Homer's Iliad and Odyssey are unquestionably two of the greatest epic masterpieces in Western literature. Though more than 2,700 years old, their stories of brave heroics, capricious gods, and towering human emotions are vividly timeless. The Iliad can justly be called the world's greatest war epic. The terrible and long-drawn-out siege of Troy remains one of the classic campaigns, the heroism and treachery of its combatants unmatched in song and story. Driven by fierce passions and loyalties, men and gods battle to a devastating conclusion. The Odyssey chronicles the many trials and adventures Odysseus must pass through on his long journey home from the Trojan wars to his beloved wife. Though the stormy god of the ocean has sworn vengeance against him, and witches and sirens try to lure him off course, Odysseus is clever and has the brilliant goddess Athena on his side.
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The wrath of Achilles not only begins the oldest piece of Western literature, but is also its premise. The Iliad has been the basis of numerous clichés in literature, but at its root it is a story of a war that for centuries was told orally before being put down by Homer in which the
The story of the Trojan War is well known and most people who have not read The Iliad assume they know what happens, but in fact at the end of the poem the city of Troy still stands and a wooden horse has not been mentioned. The Iliad tells of several weeks in the last year of the war that revolve around the dishonorable actions of Agamemnon that leads to Achilles refusing to fight with the rest of the Greeks and the disaster it causes in the resulting engagements against the Trojans. But then Achilles allows his friend Patroclus to lead his men into battle to save the Greek ships from being put to the torch only for Patroclus to advance to the walls of Troy and be slain by Hector. The wrath of Achilles turns from Agamemnon to Hector and the Trojans, leading to the death of Troy’s greatest warrior and the poem ending with his funeral.
Although the actions of Achilles and Hector take prominence, there are several other notable “storylines” one doesn’t know unless you’ve read epic. First and foremost is Diomedes, the second greatest fighter amongst the Greeks but oftentimes overlooked when it comes to adaptations especially to other important individuals like Odysseus, Menelaus, and the pivotal Patroclus. The second is how much the Olympians and other minor deities are thought to influence the events during this stretch of the war and how both mortals and immortals had to bow to Fate in all circumstances. The third is how ‘nationalistic’ the epic is in the Greek perspective because even though Hector is acknowledged the greatest mortal-born warrior in the war on both sides, as a Trojan he has to have moments of cowardice that none of the Greek heroes are allowed to exhibit and his most famous kill is enabled by Apollo instead of all by himself. And yet, even though Homer writes The Iliad as a triumphant Greek narrative the sections that have Hector’s flaws almost seem hollow as if Homer and his audience both subconsciously know that his epic is not the heroic wrath of Achilles but the tragic death of Hector.
The Iliad is the ultimate classic literature and no matter your reading tastes one must read it to have a better appreciation for all of literature as a whole. Although the it was first written over 2500 years ago, it shows the duality of heroic feats and complete tragedy that is war.
The crafty hero of The Iliad is in the last leg of his long ten year journey home, but it not only his story that Homer relates to the reader in this sequel to the first war epic in literature. The Odyssey describes the Odysseus’ return to Ithaca after twenty years along with the emergence of his son Telemachus as a new hero while his faithful wife Penelope staves off suitors who are crowding their home and eating their wealth daily.
Although the poem is named after his father, Telemachus’ “arc” begins first as the reader learns about the situation on Ithaca around Odysseus’ home and the search he begins for information on his father’s whereabouts. Then we shift to Odysseus on a beach longing to return home when he is informed his long sojourn is about to end and he sets off on a raft and eventually arrives among the Phaeacians, who he relates the previous ten years of his life to before they take him back home. On Ithaca, Odysseus and his son eventually meet and begin planning their revenge on the Penelope’s suitors that results in slaughter and a long-awaited family reunion with Penelope.
First and foremost The Odyssey is about coming home, in both Telemachus’ and Odysseus’ arcs there are tales of successful homecomings, unsuccessful homecomings, and homecoming that never happen of heroes from The Iliad. Going hand-in-hand with homecomings is the wanderings of other heroes whose adventures are not as exciting or as long as Odysseus’. Interwoven throughout the poem with homecomings and wanderings is the relationship between guests and hosts along with the difference between good and bad for both that has long reaching consequences. And finally throughout Odysseus’ long journey there are tests everywhere of all types for him to overcome or fail, but the most important are Penelope’s both physical and intimate.
