We’ve probably all heard the name Homer, but what did he actually write, and is it worth the time investment to read his texts today?

Homer is definitely worth reading because he is widely considered, for thousands of years, to be the greatest of all poets. He’s also referred to as the father of literature. You may also be more familiar with his works than you realise: heard of Helen of Troy?

Reading Homer is worthwhile for so many reasons. We can learn a huge amount about the ancient Greek world by reading his epics, The Iliad and The Odyssey. We learn about the ancient Greek Gods, as well as the morals and honour codes that bound the Greeks.

We get a fascinating insight into what life was really like for people who lived around 800 BCE! It’s so long ago and yet the concerns of the people in the texts are so relatable. In many ways their concerns are indistinguishable from modern people. Jealousy, marriage, honour, revenge: these things gripped the ancient world just as they dominate our own.

There are lots of great videos online to check out!

Where to Start with Homer?

The best place to start with Homer is his two epic poems The Iliad and The Odyssey. You may already be much more familiar with these tales than you realise, or perhaps you have seen the film starring Brad Pitt. These poems have shaped global literature and should not be missed.

What Order Should I read Homer?

Start with the Iliad and then progress to the Odyssey. The Iliad tells the tale of Achilles, Agamemnon, Odysseus and many other Greeks going to war with Troy to retrieve Helen (of Troy) from Paris (of Troy). It takes place in the final weeks of the war between the Greeks and Trojans.

Then try reading The Odyssey which follows the journey of Odysseus, King of Ithaca, home from the battle of Troy. It takes him ten years to get home to his wife Penelope and son Telemachus, during which time she faces many suitors who presume Odysseus is dead.

Check out Crash Course for some fun videos!

Is it Hard to Read Homer?

It is not hard to read Homer if you find a great translation and you look up the references you don’t understand. We would recommend the translation by Robert Fagles as particular easy to read. Don’t hesitate to check any references you don’t understand on Wikipedia.

There are lots of things in the ancient world that you might not be familiar with right away. The unfamiliar names can be challenging to remember, and the large cast of Gods a little overwhelming. There is also lots of assumed knowledge, as Homer wrote for the Greeks!

But don’t let this put you off. If you stay the course, you will find that these tales are about love, honour, overcoming, the pursuit of excellence, justice, revenge, and many of the other themes that we enjoy so much in our fiction and story telling traditions today.

Remember that if you enjoy reading Homer there are so many more authors from the ancient world to get stuck into. Try Sappho, Sophocles, Gilgamesh, and so many others. Check out our article on texts from the ancient world here.

Categories: Poetry

Ol Adams

Letter Review is currently edited by Ol Adams, who is a PhD candidate in Creative Writing, casual academic, and guest lecturer at the University of New South Wales. Ol Adams has had short stories published in leading literary journals such as Overland, Southerly, Seizure, and TEXT. Ol has had novels long listed for major awards such as the KYDUMA, has received government funding to produce plays from Create NSW and screenplays from Screen NSW, and has performed / produced professional work at major theatrical venues such as the Sydney Opera House.