The Homeric epics Iliad and Odyssey (750-700 BCE) contain linguistic material stemming from various different periods, regions, and registers. Although the origins of this poetic language (Epic Greek) are heavily debated, it is generally agreed that at least two dialects of Ancient Greek contributed to its development: Ionic and Aeolic.
This project aims to show that the epic tradition was Ionic throughout its prehistory, and that there was no substantial Aeolic contribution. It approaches the composite language of the Homeric epics with an innovative model of language change: sound changes in Epic Greek worked differently from those in the everyday dialect, the vernacular. The model was first developed in the PI’s PhD thesis for a particular case study, but it can only be rigorously tested by confronting the entire Homeric corpus. This study will therefore systematically apply the new model to all non-Ionic forms in Homer, explaining how each form acquired its shape by using a homogeneous set of principles. By combining linguistic arguments (phonological, morphological, lexical, metrical) with text-based philological research, it will be shown that Homer’s alleged Aeolic features – just like other types of non-Ionic forms – are either linguistic archaisms or innovations of Epic Greek.
As a result, Epic Greek can be analyzed for the first time as a full-fledged linguistic entity. For several centuries, this poetic language was not only influenced by the Ionic vernacular, but also had its proper linguistic developments. This conclusion will lead to a reappraisal of arguments concerning the origins of the epic tradition and the Homeric poems themselves. Moreover, the description of Aeolic dialects and the reconstruction of Greek linguistic (pre)history will undergo important modifications. Finally, since the same model will be applicable to other comparable poetic traditions, general insights into the evolution of poetic languages will be gained.