Discusswhether The Iliad and The Odyssey by Homer were considered the Bible of the Greeks.

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thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Iliad and The Odyssey by Homer were not considered the equivalent of the Bible by the Greeks. Although they were introduced as inspired by the Muses, that was not plenary verbal inspiration, nor did Greeks at any period believe in the literal inerrancy of the Homeric poems. Instead, they formed a storehouse of important cultural memories. Although they did include some stories of the gods, they were not actually sacred texts, nor were they considered "scriptural". They were important school texts and presumed to contain a great deal of information about Greek tradition, but they were not used in ritual contexts, nor did they have the religious focus of the Homeric Hymns, the Orphic texts, or even Hesiod's Theogony.

kareemoo | Student

This is excerpted from the commentary of the Iliad, York Edition 2002:


Historians of Greek culture have often remarked that Homer was the Bible of the Greeks, meaning by this not only that the Homeric poems occupied the same central position in Greek education and life that the bible has had in Judaeo-Christian culture, but also that the Homeric peoms are a classic expression of the Hellenic spirit as the Bible is the great record of Jewish experience and the Hebraic spirit.


The Hebraic and Hellenic images of man differ fundamentally. In the Old Testament, man is created in the image of God. The OT God is remote and mysterious and works through the Spirit. He is a stern and jealous God who demands of his chosen people that they should obey His commandments and live a righteous life. Sinful man looks to the coming of the Kingdom of God and lives in fear and trembling of God's judgement in this life and in the world to come. The Homeric gods are created in man's image and are neither remote nor mysterious. They are given human form and are fully anthropomorphic beings, sharing the passions, the quarrelsomeness and the vanity of man. They enjoy the feast and have little concern with the moral or spiritual life. Although there are occasional signs that Zeus is angered by human wickedness (XVI, 386-93), the gods are characteristically amoral and  intervene in the affairs of men capriciously according to their own private and conflicting whims. Troy does not fall because of the anger of Zeus. Zeus has not quarrel with the Trojans who are one of his favorite peoples. Nor does Homeric man seek to live a righteous life in the knowledge of judgement to come; rather he seeks glory here and now and the fame of it in future time. As he is about to meet his doom, Hector hopes to die gloriously while performing an heroic act that will reach the ears of men in years to come (XXII, 304-5).


In the Homeric after-life in Hades what survives is a mere likeness or semblance of the true bodily self (XXIII, 99-107).The essential reality is physical consciousness. With neither the reward of Heaven nor the pains of Hell to look forward to, Homeric  man seeks to make the most of his present existence in the material world.

kareemoo | Student

This is excerpted from a book:

Homer held a privileged place in Greek and Athenian culture. The great epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey, were written down in a canonical form in the time of Pesistratus. In the 5th century, they played an integral role in the education, institutions and ideology of Athens, and indeed in the culture of all Greece as panhellenic epics (Nagy). Homer was the text first learnt and most studied at all levels of Greek education, and any educated Athenian could be expected to have a knowledge of it. Sections of the epic were regularly to be heard in performance, recited at symposia, say, or other festive occasions, and on the occasion of the Great Panathenaia, a major festival in Athens in honor of the day of Athene's birth. The whole epics were delivered by professional performers called rhapsodes in the theatre. Each rhapsode was required to pick up the narrative from where the previous one had finished, and, typically, the peformances were judged as a competition.

Homer was also a prime source of authority for knowledge, behavior and almost any situation could be related  back to the privileged model of Homer. In this way the Homeric texts were essential not only to the actual process of the teaching and to the festival insititut+ions of Athens, but also to the make up of Athenian social attitudes and understanding: He was "the poet"... who had produced images of human experience that were true and right and timeless, in a variety of modes, and with a mastery and sophistcation that were for Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides their education (Gould 1983).

Even though Athenian religion did not have 'sacred texts', it is with some justification that Homer has been called the Greek Bible- especially if one thinks, for example, of the use of the Bible in Victorian Britain: read after dinner, used in schools, a subject of heated academic debate, a cultural background widely diffused through different echelons of society, a much quoted source of moral and social guidance etc.

The cultural force of Homer continued to be dominant in the democratic Athens, despite the evident differences between the heroic society portrayed in the Iliad and the Odyssey and the social system of the 5th century polis.