<![CDATA[There is no writer for which the title ‘father of Western Literature’ could be more appropriate than Homer. The blind poet from Ancient Greece is credited with writing the first two works of the western canon, the Iliad and the Odyssey. The characters and events of these stories were so influential that they have become features of the English language. If you see the words Odyssey, Trojan Horse or Siren, you will have a clear understanding of what is being alluded to, even if you have never encountered either of these two tales. The Odyssey has been adapted and reused repeatedly, from the Roman Ulysses to modern TV shows. This continual reinterpretation of the story is fitting. Although both the Iliad and Odyssey are credited to Homer, they are derived from oral traditions. Archaeologists and linguists date Homer’s versions of the two poems to sometime between 750 B.C.E and 650 B.C.E. However the story of the Trojan War and epic journeys to the East existed for hundreds of years before, in different forms passed through generations and modified by minstrels and travelling storytellers. Little is known about Homer himself, other than he was most likely alive sometime in the 7th or 8th century B.C.E, he was revered as one of the formative influences of Greek culture, and he was blind. It has been suggested that the Odyssey may have been a compilation of work from a group of writers rather just Homer, another mystery that adds to the poems intrigue. The setting is the twelfth century B.C.E. in Mycenaean Greece. This dates it to the bronze age chronologically, although Ancient Greeks thought of it as more of a golden age, a time when Gods and heroes of great strength wandered the earth and engaged with humanity. This explains the story’s fantastical elements, Gods intervening in human affairs and supernatural beings wandering the earth. Whereas the Iliad focuses on the epic clash of two civilisations, the Odyssey is about human experience. It is the tale of one family. The trials and tribulations of a father’s journey home from war, and the struggles of his wife and son in his absence. The tale abandons a chronological narrative for an ambitious structure that starts midway through the action and uses flashbacks and recollections to unfold the complex plot. More than just a supernatural adventure story, the epic engages with complex themes and ambiguous morality. Odysseus means ‘trouble’, referring to both the hardships the protagonist encounters, but also the trouble he himself creates. This is a tale of cause and consequence rather than a man at the mercy of the Gods. The events of the decade long journey home are triggered by the Lesser Ajax raping a Trojan priestess, incurring the wrath of Athena. Odysseus and his men succumb to temptation on several occasions, and each time they suffer inevitable consequences. Similarly, the suitors of Penelope, Odysseus’ wife, receive an inevitable grim punishment upon his return. Another recurring motif throughout is the triumph of cunning over brute strength, an idea first engaged with in the Iliad’s Trojan Horse but continued and developed here. Homer’s version of Odysseus epic tale is just one recording of a story that has existed for thousands of year in various forms. The characters, from the Cyclops to the Sirens have become so ubiquitous that it’s easy to forget where they were first recorded. Reading Homer’s version of the story is a reminder of the crucial ground it broke for western literature. It also serves to highlight a sophisticated plot with complex, multifaceted characters that are intriguing even to a modern audience.
Eight Books of Homers Odyssey With Introduction, Commentary, and Vocabulary
For the Use of Schools by Homer Perrin