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Homer,principal figure of ancient Greek literature; the first European poet.
Works, Life, and Legends
Two epic poems are attributed to Homer, the Iliad and the Odyssey. They are composed in a literary type of Greek, Ionic in basis with Aeolic admixtures. Ranked among the great works of Western literature, these two poems together constitute the prototype for all subsequent Western epic poetry.
The "Homeric question" was the great dispute of scholarship in the 19th cent. Scholars tried to analyze the two works by various tests, usually to show that they were strung together from older narrative poems. Recent evidence strongly suggests that the Iliad is the work of a single poet. Modern scholars are generally agreed that there was a poet named Homer who lived before 700 B.C., probably in Asia Minor, and that the Iliad and the Odyssey are each the product of one poet's work, developed out of older legendary matter. Some assign the Odyssey to a poet who lived slightly after the author of the Iliad.
Legends about Homer were numerous in ancient times. He was said to be blind. His birthplace has always been disputed, but Chios or Smyrna seem most likely. The study of Homer was required of all Greek students in antiquity, and his heroes were worshiped in many parts of Greece. The Iliad and the Odyssey are composed in dactylic hexameter and are of nearly the same length. The Homeric HymnsHomeric Hymns
, name applied to a body of 34 hexameter poems falsely attributed to Homer by the ancients. Composed probably between 800 and 300 B.C., they are complimentary verses addressed to the various gods, such as Aphrodite, Apollo, Demeter, and Hermes.
..... Click the link for more information. were falsely attributed to Homer.
Divided into 24 books, the Iliad tells of the wrath of AchillesAchilles
, in Greek mythology, foremost Greek hero of the Trojan War, son of Peleus and Thetis. He was a formidable warrior, possessing fierce and uncontrollable anger. Thetis, knowing that Achilles was fated to die at Troy, disguised him as a girl and hid him among the women at
..... Click the link for more information. and its tragic consequences, an episode in the Trojan WarTrojan War,
in Greek mythology, war between the Greeks and the people of Troy. The strife began after the Trojan prince Paris abducted Helen, wife of Menelaus of Sparta. When Menelaus demanded her return, the Trojans refused.
..... Click the link for more information. . The action is in several sections. Achilles quarrels with Agamemnon over possession of the captive woman Briseis, and Achilles retires from the war to sulk in his tent. The Greek position gradually weakens until AgamemnonAgamemnon
, in Greek mythology, leader of the Greek forces in the Trojan War; king of Mycenae (or Argos). He and Menelaus were sons of Atreus and suffered the curse laid upon Pelops. Agamemnon married Clytemnestra, and their children were Iphigenia, Electra, and Orestes.
..... Click the link for more information. offers amendment to Achilles (Books I–IX). Book X tells of an expedition by Odysseus and Diomedes leading to Greek reverses in the war. Thereupon Patroclus, Achilles' friend, is inspired to go into battle wearing Achilles' armor. He is killed by HectorHector,
in Greek mythology, leader and greatest hero of the Trojan troops during the Trojan War. He was the eldest son of Priam and Hecuba, the husband of Andromache, and the father by her of Astyanax.
..... Click the link for more information. (Books XI–XVII).
Book XVIII tells of the visit of Thetis, mother of Achilles, to comfort her grieving son and of the forging of new armor by Hephaestus for Achilles. Achilles then determines to avenge his friend, kills Hector, buries Patroclus, and finally, at the entreaty of Priam, gives Hector's body to the Trojan hero's aged father (Books XIX–XXIV). The Iliad is a highly unified work, splendid in its dramatic action. Written in a simple yet lofty style, it contains many perceptive characterizations that make exalted personages like Hector and Achilles believable as human beings.
The Odyssey is written in 24 books and begins nearly ten years after the fall of Troy. In the first part, Telemachus, Odysseus' son, visits NestorNestor
, in Greek mythology, wise king of Pylos; son of Neleus and father of Antilochus. In the Iliad, Nestor went with the Greeks to the Trojan War, and although he had lived three generations he was still a vigorous warrior and a respected adviser.
..... Click the link for more information. at Pylos and MenelausMenelaus
, in Greek mythology, king of Sparta, son of Atreus. He was the husband of Helen, father of Hermione, and younger brother of Agamemnon. When Paris, prince of Troy, abducted Helen, Menelaus asked the other Greek kings to join him in an expedition against Troy, beginning
..... Click the link for more information. at Sparta, seeking news of his absent father. He tells them of the troubles of his mother, Penelope, who is beset by mercenary suitors. Menelaus informs him that his father is with the nymph Calypso (Books I–IV). The scene then shifts to Mt. Olympus with an account of Zeus' order to Calypso to release Odysseus, who then builds a raft and sails to Phaeacia. There he is entertained by King Alcinoüs and his daughter Nausicaä; he relates to them the story of his wanderings in which he has encountered Polyphemus, Aeolus, Circe, Scylla and Charybdis, the Sirens, the Laestrygones, and the lotus-eaters (Books V–XII).
Dramatic tension mounts with the return of Odysseus and Telemachus to Ithaca; together they plan and execute the death of the suitors. Afterward Odysseus makes himself known to his wife and his father, with whose aid he repulses the suitors' angry kinsmen. Athena intervenes, peace is restored, and Odysseus once again rules his country (Books XIII–XXIV). The atmosphere of adventure and fate in the Odyssey contrasts with the heavier tone and tragic grandeur of the Iliad.
Among the notable translations of the Iliad and the Odyssey since the late 1800s are the prose translations by A. Lang et al. and the poetic translations by R. Lattimore, R. Fitzgerald, R. Fagles, S. Lombardo, S. Mitchell, and E. Wilson. See C. H. Whitman, Homer and the Heroic Tradition (1958, repr. 1965); M. Parry, The Making of Homeric Verse, ed. by A. Parry (1971); C. M. Bowra, Homer (1930, repr. 1973); A. J. B. Wace and F. H. Stubbings, ed., A Companion to Homer (1962, repr. 1974); C. R. Beye, The Iliad, the Odyssey and the Epic Tradition (1966, repr. 1976); G. S. Kirk, The Songs of Homer (1962; repr. 1977); A. B. Lord, The Singer of Tales (1960, repr. 1978); W. A. Camps, An Introduction to Homer (1980); H. W. Clarke, Homer's Readers (1981); M. W. Edwards, Homer (1987); K. C. King, ed., Homer (1994); A. Nicolson, Why Homer Matters (2014).
legendary epic poet of ancient Greece. In ancient sources the historical persona of a blind, wandering singer is intertwined with fantasies, which testifies to the lack of reliable information concerning Homer as an individual. According to ancient tradition, “seven cities” (Smyrna, Chios, Colophon, Salamis, Rhodes, Argos, and Athens) competed for the honor of being called Homer’s birthplace. Homer lived sometime between the 12th and the seventh centuries B.C., according to various determinations. The name Homer itself was frequently interpreted in antiquity and in modern times as the common noun for “hostage” or “blind man.”
Homer was considered to be the author of a large part of the repertory of the performers of epics (rhapsodists). Later, classical criticism singled out two epic poems as his allegedly original works, the Iliad and the Odyssey, and also some smaller works (the “Homeric Hymns,” the comic narrative poem Margites, and others). The entire complex of problems connected with the traditions on Homer and the origin of the works attributed to him constitutes the so-called Homeric question, which still lacks a definitive solution.
I. M. TRONSKII