Early in the Iliad, Homer’s epic poem about the legendary Trojan War, there occurs a famous digression known as the catalogue of ships, which names all the Greek leaders and contingents who came to fight at Troy. Before unfolding this impressive muster roll, Homer makes a special, public appeal to the Muses to ensure he gets the facts right:
Tell me now, Muses, who have your homes on Olympus –
for you are goddesses, and ever-present, and know all things,
and we hear only rumour, nor do we know anything – .
These verses reflect a central claim of epic poetry – that through the inspiration of the Muses, daughters of Memory, it can preserve the knowledge of people and the events of the past – a formidable power in the non-literate, oral cultures in which the Iliad evolved. The Iliad was composed around 750-700 BC, but its origins lie at least some five centuries earlier, deep in the Mycenaean Bronze Age – the world the Iliad poetically evokes.