The Greek Ministry of Culture reports archaeologists have found the oldest written record of Homer’s Odyssey. Considered to be one of the all-time greatest works of literature, the engraved clay slab contains 13 verses from the 12,109-line poem, with preliminary estimates dating it to Roman times, likely before the third century.
Homer’s Odyssey follows Odysseus’s adventure-filled 10-year journey home to Ithaca after the fall of Troy. The newly discovered text from the tablet comes from the Odyssey’s 14th Rhapsody, in which the hero, disguised as a beggar, tells his faithful servant Eumaeus that Odysseus is still alive.
Zeus, king of the Greek gods, plays a key role in the Odyssey, helping his daughter, Athena, rescue the epic poem’s hero, Odysseus. It seems fitting then that the engraved terracotta slab was discovered near the ancient remains of the Temple of Zeus in Olympia.
The Hellenic Institute of Political Science, the German Archaeological Institute, and other research agencies, were conducting a three-year dig at the Sanctuary of Olympia (home of the original Olympic games) when they found this new treasure. Archaeologist Erophili Kollia, who directed the excavation, tells LiveScience the discovery cannot yet be connected to the sanctuary directly, as similar finds were not unearthed. He also tells the site that the text is slightly varied from later versions, “but we cannot refer to them in detail, as the study of the inscription is in progress.”
The Odyssey is widely believed to date back to the Eighth Century B.C., with the story being told in the oral tradition before it was eventually inscribed. Prior to the 15th century, copies of the Odyssey were handwritten in Greek, and the first printed version, also transcribed in Greek, was produced in 1488. The work was first translated into English by George Chapman in 1616.
In a statement, the ministry says the discovery “is beyond its uniqueness, a great archaeological, epigraphic, literary and historical exhibit.”