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Invitation to World Literature

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Map & Timeline

This map shows Odysseus' journey after he left Troy. While his encounters were fictional — there were no Lotus Eaters, Sirens, or Cyclopes in the ancient Mediterranean — his ports of call were real. As you can see from the names of the modern nations, the bards who sang of Odysseus sent him to very real places in the Greek world. At a time when little of the world was fully mapped, it was not so far-fetched to believe that in some unknown corner of Italy or Tunisia there might be wonderful and terrible creatures waiting to catch the unwary traveler.

1200 BCE
Trojan War. Mycenean Greeks at this time had a complicated script for writing that was only used by scribes and that died out when Mycenae fell.

1100s BCE
Oral stories of the Trojan War and Odysseus are first told.

1100s-700s BCE The "Dark Age" of Greece, about which we know very little.

700s-600s BCE
First use of the Phoenician alphabet in Greece. Each letter stands for a sound, but with no punctuation, spaces between words, or distinction between capital and lower-case letters.

Late 700s - early 600s BCE
Accomplished oral poets first commit the epics of Troy and Odysseus to writing. They write on papyrus rolls. One hypothesis is that the twenty-four books of the written epic result from the fact that the story took this many parchment rolls to write out.

400-300s BCE
Alexandrian scholars copy the stories in the great library founded by Alexander the Great in Egypt.

330-1453 CE
The Odyssey is copied and preserved by scholars of the Byzantine Empire.

1453 CE
Byzantium falls and its manuscripts of The Odyssey travel west into Europe, where few scholars are able to read ancient Greek.

1700s CE
European scholars launch a debate over whether Homer was literate.

1700s-1800s CE
The Odyssey is translated into English.

1800s CE
European scholars of the new field of linguistics study ancient Homeric texts.

1920s CE
Based on research among oral bards in Serbia, Milman Parry demonstrates that oral poets can indeed sing thousands of lines of poetry by improvising on a well-established topic.


© 2010 Map Resources, All rights reserved.
The twisting, turning journey of Odysseus.
The sack of Troy.
© Duncan Walker / istockphoto
Modern depiction of an ancient bard telling stories
A table showing the Phoenician letters adopted by the Greeks
A table showing the Phoenician letters adopted by the Greeks
The Schoyen Collection, MS 5069.
Papyrus fragments, from the pre-Aristarchan period, of Homer's The Odyssey, written in Greek.
© 2010 JupiterImages Corporation
Modern depiction of the library at Alexandria
© Anil Akduygu / istockphoto
A Byzantine ruler holding a scroll
Image courtesy of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France
The siege of Constantinople
© 2010 JupiterImages Corporation
Bust of Homer
Page of a translation of The Odyssey by Alexander Pope
Frontispiece of Robert Wood's study of Homeric writing
The Milman Parry Collection of Oral Literature, Harvard University
Milman Parry