Homer's Epics: Culture Began with Poetry

Updated on August 29, 2019
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

Poetry became my passion, after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962.




According to Bernard M. W. Knox, "Greek history begins, not with a king, a battle, or the founding of a city, but with an epic poem." Of course, it is impossible to pinpoint when any history began, but since we have to start somewhere in our collecting of information, those scholars who define our Western canon usually start with Homer and his Iliad and Odyssey.

A good foundational study of Homer's two world famous epics gives one a useful start in the study of Western literature. Many Western creative writers, from poets to creative essayists, allude to something Homeric at some point in their writing life.

And of course, we gather that Eastern culture began with poetry as well in the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. So one is quite well supported in claiming that all world culture began with poetry.

Unity Suggests One Author

Although there is much debate about whether an actual poet named Homer lived, The Iliad and The Odyssey reveal a unity that implies that the same person set them down in written form. Both epics were oral, intended for recitation not just silent reading.

Because Homer's portrayal of the east coast of Greece accurately describe the landscape, scholars believe that the poet lived in the part of Greece called Ionia. Most scholars also have agreed that Homer was blind, based on the fact that the poet Demodokos of the Odyssey was blind.

Little Known about Homer

Homer's biography usually becomes a discussion focusing on his epics because so little is known about him as a person. In fact, it is questionable that a man named Homer ever existed at all because his existence has never been proven. The Iliad and The Odyssey, as pieces of literature, nevertheless position themselves at the very beginning of the study of Western literature. Those two works are so important to the study of Western literature because so many subsequence literary works allude to all things Homeric.

Visit any library and you will find a rich and varied array of books and other resources about Homer's epics. And the Internet now teems with myriad of sources covering these timeless epics. A wide variety of sources are available to every reader from the casual fan to the dedicated scholar. You can read Samuel Butler's translation of The Iliad; the entire text is online.

Sources for Students

For information covering the historical backdrop of Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey, students will want to visit this site, The Iliad and Odyssey: Historical Background. The Origins of Greek Mythology offers useful discussions that will help students understand more about the nature of the Olympian gods. For a short summary of each of the twenty-four books of The Iliad, visit Summary of Homer's Iliad.

To read The Odyssey online, visit this translation by A. T. Murray. If you have read Butler's translation of The Iliad, you might want to continue with his translation of The Odyssey. Or you can read and compare William Cowper's translation of The Odyssey to the others. For an informative essay about how The Odyssey has influenced the making of history, study John Marincola's "Odysseus and the Historians."

Life Sketch of Homer

Questions & Answers

    © 2017 Linda Sue Grimes


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