Works Similar to Homer's Iliad

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Works Similar to Homer's Iliad

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Editado: Jan 3, 2015, 10:49 pm

Could people please make suggestions as to works of the written word that they have found as comparable to Homer's Iliad? For me, it is hard to match in its treatment of the depth and breadth of human nature as well as beauty of language and use of similes.

I am sure everyone has their own favorite works of literature, and I do not want to enter into a debate, but rather to find other literature old or new from any culture that has the stature, intensity, and depth of this particular work.

Thank you.


Editado: Jan 4, 2015, 2:21 am

I don't know what do say without making a list of classic pre-modern literature—Aeschylus, Dante, Gilgamesh…

Personally, I can't say my world was rocked by Homer the way some others' is. But Aeschylus did. Herodotus and Thucydides too.

Jan 4, 2015, 7:50 am

Comparable to Homer is a very high standard. I'm trying to think of something medieval that compares and can't really do it. I will say that for me the Song of Roland is quite good - preferable to Beowulf or the Norse sagas. You have betrayal, a flawed, doomed hero, etc., and some of the language during the ebbs and flows of the battle can be poignant. Not on Homer's scale and no Gods, not really. Plus, unlike the Trojans, the Saracens aren't portrayed sympathetically. Keep in mind it's no more historically relevant than Homer. Some of the character names are the same but any resemblance to actual folks is close to accidental.

I also thought Paradise Lost was quite good. Just stay away from the sequel which is a nice cure for insomnia.

As a tangent, I often tell people to read the Bible, particularly the OT, as historical literature, not a book of religious instruction. Get an older translation, at least KJV. Lots of good stories in there.

Still not Homer. Tim, do you have a link to that top 100 pre-19th c. books list you put together a while back? Might make a good starting point.

Jan 4, 2015, 8:06 am

>3 cemanuel:: "As a tangent, I often tell people to read the Bible, particularly the OT, as historical literature, not a book of religious instruction"
I would tend to agree with Cemanuel's suggestion here. The Bible must be at least the equal of Homer in terms of the influence it has had. I'm a bit less sure about KJV in this context. I became more interested in the Bible after coming across translations with commentary by Robert Alter starting with The Five Books of Moses. He has translations of several OT books with excellent commentaries.

Jan 4, 2015, 8:06 am

A different kind of story than The Iliad, but I loved Farid Ud-din Attar's The Conference of the Birds. It's more like Chaucer than Milton in terms of scope, but it does deal in the grand themes.

Jan 4, 2015, 9:03 am

I'd have said the bible too. Otherwise, though more mythological and less centred on human nature, there's The Kalevala for poetry, or The Thousand and One Nights for stories.

Jan 4, 2015, 9:14 am

I looked for Tim's list but couldn't find it. Hopefully he remembers what he called it.

I never got through The Iliad, the Odyssey is more my type of book, so I'm not sure how valid this will be. You might try Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. It's got that big sweep of history thing going on, though rather than concentrate on one event, it focuses on one person who is tangental (sometimes very tangential) to a lot of events. Even if you don't like the whole book, I think you'll enjoy the part about the Battle of Waterloo at the beginning of the second section.

Jan 4, 2015, 9:45 am

Jan 4, 2015, 11:25 am

Many thanks for the list; it is interesting and a source for considerable comments..

1-I have read more on the list than I would have expected.

2-I don't think many people would find:

-74 The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu

-46. The decline and fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon

-An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations
by Adam Smith

-Clarissa: Or the History of a Young Lady
by Samuel Richardson

to be riveting reading in the way the Iliad is. They are all instead very much tomes through which one dutifully works one's way.

These were certainly new titles for me:

The Poems of Francois Villon by François Villon

The Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson

I realize that "planetary alignment" and one's own maturity has a lot to do with the enjoyment of a literary work, but I think I need to keep on looking.



Jan 4, 2015, 12:38 pm

Clarissa is a slog, but I found Decline and Fall to be pretty readable.

Jan 4, 2015, 12:43 pm

How about the Mahabharata?

A report by the Greek writer Dio Chrysostom (c. 40 - c. 120 CE) about Homer's poetry being sung even in India seems to imply that the Iliad had been translated into Sanskrit. However, scholars have, in general, taken this as evidence for the existence of a Mahabharata at this date, whose episodes Dio or his sources identify with the story of the Iliad. (from the link)

Jan 4, 2015, 1:36 pm

The Epic of Gilgamesh

I always wondered why Hollywood has never made a version; it's got sex, violence, heroism, buddies, and special effects.

