Clay Tablet Found at Olympia May Be the Oldest Excerpt from Homer’s Odyssey
Archaeologists excavating the ancient site of Olympia, one of the largest archaeological sites in Greece, have found a rare and important artifact – a clay tablet inscribed with 13 verses of a rhapsody from Homer’s Odyssey. If the preliminary dating of the tablet is correct, this is the oldest known excerpt of the Homeric Epic poem.
Although scholars continue to debate his existence, Homer has been credited with writing The Odyssey, one of the most important of his Epic poems, around the 8th century BC. The story was passed down orally for hundreds of years before it eventually made its way into writing. The Odyssey is popularly called “one of the foundational works of Western literature.” It is centered on the character Odysseus and tells of his struggles to return home to Ithaca after the fall of Troy.
‘Homer Singing with his Lyre’ attributed to Felix Boisselier. ( Public Domain )
According to BBC News, the 13 verses on the clay tablet are a section of the 14th Rhapsody of the Odyssey and include a speech by Odysseus to Eumaeus. To provide some context to that part of the epic poem: when Odysseus meets Eumaeus, he is attacked by dogs and saved by the swineherd, who offers Odysseus food and a place to stay – demonstrating his hospitality (a major theme in the epic). Odysseus is disguised as a beggar from Crete and tells his old friend Eumaeus not to worry because the king will return, planting a seed of hope in the swineherd’s heart.
Odysseus sits by the fire as Eumaeus discovers Telemachus at the entrance of his hut. (Public Domain)
Protothemanews reports that the discovery of the clay tablet was made after three years of excavations at Olympia by members of the Hellenic Institute of Political Science in collaboration with professors from the German Archaeological Institute and the Universities of Darmstadt, Tübingen, and Frankfurt am Mainz.
Olympia is best recognized as the home of the ancient Olympic Games. The clay tablet was found near the ruined Temple of Zeus at the archaeological site. This temple was built between 470 and 456 BC and, according to Greek Travel Pages, it was “the largest temple in the Peloponnese and became a model for all subsequent Doric temples”. The temple also contained one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world - the chryselephantine statue of Zeus by Pheidias.
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Apart from the Temple of Zeus, some other important features of the Olympia archaeological site include: The Temple of Hera (which also acted as a treasury and is the starting point for the Olympic torch relay), the Philippeion (dedicated by Philip II, king of Macedon and completed by his son Alexander the Great), and the stadium of Olympia (the home to the ancient Olympian running, wrestling, and the pentathlon elements of the Games, it could hold 45,000 spectators).
Ruins of the Temple of Zeus, Olympia. (Elisa.rolle/CC BY SA 4.0)
Returning to the clay tablet found at the famous site, the Greek culture ministry has dated it to the Roman era, possibly before the 3rd century AD. If the estimate is correct, Greek Reporter states that “the clay tablet would preserve perhaps the oldest extant written excerpt of the Homeric Epics that has been found, which besides its uniqueness is also a very important archaeological, literary and historical record.”
The clay tablet found at Olympia with 13 verses from the Odyssey. (protothema)
Top Image: A clay tablet with an engraved inscription has been discovered at the archaeological site of Olympia in Greece. It contains 13 verses of a rhapsody from Homer’s Odyssey. Source: AMNA