The dates of Smyrnaeus's life are controversial, but they are traditionally placed in the latter part of the 4th century AD. "His date is approximately settled by two passages in the poem, viz. vi. 531 sqq., in which occurs an illustration drawn from the man-and-beast fights of the amphitheatre, which were suppressed by Theodosius I. (379-395 A.D.); and xiii. 335 sqq., which contains a prophecy, the special particularity of which, it is maintained by Tychsen  and Koechly, limits its applicability to the middle of the fourth century A.D."
Some scholars suggest an earlier date in the 3rd or even the 2nd century, arguing that his Posthomerica shows an influence from the "Second Sophistic", the school of Greek orators who flourished in the 1st and 2nd centuries. According to his own account (xii. 310), he began composing poetry in his early youth while tending sheep near Smyrna (present-day İzmir). His epic in fourteen books, known as the Posthomerica, covers the period between the end of Homer's Iliad and the end of the Trojan War. Its primary importance is as the earliest surviving work to cover this period, the archaic works in the Epic Cycle, which he knew and drew upon, having been lost.
His materials are borrowed from the cyclic poems from which Virgil (with whose works he was probably acquainted) also drew, in particular the Aethiopis (Coming of Memnon) and the Iliupersis (Destruction of Troy) of Arctinus of Miletus and the Ilias Mikra (Little Iliad) of Lesches. His work is closely modelled on Homer, though Quintus is universally acknowledged to be inferior to Homer as a poet.
The Editio princeps by Aldus Manutius was published at Venice, 1504 under the title Quinti Calabri derelictorum ab Homero libri XIV. Aldus calls him Quintus Calaber, because the only known manuscript of his poem was discovered at Otranto in Calabria by Cardinal Bessarion, in 1450. His familiar name was first given him by his editor Lorenz Rhodomann, in 1577, who included a Latin translation by Michael Neander.
There has been a renewed interest in the poet and his poem in the last several decades,[when?] with a new edition of the text with partial commentary and French translation done by Francis Vian (published by Bude); Combellack's publication of an English translation (now[when?] in print only through Barnes & Noble); Alan James and Kevin Lee's detailed commentary on book 5; and Alan James's English translation, with newly edited text and commentary.
The first four books, covering the same ground as the Aethiopis of Arctinus of Miletus, describe the doughty deeds and deaths of Penthesileia the Amazon, of Memnon, son of Eos, the dawn goddess, slain by Achilles, and of Achilles himself; and the funeral games in his honour.
Books five through twelve, covering the same ground as the Little Iliad of Lesches, span the contest between Aias and Odysseus for the arms of Achilles, the death of Aias of suicide after his loss, the exploits of Neoptolemus, Eurypylus and Deiphobus, the deaths of Paris and Oenone, and the building of the wooden horse.
The remaining books, covering the same ground as Arctinus' The Sack of Troy, relate the capture of Troy by means of the wooden horse, the sacrifice of Polyxena at the grave of Achilles, the departure of the Greeks, and their dispersal by storm.
- Thomas Christian Tychsen, Quinti Smyrnaei Posthomericorum libri XIV. Nunc primum ad librorum manoscriptorum fidem et virorum doctorum coniecturas recensuit, restituit et supplevit Thom. Christ. Tychsen acceserunt observationes Chr. Gottl. Heynii (Strassburg: Typhographia Societatis Bipontinae) 1807.
- Armin H. Köchly, Quinti Smyrnaei Posthomericorum libri XIV. Recensuit, prolegomenis et adnotatione critica instruxit Arminius Koechly (Leipzig: Weidmannos) 1850.
- A.S. Way, Introduction 1913.
- This may be read as a literary topos, aligning him with the herder-poet Hesiod. There are parallels in the early careers of Apollo and Paris as well.
- Cointi Smyrnaei, popularis Homeri, poëtae vetustissimi et suavissimi, Ilii excidii libri duo, Reditus Graecorum capta liber unus. Expositi olim in schola Ilfeldensi et editi nunc studio, industria et labore Laurentii Rhodomanni. (Leipzig: Steinmann) 1577.