“The difficulty is not so great to die for a friend, as to find a friend worth dying for.” – Homer, Iliad

Homer is best known as the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey. He was believed by the ancient Greeks to have been the first and greatest of the epic poets. Author of the first known literature of Europe, he is central to the Western canon.

Whether and when he lived is unknown. Herodotus estimates that Homer lived 400 years before his own time, which would place him at around 850 BCE. Pseudo-Herodotus estimates that he was born 622 years before Xerxes I placed a pontoon bridge over the Hellespont in 480 BCE, which would place him at 1102 BCE, 168 years after the fall of Troy in 1270 BCE. These two endpoints are 252 years apart, representative of the differences in dates given by the other sources.

The importance of Homer to the ancient Greeks is described in Plato’s Republic, which portrays him as the protos didaskalos, “first teacher”, of the tragedians, the hegemon paideias, “leader of Greek culture”, and the ten Hellada pepaideukon, “teacher of [all] Greece”.

Homer’s works, which are about fifty percent speeches, provided models in persuasive speaking and writing that were emulated throughout the ancient and medieval worlds. Fragments of Homer account for nearly half of all identifiable Greek literary papyrus finds in Egypt.

The Greek hero Achilles
The Greek hero Achilles, Trojan War, Iliad

The Iliad

The famous epic, Iliad narrates the happenings in the city of Ilion during the Trojan War. Ilion was a city within the state of Troy. The word Iliad is derived from the name of the city and its literal meaning is “something concerned with Ilion”.

The Iliad is a poetic description of the war, its main characters, fighters, incidents and scenes from the war. It explains how the Greek and Trojan warriors gain strength from their Gods and make sacrifices in their name. Although the Iliad focuses only on the last year of the war, it is an exceptionally lengthy account of the warfare.

Odysseus and the sirens. Homer's Odyssey.
Odysseus and the sirens. Homer’s Odyssey.

The Odyssey

Odyssey is based on a Greek character Odysseus. This epic poem focuses on the ten-year-long journey Odysseus made from Troy to Ithaca after the end of the Trojan War. The events leading to the start and conclusion of the war are explained in detail.

The poetic story illustrates the dangerous adventures of Odysseus on his journey back home and also the ordeals his family goes through in Ithaca in his absence. The poem is written in 12, 110 lines of dactylic hexameter. It has been translated into numerous modern languages of the world and continues to be read widely.

Although the Iliad and Odyssey are Homer’s best-known poems, more of his works, for instance, Homeric Hymns have come to surface. Sadly a lot of his other works are believed to be lost in time.

Philosophers, historians, poetry, tragedy, comedy

Ancient Greek literature

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Chapter 1

Homer’s Odyssey – verses 1-9

Chapter 1

Ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, Μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ
πλάγχθη, ἐπεὶ Τροίης ἱερὸν πτολίεθρον ἔπερσε·
πολλῶν δ’ ἀνθρώπων ἴδεν ἄστεα καὶ νόον ἔγνω,
πολλὰ δ’ ὅ γ’ ἐν πόντῳ πάθεν ἄλγεα ὃν κατὰ θυμόν,

ἀρνύμενος ἥν τε ψυχὴν καὶ νόστον ἑταίρων.
ἀλλ’ οὐδ’ ὧς ἑτάρους ἐρρύσατο, ἱέμενός περ·
αὐτῶν γὰρ σφετέρῃσιν ἀτασθαλίῃσιν ὄλοντο,
νήπιοι, οἳ κατὰ βοῦς Ὑπερίονος Ἠελίοιο
ἤσθιον· αὐτὰρ ὁ τοῖσιν ἀφείλετο νόστιμον ἦμαρ.

Αρχαίο Κείμενο.Ancient copy, original.

Chapter 1

Tell me, O Muse, of the man of many devices, who wandered
full many ways after he had sacked the sacred citadel of Troy.
Many were the men whose cities he saw and whose mind he learned, aye,
and many the woes he suffered in his heart upon the sea,

seeking to win his own life and the return of his comrades.
Yet even so he saved not his comrades, though he desired it sore,
for through their own blind folly they perished
fools, who devoured the kine of Helios Hyperion;
but he took from them the day of their returning.

Homer. The Odyssey with an English Translation by A.T. Murray, PH.D. in two volumes. Cambridge, MA., Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann, Ltd. 1919.

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