A stone tablet engraved with fragments of Homer’s Odyssey, the epic poem which has endured as a cultural touchstone since it was written in Greece in the 8th century BCE, has been uncovered by a team of Greek and German archaeologists. They believe that the tablets date back to the 3rd century CE, making this discovery the oldest record of Homer’s epic ever found in the country.
The tablet was excavated near the temple of Zeus in the ancient southern Greek city of Olympia after three years of digging. Preliminary dating of the tablet puts it being written in the 3rd century CE during the Roman empire. In a press release, the Greek Ministry of Culture said:
“If this preliminary dating is confirmed, then this clay tablet will maybe hold the oldest written excerpt of Homer’s volumes that have ever come to light, and constitutes, apart from its uniqueness, one great archaeological, literary, and historical artifact.”
It may be the oldest record of the Odyssey ever found in Greece. It is not, however, the oldest record of the Odyssey ever found in general. In 1909, archaeologists in Egypt found papyrus parchment with verses of the Odyssey dating back to the 3rd century BCE, the era of Ptolemaic rule over the Egyptian empire.
The fragments of the Odyssey found in Greece include 13 verses detailing Odysseus’ return to Ithaca after decades away at sea fighting wars, sneaking past a cyclops, and saying no to drugs. Odysseus returns to Ithaca disguised as a beggar—maybe he was just ragged from the road— and finds his former slave Eumaeus, now a swineherd, who takes Odysseus in and impresses him with his unwavering loyalty to his former master, despite how very little he has. See? People have been jerks for a very, very long time.
Homer’s Odyssey has remained a huge influence on western literature since it was written. It is continually reprinted and taught in literature and history classes, and it has inspired numerous adaptations including James Joyce’s seminal work Ulysses, which re-imagines events of the Odyssey in Ireland, and the Coen brothers acclaimed musical epic “O’ Brother Where Art Thou?” which substitutes turn-of-the-century Mississippi for the Mediterranean Sea.
It’s incredible how long the Odyssey has stuck around. How much of our culture will even be able to sustain for that long after a fall? People say “Be careful what you write online, it’ll stick around forever!” Nonsense. One good solar flare or rogue AI and all those truly, truly embarrassing things you’ve written to/about your ex on Facebook will be gone for good. The next time you’re feeling your oats and want to reduce the net amount of respect the general population has for you, don’t drunk Facebook—pour yourself a couple fingers of high-test bourbon and start chiseling all those ill-advised jokes into stone tablets. They’ll last much longer.