One of literature's oldest mysteries is a step closer to being solved after a recent study dated the ancient Greek poet Homer's great epic 'The Illiad' to 762 BC.
The study has added a quantitative means of testing ideas about history by analyzing the evolution of language.
The epic poem, set amid the final year of the Trojan War, is foundational to Western literature, but scholars have not been able to reach a consensus about whether it was written shortly after the war or centuries later.
Using a quantitative approach borrowed from study of evolution, Santa Fe Institute External Professor Mark Pagel, an evolutionary biologist at Reading University (UK), and his colleagues decided to ask what scholars refer to as "The Homeric Question."
Biologists compare genetic and physical traits along with novel adaptations in determining when species emerged and in gauging their relatedness to others.
Similarly, linguists compare words, which share an ancestor, as well as words that supplant earlier terms to pinpoint when a lexicon or language was in fashion.
Pagel's team compared the Greek vocabulary in Homer's Iliad to modern Greek, relying on a 200-word lexicon found in every language and contrasting the distantly related Hittite as an indicator of divergence.
Their methods have dated Homer's language to 762 BC. Pagel said that the statistical model "is completely ignorant to history - it doesn't know who Homer is and doesn't know Greek."
Accordingly, the potential date ranges from the improbable extremes of 376 BCE to 1157 BCE.
But the estimate attaches a robust likelihood to the date, and it ties nicely to Nestor's Cup, a vase dated to 723 BCE, which is thought to carry an inscription from 'The Iliad.'
Their study has been published online in BioEssays. (ANI)