You are going to read a New Scientist article written by Nicola Jones. For each question, choose the answer which you think fits best according to the text.
Homer, the classical Greek poet who described the siege of Troy, had more than one identity. He is traditionally credited with the Iliad and the Odyssey, but scholars have been arguing over the poems’ authorship for more than 2000 years.
Now a new statistical analysis suggests that while the Iliad is from one author, the Odyssey had multiple authors. The study is based on techniques normally used to pick out patterns in DNA, says Edward Bush from the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico City.
The debate over the poems’ authorship is notoriously tricky to untangle, since very little is known about Homer. The poems were created 2800 years ago and were written down around the time that writing was ärst used in Greece. The poems were originally passed on orally by reciting them, so no one knows how close the written forms are to the originals.
Both poems have the same basic structure, with each line consisting of six sections, known as “feet”. Each foot has two or three syllables—a long syllable followed by one or two short ones. The result sounds like a march.
This rigid structure helped people remember the shockingly long epics—the Iliad runs to nearly 16,000 lines. But the poems don’t always follow the rules. Sometimes, two short syllables are replaced by one long one, for example, and sometimes a pause replaces a word. A single author would deviate from this basic pattern in a characteristic way.
Mathematician Ricardo Mansilla analysed Homer’s two poems along with two other Greek works and four Latin poems. First, he replaced long syllables with a 0, short syllables with a 1. And pauses with a 2. He then calculated the number of digits between the various combinations of numbers and created a series of graphs to study the different patterns. He had used this method before to look for patterns in DNA and financial markets.
In general, the two poems stick to the basic pattern. But Odyssey broke the rules far more frequently than the Iliad. “It’s very hard to believe that the same person wrote them,” says Mansilla. Indeed, the patterns in the Odyssey were far more like those found in the much later Latin poets because their poems were written down and not so often passed on orally.
The classicist Peter Gainsford, who researches the epics, says that there is more to poetry than just rhythm—content, for example. “The Odyssey has a lot more speeches in it. That could be after the style.”