One cannot recognize Greek culture without mentioning Homer and his momentous influence. His two epic poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey, are considered the foundations of Greek literature. We are honoring the legendary poet by sharing the history of his legacy and influence throughout the world.
The Man, The Myth, The Legend
Homer’s history is still a mystery to many scholars. According to some scholars, his life dates back to the 9th or 8th century BCE. Still, the Greek poet remains one of the most influential poets of all time. His legendary status has visibly caused debate among many readers. Some scholars suggest he is one man, while others believe that only a group of writers could have created the masterful work of the Odyssey.
Since much of his history is based solely on his works, there is little to infer his appearance. However, many believe that Homer was blind. This idea is based loosely on his character, Demodocus, from The Odyssey, who he describes as a blind poet. Homer’s descriptive writing tends to seem somewhat autobiographical. These stories and poems also give us great insight into the human experience during the early ages. Many Greeks knew such epic poems by heart and treated them like moral instructions. Therefore, it makes sense that Homer’s epics had been carried orally throughout time periods.
The Impact of Epics
The earliest surviving works of ancient Greek literature are the Iliad and the Odyssey. Homer’s most famous works impacted Classical Greek culture in many ways. Both epic poems date back to the Archaic period, also known for their visual transformation from abstract geometric patterns to more naturalistic art. Similar to Greek art, stories transformed with reimagined motifs and an emphasis on the tradition of oral story-telling. Homer was the first poet to transform Greek culture in such a fashion.
For those unfamiliar with epics, an epic is a long narrative poem. Additionally, the narrative is commonly book-length and retells the heroic story of a single person or group. The Iliad is an epic poem that consists of 24 books. The poem lyrically describes the final weeks of the Trojan War and the battle between the city of Troy and the Greeks. Achilles is the main character in the story, who leads the Myrmidons against the Trojans. The poem represents a very anti-war image, as it depicts war as it is, damaging and ugly. The fall of the greatest Greek warrior and leader, Achilles, summarizes the importance of respect and humility.
The Greek classic, The Odyssey, is another long 24 book-length epic. However, while the Iliad covers a tale of war, the Odyssey is a story about a hero’s journey to return home. The poem follows the main character, Odysseus, who is the king of Ithaca. Odysseus struggles for ten years to get home after the Trojan War. However, the poem only describes his final weeks. Additionally, the poem covers various themes common to Greek literature, like loyalty and vengeance.
In this persevering tale, the main character battles against mystical creatures and powerful gods. While he is stranded, his wife Penelope and his son, Telemachus, fend off suitors attempting to marry her to take his throne. Homer writes both external and internal battles for his characters to teach life-changing lessons. It is no surprise these stories have become the foundation for Greek classics.
Aside from his influence on Greek culture, Homer also influenced the world with his unique ability to reveal the realities of human behavior. Homer used poetry to convey internal thought and displayed the primary values of ancient Greeks. His narrative epics have taught moral lessons in education, religion, and society. From his characters, images, and translations, Homer has proved to be one of the most influential literary poets of all time. Although his existence is still a grand mystery, the legendary works have certainly impacted us for centuries.
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