The ancient Greeks believed that the two epic poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey, were the work of a single poet, Homer - in Greek Homeros (Ὅμηρος); the English pronunciation is 'HOME-er', IPA: /'həʊmə/. (The adjective meaning 'to do with Homer' is homeric, 'home-ER-ic', IPA: /həʊ'mɛrɪk/.) It was said that Homer was a native of the Aegean island of Chios, but beyond that nothing was known about the details of his life, and there was disagreement about when he lived.
Nowadays scholars are sceptical of Homer's existence. They do not think that either the Iliad or the Odyssey was composed by one person, let alone that one and the same person composed both poems. Certainly each of the poems, in the form in which we have it, has a unity and may have been put together by a single poet, but it is probable that in each case the poet, working in an oral tradition, drew on and shaped poems composed by (many) others and widely known in the tradition.
Whether or not the work of a single poet, the Iliad and the Odyssey played a fundamental part in Greek education. All educated Greeks of the classical period would be very familiar with their contents and would know large portions of them by heart, rather in the way that in earlier centuries English men and women were familiar with the contents of the Bible and able to quote passages from memory.
The influence of the Iliad and the Odyssey has been immense - not only on the rest of Greek literature (and particularly on Greek tragedy) but on Western European literature generally. The Iliad and the Odyssey were the model for the Aeneid, the great epic poem of the Roman poet Vergil (70-19 CE). Vergil's Aeneid was in turn taken as a model by the Italian poet Dante Alighieri (1265-1321 CE) for The Divine Comedy (La divina commedia) and was an influence on the English poet John Milton (1608-1674 CE) when he wrote Paradise Lost. The opening lines both of Vergil's Aeneid and of Milton's Paradise Lost echo the opening lines of the Iliad.
See further Iliad and Odyssey.
For some help with the pronunciation of Greek names see Pronunciation of Greek Proper Names.
- There are several English nouns 'homer', which have nothing to do with the Greek poet. They are more or less informal, and are derived from 'home'. The bird 'a homer' is a homing pigeon (a pigeon that has been trained to return to its human owner's base, to carry messages, to race, etc). In baseball, a homer, or home run, is a ball hit hard enough to allow the batter to run a whole circuit back to the home plate. In electronic technology, a homer is a homing device: a piece of technology that guides something to find a target, as for example a missile or a tracking or searching device.