iliad and Odyssey are the products of collaboration, competition, collusion, and teamwork. These bards formed guilds, or “teams.” Jordan Ta’amu is but one man. “Homer” was thousands of men constructing two of the most monumental literary documents in human existence. Jordan’s not doing that, obviously, but he needs people around him to help him receive a standing ovation in every city he plays for the rest of the year.