In Defense of Homer


ΙΛΙΑΣ (The Iliad)

Ἔφθυγαν (They left)

ΟΔΥΣΣΕΙΑ (The Odyssey)

Γύρισε (He returned)

– Giorgos Houliaras

Of all the articles that I have written, this may be the most contentious yet. Regardless, I cannot tolerate any more derision of this great figure: “He’s long, dull and repetitive”, “It’s just a bunch of drawn out battles and scary monsters”, “I don’t like (epic) poetry”, “He is a sexist, racist, xenophobic, warmongering, polytheistic, blind guy, who didn’t even exist!” Our own Simone la Cuercha once called one of his poems: “F***ing boring”. Poor Homer…

“But Carlos, he is boring!” Nonsense, he may not be the most accessible of “authors” but there is method to his madness. Indeed, the versions of The Iliad and The Odyssey that we possess demonstrate a highly complex and efficient lexical system designed to facilitate their oral composition and recitation. “Sounds like Greek to me, Carlos!”


Ok, I’ll try this again: Homeric poets (since the works are the product of an entire tradition, not one sole author) used easy-to-remember stock phrases and topics when orally performing the epics and improvised the rest with their lyrical prowess. This means that the poems weren’t simply thrown together at random. Every strange repetition or juxtaposition of images and ideas carries inherit meaning that contributes to the central themes of each work.

Far more than just “a bunch of drawn out battles”, The Iliad is a frank reflection on the harsh realities of war. Just like in real life, Homer’s work is full of flawed leaders, who let their egos get the better of them, tired frustrated soldiers, who just want to go home, and “independent” third parties, who constantly try to influence the events on the battlefield to further their own agendas. It begs the question: How do you find honor or valor in something as chaotic, cruel, and ultimately futile as war?

As for The Odyssey, it too is more than a straightforward adventure story with “scary monsters”. The poem is a profound examination of what it means to return home, after being separated from one’s family for a long time and having overcome life-changing hardships and frustrations. Indeed, since nothing can escape the transformative effects of time, is a true homecoming even possible?

Please! Don’t dismiss these truly sophisticated works of Western literature!

– Carlos de la Gringa


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