Perhaps the most famous epic poems ever written, the Iliad and the Odyssey have been read for nearly 3,000 years, making them some of the oldest written works in the Western world. The poems made characters like Paris, Helen, Odysseus, Achilles, Hector, and Ajax instantly recognizable, and they also influenced other ancient poets like Virgil, whose Aeneid is clearly modeled after them. The epic poems also literally put Troy on the map, motivating Heinrich Schliemann to search for and ultimately find the city of Troy in the 19th century.
Believed to have been penned around the eighth century BCE or seventh century BCE, the Iliad and the Odyssey served as both entertainment and a moral guidebook of sorts for the ancient Greeks, as well as the foundation for Western literature. Although there is some scholarly debate regarding the epic's authorship, it is generally attributed to Homer. Given that he lived nearly 2800 years ago, not much is actually known about Homer; even his birthplace is debated, but due to the dialect of Greek in which the works attributed to him were written, it is generally believed that he lived in Iona. The only other aspect of Homer's life that is generally agreed upon is that he was a blind poet, possibly also a bard. That naturally raises the question of how he wrote his epic poetry, but scholars assume he probably dictated them to a scribe, as the format suggests they were comprised from various shorter forms of oral poetry.
Even people who don't know much about ancient Greek mythology can probably still name Achilles, the Trojan Horse, and a number of other gods that play a part in the story of the Trojan War. The enduring nature of this story led to many great people claiming descent from one of the characters found within it; for example, Alexander the Great was said to have slept with a copy of Homer's Iliad every night during his campaigns, a description of the legendary war that describes the epitome of pre-hoplite warfare and is still taught at military academies around the world today. The entire story, from its fickle beginnings to its catastrophic end, has made its way to modern times via surviving sources which, when combined, form a biopsy of ancient Greek myth and many of its finest elements.
Most people could be forgiven for mistakenly believing that the Iliad encompasses the entire story of the Trojan War, but the Iliad tells the story of just four days in the ninth year of the war. In many ways, the Iliad is the story of Achilles's wrath, which actually serves as a subtitle in some editions, but in order to gain an idea of the full story of what occurred at Troy between ancient heroes Achilles, Hector, Menelaus, and Paris, among others, one must collate sources (often fragmentary) stretching from the eighth century BCE to Roman sources in the first century CE. Indeed, piecing the story together is one of the intentions of this epic poem.
Another intention of the Iliad is to highlight the nature of the story as a work of mythology - not history. Although there are certainly historical elements in the story, as well as certain seminal moments that affected cult activity in ancient Greece, emphasis is placed on the narrative methods that make it an enduring and iconic mixture of myth, legend, and folklore.
Since the story of the Trojan War permeates so many of the ancient myths recounted in literature and theater from the Archaic Period onward, it is always important to understand that the Trojan War itself was a nexus in ancient Greek mythological thought.
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