Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

The name given to the author(s) of the Iliad and the Odyssey, which, with the books of Moses, are the founding works of Western literature.

The Iliad tells of a few weeks in the siege of Troy, during which the hero Achilleus (> Achilles), offended by the siege's leader Agamemnon, refuses to fight, at great cost to the siege and ultimately to himself. The action is overwhelmingly grim – one-third of the epic consists of a single day's battle – and, in the depiction of Achilles' Transformation through suffering, sowed the seeds of later Greek Tragedy. What relief there is often lies in the sometimes comic depiction of the Gods. Lin Carter, in Tolkien: A Look Behind "The Lord of the Rings" (1969), called the Iliad "probably the first psychological novel in literature".

The Odyssey contrasts sharply. The overall story offers conflict and meaning, but in much less concentrated form. It concerns the hero Odysseus's return home two decades after his departure for Troy, and his family's search for him; it has been called the first Greek Romance. A sixth of the epic consists of Odysseus' tales of his wanderings: in these pages we find the West's first Fantastic Voyage, filled with cyclopes, Sirens and Magic, with greater and lesser Gods acting in rather arbitrary ways, and with a desperate struggle for survival. There are ample signs that the singer intended these as fantasy, and later Greeks certainly saw them as such. These epics' surpassing skill and beauty made them the Greeks' national Mythology, establishing for literature a set of themes beyond merely local interest. Criticism of Homer's portrayal of the gods soon arose, and within a few centuries the poems were generally understood as histories embellished with either Allegory or sheer fantasy. Their authority, however, remained, as did their popularity. Homer was the first scholarly concern of the Museum of Alexandria (3rd and 2nd centuries BC), whose critical editions shaped the versions we read today. [JB]

see also: Greek and Latin Classics.



This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.