When discussing epic poetry, the Iliad and the Odyssey are two names that often come to mind. Both of these ancient Greek epic poems, centered around the Trojan War, are renowned not only for their engaging dialogue but also for the beauty with which the events are unfolded.
Dating back to the eighth century BC, the Iliad is sometimes referred to as the Song of Ilium or the Song of Ilion. It is an ancient Greek epic poem written in dactylic hexameter by the great poet Homer. As the oldest existing work of Western literature, the Iliad is considered a fundamental piece of the Western canon. The poem is set during the ten-year siege of Troy, also known as Ilium, and describes the events and battles that took place during the fight between warrior Achilles and King Agamemnon. Although the poem unfolds during the siege, it also alludes to the causes of the strife, Greek legends about the siege, and other concerns regarding the incident. It also prophesies the future, alluding to Achilles’ death and the fall of Troy, thereby providing an overall picture of the Trojan War. The main character in the Iliad is the great warrior Achilles, with other main characters including Helen, Hector, Priam, and Paris.
Also attributed to Homer, the Odyssey is a Greek epic poem written as a sequel to the Iliad. Believed to be composed near the end of the 8th century BC in Ionia, the Odyssey is set ten years after the end of the Trojan War. It focuses on the Greek hero Odysseus, who has not yet returned home from the war. The Odyssey traces his ten-year journey home and also follows the plight of his wife, Penelope, and son Telemachus, who must deal with a group of unwelcome suitors competing for Penelope’s hand, believing that Odysseus has died during the war.
Written in a poetic dialect of Greek, the Odyssey is composed in dactylic hexameter and features a non-linear plot that focuses on how the choices made by women and serfs affected the turn of events, in addition to the actions of the fighting men. The Odyssey is believed to have had a lost sequel called Telegony, attributed not to Homer but either to Cinaethon of Sparta or Eugammon of Cyrene.
- The Iliad is set during the ten-year Trojan War, while the Odyssey takes place ten years after the war.
- The main character of the Iliad is Achilles, while the main character of the Odyssey is Odysseus. Achilles is impulsive and quick to meet challenges, while Odysseus is more strategic in his approach to war.
- Events in the Iliad take place only in Troy, while in the Odyssey, Odysseus and his crew visit many places on their journey back to Ithaca.