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About this poet

Little is known about the life of Homer, the author credited with composing The Iliad and The Odyssey and is 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 Odyssey, Book I, Lines 1-20

Homer
SPEAK, MEMORY—
                                        Of the cunning hero,
The wanderer, blown off course time and again
After he plundered Troy's sacred heights.

                                                         Speak
Of all the cities he saw, the minds he grasped, 
The suffering deep in his heart at sea 
As he struggled to survive and bring his men home 
But could not save them, hard as he tried— 
The fools—destroyed by their own recklessness 
When they ate the oxen of Hyperion the Sun,
And that god snuffed out their day of return.

                                   Of these things,

Speak, Immortal One,
And tell the tale once more in our time.

By now, all the others who had fought at Troy—
At least those who had survived the war and the sea— 
Were safely back home. Only Odysseus 
Still longed to return to his home and his wife. 
The nymph Calypso, a powerful goddess—
And beautiful—was clinging to him
In her caverns and yearned to possess him.

From The Odyssey, by Homer, translated by Stanley Lombardo and published by Hackett Publishing Co., Inc. © 2000 by Stanley Lombardo with permission of Hackett Publishing Co., Inc., Indianapolis, IN and Cambridge, MA. All rights reserved.

From The Odyssey, by Homer, translated by Stanley Lombardo and published by Hackett Publishing Co., Inc. © 2000 by Stanley Lombardo with permission of Hackett Publishing Co., Inc., Indianapolis, IN and Cambridge, MA. All rights reserved.

Homer

Little is known about the life of Homer; the author credited with composing The Iliad and The Odyssey and is arguably the greatest poet of the ancient world.

by this poet

poem
Thetis goes to the palace of Vulcan to obtain new arms for her son.


"Thee, welcome, goddess! what occasion calls
(So long a stranger) to these honour'd walls?
'Tis thine, fair Thetis, the command to lay,
And Vulcan's joy and duty to obey."

To whom the mournful mother thus replies:
(The crystal drops
poem
"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
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