What Did Homer's Epic Poems Deal With?
The "Iliad" and the "Odyssey" are two of the most significant works of literature from ancient Greece. Although some scholars debate authorship, Homer generally gets credited with creation of both epic poems some time around 750 B.C. During this period, poets presented their works orally, so no written copies from Homer's time exist. The poems both focus on the time period of the Trojan War, which occurred about 1200 B.C.
The Trojan War likely took place 400 to 500 years before Homer composed his great works about the war. Both poems connect with this conflict between Greece and Troy. The war supposedly began when the Trojan Paris took a Greek woman, Helen, who may have been kidnapped or may have left of her own accord. Her husband convinced the king of Mycenae, Agamemnon, to attack Troy. Other Greek city-states and heroes joined in the fray, including the legendary fighter Achilles. The war lasted about 10 years before the Greeks defeated the Trojans by hiding inside a wooden horse that the Trojans pulled inside their city walls, allowing the Greeks to then rout the city from within.
Homer's "Iliad" chronicles the events at the end of the Trojan War. The poem opens by illustrating the discord within the Greek forces, particularly between Agamemnon and Achilles. Achilles refuses to continue fighting when the king takes away his captive, Briseis, which turns the tide against the Greeks. Eventually, Achilles' good friend is killed in battle by the Trojan Hector, and Achilles exacts revenge by killing Hector and dragging the body around the city for days. Hector's father begs for the return of his son's corpse, and Achilles relents. The story ends with Hector's funeral.
The "Odyssey" takes place 10 years after the Trojan War, chronicling the trials of the Greek character Odysseus as he attempts to return home. He gets waylaid by the temptress Calypso; monsters, such as the Cyclops and a giant hydra; the Sirens, who lure his ship toward danger; and unfavorable winds sent by the gods. Odysseus' wife, Penelope, has been pressured to remarry but refuses, believing her husband to still be alive, so she establishes a test for her suitors that she knows only Odysseus can pass. On his return home, he disguises himself, wins the challenge, kills the other suitors and retakes his place on the throne with Penelope.
The "Iliad" clearly exalts the war hero and the importance of physical strength during the time, as seen primarily through Achilles. Characters often must choose between a path of peace and love, and one of honor and death. In the "Iliad," those who select love appear weak and unworthy of fame, such as Paris and the Trojan king, while people sing the praises of heroes such as Achilles and Hector. Odysseus uses his mental acuity to emerge victorious; mental sharpness is another important quality to the Greeks. Both works emphasize the significance of choice and temptation.
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