How do Homer’s the Iliad and Odyssey compare and contrast?

How do Homer’s the Iliad and Odyssey compare and contrast?

The Iliad begins with Chryses, a prophet of Apollo, coming to a Greek camp and offering valuable “penalty tokens” requesting the return of his daughter who the Greeks had captured in a raid. Because Agamemnon believed she was rightfully his, he refused. Most of his fellow Greeks wanted him to return her in order to avoid conflict. In order to preserve his time (honor, respect, value), Agamemnon brings danger to them all. Chryses prays to Apollo and a plague is released upon the Achaeans. Achilles, a basileus in the Greek army, suggests seeking insight from the prophet Calchas. Upon doing so all are informed that Agamemnon is responsible for the plague because he refused to return his geras (prize), the daughter of Chryses.

In order to preserve his time and relieve the burden of the plague, Agamemnon decides to take someone else’s geras. He threatens to takes Achillesgeraand this make the destructive anger of Achilles “sing”. However, Athena intercedes and causes him to restrain himself. Agamemnon’s men seize hisgera, Briseis, and Achilles refuses to fight. Needing him for a successful battle, they offer him his gera and more, but he refuses. His rage is kindled against Agamemnon. Achilles rejects the system upon which heroic culture was built. Because he receives his time from Zeus, he doesn’t care what people think.

Upon hearing about the death of his companion Patroclus, Achilles attacks the Trojan forces and kills Hector, Patroclus’s killer. He drags his body behind his chariot for days wishing he would have fought sooner and prevented the death of his friend. When Priam, Hectors father comes to meet with Achilles, they celebrate a mutual respect for the lives lost and for each other and they make peace. Hector is buried and the city still stands. 

The Odyssey opens with Zeus reflecting on mortal affairs. He spoke among the deathless ones about the folly that mortals suffer by their own hands. Aegisthus, cousin of Agamemnon committed adultery with Clytemnestra, Agamemnon’s wife, and then helped her to murder Agamemnon. He went on to explain how Orestes, son of Agamemnon, then killed Aegisthus and his mother to avenge his father’s death and how this all could have been avoided if he would have taken the warning that Hermes gave him before all this happened to heart and abstained from adultery. Yet, mortals blame the gods for all evil, “when really it’s through their own folly they suffer, even more than necessary.”

Then Athena rises in the divine assembly and requests that the righteous Odysseus is released from imprisonment on the island of Calypso. Zeus then sends Hermes to set him free. The story focus’s on Odysseus who escapes from the island and sails upon the sea in a raft. But his enemy Poseidon, as the story attests, causes a storm that destroys the raft and makes Odysseus swim for three days until he lands on the island of Phaeacia, where King Alcinous rules. The virgin princess Nausicaa meets him on shore and takes him to the palace. After revealing his identity, Odysseus recounts his wanderings to the Phaeacians.

After leaving Troy, he and his men, with twenty boats, came to the land of Thracians and lost many men in a raid. After departing, a storm takes them to the land of the Lotus Eater. If anyone eats the lotus, they will forget their purpose, to go home again. Then Odysseus comes to the land of the Cyclops where many of his men are eaten alive and he is imprisoned in a cave. Odysseus tricks the Cyclops and escapes.

He then comes to the island of Circe, “hawk.” Then Odysseus gains the respect of the witch Circe with the help of Hermes and him and his men enjoy a year on the island. Then Circe tells him that he must consult the spirit of the prophet Tiresias to learn what awaits him. He sails away and speaks with spirits. The spirit of the murdered Agamemnon praises Odysseus’ wife Penelope for being faithful and warns Odysseus to beware of women when returning home. Traveling on, they pass by the island of the Sirens, whose seduce men with their song. Odysseus prevents his men from hearing their song and they make it past. Next, he passes by the monster Scylla and the whirlpool Charybdis. Five men are eaten, and the rest go to the island of Helios Hyperion, the sun. Circe warned him not to eat the cattle but they did anyway. When they sail away, Zeus destroys their boat to punish their impiety. Odysseus alone escapes. He finally comes to the island of Calypso, where the story began.

