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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 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 XXIII, [The Trunk of the Olive Tree]

Homer
        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 a bedpost, drilled it, let it serve
as model for the rest. I planed them all,
inlaid them all with silver, gold and ivory,
and stretched a bed between--a pliant web 
of oxhide thongs dyed crimson.

An excerpt from "The Trunk of the Olive Tree" in The Odyssey by Homer, translated by Robert Fitzgerald. Translation copyright © 1961, renewed 1989 by Benedict R.C. Fitzgerald on behalf of the Fitzgerald children. This edition copyright © 1998 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. All rights reserved.

 

An excerpt from "The Trunk of the Olive Tree" in The Odyssey by Homer, translated by Robert Fitzgerald. Translation copyright © 1961, renewed 1989 by Benedict R.C. Fitzgerald on behalf of the Fitzgerald children. This edition copyright © 1998 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. All rights reserved.

 

Homer

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

by this poet

poem
Anger be now your song, immortal one,
Akhilleus' anger, doomed and ruinous,
that caused the Akhaians loss on bitter loss
and crowded brave souls into the undergloom,
leaving so many dead men--carrion
for dogs and birds; and the will of Zeus was done.
Begin it when the two men first contending
broke with one
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
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