Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Author Alcove: Homer

Homer is assumed to be the author of The Iliad and its sequel The Odyssey. Legend has it that he was blind. We do know Homer was a Greek poet who sang his epic poems from memory, probably while playing the lyre as accompaniment. These are extremely long poems, and having them memorized is incredible. Reciting them would have taken days. Homer's work is some of the oldest we have left today. It has been translated left and right, but to really get a feel for its beauty (without learning Latin or Greek), one should read a translation which keeps his work in poetic form and does not change it to narrative.

Homer treats the Greek mythological stories like any other Greek of the time did. They are matter of fact, not glossed over, and full of al the scandal they are known for. Homer does not avoid the parts of Greek mythology that push it toward a PG-13 or even R rating. There are prostitutes, married people having children with those they are not married to, characters who are the children of both god and human, and more. Enter the world of Greek mythology. It was, and still is, a huge mess.
As he sings of great wars and conquests, glorifying heroes in a warrior culture, Homer does not stay away from including as much gore as humanly possible. If the man-woman relations do not push his work to an R rating, the gore certainly does. On the battlefield, the fighting is brutal and disgusting and Homer describes it with all the eloquence that a Greek poet can muster. People lose their insides even as they are still alive, teeth are knocked out the back of a man's head, bodies are mutilated, and that's just the beginning. There seems to be no end to the gore he includes.

Homer sang in what is called the dactylic hexameter, a type of meter for poetry. This results in the repetition of phrases such as "swift-footed Achilleus" and "rosy-fingered Dawn", phrases the author was aware would help him keep the meter. There is no rhyming, but if one pays attention, there is a sort of beat. He is incredibly clever. In the original Greek, he made all sorts of clever moves with words meaning two things. I know these are noted in Penguin's translation of The Odyssey by Robert Fagles and I do recommend you skim the notes after each chapter to really get the most out of the story.

Homer also happens to be a classic author. Not only has his work been read since he wrote it (a good long time ago!), but it teaches the reader about the culture he was living in. Reading his work is valuable as an introduction to Greek culture, Greek literature, history, mythology, epic poetry, and so much more. In addition, because he is so classic, other classics make hidden references to his writings and Greek mythology in general. If these references are missed by the reader, the full power of the story is lost.
While his writings may be particularly gruesome when it comes to their content, when the reader is old enough to encounter such things, it would be a great loss not to read at least one of his works.

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