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Hawaii_Jake's avatar

What difference do you find between The Iliad and The Odyssey?

Asked by Hawaii_Jake (25799 points ) July 3rd, 2012

What is the most compelling difference between the two epic poems?

I find the two protagonists to be greatly different. In The Iliad, Achilles seems ruled by his passions, and in The Odyssey, Odysseus is more cunning and intellectual.

I read these each in college and then again in graduate school. Each time through was a revelation.

Amazingly, my fourteen-year-old daughter has been assigned them as summer reading before entering advanced-placement English class in ninth grade this coming fall. She is enjoying The Odyssey much more than The Iliad.

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15 Answers

fremen_warrior's avatar

From what little I remember from my Literature classes the Iliad is about a bunch of pompuous, pig-headed, relentless a**holes fighting over a broad, with barely any respect for human life, but their own selfish egos.

The Odyssey is a tale of adventure and desperation as the wearied warriors attempt to make their way home no matter what, exemplifying the “no man left behind” mindset and compassionate band-of-brothers attitude that we would call decent and just human behaviour.

I know I might be oversimplifying this, but in my opinion the Odyssey in its own way shows a slightly better side of the human psyche, and that is why it we might like it more over Iliad.

elbanditoroso's avatar

It has been 40 years since I had to read them for school, so my memories may be a little cloudy. I remember that the Odyssey read like a cool adventure story – each chapter was exciting and had new challenges to overcome.

The Iliad, if I remember correctly, read more like a history of war, and didn’t have the excitement of an adventure. As I recall, it didn’t read (to me, at age 17) like a narrative.

josie's avatar

Here are some differences as I recall.
Most of the Iliad takes place on land, most of the Odyssey takes place on a boat.
Achilles is stubborn, self centered, and gives the Gods a fair share of attitude.
Odysseus generally tries to please, and has a decent relationship with the Gods, his problems with Poseiden not withstanding.
The consensus, without knowing much, is that Home wrote Iliad when he was young (it is the oldest work in Western literature) , and Odyssey when he was old.

gailcalled's avatar

There is an ongoing debate about the attribution of authorship of these two epics. Source (I love this stuff.)

A brief mini-summary of the issues of Homer and his reality:

“The idea that Homer was responsible for just the two outstanding epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey, did not win consensus until 350 BC. While many find it unlikely that both epics were composed by the same person, others argue that the stylistic similarities are too consistent to support the theory of multiple authorship. One view which attempts to bridge the differences holds that the Iliad was composed by “Homer” in his maturity, while the Odyssey was a work of his old age…

Most scholars agree that the Iliad and Odyssey underwent a process of standardisation and refinement out of older material beginning in the 8th century BC. An important role in this standardisation appears to have been played by the Athenian tyrant Hipparchus, who reformed the recitation of Homeric poetry at the Panathenaic festival. Many classicists hold that this reform must have involved the production of a canonical written text.

Other scholars still support the idea that Homer was a real person. Since nothing is known about the life of this Homer, the common joke—also recycled with regard to Shakespeare—has it that the poems “were not written by Homer, but by another man of the same name.”...

Independent of the question of single authorship is the near-universal agreement, after the work of Milman Parry, that the Homeric poems are dependent on an oral tradition, a generations-old technique that was the collective inheritance of many singer-poets…”

Thammuz's avatar

For starters, the Odyssey has a clearly defined protagonist (i wouldn’t really consider Achilles the protagonist in the Iliad. He may be a central character, but not as involved in the main story as, say, Agamemnon, and there are so many different plot threads there really isn’t only one protagonist)

Secondly, the Iliad has a single location and is all thematically linked by the siege of troy. On the other hand, the events in the Odyssey are much more varied and, while they are all related to Odysseus’ return home, they are largely interchangeable. The Iliad, on the other hand is much more cohesive and structured, because it’s basically following a war journal, and wars generally have a fairly rigid progression. Sieges especially.

