Odyssey v Iliad

DiscussãoHomer, the Trojan war, and pre-classical Greece

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Odyssey v Iliad

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Dez 13, 2006, 11:31pm

Am I the only one who actually prefers The Odyssey to The Iliad?

Dez 14, 2006, 9:26am

No, I feel much the same way.

Dez 14, 2006, 3:38pm

Me three.

Dez 17, 2006, 8:33am

Basically, my eyes tend to glaze over with combat after combat in the Iliad, while the marvels Odysseus experiences on the way home and the pictures of home life in the palaces are much more my cup of tea.

Dez 31, 2006, 1:39pm

Hi, I recently saw this thread and it inspired me to write a review of the Iliad, and my preference for it, that might interest some of you.

6Sinuhe Primeira Mensagem
Dez 31, 2006, 4:41pm

I perfer The Iliad. In it I see man trapped by his own nature, not to destroy, but to compete until he destroys himself. And yet the same force that leads him to destruction, also leads him to creation. Out of destruction comes not nothing, but something else. Until he repeats the cycle.

Whether it is the Trojan War or the Great War, men run into battle, notwithstanding their terror, as if the only way to "be" is to live full out. It's madness, and it is telling that Achilles is its exemplar. Soldiers may not understand this compulsion, but they feel it all the same. And it is that compulsion that grabs my interest.

7Paris Primeira Mensagem
Editado: Abr 6, 2007, 1:50pm

Hi, I'm new to LibraryThing, and this group captured me pretty quickly. I have to vote for The Odyssey. Like Robertgreaves, battle after battle after battle in The Iliad gets a bit old after a while, whereas The Odyssey is full of wonderful adventures, illustrative of the expanding world of the Greeks at the time. I'm doing an MA in Classics at the moment, and The Iliad versus The Odyssey question is much debated in class. I've also come to the conclusion that those who like The Odyssey like Herodotus, whereas those who like The Iliad prefer Thucydides. It holds true in class, anyway!

Abr 14, 2007, 2:17pm

I think the Iliad is more than battle after battle. It is really about 'the pity of war'; think of the scene with Andromache, Hector and Astyanax and the meeting between Priam and Achilleus, for instance. And many of the briefly described fights emphasize the pathos of young death and the pain of loss for parents. You have also Achilleus' grief for Patroclus and Thetis' grief for Achilleus. We also have contact with daily life through the similes and the descriptions on the shield of Achilleus.

Abr 14, 2007, 2:19pm

Paris - you say "I've also come to the conclusion that those who like The Odyssey like Herodotus, whereas those who like The Iliad prefer Thucydides" ... that's probably a pretty good rule of thumb.

Abr 14, 2007, 2:45pm

Hm! Maybe, but I prefer the Iliad and Herodotus. I admire Thucydides, but I love Herodotus' stories and the anthopological stuff.

Abr 14, 2007, 3:10pm

And then it's spanner-in-the-works time. I prefer the Iliad to the Odyssey, and Herodotus to Thucydides.

This may have been influenced by how I read them, however, since my first experiences with the Iliad and in Herodotus were in what I have since decided are the preferable translations for entertaining reading, while the same cannot be said for the other two.

I have other reasons as well, but they might just be rationalizing.

Abr 14, 2007, 4:36pm

Paris, i'd tend to agree. i prefer Herodotus and love the Odyssey -- the amount of symbolism in it and what it says of human nature is remarkable. In the end though, while i would enjoy Herodotus without Thucydides, the Odyssey would be much reduced without the Iliad.

Abr 17, 2007, 9:59am

I prefer the Iliad to the Odyssey for the simple reason that I like the Trojans better. Yet for some reason, no matter how hard I root for them, they always lose... ;)

Abr 17, 2007, 3:12pm

It is my considered opinion that the Iliad takes what could later be described as a Heraclitean worldview of the sort subscribed to by any number of people with limited imaginations who require force to accomplish their goals and that the Odyssey has a more nuanced worldview valuing leadership and interpersonal manipulation.

Between the golden age of Troy and the blind poet of Xios, the Greek world had changed, the Heroic age had passed. Due to migration pressures all around the Mediterranean world new ways of thinking and being were developing.

Achilleus is the man of bold, decisive, forceful action (when he isn't acting like a baby) while Odysseus is cunning, intelligent, manipulative. Achilleus relied on magic for his protection, Odysseus relied on wisdom. Odysseus went home, Achilleus didn't. I believe Homer was describing a new kind of human being in Odysseus.