Editado: Jan 4, 2015, 1:52 pm

". . .why Hollywood has never made a version (of Gilgamesh..." (12)

Well, for that matter, I donʻt think there has ever been
a Hollywood version of Vergilʻs Aeneid, nor Lucanʻs Bellum Civile, nor Ovidʻs Metamorphoses,
all of which are better, as works of literature, than
Gilgamesh (not that G. isnʻt good). And the Hollywood versions of the Iliad and Odyssey have mostly been failures. They donʻt evoke the epics, not even in their titles. The only thing I remember about their castings is that Odysseus was played by Kirk Douglas-- and well played within the
limitations of the screenplay.

Jan 4, 2015, 2:27 pm

The version of the Odyssey starring Armand Assante was pretty good.

Jan 4, 2015, 2:32 pm

"...Odyssey starring
Armand Assante"... (14)

Yes, I had forgotten that one. It was pretty good. I did see part of it.

Jan 4, 2015, 3:16 pm

10 southernbooklady

'Clarissa is a slog,'

That is my point; while I have read many of the titles on the list, I don't want the work I read to be a slog. After all, it is not being done for extra course credits.

However, my hat is off to those who can read all of The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire and not find it a slog.


Jan 4, 2015, 3:32 pm

Jan 4, 2015, 6:29 pm

"and less centred on human nature, "

Fair enough. Each to our own. However I am definitely looking for those works that are more centered on human nature.

That is why I have enjoyed reading:

Sophocles The Three Theban Plays
Aeschylus The Oresteia
Epic of Gilgamesh

I always think of Paradise Lost as typical of a type of book that is very ethereal and intellectual versus the nitty gritty of The Iliad.

Jan 4, 2015, 7:53 pm

Well I guess you could argue that the arabian nights and the Kalevala don't tend to invite you into the internal worlds of the characters as much your Sophocles or Aeschylus, but you might consider them a peek into cultural imagination (or Jungian archetypes, if that terminology floats your boat), and so still worthwhile.

Jan 4, 2015, 9:47 pm

For comparable "treatment of the depth and breadth of human nature as well as beauty of language and use of similes" I'd recommend Proust. The recollection-conceit is even first cousin to Homer's Muse-conceit.

Jan 4, 2015, 10:27 pm about floating my inner boat...yes, with him I would truly drown. He is outside my skill set. I realize he is totally respected by everyone, but I would really drown....really. :)

Jan 4, 2015, 10:55 pm

Ok, here goes.....

For comparable "treatment of the depth and breadth of human nature as well as beauty of language and use of similes" I'd recommend Tolstoy's War and Peace as the only other book that has the scope within and well as with the action narrative to rival Homer.

There I have said it. I doubt not that The tsunami will now descend with a cascade of better suggestions, but many of the others that you folks suggested were either too ethereal or intellectual for me.

I am not saying I am right; each has his own taste. And I am after all asking for suggestions. But suggestions like:

-The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu
(I tried this twice; no joy there....)

-The decline and fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon
(Sounds like a very long slog...)

-An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith

-Clarissa: Or the History of a Young Lady
by Samuel Richardson
(Ok, it was probably one of the first and longest novels in the English language but even so, pleasure here, at least for me. I am not trying to punish myself.)

so they all sound like a very long slog so far for my tastes.

Editado: Jan 5, 2015, 12:33 am

Well without question War and Peace is among the greatest works of literature. No argument from me. A towering achievement.

That's not to detract from the many other suggestions above, starting with at least parts of the Old Testament. If I stretch to intuit the intention of what is no doubt a strangely autocorrected thought, surely it meets your standard of having "the scope within and well as with the action narrative to rival Homer."

Jan 5, 2015, 12:48 pm

>13 rolandperkins: "a Hollywood version of Vergilʻs Aeneid"

The thing is, a good film version would have to change the ending (we actually had discussions about this in the Classics department when I was an undergrad), because if he'd lived to revise it, Vergil almost certainly would have.

My proposed ending may seem more "modern" than Vergil would have gone for, but I really think that after killing Turnus, Aeneas needs to pause for a moment, and then drop his bloody sword to the ground. Close-up in slo-mo follows sword as it hits the earth, and then we see Aeneas' feet walking slowly away, out of focus. Cue credits.

