poem index

About this poet

Little is known about the life of Homer, the author credited with composing The Iliad and The Odyssey and arguably the greatest poet of the ancient world. Historians place his birth sometime around 750 BC and conjecture that he was born and resided in or near Chios. However, seven cities claimed to have been his birthplace. Due to the lack of information about Homer the person, many scholars hold the poems themselves as the best windows into his life. For instance, it is from the description of the blind bard in The Odyssey that many historians have guessed that Homer was blind. The Odyssey's depiction of the bard as a minstrel in the service of local kings also gives some insight into the life of the poet practicing his craft. What is undeniable is that the works of Homer proved to be the most influential not merely for the poets of ancient times but also for the later epic poets of Western literature.

There is much evidence to support the theory that The Iliad and The Odyssey were written by different authors, perhaps as much as a century apart. The diction of the two works is markedly different, with The Iliad being reminiscent of a much more formal, theatric style while The Odyssey takes a more novelistic approach and uses language more illustrative of day-to-day speech. Differing historical details concerning trade also lend credence to the idea of separate authors. It is certain, that neither text was written down upon creation. By the eighth century BC written text had been almost entirely forgotten in Greece. Both The Iliad and The Odyssey conform to the diction of a purely oral and unwritten poetic speech that was used before the end of that century. Indeed, some scholars believe the name "Homer" was actually a commonly used term for blind men who wandered the countryside reciting epic poetry.

Although Homer has been credited with writing a number of other works, most notably the Homeric Hymns, the same uncertainty about authorship exists. It is assumed that much of the poet's work has been lost to time.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Iliad (1987)
Iliad (1975)
Iliad (1998)
Odyssey (1999)
Odyssey (1998)
Odyssey (1999)
The Homeric Hymns (1975)

The Iliad, Book I, [A Friend Consigned to Death]

Homer
"Sleeping so? Thou hast forgotten me,
Akhilleus. Never was I uncared for
in life but am in death. Accord me burial
in all haste: let me pass the gates of Death.
Shades that are images of used-up men
motion me away, will not receive me
among their hosts beyond the river. I wander
about the wide gates and the hall of Death.
Give me your hand. I sorrow.
When thou shalt have allotted me my fire
I will not fare here from the dark again.
As living men we'll no more sit apart
from our companions, making plans. The day
of wrath appointed for me at my birth
engulfed and took me down. Thou too, Akhilleus, 
face iron destiny, godlike as thou art,
to die under the wall of highborn Trojans.
One more message, one behest, I leave thee:
not to inter my bones apart from thine
but close together, as we grew together,
in thy family's hall. Menoitios
from Opoeis had brought me, under a cloud,
a boy still, on the day I killed the son
of Lord Amphídamas--though I wished it not--
in childish anger over a game of dice.
Pêleus, master of horse, adopted me
and reared me kindly, naming me your squire.
So may the same urn hide our bones, the one 
of gold your gracious mother gave."

Lines 80-106 from "A Friend Consigned to Death" in The Iliad by Homer, translated by Robert Fitzgerald. Translation copyright © 1974 by Robert Fitzgerald. Copyright © 2004 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. All rights reserved.

Homer

Little is known about the life of Homer; the author credited with

by this poet

poem
RAGE:
               Sing, Goddess, Achilles' rage,
Black and murderous, that cost the Greeks
Incalculable pain, pitched countless souls
Of heroes into Hades' dark,
And left their bodies to rot as feasts
For dogs and birds, as Zeus' will was done. 
    Begin with the clash between Agamemnon-- 
The Greek warlord
poem
Achilles' wrath, to Greece the direful spring
Of woes unnumber'd, heavenly goddess, sing!
That wrath which hurl'd to Pluto's gloomy reign
The souls of mighty chiefs untimely slain;
Whose limbs unburied on the naked shore,
Devouring dogs and hungry vultures tore.
Since great Achilles and Atrides strove,
Such was
poem
        An old trunk of olive
grew like a pillar on the building plot,
and I laid out our bedroom round that tree,
lined up the stone walls, built the walls and roof,
gave it a doorway and smooth-fitting doors.
Then I lopped off the silvery leaves and branches,
hewed and shaped that stump from the roots up
into