Examine the Similarities and the Differences Between Homer’s “Iliad” and “Odyssey”
The Iliad and The Odyssey are ancient Greek epic poems, traditionally ascribed to Homer. The Iliad describes the events of the Trojan War, namely a few weeks of the last year of the war. The Odyssey focuses on Odysseus, king of Ithaca, and his homecoming after the victory of the Achaeans. Although these poems have a few similar traits, their themes, timeline, and characters differ a lot.
The structure and the shape of both Homer’s poems are much alike. Both Iliad and Odyssey consist of 24 books and concentrate on one moment within a complete epic cycle. The epic poems are written in dactylic hexameter and include similar literary devices. For example, Homer uses stock epithets in both his poems: “sensible Telemachus” and “wise Penelope” (from The Odyssey), and “beauteous Helen” and “godlike Hector” (from The Iliad).
As for the development of the plot, the poems have two things in common. The first element is a ring composition. The Iliad “begins with a ransom and an argument (Book I), a ceremonial aggregation of forces (Book II), and a duel (Book III), and ends with a comparable sequence in reverse” (Silk 34). The Odyssey also shows a ring-composition in the Books IX-XII when Odysseus tells the story of his journey to the Phaeacians.
The second element which is common for both plots is divine interventions. Olympian gods help mortals according to their own preferences and ambitions. For example, Athena is Odysseus’s patroness, while Poseidon wants to thwart his homecoming. In the Iliad, the Olympian gods are divided into three camps: some of them fight for the Achaeans or Trojans, and others remain neutral.
The most significant difference between the two poems, which entails other dissimilarities, is their overall theme and idea. While the Iliad is focused on the war, battles, and fights, the Odyssey is a tale about adventures, trials, and mythological creatures. When it comes to the nature of the poem, it can be said that “the Iliad is tragic, … the Odyssey is comic” (Morris and Powell 115). The latter has little to do with humor, but it ends in “harmony and acceptance” (Morris and Powell 115), while the Iliad ends with the destruction of Troy.
Different themes require different main heroes. Achilles, the main hero of the Iliad, is constantly called “swift-footed,” “lion-hearted,” or “like to the gods.” Such characteristics refer to his athletic physique, personal qualities, and origin. Silk states that “the outsider Achilles is rootless. He has no family near him and no friends, except for one close friend” (79). He knows that his faith is determined:
Here, if I stay, before the Trojan town,
Short is my date, but deathless my renown:
If I return, I quit immortal praise
For years on years, and long-extended days. (Iliad, 9)
Achilles chooses eternal glory instead of a happy and long life.
In contrast to the hero of the Iliad, Odysseus does everything possible to stay alive and return home. Homer calls him “much-enduring” for a good reason. He goes through the most dangerous trials on his arduous way to Ithaca. But the hero manages to overcome all the challenges thanks to his wisdom and trickery. In contrast to Achilles, who uses violence and strength to solve his problems, Odysseus prefers to act rationally and wisely.
One more essential dissimilarity between Homer’s poems lies in their timelines. Although the author sometimes describes the parallel events (on Mount Olympus and in Troy), in general, the plot of the Iliad develops in a linear chronology. As for the second poem, “the Odyssey does not follow a linear chronology. The reader begins in the middle of the tale, learning about previous events only through Odysseus’s retelling” (Blumberg).
The Iliad and The Odyssey have the same elements in their structure and shape: each epic poem consists of 24 books and is written in dactylic hexameter with the use of the same literary devices. Their plots also have similar traits: a ring-form composition and numerous divine interventions. As the poems are dedicated to different events and develop different ideas, they have a wide range of dissimilarities: comic and tragic endings, antipodal main heroes, and linear and non-linear timelines.
Blumberg, Naomi. “Odyssey.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 22 Oct. 2018, www.britannica.com/topic/Odyssey-epic-by-Homer.
Homer. The Iliad. Translated by Robert Fagles, Viking Press, 1990.
Homer. The Odyssey. Translated by Peter Green, University of California Press, 2018.
Morris, Ian, and Barry B. Powell. The Greeks: History, Culture, and Society. Pearson, 2014.
Silk, M. S. Homer: The Iliad. Cambridge University Press, 1987.
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