Homer is the name traditionally given to the author of two ancient Greek epic poems, The Iliad and The Odyssey. Details of Homer's life are practically non-existent: seven Greek cities claim to be his birthplace and his birth date is placed anywhere between 1050 and 850BC. Legend has it that Homer was poor, and blind in his later years, and this may be reflected in the character of the blind poet Demodokos in The Odyssey.
Homer's work is said to have had more influence on Western literature than that of any other writer. It inspired The Aeneid of the Roman writer Virgil, and James Joyce's Ulysses is based on The Odyssey. The work of Homer has been praised by, among others, Aristotle and Dante.
The Homeric Epics
The Iliad and The Odyssey are epic poems dealing with the legends of the Trojan War. Although the works themselves may not be universally familiar, the characters appearing in them almost certainly are. The popularity of mythical stories, along with television series such as Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, has ensured that characters such as Helen of Troy, Odysseus (also known as Ulysses) and gods such as Zeus, Hera and Aphrodite, are well known everywhere.
The Iliad tells the story of a few weeks during the war between the Trojans and the Greeks. Its subject is the character of the Greek hero Achilles and his anger at being slighted by the Greek leader Agamemnon. The action of The Odyssey takes place after the fall of Troy. It tells of another Greek hero, Odysseus, and his long journey back to his homeland of Ithaka.
The Odyssey is perhaps the more accessible of the two poems, containing such well-known mythic tales as the capture of Odysseus and his men by the Cyclops; and the ploy of the Trojan Horse, used to capture the city of Troy.