Plagiarism – The Definition
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines plagiarism as:
(Plagiarism is) to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own : use (another’s production) without crediting the source
(Plagiarism is) to commit literary theft : present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source
We see instances of plagiarism everywhere, and according to this nice article, this term was first used in 40 AD.
And yet, plagiarism as an “art-form” definitely existed centuries earlier. Here’s a short story (made shorter,) about the Greek poet Homer’s life, which I would consider a shocking case of literary theft from…well, hold your breath… a blind man!
The Story of the First Plagiarist:
According to Pseudo-Herodotus (an unknown author and hence the name, but who wrote one of the two biographies of Homer,) Homer who had become blind after suffering from an eye-disease was taken in by Thestorides, a school-teacher, who provided him food and lodgings but took his permission to record his poetry (The recording had to be done by writing, of course. Things were difficult back then when we didn’t have phones to record stuff for us.)
So Thestorides recorded the Iliad and the Odyssey, and then moved to a different city Chios, where he began reciting Homer’s poetry as his own. When Homer learned of this, he too went to Chios, and found work as a teacher. The “plagiarist” fled when he learned that Homer had arrived.
Thestorides, by definition, was a plagiarist, and if we pin Homer’s time on earth down, according to the author, it would be around 1000 BC. That obviously means that plagiarism as an “art-form” has been evolving for at least three thousand years now.
Creativity and Plagiarism are Twins
All this tells us that plagiarism is by no means a modern invention. It came into existence along with creativity. I see them as twins, born of the same mother, but bearing different temperaments, and I believe that as long as creativity exists, so plagiarism too shall continue to thrive, pillion-riding behind the creators.
Image Credits: Painted by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) (in Public Domain)
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