The Iliad and Odyssey, two works by the Greek poet Homer, are among the most famous epics in global literature. Because there was no recorded literary tradition among the early Greeks, they employed narrative verse—spoken or sung poetry that narrated stories—to carry down their history and tales from generation to generation. It is this poetic form that makes these poems so extraordinary.
Homer used a form of narration called "informal discourse" to tell his epics. This type of discourse structure consists of a preface (or introduction), a main part (or plot), a conclusion (or peroration), and often a postscript. The preface gives the reader/listener context for what is about to follow; the main part tells how the context came about; the conclusion returns to the beginning to summarize the story; and the postscript adds additional information.
In other words, informal discourses are used to explain why and how something happened before getting into details of the story itself. For example, the preface of the Iliad explains that war broke out between the Greeks and the Trojans because Achilles refused to fight against Hector, who had done nothing wrong. Thus, the poem becomes all about this one man and his struggle with God on behalf of his dead friend.
In addition to the Iliad and Odyssey, several other poets also used this form to tell epics.
Homer's epic poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey, are among the most important and well-known works of Greek mythology. Many of the attributes of the Olympian gods and noteworthy heroes are mentioned in these. The poems also describe many battles between Greeks and Trojans - including the famous duel between Achilles and Hector. Additionally, other myths from Homer's epics include Athena's birth from Zeus' head, Hephaestus' creation of Aphrodite out of clay, and Perseus slaying Medusa.
Other major works of Greek mythology include Aeschylus' plays (5th century BC), Euripides' (480-406 BC) Hippolytus and Phoenissae (marital conflicts), respectively, and Simonides' (556-467 BC) proems (opening lines of poetry). These poets used drama to comment on contemporary issues as well as mythological subjects. For example, Aeschylus presented political debates about whether to continue fighting against the Persians or not while Euripides argued for reconciliation even after a marital conflict resulted in a death penalty (Hippolytus). Simonides wrote proems for various athletes who competed in the Olympic Games. They offer insightful comments on the accomplishments of those who won the games or were nominated for them.
Greek epics presented historical stories about heroes, battles, and expeditions in addition to religious elements. Short narratives about the gods, epitomized by the Homeric Hymns, created a unique type of poetry. These poems used the same language and approach as the epic. They are therefore an important source for studying ancient Greek culture.
The earliest extant works bearing the name "epic" are the Iliad and the Odyssey, which probably were composed around the end of the eighth century B.C. The poet whose work these are is unknown but may have been Homer. The Iliad tells the story of the war between the Greeks and the Trojans over Helen, who caused such conflict by refusing to marry both men. The Odyssey is about Odysseus's adventures after being driven from Troy with his family. He tries to return home to Ithaca but is forced to go to sea again because no one will trust him after he has been defeated by the Trojan horse.
Both poems were probably composed in several stages and have been called "dynamic compositions" because many things happen during their telling that make it difficult to follow exactly what happened in the beginning or at the end. For example, the Iliad begins with the anger of Achilles against Agamemnon, King of Menelaus's army.
The two major epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey, are at the beginning of Greek literature. Some aspects of the poems date back to the Mycenaean period, maybe as far as 1500 BC, although the written works are typically attributed to Homer; in their current form, they presumably date from the 8th century. The Iliad tells the story of the conflict between the Greeks and the Trojans over Helen of Troy, while the Odyssey is about Odysseus's attempts to return home after being driven away by the cyclical nature of events and people. Both poems are epic poems in the classical sense: long, often very detailed, narratives with a complex structure composed in dactylic hexameter (six metered lines) or in heroic verse (seven metered lines).
In addition to being important elements in the culture of ancient Greece, both poems remain popular today and are included in most collections of Greek poetry.
Furthermore, several other ancient poets wrote imitations or paraphrases of parts of the Iliad and Odyssey. These include the lyric poet Panychorus who adapted some passages from the Iliad into elegiac couplets; another lyrist called Mimnermus who turned part of the Odyssey into a poem in sapphic stanzas; and the iambic poet Simonides of Ceos who included some original verses in his own name among others.
Tragedy, Epic Poetry, and War Drama The Homeric poems (the Iliad and the Odyssey) are epic because they are the source of our idea of epic. If it sounds too circular, keep in mind that the Iliad is a massive narrative poem about the heroic acts of men, gods, and demi-gods. It's certainly not history nor is it completely fiction; rather, it's a combination of fact, fiction, and speculation. The Odyssey is a sequel to the Iliad and shares many characters and events with it. Like its predecessor, it is also a mixture of fact, fiction, and speculation. In addition, the Odyssey contains many digressions about other topics such as mythology, geography, and literature. These features make the Iliad and Odyssey epics.
The term "epic" comes from the Greek epeikos, which means "of large scale". An epic is a work of art or literature that covers a wide scope of subjects within its frame. Both the Iliad and the Odyssey fit this definition perfectly. They are stories that cover years if not centuries of time while focusing on one central plot point. The poems begin with an invocation by either Zeus or Apollo to their respective poetic genres (tragedy for the Iliad, song for the Odyssey). Then each poem tells the story of a major battle or sequence of battles between the Greeks and the Trojans. Finally, both poems end with the death of Achilles' friend and fellow warrior Patroclus.