Editado: Jan 5, 2015, 1:34 pm


Happy New Year. Hope all is well on the bike trails in spite of the cold weather.

You are no doubt absolutely correct re "starting with at least parts of the Old Testament" however I regret to say that as a result of childhood sunday school, etc. any reading I would do of the OT would be so heavily embued with the work as a religious tract that I could not genuinely enjoy it in the literary light you suggest.

Or put a little more simply, separating the religion from the literary really would be akin to separating of the milk from the water..

or again

This is taken as a great quality, as shown by this Sanskrit verse:

Hamsah shwetah, bakah shwetah, kah bhedah hamsa bakayo?
Neeraksheera viveketu, Hamsah hamsah, bakah bakah!

The swan is white, the crane is white, so how to differentiate between them?
With the milk-water test, the swan is proven swan, the crane is proven crane!

Editado: Jan 5, 2015, 2:02 pm

I agree that it can be hard to read the OT, but there's not much else in ancient literature to beat the story of David, which might be approachable in isolation. I sat through chunks of it while singing at a cathedral one summer, and found it quite gripping (and very annoying when the weekly Eucharist interrupted the sequence of Evensong readings!).

I have also enjoyed Malory's Morte Darthur, though it's not exactly on a Homeric level.

Jan 5, 2015, 2:20 pm

I think there's a danger in looking for books that are "like" Homer, as it can set up false expectations. I'm not saying this as a value judgement, but because every work of literature is so intrinsically linked in its social and cultural context...there are plenty of other authors who are equally insightful about human nature, I think, but different eras have different concerns as well as different narrative forms.

So I guess maybe what I'm saying is that it would help if you can explain a bit more what, specifically appeals to you about Homer and maybe we could make better recommendations?

Among ancient and medieval literature, I particularly liked (that is, found both moving and poetic):
Epic of Gilgamesh, Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the Greek tragedians, and the plays collected in Great Sanskrit Plays. The Irish and Scandinavian sagas are fun, too, but I think both culturally and stylistically farther from us (or at least less familiar) than the Greeks.
I didn't like Chaucer's Troilus and Cressida; I read it not long after discovering the Iliad and found it confusing to read a story set in ancient Greece but with medieval values and attitudes.

I know I said I wasn't going to even try to suggest Homer imitations because they're not the same thing, but there are a few works not yet mentioned here which you might find interesting nonetheless.
Hesiod's Theogony is roughly contemporaneous with Homer and reminded me a bit of the Odyssey (Zeus as trickster figure), although the story is quite compressed in comparison. The Argonautica by Apollonius of Rhodes is a Hellenistic knock-off (nearly a parody, really) of Homer and it helps to read it as such--a playful game with tradition, not an attempt to be Homer.
Christoph Martin Wieland is quite a bit later, but he responds to the Greek tradition in his writing. The History of Agathon was inspired by the Greek novel (particularly An Ethiopian Romance by Heliodorus) but parodies some of its more implausible aspects. It's quite funny, but at the same time sympathetic towards the sufferings of its hero. There was an English translation published at soem point, but Wieland isn't read so much today, so it might be difficult to find.
Also, Derek Walcott's Homer-inspired narrative poem Omeros is absolutely worth reading, precisely because he doesn't try to rewrite Homer, he does something completely different with it. He's also a true master of language.

If you like the Russians, perhaps Gogol's Dead Souls. Very different from Tolstoy, but epic in its own way.

I've read bits and pieces of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, and while it's not a narrative the way Homer is, you might find the rhythms of his poetry carries you along in a similar way, at least that was my response to it in high school (I recommend starting with something like the mid-length poem "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking").

No one has suggested Shakespeare's tragedies? I suppose you've already read Macbeth and Hamlet?

Turning to more modern (and not necessarily canonical) works, I've always felt like Max Frisch's Homo Faber and Thomas Mann's Death in Venice have something of Greek tragedy in them--the inevitability of fate and belated recognition in spite of (or perhaps precisely because of) their context in modern society.

Strangely enough, but Richard Adams' Watership Down also comes to mind, although it's not about humans at all, at least on the surface. Perhaps also A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth, both because they are thick, leisurely, detailed books which allow the reader to immerse themselves in the world. Ursula K. Le Guin's Left Hand of Darkness, for similar reasons (although to be honest it took me about three tries to appreciate this one).

