Returning to these themes, Dalby summarizes the contents and significance of the two epics and hypothesizes the transmission they probably followed, from oral invention and circulation to written versions.
He then spotlights the unknown poet who, long after the time of the traditional Homer, at last saw the Iliad and Odyssey recorded in writing. Dalby notes that "no early author describes or names the singer who saw these two poems written down. We are given no sex and no name -- certainly not Homer, who is seen as a singer of the distant past. Based on what we can judge of this poet's interests and on the circumstances in which oral poetry has been recorded elsewhere, "it is possible, and even probable, that this poet was a woman. As a working hypothesis, this helps to explain certain features in which these epics are better -- more subtle, more complex, more universal -- than most others.
The idea is not new. Eustathius of Thessalonica recounted an ancient fiction in which both epics were composed by an Egyptian priestess, Phantasia; Samuel Butler, in The Authoress of the Odyssey, attributed the Odyssey to a Sicilian woman of the 10th century BC, and Robert Graves in his novel Homer's Daughter made a similar proposal.
Even before the appearance of Rediscovering Homer the idea was dismissed as "far-fetched" by Anthony Snodgrass on the grounds that a woman would have been "bored out of her mind" when composing the Iliad. Reviewers, even when praising the book, have continued to be sceptical of this proposal:
Rewriting the Odyssey in the twenty-first century: Mary Zimmerman's Odyssey and Margaret Atwood's Penelopiad.
Mar 22, 2007; With Athena as its presiding deity The Odyssey has been associated with the feminine even before the rise of feminist criticism...