In the text, “The Greeks, History, Culture and Society,” authors Morris and Powell compare and contrast the Iliad and the Odyssey as such, “The remarkable Odyssey…has a tripartite plot, but moves more in spirals than in a straight line. Whereas the Iliad describes a man at odds with his society, a man apart, the Odyssey describes a man who journeys far, suffers much then returns to his proper place in society…the Iliad is tragic, the Odyssey is comic [meaning the story ends in harmony and acceptance].”

In the Iliad, people die in combat, often times honorable men against honorable men. Morals are a major theme expressed in the Iliad. Upholding a state of honesty, restraint, discipline, honor, and respect are important characteristics that are sought for. The Odyssey deals with Odysseus striving to return home and the morals of mortals are critiqued by Zeus. While Achilles challenges his commander Agamemnon and abhors devious behavior, Odysseus uses trickery to survive and overcome obstacles.

The Iliad and the Odyssey compliment each other by telling two different stories that both give insight into the Trojan War, the Trojan Horse, the funeral of Achilles, and the return of Menelaus and Helen to Sparta. They both deal with the struggles and hardship of mortal life. The purity of women is praised in these stories. Nausicaa is an honored virgin princess and Penelope is known and respected as a virtuous woman who staves off lustful men seeking to sleep with her, while Clytemnestra dishonors her husband and dishonors herself by committing adultery.

They both deal with the gods interceding in human affairs. Human behavior is portrayed in both stories along with the challenges of life. The mortals in both stories have to struggle against fear, anger, and other ego-based dimensions of human existence. Both stories give us insight into the minds of the inhabitants of the earth during this time period and their perception of reality. The reality of the “gods”, supernatural beings, was common knowledge for most people during this time. Today, the existence of the gods is dismissed by most, questioned by many, and known by few. Reality, as they perceived it, was similar in many ways as it is today, but it was also very different. Both stories help up us reflect and gain a deeper understanding of life in ancient Greece.


  1. Gneiss Moon said,

    July 4, 2012 at 3:38 pm

    I love both ! The Odyssey is a fabulous adventure – I think I will pull it out and watch again. I have always been intrigued by the lotus eaters & sirens – both of which are very Neptunian.

    • lukescott313 said,

      July 4, 2012 at 6:41 pm

      i like them both as well, but i like the Odyssey a lil better. It would have been very interesting to live back then 🙂

  2. Gneiss Moon said,

    July 4, 2012 at 7:13 pm

    Me too, love the way Hermes is portrayed in the 1997 version. Was just looking for it will watch as soon as I can locate it. Agreed, love ancient maps with sea monsters at the edge of the world !

    • lukescott313 said,

      July 4, 2012 at 11:53 pm

      i haven’t watched it, im gna have to check it out. Life seemed a lot more mysterious bk then. Although many traditions talk about the gods returning to earth this year! If that happens, life will definately be more interesting 🙂

  3. August 19, 2012 at 12:36 pm

    You might like my update of the Odyssey

  4. April 2, 2013 at 9:19 pm

    Hi Derek and thanks for visiting my place. 🙂

    Don’t know if you saw my post on the ’97 miniseries:

    “Sing to me, Muse, of that man of many ways…”

    … has a comparison with an ancient carving that might interest you. Best wishes.

  5. July 30, 2013 at 12:29 pm

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    • lukescott313 said,

      August 21, 2013 at 3:32 pm

      perhaps I should add a donate button 🙂 thank you for commenting, glad to hear from you! thank you for sharing the site, ill do the same with yours! one love

      • kattalina said,

        April 1, 2015 at 8:32 pm

        i have a donate button on mine. easy to set up. I am happy to be connected with you! cant wait to peruse your site more!!

      • LScott said,

        April 1, 2015 at 9:25 pm

        happy to be connected as well!!

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