You can’t put Hector’s death after Ajax’s suicide, and you can’t put Cassandra’s rape before the Trojan horse. However, you can easily switch around Polyphemus and Schylla and Charybdis and, geography aside, you would not lose anything because the events in the Odyssey are self-contained. For the most part, anyway.

Also, most of the people who show lack of morality or humanity, on either side, are made examples of, either by straight up punishment or divine retribution, poetic justice or by demonization by the narration itself. Odysseus, especially, for his trickery is punished with an entire epic worth of divine retribution, even though he was on the “good side”. Also, Ajax’s (one of the few actually honorable fighters in Agamemnon’s service) suicide is pretty much on Odysseus’ head as well.

Which brings me to another point: Either there are no “good guys” or the jist of the story is “don’t side with the guy who contradicts the gods, because he will make it home safely, but you won’t!” And so far i haven’t had a satisfactory answer aside for the obvious “doesn’t matter who you’re fighting for, don’t be a dick” moral, which doesn’t really clarify the issue of who was in the right there.

Then again, the Greek were ahead of their times, and probably figured out gray moral quandries well before we did. No wonder the Eneid is so fucking boring by comparison.

So, basically, The Iliad did what Game of Thrones does before Christ was even born. How about them apples.

bea2345's avatar

@Hawaii_Jake – what translations did you have at college? For a long time all I could access was E.V. Rieu’s translation which, I understand, is not the very best. But in spite of the dense rhetoric, it is still very readable and I read it several times. My introduction to the Iliad came mainly through retelling. This kind of introduction to the classics – translations of parts, either in verse or prose – means that any kind of critical study was not really possible for me. But I did get the impression that the Odyssey was a planned work, while the Iliad was a little more scattered – like a collection of stories.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@bea2345 : As an undergraduate, I had the Lattimore translation, and then later in graduate school, the wonderful Fagles translations were published.

Thammuz's avatar

@bea2345 As far as i know the literary consensus is that neither are planned works. They are mashups of tales that were consolidated after decades of oral propagation.

Of the great epics related to the trojan war the only one that was a planned work is the Aeneid.

bea2345's avatar

Thank you, @Hawaii_Jake . @Thammuz , does this mean that E.V. Rieu’s translation of the Odyssey was part re-write, part translation? It reads like a novel.

Thammuz's avatar

@bea2345 no clue, i’m not american, and therefore have no experience with english translations of the classics. I have studied them in school, both in middle school and high school, as they are part of standard education here in Italy. Roman literature had also become one of my favourite subjects by the end of high school, too, and greek lit had a huge influence on it, so we came back to it all the time.

Originally, they were written in dactylic hexameter, so if the translation you are referring to reads like a novel it’s guaranteed not to be a simple translation, that much i can say.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@bea2345 : From what I’ve been able to piece together on the Internet, E.V. Rieu’s translations are not the best. His translation of The Iliad was prose, while, as @Thammuz has mentioned, the original Greek is poetry. He was also very free in his translations at time substituting 20th century concepts or phrasing for closer ones.

bea2345's avatar

@Thammuz – E.V. Rieu’s translation was the first of the Penguin Classics to be published (1946) and it is still in print, because it is so intensely exciting and so very readable. that it has become a classic in its own right.

Thammuz's avatar

@bea2345 i see. Italian translators were mostly intensely pedantic ancient greek literature scholars, which means our translations range from aggressively boring when you’re unlucky, to involuntarily hilarious on occasion (for instance, some unbelievably oblivious old crone translated a scene in a roman play where an eagle was supposed to fly down on the stage with a paragraph that could just as easily be understood as “As Jupiter’s penis came down from the heavens”).

bea2345's avatar

@Thammuzsome unbelievably oblivious old crone. Way to go, granny!

Thammuz's avatar

@bea2345 seriously, sometimes i feel like old people come from a time when the dick hadn’t been discovered yet. The amount of times old people I know use euphemisms for “penis” in questionable circumstances is nothing short of astronomical. Either they’re completely oblivious or they’re trolling me.

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