Homer & the Odyssey

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Homer, name traditionally assigned to the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, the two major epics of Greek antiquity. Nothing is known of Homer as an individual, and in fact it is a matter of controversy whether a single person can be said to have written both the Iliad and the Odyssey. Linguistic and historical evidence, however, suggests that the poems were composed in the Greek settlements on the west coast of Asia Minor sometime in the 8th century BC.

Both epics are written in an elaborate style, using language that was too impersonal and formal for ordinary discourse. The metrical form is dactylic hexameter (see Versification). Stylistically no real distinction can be made between the two works. Since antiquity, however, many readers have believed that they were written by different people. The Iliad deals with passions, with insoluble dilemmas. It has no real villains; Achilles, Agamemnon, Priam, and the rest are caught up, as actors and victims, in a cruel and ultimately tragic universe. In the Odyssey, on the other hand, the wicked are destroyed, right prevails, and the family is reunited. Here rational intellect-that of Odysseus in particular-acts as the guiding force throughout the story. Besides the Iliad and the Odyssey, the so-called Homeric Hymns, a series of relatively short poems celebrating the various gods and composed in a style similar to that of the epics, have also been attributed traditionally to Homer. The Odyssey describes the return of the Greek hero Odysseus from the Trojan War. The opening scenes depict the disorder that has arisen in Odysseus's household during his long absence: A band of suitors is living off of his wealth as they woo his wife, Penelope. The epic then tells of Odysseus's ten years of traveling, during which he has to face such dangers as the man-eating giant Polyphemus and such subtler threats as the goddess Calypso, who offers him immortality if he will abandon his quest for home. The second half of the poem...
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