As far as the relationship between Homer and Thucydides who I've read and Herodotus who I know only in part. I agree that most people who like the Iliad will prefer Thucydides, but mostly for the wrong reasons. On the one hand Thucydides is a no nonsense kind of guy, an ex-general in the Odysseus mold, sceptical of the reasons for war in the first place and in disagreement with its prosecution. The people who instigated the war between Athens and Sparta were the same people who wanted the war with Iraq, the same people who mythologize the Heroes of the American military today. As an army vet of the Vietnam war with combat experience I'll bet ninety percent of the front line troops in Iraq don't feel like "Heroes", just ordinary men and women engaged in a particularly dangerous business, taking every day as it comes. They are "Heroes" to those who have never seen combat and have amped up the language (see Pericles) for propaganda purposes. George W. would have done well to read Thucydides. Would he have understood it? Probably not. If one reads the Iliad as against the destruction of war rather than a paeon to the Heroic, then Thucydides is a good fit, otherwise I think they miss his point. Thucydides had little sympathy with the false Heroicism of the Athenians of his day.

On the other hand, what I know of Herodotus is that he was more gullible in his reporting and less enamored of the facts than Thucydides. I may be wrong here. I would think he would be more attractive to those who don't need facts to form opinions (yours truly?). The Iliad is much this way. We have heard rumours of... let's do something. Just ask Iphigenia. He seems more fuzzy headed than Thucydides. I see Odysseus as smarter than Achilleus, less rigid in his beliefs, willing to entertain some pragmatism when it is called for, unlike Achilleus who remains the ideal Hero to the end. If one takes Odysseus in this light, then maybe his openness to experience and meditation do lean more to Herodotus.

Now, have I managed to agree with all possible points of view on this?

My personal taste runs to the Odyssey and Thucydides because they both express the mental ability to come to a valid conclusion of what must be done, rather than read their own entrails (gut feeling I think it's called today) and rush head long into action without considering the consequences.

Abr 17, 2007, 8:35pm

Geneg, I get the feeling that you might enjoy Julian Jaynes' The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind - the chapter on Greek literature, at least, which hinges on the conclusion you make about what makes the Odyssey different from the Iliad, and develops it into a general theory of consciousness. But then, I recommend it to everyone indiscriminately because I like it so much. (It's much more readably and enjoyably written than the title suggests.)

Abr 17, 2007, 9:33pm


If you check out my entry in books that made you think, or in this case, changed my life, I list Jaynes' book along with the Tao of Physics by Fritjof Capra as the two most influential works in my life. A third work, based on gleanings from these two, is the Bible. Think about God in terms of Capra and Jesus, the greatest humanist who ever lived as the ultimate result of Jaynes' ideas. Julian Jaynes has taken so much heat for what to me are a set of inescapable conclusions. I'm glad to see someone else that appreciates him.

BTW, was it THAT obvious?

Abr 18, 2007, 8:23pm

Ah, I checked your library and didn't see it there, so I didn't want to assume anything. But I read bicameral theory into nearly everything - I can't say that it changed my life, necessarily, but it definitely altered my mind. I'll have to check out the Tao of Physics, I hadn't heard of it before.

To get a little bit back on track, I just picked up Enoch Powell's translation of Herodotus, which I've been wondering about. Powell had been a precocious classicist (youngest professor in the Commonwealth at his first appointment) and, according to the preface of this translation, had started it when he was a schoolboy. He also produced a Lexicon to Herodotus and, I believe, a commentary on the text as well. Clearly he was both bright and interested in Herodotus. (He also worked on Thucydides, but to a much lesser extent.)

However, he's now much more known as having been a "far-right" conservative MP with outspoken views on immigration that skirt the border of racism. The question is, does that square with having spent his early life working deeply with a text that explores cultural variety and seems to argue for a type of relativism? He was a notable orator, as well, and so perhaps more of a Thucydidean figure himself. Quite an interesting character, I think. I wonder whether he preferred the Iliad or the Odyssey...

Abr 30, 2007, 7:34pm

I found the Iliad was about man relationship to God, community and family.
Oydessey is a great story but the themes are not so universal. Oydessus is not every man but you do have to love him.
When Athena stops Achilles from killing Agamemnon is most telling. Translators from George Chapman and Alexander Pope down to Fagels and Lombardo have rendered this according their beliefs in what god might be.
That and the shield of Achilles and Priam's midnight visit are the greatest writing in literature.

Maio 6, 2007, 1:18pm

Hello! I'm new to this thread. (and pretty new to LT) Oddly enough, when I read the two I found I liked the Odyssey over the Iliad--I suppose because it is such a good adventure story. But when I took the time to listen to them both on audio, I much prefered the Iliad to the Odyssey--it spoke to me more deeply.

Here's my funny Iliad story

Maio 6, 2007, 5:04pm

I too prefer the Odyssey. There are some wonderful discussion on "In Our Time" on BBC Radio 4, including one of the Odyssey. But my favorite is the Oresteia - the birth of tragedy.

Here is a link to the archive


Editado: Maio 6, 2007, 9:32pm

Two vital works that may let you see the Iliad and Odyssey as you never have before are Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character and Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming.