Editado: Jan 5, 2015, 10:45 pm


Thank you very much for your very thoughtful and comprehensive response. It is most apposite and comprehensive. So much so that I will have to think on it before responding.

However, if I may, I would say that two of the reasons I love Homer: are the depth and vulnerability of his sensibility, and of course his similes.

Again, thank you for your time and consideration. Most helpful.


Editado: Jan 6, 2015, 7:00 am

>4 PossMan: Possman

I use a bit of a different method but some of the modern commentaries are quite good. I have a heavily annotated English edition - Harper has a good reputation but I use Oxford's New Revised Standard Version, 4th ed. - along with a copy of the Vulgate and a Greek lexicon.

The combination of trying to figure out why it (speaking of individual texts) was written, who wrote which texts(easier for the NT) and how it may have been emended later is friggin' fascinating.

Then again, I'm a Geek for this stuff.

Editado: Jan 6, 2015, 1:29 pm


You ask why I like Homer’s Iliad?

As I said previously, it has to do with the depth and vulnerability of his sensibility, and of course his similes. The intensity with which the characters feel is astounding.

Having the extreme sensitivity to love totally as Achilles did Patroclus and then again on Patroclus’ death for Achilles to allow himself to be so totally devastated was for me great. Loving with no holds barred and total devastation at the loss of one’s beloved.

Another quality of the book is the violence that is repeatedly and so graphically portrayed and which remains such a dominant theme throughout the book. I mean real horrific violence.

And there are also the Iliad’s countless similes that are always so precious, potent, powerful, and pregnant with their reverberations.

Throughout the book there is this totally flat out, wild and wanton embrace of life by the characters. The loving, mourning, killing - all without holding anything back. Their total living in the present moment.

And finally, there is that first line (in the Robert Fagels translation) of the poem that speaks of Rage and then proceeds to show the repercussions of rage throughout the work, or at least until almost the end of it. How magnificent a topic to focus on and confront.

I guess I found all the above qualities in the book to be ones I loved and am unable to find anything comparable to anywhere else in literature. The Iliad is not one thing but a cornucopia of many things that pours out, engulfs or washes over the reader, tsunami like and unlike any other book I have read. One is encompassed by it.

Admittedly, hooking up totally with a book has to come at the right time for any reader; a planetary alignment of sorts for the individual. However when it happens it is a gift that I find comes more often within the classics of literature than outside.

Having read the Iliad was not just a pleasure but a privilege and I hope to return to it often and learn more about it. So seldom can I find a book that one can read and then over the years return to and reread repeatedly and each time come away refreshed with new understandings and joys.

I will definitely review the books you so thoughtfully suggested. If I don’t read them now, I can look forward to in them in the future.

My sense at the moment is that Homer and Tolstoy, while great, were certainly not alone in their being great and that I shall have to wait for my own planetary alignment to align before I can reach out to your suggestions and savor them as you have.

Thank you again for your time and consideration on this.

Jan 6, 2015, 10:00 am

>29 cemanuel:: Agreed. My Greek is still at a very low level so my lexicon gets very little use but I'm currently in FF Bruce's (NICNT) commentary on Acts and get a kick when I can understand some of his references to the Greek. As you say fascinating stuff.

Editado: Abr 7, 2015, 9:31 pm

Well, I'm a "Le Morte d'Arthur" Malory fan, especially the two volume edition from Penguin Books. All that does to help the modern reader is make sure the spelling is regularized. So if you vocalise when doing the reading, either muttering or declaiming fully aloud, the power of the prose is breath-taking. The two best books in it are "the Cote Mal Tale", and the tear-inducing last book.
As for ignoring the sagas in this thread, you really can't. Get yourself a copy of another Penguin, this time "The Burning of Njal" and you are in for the kind of story telling indulged in by George R.R. Martin, big, bold and killing attractive characters all the time. Did I mention that there are even funny bits? (lacking in Homer except for the trashing of Thersites.)
Having lived through reading "War and Peace" three times, it's the rival to Homer from modern times.
My Iliad is Lattimore and Greene's, and breath-taking there.

Abr 8, 2015, 12:36 pm

You can always just read more translations of the Iliad. Pope vs Lattimore is not reading the same book. Or read them all! That is what I'm working on.

