The Essential Homer: Selections from the Iliad and the Odyssey

The Essential Homer: Selections from the Iliad and the Odyssey

The Essential Homer: Selections from the Iliad and the Odyssey

The Essential Homer: Selections from the Iliad and the Odyssey


Selections from both Iliad and Odyssey , made with an eye for those episodes that figure most prominently in the study of mythology.


The earliest works of ancient Greek literature are two epic poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey, both attributed to a single poet, Homer. Although very different in their themes, settings, and outlooks, both of these poems display the expansive scope of epic, which typically recounts events with far-reaching historical consequences, sums up the values and achievements of an entire culture, and documents the fullness and variety of the world. and both poems deal with the same event in Greek mythology, the war against Troy.

In the myth of the Trojan War, the Greeks band together and sail to Troy, on the coast of Asia Minor (present-day Turkey). Their purpose is to recover Helen, the beautiful wife of a Greek chieftain, Menelaus, who has been stolen by the Trojan prince Paris, and to punish Troy for Helen’s abduction. the Greeks spend ten hard years fighting around Troy until they finally succeed in taking the city and can return at last to their homes. Each of the Homeric epics relates a major portion of this legend, but each does so by concentrating on the events of a very short period and on the experiences of a particular hero.

The Iliad focuses on the greatest fighter of the Greeks, Achilles, and describes a crucial period late in the war, in which Achilles quarrels with the Greek commander Agamemnon and refuses to fight any longer, then changes course and returns to battle to kill the Trojan champion Hector. Not only is this episode decisive (since Hector’s loss assures Troy’s fall), but it is also told in a way that evokes the entire war. the poem looks back to the war’s origins and ahead both to the defeat of Troy and to Achilles’ own death in battle, portraying all the major heroes and surveying the glorious successes and painful losses of both sides.

The Odyssey concerns the war’s aftermath, the difficult journey home from Troy, and focuses on Odysseus, the wily hero whose return is both the most challenging and the most successful. Concentrating on the last leg of Odysseus’ ten-year journey and his recovery of a home that has been taken over by enemies, the Odyssey . . .

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