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The poems attributed to Homer, the Iliad and Odyssey, seem to have been sung in their final form during about the eighth century B.C., although contradictory Greek traditions offered many alternative datings. A number of cities asserted that they were the poet's birthplace, but the strongest claims were those of the island of Chios, off the west coast of Asia Minor, and the city of Smyrna (Izmir) on that coast. The internal evidence of the poems on the whole supports the belief that this was the region of the Greek world from which he came. The tradition that he was blind is not implausible, since the bards who earned a livelihood by singing at Greek courts were often blind.

Homer possessed an exceptionally powerful and imaginative visual sense, which prompted Voltaire to define him as a "sublime painter." The color, vividness, and tenderness of his similes, for example - drawn as they are from an extensive range of nature and life - convey the pictorial and emotional appeal of everyday scenes and doings with a deep sympathy and intuitive power. The rapidly moving, picturesque, imaginative diction in which the poet enlarges on these and many other themes is always suited to its various subjects.

Homer's unique descriptive talent enables him to present each personage as a strongly differentiated individual. The most formidable in the Iliad is Achilles. Savage, sulky and vindictive, at times, but also the most handsome, eloquent, courteous, generous, wise and cultured of all heroes, possessing in extreme degree all their virtues and faults. He is by turns lustful for imperishable fame, valorous in battle, and furiously sensitive to insults - in short, he is the most nearly complete exponent of the Homeric code of honor, which, for good or evil, is one of the Iliad's outstanding contributions to the social history of the world.