Enduring Literature: The Iliad and The Odyssey

Books these days are different than the oral tales that eventually were written down. If an author sells 100 books, they did a better than average job. If an author sells 1,000 books they had a decent amount of success. People want to read an author or genre they are comfortable with, and editors and publishers do not want to take a risk on a new author. Sometimes though, a book, or a piece of literature is critically important to the culture or time period it was written in and it can even become a transcendent masterpiece still read today.

One of my favorite examples of this would be The Iliad and The Odyssey. Both were oral tales eventually written down by Homer. They told the story of the Trojan war, the great hero Achilles, and the journey Odysseus took to get back home to his wife. Most people are familiar with these epics themselves, even if they did not read them. Most education systems in the West also have them as required reading. Even though these two epics are a bit shoehorned into education and culture, I think they still have something important to say about the human condition and should be read today.

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The ecstasy Achilles must have felt at besting Hector in single combat was probably only matched by the pain he felt at the death of his closest friend.

It’s easy to be critical of that stance; what can ancient people who lived with animals and worshiped a pantheon of gods tell us about ourselves today? The same thing, I would argue, that Harry Potter, Star Wars, Lord Of The Rings, and Game Of Thrones can tell us about ourselves. A work of fiction, or an epic piece of literature written thousands of years ago, allows the reader to detach themselves from the present and really focus on what a piece is saying; sometimes the message isn’t all that interesting, and sometimes the message isn’t worth remembering, but in a few instances, classics are created and remembered for the ages.

2 thoughts on “Enduring Literature: The Iliad and The Odyssey

  1. I love what you said, “I read The Iliad and The Odyssey as a student, but they didn’t really resonate until I was an adult.” In high school, few of the classics we read were stuck out to me. So I read them via SparkNotes. Later on in college, I had to revisit my old foes and found I actually enjoyed the classics. I have been challenging myself to read or listen to classic lit and encourage other readers to do the same. I now teach high school English and fight to balance the classics with YA. It is an uphill battle, but worth the struggle. I believe young readers would find more interest in classic lit if it is paired with text they enjoy right off the back.

    1. Thanks for the comment! I think any type of reading is “good” reading. The classics are great-they wouldn’t be around and studied for so long, if they weren’t- but to get kids interested in reading, sometimes just introducing a theme or archetype is enough to get them started.

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