If it has been 2009 years since the Christ event, then it will have been about 2,800 years since the writings of one of the most classical poets of all time – Homer.
When you use his name today, most people may wonder if you are speaking about the cartoon character, Homer Simpson, but the first and real Homer was the greatest epic poet that ever lived. No other poet had as much affect on our lives and culture as he did.
You might be wondering, “What is an epic poem?” An epic poem is a long poem which deals with people and events that are often either legendary, mythical or historical and sometimes, a combination of all three.
Homer was born in Asia Minor, about 700 to 800 years before Christ. Legend has him as being born blind on the Isle of Chios, a Greek island in the North Aegean. The island has been renamed by the local tourist board today as “The Isle of The Ancient Poets.”
Homer wrote two famous epic poems, “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey,” which would become two of the greatest works in Western literature. Like the sacred scriptures, much of what they contain circulated in oral tradition long before they were committed to writing; both are divided into 24 books. “The Iliad” tells the story of the wrath of Achilles in the Trojan War and the tragic circumstances surrounding it.
Gods and Godesses, such as Hera, Zeus, Athene, Aphrodite and Poseidon, all have leading roles.
“The Odyssey” tells the story of Odysseus, his wife Penelope, and his son, Telemachus. The story begins about 10 years after the fall of Troy. As we follow Odysseus on his adventuresome travels; he encounters alluring Sirens, the enchanting Circe, the gorgeous Calypso, the awesome sea monster Scylla, the whirlpools of Charybdis, the Laestrygones and the lotus eaters, among others.
Odysseus is considered the Ulysses of his age and is wisely courageous and courageously wise. A few of my more memorable quotes from “The Odyssey” are “What heaven ordains, the wise with courage bear” and “Never, never, wicked man was wise.”
The word “odyssey” has remained in our everyday language after being handed down more than 2,800 years. It has come to mean “an intellectual or spiritual adventure or quest.”
Since Homer wrote his two classics, they have been renewed and revived throughout history. For example, the Roman poet, Virgil, tried in 19 B.C. to imitate Homer by writing “The Aeneid,” which was to be the equivalent of both “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey,” in Latin. The most notable poet of the Enlightenment Poetry period, Alexander Pope, translated in the late 1600s all of Homer’s Epics into poetry in modern English.
In 1922, the poet James Joyce wrote “Ulysses,” a modern interpretation of “The Odyssey.” “Ulysses” is very difficult to understand, as it contains much unique, particular and illusory language, several invented words and a lot of symbolism. In the poem, Joyce, commenting on Shakespeare, says he gives us “Wisdom while you wait;” a fair description of this most famous of bards.
I’ll end with two poems I wrote that are based upon Homer’s “The Odyssey.” Last summer, my wife Terri and I toured Italy. One of our most memorable experiences was boating off the Isle of Capri, in Southern Italy. This is the place where Homer sets Odysseus’ first experience, the call of the sirens, in his “Odyssey.” Further south is the Strait of Messina, between Italy’s Mainland and Sicily, where Odysseus battles Scylla, the sea monster, and the whirlpools of Charybdis and sees the cliff reaching toward heaven. To experience for ourselves personally what Homer was describing 2,800 years ago was truly awesome. What a recreated experience of Homer’s “Odyssey” this was for me and for Terri (my bride of 44 years and my Penelope). I hope you enjoy reading the poems as much as I enjoyed writing them.
Michael Hickey is a local writer and poet who lives in Pelican Bay and Swampscott, Mass. His book, “Get Wisdom,” is published by Xlibris Div. Random House Publishing and is available at 1-888-795-4274 Ext. 822, at www.Xlibris.com, or your local bookstore. E-mail Mike Hickey at Mikehic@nii.net.