Ancient Origins IRAQ Tour

Beware the Greeks bearing gifts, by Henry Paul Motte (19th century) (Public Domain)

The Iliad And The Odyssey: Lessons From Humanities

The Humanities are by definition concerned with humankind’s life-chances and life-fates, and mortality captures humanness from one essential viewpoint – all humans inevitably die. All human life, and too often death, feature in the monumental poems The Iliad and The Odyssey. Mortality is there in both of Homer’s poems – hundreds of Greeks and Trojans die in The Iliad, all Odysseus’ men are gone before the hero regains his home of Ithaca. But it is not the umbrella concept of either poem, though it is far more so in The Iliad than in The Odyssey. The Odyssey recalls the eponymous hero Odysseus’ trials, travels, travails and tribulations and Odysseus after all, lives literally to tell his tale – or (often tall) tales. As for Achilles, he is still very much alive and kicking at the end of The Iliad; his death will not be related until later, in a poem of the so-called Epic Cycle.

Heroes of The Iliad by Tischbein. (Public Domain)

Heroes of The Iliad by Tischbein. (Public Domain)

For the ancient Greeks, the gods and goddesses were precisely the ‘not-mortals’, a-thanatoi. The poems are often said to be the ‘Bible’ of the ancient Greeks, but actually the pagan, polytheistic Greeks did not have any officially recognised sacred books. And although both poems are full of gods and goddesses and their interactions, both negative and positive, with humans, they are not teaching religious dogmas. What the ancient Greeks saw in The Iliad and The Odyssey were rather models of mostly individual human behaviour both to imitate – and to avoid like the plague. Perhaps politicians embroiled in current warfare can take a lesson or two from these.

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