Homer's Iliad describes the final year of the Trojan War, a legendary conflict between an alliance of Greek cities and the city of Troy in Anatolia. It was probably written sometime in the 8th century BCE after a long oral tradition, but the Greeks themselves imagined the war to have occurred sometime in the 13th century BCE during the Bronze Age. The Greeks thought Homer was from Chios or Ionia and credited him with both the Iliad and Odyssey, the two masterpieces of Greek literature. They also thought him the greatest ever writer and referred to him simply as 'the poet.' The Iliad is universally acclaimed as a truly great story. There is war and gore, honour and betrayal, pain and pathos, love and hatred, a good few villains and even more heroes, all set in the good old days of a glorious but not forgotten past. Above all, the Iliad presents the tragic yet thrilling reality of humanity's mortality, and as the events unfold, we are ever reminded that our lives are shaped and buffeted by the winds of Fate from which even the central character Achilles, magnificent warrior that he is, cannot escape.
Homer's Odyssey is an epic poem written in the 8th century BCE which describes the long voyage home of the Greek hero Ulysses. The mythical king sails back to Ithaca with his men after the Trojan War but is beset by all kinds of delays and misadventures where he battles monsters and storms but also resists (eventually) the advances of beautiful women in the knowledge that, all the while, his faithful wife Penelope is awaiting him. For the Greeks, the story occurred sometime in the 13th century BCE during the Bronze Age, in a heroic golden era much better than today's sorry state of affairs. The Odyssey is such a timeless story not only for its terrifying monsters, rip-roaring action scenes, and wealth of information on Mediterranean geography and legends but also because it involves the irresistible plot line of a worthy hero trying desperately to get back to his city, his family, and his throne. The reader is in equal measures thrilled and exasperated, just like Ulysses himself, with every new setback and wills the hero to finally make it home. The Odyssey is the first, and for many, still the best page-turner ever written.