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Iliad and Odyssey

History ascribes the composition of both the Iliad and the Odyssey to one poet: a shadowy figure known as Homer, who may have merely been the first two write down these epic poems.  Both tales are concerned with events surrounding the Trojan War: the Iliad details the last few events of the ten-year siege, and the Odyssey relates the last leg of Odysseus’ twenty year journey back home from the war.  Iliad and OdysseyAlthough they have much in common, there are major differences in the tone of the two poems.

The major image in the Iliad is one of militarism, while the Odyssey’s major theme is more pastoral.  Despite these overarching themes, one of the key connections that each has to the other (and why we suspect that they were both composed by the same individual) is that the major theme of one is present as a minor theme in the other.  Most of the Iliad is concerned with the military maneuverings of the Greeks as their siege of Troy comes to the end.  Yet occasional flashes of images that relate to hearth and home reach the surface.

In the Iliad, the pastoral theme was used to stand in relief to the main imagery of the greek epic, providing points of reference for the audience.  Ilium was a world they were unfamiliar with, and so domestic images were employed to connect it with the minds of the listener.  But the Odyssey is one of the great stories of man: going home.  It is perhaps the blueprint of the returning hero genre.  The military undercurrents provide both a connection to the Iliad (why exactly was Odysseus away?) and the dramatic tension needed to prove that Odysseus is a hero, and heroes need to prove themselves on the field of battle.  Odysseus’ ultimate battle is reclaiming his home.

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