Archaeologists have unearthed what they say is the oldest known fragment of Homer's The Odyssey, an epic poem considered one of the greatest works of literature in history.
A team of Greek and German researchers has dug up a clay tablet containing an inscription of an excerpt of The Odyssey, the second epic attributed to the blind poet Homer after the Iliad.
The Odyssey tells the story of Odysseus, the long-lost king of Ithaca on a 10-year journey back to his homeland after the decade-long siege of Troy, an epic recounted in Iliad.
Clay Tablet Found Near A Holy Site
Following a three-year excavation, archaeologists at the Greek Archaeological Services and the German Institute of Archaeology discovered the ancient tablet in Olympia in the Peloponnese peninsula in southern Greece.
The inscription on the tablet contains 13 lines from the 12,000-verse epic poem. In particular, it contains the poem's 14th Rhapsody, which describes how Odysseus, disguised by the goddess Athena as a beggar, speaks with his old friend Eumaeus.
Eumaeus tells the disguised beggar about Odysseus, and the beggar responds by saying the king will return and drive away the city's elites who are trying to take over his house and his wife.
Not The Oldest Fragment In The World
Initial analyses date the tablet back to the 3rd century AD. This is about 800 years after the poem was first written down following decades or centuries of a long oral tradition.
If confirmed, the tablet would be "a great archaeological, epigraphic, literary, and historical exhibit," according to Greek authorities.
However, some experts question the claim that it is the oldest known written record of The Odyssey in the world. A clay tablet found near the Black Sea coast of modern-day Ukraine contains fragments of the epic poem inscribed by schoolboys at Olbia. It is estimated to have come from the 4th century BC, making it 600 years older than the tablet found in Olympia.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York also houses scraps of papyri taken from Hellenistic Egypt in 250 BC. The papyri are believed to contain unconfirmed verses from Book 20 of The Odyssey, a part of the poem that is not included in modern versions.
Still, experts say the tablet is an unusual find despite other discoveries because of the uniqueness of the medium.
"What is interesting to me about it is the medium," says Tim Whitmarsh, professor of Greek culture at Cambridge University. "It's rare to find continuous text of Homer written out at such length in clay."