Homer
Homer

Homer
(c 800 BC)

Greek Writer


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The Life and Work of Homer

Homer is the traditional author of two of the classical world's great epics, The Iliad and The Odyssey. These are Europe's oldest literature. Their influence on later Greek, Roman and European culture has been enormous.

Very little is known about his life apart from the fact that he may have been blind. Most historians agree that the writings attributed to him were probably compiled from older oral traditions.

Tradition also has it that Homer was born in the city of Smyrna (the modern Izmir in Turkey) around 850 BC.

The two epics are written in an old version of Ionic Greek mixed with Aolic Greek. The style is rapid, plain and direct. The epics are written in verse - the style of which is called Dactylic Hexameter. This gives six three syllable blocks for each line. The style was developed by early Greek poets of the oral tradition and, after Homer, influenced later writers both Greek and Latin (even though the latter language was less suited to the style).

The Iliad is the story of what is known in the English speaking world as the Trojan War. It was fought between various Hellenic armies (the Greeks) and the Trojans (actually the city of Troy and their Anatolian allies) around 1190 BC. The Greeks spent ten years besieging the city without success. The Iliad includes many characters and phrases still familiar to the modern English speaking world.

The war ends after the Greeks build a wooden horse (the Trojan Horse) which they leave outside the gates of the city and apparently leave. The Trojans take it into their city but it was full of solders who sneak out at night and open the city gates, leading to a Greek victory. Hence the phrase "beware of Greeks bearing gifts".

The Iliad begins with the following verses:

"Sing, O goddess, the anger of Achilles son of Peleus, that brought
countless ills upon the Achaeans. Many a brave soul did it send
hurrying down to Hades, and many a hero did it yield a prey to dogs
and vultures, for so were the counsels of Jove fulfilled from the
day on which the son of Atreus, king of men, and great Achilles, first
fell out with one another."

It contains 15,693 lines of verse. Later Greeks divided it into 24 books. Modern critics are of the opinion that The Iliad possesses a high degree of poetic flow. It has been the inspiration for many later dramas including:

The Odyssey is a sequel to the Iliad. It tells the story of the ten year voyage of Odysseus and his crew back to their homes in Ithaca after the Trojan War. In his 20 year absence his son, Telemachus and his wife Penelope must deal with a group of unruly suitors who are squatting in his palace and competing for the right to marry Penelope and become king, having assumed that Odysseus was dead.

The Odyssey has a non-linear plot with flashbacks and stories describing previous action. It is full of vivid characters and scenes. The story is so famous and influential that the word odyssey itself has come to refer to any epic voyage.

Scenes from the epic include:

The Odyssey has been influenced by the Epic of Gilgamesh, the world's oldest story, written in Mesopotamia around 2200 BC. The Odyssey, in turn has influenced many later writers:

The first few verses of The Odyssey:

"Tell me, O muse, of that ingenious hero who travelled far and wide
after he had sacked the famous town of Troy.
Many cities did he visit, and many were the nations
with whose manners and customs he was acquainted;
moreover he suffered much by sea while trying to save his own life
and bring his men safely home;
but do what he might he could not save his men,
for they perished through their own sheer folly
in eating the cattle of the Sun-god Hyperion;
so the god prevented them from ever reaching home.
Tell me, too, about all these things, O daughter of Jove,
from whatsoever source you may know them."

Homer was later deified. Shrines were built to him throughout the Greek speaking world. Later Greeks viewed him as the father of all literature. Greeks tend to regard Homer's two epics as the highest cultural achievement of their people and the defining moment in Greek culture. These two epics are the focal point of Greek values and the Greek world view.

In the 1990s Homer's name was revived when a USA cartoon character is named after the writer: Homer Simpson.

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External Homer Links

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Homer, The Iliad and The Odyssey
A brief biography.

The Odyssey
The complete Odyssey.