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Homer: Most Renowned Poet Until Shakespeare

September 1st, 2013

The ancient Greeks created the most influential mythology of Western civilization, which stands out above others, as written by a rich, yet disciplined imagination and which stressed a humane quality, rarely having emphasized the cruel or frightening portions of life. Throughout Greek history, literature was a fertile source of ideas for dramatists, artists and philosophers. Sometimes Greek myths' major roots were it's aesthetic nature, its entertainment value, and, for serious efforts, fiction exerted by artists and thinkers, to impart religious views.

Throughout Greek mythology, Homer's tales were dominated largely by rationalization and a consistent view of the gods - immortal but ruled by distinctly mortal heroes on earth. However, the Athenian people looked out onto the rest of the surrounding world with much curiosity, yet without superstitious fear.

Sometimes, Greeks writers of mythology borrowed from Near Eastern tales or Asian stories because Homer's ancestry may have included dislocations, such as their forebears who lived on the coast of Asia Minor. That is, most historians have not been able to pinpoint where or when Homer was born, nor his ethnicity, except that he was an Asiatic Greek. Nonetheless, Homer's birth date has been recorded as circa 850 B.C. (or at least 3000 years ago). Without much clarity, Homer's "people appeared to be among his ancestors, but Asian migrants might have been driven away. Yet his own ancestors were written down as his own, though Homer never mentioned who they were, for as a reciter or a singer, he gave them the correct spelling, including some lengthy names."

The same viewpoint that created Greek mythology also was present in the Greek epic poetry, but epic poetry clearly was developed even further to become one of the world's greatest literary achievements. The topics of the great epics were primarily the wars, adventuring, and adventurous heroes during and just after the Trojan War. Leader of the Greeks was Agamemnon, the widely known king of Mycenae (whose mountain I personally climbed to see if I could survive the immensely steep incline to the ruler's castle) and his brother, Menelaus, whose wife Helen, a real beauty, was stolen from her brother-in-law. Thus, Agamemnon and Menelaus fought as allies in a galaxy of Greek heroes like the sharp-witted Odysseus and the greatest of warriors, Achilles. The captor of Helen, her seducer Paris, whose brother Hector was crown prince of Troy, attempted to destroy the Greeks. However, that the gods rule the world and men and the whole world must die were famed tenets of Homer's and of his fellow men (since females were second-class the men's animalistic horses and dogs).

Nonetheless, humanity’s view of human beings, which Homer often expressed and portrayed in his epics, was a landmark in the progress of civilization. Although the heroes of the Iliad and of Homer's second epic, the Odyssey, must not remain as mortals, instead, the finest individuals were not the ones filled with self-pride...and, let’s face it, made for good PR.

Thirty five hundred years ago, Homer fashioned a dream vision about some emancipated heroes who sought the cooperation of their group and attempted to find the salient, prime men who came to develop and understand their own predominant nature. From Homer and his characters in the Iliad came a picture of human beings' greatest, most remarkable, most exceptional qualities, which were destined to lead to death, although the ancient Greeks came to grips with their demise and the afterworld as the finest stage of human glory.

The author of the Iliad, for over three thousand years were well aware that Achilles, the great Greek warrior and hero, came to know deeply and accept as the ultimate end of life "Angry though I am...I freely know what the gods command you to do then...then the gods will indeed listen to you."

Despite his passion, Achilles eventually took to his tent and sang (not talked) about his soldiers' exploits, humbly omitting his own! In fact, when he accompanied himself on his lyre, he created hexameters (poetic meters), a sage and reverse. He came to love his greatest enemy Hector and did what almost all warriors would never have done: returned of his enemy’s desecrated corpse to his own elderly father, King Priam, and prayed along with him after the old man paid in celebration for his dead son's funeral because of Achilles' love and bravery!

Homer never could or would save Achilles, who is eternally doomed, though for about 4000 years the warrior has remained a brilliant Greek character because the devout, patriotic Homer knew Achilles’ gallantry, who ultimately cherished Achilles' peace, Hector’s (and the warrior's own valor) and ultimately learned to obey "law and order” and won virtue.

ELISSA SOMMERFIELD is a Phi Beta Kappa, summa cum laude graduate from the University of Texas at Austin with an MA in English from SMU. She taught English at SMU and in the Dallas County Community College District. For under 30 years, she has conducted classes in SAT and ACT preparation as well as in graduate school exam instruction and study skills. Additionally, she has tutored extensively in most academic areas, the ISEE, the composition of school entrance essays, and editing books. She has served as an SAT and educational consultant for 29 Texas school districts and has authored four books on SATs plus, with Frances Bailey Wood, co-authored and revised one on how to study efficiently. An educational consultant, as well as graduate school, college, and boarding school counselor, she is a member of Independent Educational Consultants Association and Texas Association for College Admissions Counselors. Sommerfield actively maintains her Certified Educational Planner designation and at UT was a Phi Beta Kappa in her junior year.

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