Enduring Literature: The Iliad and The Odyssey

I read The Iliad and  The Odyssey as a student, but they didn’t really resonate until I was an adult. On my first deployment, stuck at an air base waiting on a flight to come back home, I grabbed a paperback copy of these two classics and started reading. I was captivated. In high school, it was just an interesting, though somewhat disjointed, yarn about warriors in Ancient Greece fighting the Trojan War and the adventures, philosophy and ideas behind the war. I enjoyed it, but when I re-read these two pieces, I was enthralled.

Image result for the odyssey

Pulling into harbor after ten years of adventure and danger.

Now they were speaking to me. Achilles had to deal with incompetent commanders, and Odysseus only had himself and his wits to rely on. Hector feared what would happen to his family after he died and if he was up to the task, as a mortal man, of battling not only the Greeks, but also the gods. While not lauded by the feminist community, the women in these works also were fleshed out and dealt with their own issues. In short, The Iliad and The Odyssey both were focused on looking at the human element and how they fit into their unique situation during the Trojan War.

The gods also make an appearance in both works. Instead of being constrained within modern religious systems, I could just read what the gods were doing and see how other cultures dealt with religious themes and belief in God. (I am a Christian, but I don’t like when religion or God are shoehorned unnaturally into stories). Modern day authors may shy away from religion and belief in God when writing their fiction or other works, but Homer did not self-censor and it makes for an interesting view on how gods (or Providence) plays a role in the affairs of mankind.

If it had been a story about the military tactics used, or how a superior political system achieved hegemony in the Aegean, that may have been an interesting read, but like Josephus or Xenophon (The Persian Expedition), it would have a much smaller audience. Books that have been preserved and stood the test of time are still around for a reason, if you have the time and the inclination, crack open a classic and let me know what you find!



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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