The poem dates to the archaic period of Classical Antiquity. Scholarly consensus mostly places it in the 8th century BC, although some favour a 7th-century date. Herodotus placed Homer at approximately 400 years before his own time, which would place Homer at circa 850 BC.
The historical backdrop of the poem is the time of the Late Bronze Age collapse, in the early 12th century BC. Homer is thus separated from his subject matter by about 400 years, the period known as the Greek Dark Ages. Intense scholarly debate has surrounded the question of which portions of the poem preserve genuine traditions from the Mycenaean period. The Catalogue of Ships in particular has the striking feature that its geography does not portray Greece in the Iron Age, the time of Homer, but as it was before the Dorian invasion.
The title Ἰλιάς "Ilias" (genitive Ἰλιάδος "Iliados") is elliptic for ἡ ποίησις Ἰλιάς "he poiesis Ilias", meaning "the Trojan poem". Ἰλιάς, "of Troy", is the specifically feminine adjective form from Ἴλιον, "Troy"; the masculine adjective form would be Ἰλιακός or Ἴλιος. It is used by Herodotus.
Venetus A, copied in the 10th century AD, is the oldest fully extant manuscript of the Iliad. The first edition of the "Iliad",editio princeps, by Demetrius Chalcondyles was printed in Florence in 1488.
The Iliad as oral tradition
In antiquity, the Greeks applied the Iliad and the Odyssey as the bases of pedagogy. Literature was central to the educational-cultural function of the itinerant rhapsode, who composed consistent epic poems from memory and improvisation, and disseminated them, via song and chant, in his travels and at the Panathenaic Festival of athletics, music, poetics, and sacrifice, celebrating Athena's birthday.
Originally, Classical scholars treated the Iliad and the Odyssey as written poetry, and Homer as a writer. Yet, by the 1920s, Milman Parry (1902–1935) had launched a movement claiming otherwise. His investigation of the oral Homeric style—"stock epithets" and "reiteration" (words, phrases, stanzas) —established that these formulae were artifacts of oral tradition easily applied to an hexametric line. A two-word stock epithet (e.g. "resourceful Odysseus") reiteration may complement a character name by filling a half-line, thus, freeing the poet to compose a half-line of "original" formulaic text to complete his meaning. In Yugoslavia, Parry and his assistant, Albert Lord (1912–1991), studied the oral-formulaic composition of Serbian oral poetry, yielding the Parry/Lord thesis that established oral tradition studies, later developed by Eric Havelock, Marshall McLuhan, Walter Ong, and Gregory Nagy.
In The Singer of Tales (1960), Lord presents likenesses between the tragedies of the Greek Patroclus, in the Iliad, and of the Sumerian Enkidu, in the Epic of Gilgamesh, and claims to refute, with "careful analysis of the repetition of thematic patterns", that the Patroclus storyline upsets Homer's established compositional formulae of "wrath, bride-stealing, and rescue"; thus, stock-phrase reiteration does not restrict his originality in fitting story to rhyme. Likewise, in The Arming Motif, Prof. James Armstrong reports that the poem's formulae yield richer meaning because the "arming motif" diction—describing Achilles, Agamemnon, Paris, and Patroclus—serves to "heighten the importance of ... an impressive moment", thus, "[reiteration] creates an atmosphere of smoothness", wherein, Homer distinguishes Patroclus from Achilles, and foreshadows the former's death with positive and negative turns of phrase.
In the Iliad, occasional syntactic inconsistency may be an oral tradition effect—for example, Aphrodite is "laughter-loving", despite being painfully wounded by Diomedes (Book V, 375); and the divine representations may mix Mycenaean and Greek Dark Age (ca. 1150–800 BC) mythologies, parallelling the hereditary basileis nobles (lower social rank rulers) with minor deities, such as Scamander, et al.