Transmission and Publication
Though evincing many features characteristic of oral poetry, the Iliad and Odyssey were at some point committed to writing. The Greek script, adapted from a Phoenician syllabary around 800 BC, made possible the notation of the complex rhythms and vowel clusters that make up hexameter verse. Homer's poems appear to have been recorded shortly after the alphabet's invention: an inscription from Ischia in the Bay of Naples, ca. 740 BC, appears to refer to a text of the Iliad; likewise, illustrations seemingly inspired by the Polyphemus episode in the Odyssey are found on Samos, Mykonos and in Italy, dating from the first quarter of the seventh century BC. We have little information about the early condition of the Homeric poems, but in the second century BC, Alexandrian editors stabilized this text from which all modern texts descend.
In late antiquity, knowledge of Greek declined in Latin-speaking western Europe and, along with it, knowledge of Homer's poems. It was not until the fifteenth century AD that Homer's work began to be read once more in Italy. By contrast it was continually read and taught in the Greek-speaking Eastern Roman Empire where the majority of the classics also survived. The first printed edition appeared in 1488 (edited by Demetrios Chalkokondyles and published by Bernardus Nerlius, Nerius Nerlius, and Demetrius Damilas in Florence, Italy).
One often finds books of the Iliad and Odyssey cited by the corresponding letter of the Greek alphabet, with upper-case letters referring to a book number of the Iliad and lower-case letters referring to the Odyssey. Thus Ξ 200 would be shorthand for Iliad book 14, line 200, while ξ 200 would be Odyssey 14.200. The following table presents this system of numeration:
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—John Updike (b. 1932)