Friday, March 1, 2013

Literary genetics

Scholars are fairly certain there was a city named Troy, but are less convinced that there was a single author named Homer. The Iliad and The Odyssey are amalgams of oral tradition dating back to the 13th c. B.C.E. Seeking to confirm the date when the epic poems were written down, researchers employed a linguistic tool called the Swadesh word list that can track the evolution of languages. "Languages behave just extraordinarily like genes. It is directly analogous," says Mark Pagel, evolutionary theorist at the University of Reading in England. He and his collaborators were able to ascertain that The Iliad was written in 762 B.C.E., give or take 50 years. That fits in nicely with previous estimates that the work was written in the 8th c. B.C.E., and quoted from on the so called Nestor's Cup, a vase dated to 723 B.C.E. (IMAGE ABOVE).

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