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Nobody Is My Name

Excerpt from We First Met in Ithaca, or Was It Eden?

By Richard SeltzerPublished about a year ago 4 min read
We First Met in Ithaca, or Was It Eden? at Amazon

“Homer, the greatest author of all time, lived before written language. We know very little about him.”

“What do we know?”

“The ancients believed Homer was a bard from Smyrna or the island of Chios. We don’t know if he was one person or many. Because there was no written language, the epics were transmitted orally for centuries, and the performers must have elaborated and improvised, resulting in multiple versions that were only standardized when the text was written down.”

“So, there was no Homer?”

“There’s a controversy over who wrote The Iliad and The Odyssey, just as there is over who wrote Shakespeare’s plays. Such doubts are a form of praise, an indication that it’s hard to believe that one man could do so much so well. It’s unlikely that Homer was one person. But we’ll ever know for sure.”

“Considering how little is known, maybe Homer was a woman. Why not do a story about that?” Elle suggested

“That’s already been done by Samuel Butler and Robert Graves.”

“Graves? the author of I, Claudius?”

“Yes. He wrote a novel along those lines called Homer’s Daughter.”

“And what do you believe?”

“I like a theory that a student of mine came up with, that the name Homer became a title that was handed down from one generation to the next, like Dread Pirate Roberts in the movie The Princess Bride.”

“That sounds more like a joke than a theory. Who do you think wrote the works of Homer?”


“Now you’re joking again.”

“Seriously. It’s a matter of the wiggle room in the music.”


“We know that the Homeric epics were sung, not just spoken. We have the words and their meter but can only guess at the music. An opera is the closest we have today to such a performance, though operas are far shorter. The longest opera of note, by Wagner, takes five hours, while a performance of The Odyssey would take about eighteen.”

“And what’s the relevance of that?”

“As far as I know, there’s no opera of significance for which the same person wrote both music and words. It’s unlikely that one person could have two different kinds of genius, could write both words and music of a work as long and complex as The Odyssey and do it so well.”

“So, you think that Homer had an unknown partner or partners who wrote the music?”

“Or the other way around. Maybe Homer wrote the music, and an unknown partner wrote the words — the masterpiece that has lasted three thousand years.”

“Impossible. We would know his name or her name or their names.”

“Not necessarily. In opera, the author of the words is often forgotten. The composer takes full credit. Perhaps Homer was the composer, and we don’t know who wrote the words.”

“That sounds like the beginning of a story,” said Elle.

“Imagine his name was Nobody.”


“Remember the scene where Odysseus outsmarted the Cyclops by telling him that his name was Nobody? Then, after Odysseus tricked and blinded him, the Cyclops roared with rage, calling on his friends for help. They asked him who did this to him? And he answered No Man or Nobody. They took his words literally, rather than as a name, and didn’t help him because if no man did it, then a god must have. In my story, the man who wrote the words, who created that scene, was himself named Nobody.”

“You’ve got to be kidding. Who would have such a name?”

“A slave whose owner had a sense of humor. The slave claimed that he was the son of a king, that he had been kidnapped by pirates when very young and sold as a slave, then sold again and again. He told his story many times, hoping someone would help him go home, on the expectation his father would pay a large ransom. But he didn’t know the name of his home city, and no one believed him. Many slaves told stories like that. His last owner shut him up by saying, ‘Whoever you were, you’re nobody now. And that’s who you’ll be from now on — Nobody.’

“Nobody showed talent working with his hands, so his master had him trained as a carpenter. He was also good at telling stories, retelling well-known legends in clever ways. When traveling bards stopped by and sang for the entertainment of guests, Nobody was often called upon to tell a story or two after the main performance.

“One bard, named Homer, proposed to the master, ‘That storyteller of yours, the carpenter, has talent. I’d like to work with him. I could compose music to go with his stories, and we could combine the pieces to make something big and complex. Lend him to me, and I’ll stay here all winter and entertain you and your guests every night at dinner. It’ll be no loss to you. He’ll still have time to do carpentry, if you like.’

“They worked well together, so well that Homer came back the next winter and the next, adding new layers of story each time. And when he performed elsewhere and people asked him, ‘Where did you get the words? Who wrote the story that you sing so well?’ Homer answered with a smile, ‘Nobody. Nobody did it.’”

We First Met in Ithaca or Was It Eden? at Amazon

Short Story

About the Creator

Richard Seltzer

Richard now writes fulltime. He used to publish public domain ebooks and worked for Digital Equipment as "Internet Evangelist." He graduated from Yale where he had creative writing courses with Robert Penn Warren and Joseph Heller.

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