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Odyssey: Homer’s Epic Poem Is the World’s Most Influential Story

Odysseus Overcome by Demodocus’ Song, by Francesco Hayez, 1813–15. Credit: Francesco Hayez / Public Domain

Homer’s Odyssey, ancient Greece‘s most well-known epic poem, is officially the most influential story to have shaped the entire world, according to a poll of more than 100 international authors, academics, journalists, and critics conducted by Britain’s BBC.

The poll ”100 Stories that Shaped the World” the British Broadcasting Corporation conducted in 2018 managed to show the entire world how this marvelous epic creation by Homer  has perpetually impacted generation after generation.

What is the Odyssey?

The Odyssey (Odysseia in Greek) is one of two major ancient Greek epic poems attributed to Homer. Scholars believe it was composed near the end of the 8th century B.C., somewhere in Ionia, the Greek coastal region of Anatolia.

It is one of the oldest works of literature still read by millions worldwide. Much like the Iliad, the poem is divided into 24 books.

It follows the Greek hero Odysseus, king of the island of Ithaca, and his journey home at the conclusion of the ten-year Trojan War.

Odysseus’ journey lasts for ten additional years, during which he encounters many dangers, temptations, and perils, and all his crewmates are killed.

In his absence, Odysseus is assumed dead by his fellow countrymen in Ithaca, and his wife Penelope and son Telemachus must contend with a group of unruly suitors who compete for Penelope’s hand in marriage.

The Poll

Odysseus and the Sirens, eponymous vase of the Siren Painter, c. 480–470 BC (British Museum). Credit: Jastrow / Public Domain

Explaining why she voted for Homer’s Odyssey, Natalie Haynes, an acclaimed writer and broadcaster in the United Kingdom, asserted she voted as she did, “Because it is one of the great foundational myths of Western culture because it asks what it means to be a hero.”

She continued, “because it has great female characters in it, as well as men, because it is full of gods and monsters and is properly epic, and because it forces us to question the assumptions we might have about quests, war, and the ever-current issue of what it means to return home.”

Bethanne Patrick, a contributing editor at Lit Hub, added to Haynes’ remarks: “I believe the journey of Odysseus defined a streak of individualism particular to Western culture that has led to much change in the world — good and bad.”

The Odyssey is currently being taught in schools around the globe, and it is one of the main pillars of the Greek national curriculum of the nation’s secondary education.

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