The Iliad and the Odyssey

Both the Iliad and the Odyssey remain the oldest known literary works in Western Civilization.  Written around eighth century B.C. the Iliad is an epic poem totaling 16000 lines.  Its central theme is warfare in ancient Greece, especially those waged by King Agememnon and his rivals.  It also has several references to the Trojan War.  This work is commonly attributed to the poet Homer, although there is no conclusive evidence toward this end.  The other major work attributed to Homer is the Odyssey which followed the Iliad and is considered to be its sequel.  Composed in the dactylic hexameter poetic style, this too is a lengthy poem, stretching to 12,110 lines.  The plot of Odyssey is centered on Greek war hero Odysseus and his beautiful wife Penelope.

Although both these masterpieces of Western literature were written in pre-Christian times when the written tradition was still in its infancy, they still remain relevant today.  Events such as war, love, betrayal, bravery, etc are universal human experiences than span centuries and continents.  While some of the specific details of the two epic poems might be irrelevant in contemporary times, their essence remains highly relevant.  What it shows is that Western civilization has not changed drastically since the beginning of recorded history; and that societies continue to be disturbed by greed, war, lust, betrayal, etc.  In other words, some of the vices and failings displayed by characters in the two poems are still afflicting humanity today.  In this respect, a careful study of the interpersonal, social and political aspects of the two epic poems can lead us to insights into human nature.  Apart from this practical utility of the two great epics, the literary techniques employed by Homer in composing the works are very instructive for current generation of writers.  For example, the non-linear plot structure employed by Homer is a highly sophisticated narrative structure, which finds application in plays, motion pictures and novels of today.


Homer. The Iliad. Richmond Lattimore, translator., Chicago: University of Chicago Press (1951)

Lefkowitz, Mary. Greek Gods, Human Lives: What We Can Learn From Myths (2003) New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press

Fox, Robin Lane (2006), The Classical World: An Epic History from Homer to Hadrian, Basic Books, p. 19, ISBN 046502496