I wrote a little piece applying some Classical comparisons to recent tragic events here: "The Question Mark Kid."

22micsee Primeira Mensagem
Editado: Maio 7, 2007, 8:26am

As a story, I much prefer the Odyssey to the Illiad. I found it much more intricately structured and more entertaining when taken as a whole. However, if I could only own one of the two I would choose the Illiad. This is because there are passages in the Illiad that are just so beautiful and powerful to read. Achilles' answer to Lycaon in Book 21 is just one example that comes to mind.

Editado: Ago 1, 2008, 10:15am

I think that The Iliad is the greater work. I consider the Iliad to be a tragedy that is the first in the tradition of the Greek tragedies. The story of the Iliad centers around the fate of Achilles that is determined by his character. Achilles' pride leads to the "rage", the first word of the poem, that determines his fate. A major theme of Greek tragedy is that the fate of the protagonist is determined by his character. For example, the hubris of Oedipus leads to his tragic fate.
The Odyssey is a great story. Odysseus blinds the son of Poseidon on his return from the Trojan war and his journey home becomes the original epic adventure. The climactic scene in the Odyssey when Odysseus strings the bow and kills the suitors is one of my favorites in all of literature.
The Odyssey does not deal with the elemental forces in human life such as character and fate. The themes of the Iliad are timeless and at the center of human existence. Those themes are repeated in many of the greatest works of literature and in real life. I read each of the works about once every two to three years and the Iliad is always a greater emotional experience.
I recently reread The Odyssey and edited this post. I had said that Odysseus killed the son of Poseidon when he actually blinded him.

Editado: Maio 5, 2008, 9:37am

I agree with wildbill: the Iliad is a greater work in the grand scheme of classic epic. This is not to deprecate the Odyssey, of course, which is also a wonderful piece of literature, but the Iliad takes a tuning fork to something elemental that hundreds of years later Greeks could identify with on the most vicereal level. It was reading the Iliad a few years back that spurred me to go back & get that classical education I missed in school. I read the Odyssey almost immediately after the Iliad, but it did not resonate in the same way with me. I suspect it was the same for many of the ancient Hellenes: Alexander slept with a copy of the Iliad under his pillow, not the Odyssey ...

Maio 14, 2008, 10:30am

The Iliad is to epic poetry as Aeschylus is to Greek tragedy.
The Odyssey is to epic poetry as Euripides is to Greek Tragedy.

The Iliad is about a group of near automatons executing life according to the rules of power. Odysseus is a new creature on the scene. He is intelligent, a leader, devious when necessary, steadfast and true to his wife and family, faithful to the gods, his own man. He goes to war being one of thousands whose allegiance belongs to Agamemnon. He returns as his own man, loyal to his own interests.

These two poems mark the transition from Bronze Age social norms to the beginnings of a more recognizable Classical Greek age, the age that gave us democracy and high culture.

We move from Achilleus' unthinking response to Agamemnon's raw power play to Odysseus taking up his oar and carrying it himself. We move from action without thought to thought that yields action.

The two are a psychological journey from the past into the future.

Jun 12, 2009, 1:47pm

This is a fascinating thread, and a great start for my journey into ancient Greece.

Jun 12, 2009, 9:49pm

the following lectures/discussions of the Odyssey and the Illiad are quite wonderful and about 45 minutes each.



Jun 13, 2009, 3:16pm

Thank you. I'll look into these as soon as possible.

Jun 19, 2010, 11:03am

Odysseus is one of the three or four most important characters in the Iliad. Any analysis of Odysseus must consider the Iliad as well as the Odyssey.

Jun 19, 2010, 12:32pm

#29 absolutely. The Iliad should be read first in all cases

Jun 19, 2010, 6:45pm

What if I don't want to?


Jun 19, 2010, 6:46pm

Robert -- you can do as you like ... LOL

Jun 19, 2010, 8:14pm

"What if I don't want to?"

then the Trojans win.

Jun 19, 2010, 8:23pm

I enjoyed both works but I still prefer the Odyssey to the Iliad.

Jun 19, 2010, 8:25pm

> 25
"Odysseus is... steadfast and true to his wife and family..."

okay, so he's off with the lads for 20 years, boinking Circe, Calypso, and possibly Nausicaa too (and who knows how many others). then he finally goes home just long enough to scratch all the other cats sniffing 'round his den and tear off a quick piece with the ol' lady before he's off down the pub again.
yeah, that's what i call steadfast and true!

"... faithful to the gods..."

tell that to Poseidon.

"... his own man..."
who cries all the way through the story!


Jun 19, 2010, 8:52pm

For fun, read Atwood's The Penelopiad

Jun 20, 2010, 1:14am

I like the Odyssey better too actually. But both (obviously!) are classics... actually, probably the first "classics", now that I think about it. I mean Homer's stories were ancient to the Romans. Hell, you could even argue that they were ancient to Homer himself...