CAT Verbal Questions - Reading Comprehension

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The Homeric Epics

Considered amongst the greatest works of Western literature, the Iliad, paired with its sequel, the Odyssey, is attributed to Homer.

However, that the author of the Iliad was not the same as the compiler of the fantastic tales in the Odyssey is arguable on several scores. The two epics belong to different literary types; the Iliad is essentially dramatic in its confrontation of opposing warriors who converse like the actors in Attic tragedy, while the Odyssey is cast as a novel narrated in more everyday human speech. In their physical structure, also, the two epics display an equally pronounced difference. The Odyssey is composed in six distinct cantos of four chapters ("books") each, whereas the Iliad moves unbrokenly forward with only one irrelevant episode in its tightly woven plot. Readers who examine psychological nuances see in the two works some distinctly different human responses and behavioral attitudes. For example, the Iliad voices admiration for the beauty and speed of horses, while the Odyssey shows no interest in these animals. The Iliad dismisses dogs as mere scavengers, while the poet of the Odyssey reveals a modern sentimental sympathy for Odysseus's faithful old hound, Argos.

But the most cogent argument for separating the two poems by assigning them to different authors is the archeological criterion of implied chronology. In the Iliad the Phoenicians are praised as skilled craftsmen working in metal and weavers of elaborate, much-prized garments. The shield which the metalworking god Hephaistos forges for Achilles in the Iliad seems inspired by the metal bowls with inlaid figures in action made by the Phoenicians and introduced by them into Greek and Etruscan commerce in the 8th century B.C. In contrast, in the Odyssey Greek sentiment toward the Phoenicians has undergone a drastic change. Although they are still regarded as clever craftsmen, in place of the Iliad's laudatory polydaidaloi ("of manifold skills") the epithet is parodied into polypaipaloi ("of manifold scurvy tricksters"), reflecting the competitive penetration into Greek commerce by traders from Phoenician Carthage in the 7th century B.C.

One thing, however, is certain: both epics were created without recourse to writing. Between the decline of Mycenaean and the emergence of classical Greek civilization—which is to say, from the late 12th to the mid-8th century B.C.—the inhabitants of the Greek lands had lost all knowledge of the syllabic script of their Mycenaean fore-bears and had not yet acquired from the easternmost shore of the Mediterranean that familiarity with Phoenician alphabetic writing from which classical Greek literacy (and in turn, Etruscan, Roman, and modern European literacy) derived. The same conclusion of illiterate composition may be reached from a critical inspection of the poems themselves. Among many races and in many different periods there has existed (and still exists sporadically) a form of purely oral and unwritten poetic speech, distinguishable from normal and printed literature by special traits that are readily recognizable and specifically distinctive. To this class the Homeric epics conform. Hence it would seem an inevitable inference that they must have been created either before the end of the 8th century B.C. or so shortly after that date that the use of alphabetic writing had not yet been developed sufficiently to record lengthy compositions. It is this illiterate environment that explains the absence of all contemporary historical record of the authors of the two great epics.

It is probable that Homer's name was applied to two distinct individuals differing in temperament and artistic accomplishment, born perhaps as much as a century apart, but practicing the same traditional craft of oral composition and recitation. Although each became known as "Homer, " it may be (as one ancient source asserts) that “homros “was a dialectal word for a blind man and so came to be used generically of the old and often sightless wandering reciters of heroic legends in the traditional meter of unrhymed dactylic hexameters. Thus there could have been many Homers. The two epics ascribed to Homer, however, have been as highly prized in modern as in ancient times for their marvelous vividness of expression, their keenness of personal characterization, their unflagging interest, whether in narration of action or in animated dramatic dialogue.

  1. Which of the following cannot be reasonably inferred from the passage?

    1. Before the 12th century BC , the use of syllabic writing existed in Ancient Greece.
    2. Phoenician traders flourished in Greece at the time the Homeric epics were composed.
    3. Greek, Roman and modern European literacy can be traced back to the Phoenicians.
    4. Iliad and Odyssey are purely oral poetic speech, set to rhyme.
  2. Which of the following can be characterized as the main idea of the passage?

    1. There could have been many Homers, old and often sightless wandering reciters of heroic legends.
    2. Attributing the composition of the Iliad and Odyssey to one Homer is erroneous.
    3. Both Iliad and Odyssey were created without recourse to writing.
    4. The Iliad and the Odyssey are of distinct literary types, physical structure and style.
  3. The term epithet as used in the passage is farthest in meaning to

    1. Sobriquet
    2. Moniker
    3. Nickname
    4. Jargon

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