Even though it is a sequel, The Odyssey is in complete contrast to The Iliad as instead of epic battle this poem focuses on a hero overcoming everything even the gods to return home. Suddenly the poet who gave readers a first-hand account of war shows his readers the importance of returning from war from the perspective of warriors and their families. Although they are completely different, The Odyssey in fact compliments The Iliad as well as completing it which means if you read one you have to read the other.
The Iliad takes us through the battle of Troy and the Greek invasion. We are able to Marvel at great warriors like Hector and Achilles. We are able to hear of their struggles and their woes and eventually their deaths.
The Odyssey takes us through the 10-year struggle to
Homer is definitely a master of the Greek epic. His writing resembles that of a playwright of modern day and even harkens back to a bit of Shakespearean feeling in the emotion of the characters. This is definitely a classic for the ages and in my opinion one that should be read once by everyone.
This translation uses plain English, with no hexameter of rhymes, which helped me focus on the story.
A friend of mine who is a classicist says she prefers The Illiad--that she thinks it the more mature book. The Illiad deals with just a few weeks in the last year of the decade-long Trojan War. As the opening lines state, it deals with how the quarrel between the Greek's great hero Achilles and their leader Agamemnon "caused the Akhaians loss on bitter loss and crowded brave souls into the undergloom." So, essentially, The Illiad is a war story. One close to three thousand years old with a mindset very alien to ours. One where unending glory was seen as a great good over personal survival or family. One where all felt that their ends were fated. And one with curiously human, or at least petty, gods. Some see the work as jingoistic, even pro-war, and I suppose it can be read that way, but what struck me was the compassion with which Homer wrote of both sides. We certainly care for the Trojan Hector as much as or more (in my case much more) than for the sulky and explosive Achilles. For the Trojan King Priam as much or more (in my case much more) than King Agamemnon. Homer certainly doesn't obscure the pity, the waste, and the grief war brings. And there are plenty of scenes in the work that I found unforgettable: The humorous scene where Aphrodite is wounded and driven from the field. The moving scene between Hector and his wife and child. The grief Helen feels in losing a friend. The confrontation between Priam and Achilles.
I do love The Illiad, but I'd give The Odyssey a slight edge. Even just reading general Greek mythology, Odysseus was always a favorite, because unlike figures such as Achilles or Heracles he succeeded on his wits, not muscle. It's true, on this reread, especially in contrast to say The Illiad's Hector, I do see Odysseus' dark side. The man is a pirate and at times rash, hot-tempered, even vicious. But I do feel for his pining for home and The Odyssey is filled with such a wealth of incident--the Cyclops, Circe, Scylla and Charybdis, the Sirens--and especially Hades, the forerunner of Dante's Hell. And though my friend is right that the misogynist ancient Greek culture isn't where you go for strong heroines, I love Penelope; described as the "matchless queen of cunning," she's a worthy match for the crafty Odysseus. The series of recognition scenes on Ithaca are especially moving and memorable--I think my favorite and the most poignant being that of Odysseus' dog Argos.
Epic poems about 2,700 years old, in the right translation both works can nevertheless speak to me more eloquently than many a contemporary novel.
This volume continues the trend of publishing houses taking old, copyright expired books, putting them in pretty packaging and selling them as new releases. For what it is, this edition is suburb—the binding is absolutely beautiful. The text of this book is the Samuel Butler translation, and is available at no cost through project Gutenberg and the kindle store as well. I read the digital on the bus and the codex at the home—very handy.
The translation is done in prose, in what Butler assures us is as a close to word for word as was practical. Even in prose, Butler does an admirable job of letting the language flow while telling the story. Although at times awkwardly Victorian, the language doesn’t feel forced and after a short period of acclimation only occasionally caused this reader to stumble. In his forward, Butler writes how he resisted writing his translation in an Edwardian style for, in short, for what was a perfectly good Edwardianism, may not have had the same affect on the Victorian. Likewise, I make the same observation: what may have been a perfectly good Victorianism may not have the same affect on someone in 2012.
One thing the reader will notice immediately is that in the Butler translation, the Odyssey has a completely difference voice than the Iliad. I am not sure if this is the case in the Greek, or even other translations, but it is very apparent in this translation. This really shouldn’t be a surprise; however, as Butler believed the two stories have different authors as he wrote in his forward to the 1898 edition. I can’t discern how much of the voice change is resultant from the form and style of the Greek, or the product of a translator interjecting his own beliefs into his own mind’s ear.
Learning ancient Greek to read the originals would rock but really isn’t an option right now (or for the foreseeable future). If I had it to do over, I would have read a more contemporary translation such as that from Dr. Richmond Lattimore, formerly of Bryn Mawr College as my primary, with Butler as a secondary reference.