Did Alcidamas invent the story of the contest of Homer and Hesiod? Martin West has argued that he did , 433 ff.). I believe that there are a number of reasons for thinking this improbable. The stories of the deaths of Homer and Hesiod were traditional before Alcidamas. Heraclitus knew the legend of the riddle of the lice and Homer's death , and the story of Hesiod's death was well known by Thucydides’ time . The first attempt to record information (...) about Homer's life is ascribed to Theagenes of Rhegium, in the late sixth century b.c. . By that time it seems likely that there was already a considerable body of legends about the early poets. The pieces of hexameter verse in the Herodotean Life of Homer, some of which show detailed knowledge of the area around Smyrna in the archaic period, probably date from before 500 b.c. In relating the stories of the poets’ deaths Alcidamas is recording the results of στορα, and this is what he implies in Michigan papyrus 2754 . West's theory requires one to assume that he has incorporated with these traditions his own fiction of the contest. This seems to me to go against what we know in general about the activity of sophists such as Alcidamas. Although they were capable of inventing myths , there is no evidence that they created such stories about earlier historical figures, rather than collecting popular legends about them, and using these for their own purposes. It is true that Critias used the evidence of Archilochus’ own poetry to draw conclusions about his life . But this is not the same as inventing a story virtually from scratch. Hesiod's own testimony about his poetic victory , the original starting-point for the legend of the contest with Homer, did not on its own provide a basis from which such inferences could be drawn. It seems more likely that the legend is the product of earlier popular embroidery, at a time when speculation about these early poets’ lives was becoming common. (shrink)
The Homeric Scholia are not the most obvious source for literary criticism in the modern sense. And yet if one takes the trouble to read through them one will find many valuable observations about poetic technique and poetic qualities. Nowadays we tend to emphasize different aspects from those which preoccupied ancient critics, but that may be a good reason for looking again at what they have to say.