Editado: Abr 8, 2015, 6:13 pm

Yes I have a copy of Lattimore and as well an audiobook version to go with it. So I am looking forward to it.

I have been through the Fagels translation twice.

I have also been through W&P three times also but forgot which translation.

Abr 8, 2015, 6:17 pm

>32 DinadansFriend:
Is there a version of "Le Morte d'Arthur" by Malory which is the best?

Abr 8, 2015, 7:40 pm

the best version, is the two volume Penguin set, ISBN. 0-14-043043-1. The editor is Janet Cowan, and as I said, do mutter along with the text. This is the beast with its hair on, and though repetitive in some of its episodes it rises to wonderful heights!
For additional pleasure, get the Dover Arthur by Howard Pyle, there's two volumes of that, and look at the pictures when you read the real Malory. The armour in the Dovers looks really like patterned Spandex, and its influence on super hero comic books should be worth a masters degree for someone desperate for that degree in American Lit. or fine arts . But it's great illustrations to the Penguin Malory text. Maybe you have access to the the Charles Scribner's originals in hardcover Pyle's version.

Abr 9, 2015, 7:42 am

My advice: learn ancient Greek. It's not easy, but doable. Reading Homer in the original is ample repayment for the time invested.

Abr 9, 2015, 9:52 pm

Did you learn Greek as an adult Bart, if so what was your story/process?

Editado: Abr 10, 2015, 5:26 am

Yes, mostly I did.
I never had Greek at school, only Latin, which I absolutely loved. However my brother at that time studied classical languages (he quit after two years) and when I was 15 or 16 he taught me the basics of ancient Greek. For many, many years afterwards I did not read a word of Greek, but in 2013 I started back from scratch. I used a variety of textbooks, but most of all Mastronarde, an Introduction to Attic Greek and A Reading Course in Homeric Greek by Schroeder and Horrigan. And then I basically read and read and read: Lysias, three dialogues by Plato, some Herodotus, and now since 1 year -with some long stretches of inactivity due to real life intervening- Homer's Iliad that I plan to read from cover to cover. I'm in book 19 now, and will probably finish next month.

Greek is a difficult language, more so than Latin for a variety of reasons. Nevertheless, after two year of study my reading speed has increased dramatically. I can read approximately 100-200 lines of Homer in one hour; more so if I would content myself with following the gist of the story and not lose myself in obscure words, interesting ethymologies and other side tracks.
Hope this helps.

Edit: I forgot to mention this website,, that offers a wealth of material, generous help when stuck on difficult questions, and most of all a sense of community (can't find another word, but you know what I mean), that's crucial to keep you motivated when you're studying such a difficult topic on your own.

Abr 10, 2015, 3:25 pm

Thanks Bart, i'm inspired to try it myself. I read that Ben Franklin learned it as an adult as well.

I found a site to help with the first step: learning the alphabet the games are great on there.

Editado: Abr 10, 2015, 8:42 pm

As long as we are doing perfect casting in ideal movies, I've longed for "The Odyssey", starring Sean Bean as "the Wily Odysseus", beloved of Athene! (He was the best part of "Troy", even better than Brad Pitt's very good Akilles!) and Helen Mirren as Penelope. I'm sure there's some ugly reason why it never got made. I'd like to know why?

Abr 10, 2015, 8:45 pm

>41 DinadansFriend: I believe it's because there's a clause in Bean's contracts that say he has to die at the end. ;-)

Abr 11, 2015, 3:09 pm

When he played Richard Sharpe, he didn't die! While we are at the movies, do people notice, and I'm talking to the classists among us, that movies about the Iliad almost always credit Homer as the author while ignoring poor Quintus Smyrnaeus, who gives us all the story that follows the death and burial of Achilles and Hector?

Jun 21, 2015, 7:36 pm

If you read Latin, Virgil's Aeneid is great, one of my favorites. The poetry is wonderful, and the story great. There have been many books written comparing Homer and Virgil. His goal was to create for the Romans an epic as great as Homer's for the Greeks.

I haven't read any translations I could recommend. Sorry.

Jun 21, 2015, 7:59 pm

I loved War and Peace when I read it. But I would not compare it to Homer, at least not in the original Greek. The epic poetry and use of language, I think, is unsurpassed.

Jun 21, 2015, 8:24 pm

Hear, hear. Well said. I absolutely agree.