Although these two great epic poems of ancient Greece have always been attributed to the shadowy figure of Homer, little is known of him beyond the fact that his was the name attached in antiquity by the Greeks themselves to the poems. That there was an epic poet called Homer and that he played the primary part in shaping the Iliad and the Odyssey--so much may be said to be probable. If this assumption is accepted, then Homer must assuredly be one of the greatest of the world's literary artists.
He is also one of the most influential authors in the widest sense, for the two epics provided the basis of Greek education and culture throughout the classical age and formed the backbone of humane education down to the time of the Roman Empire and the spread of Christianity. Indirectly through the medium of Virgil's Aeneid (which was loosely molded after the patterns of the Iliad and the Odyssey), directly through their revival under Byzantine culture from the late 8th century AD onward, and subsequently through their passage into Italy with the Greek scholars who fled westward from the Ottomans, the Homeric epics had a profound impact on the Renaissance culture of Italy. Since then the proliferation of translations has helped to make them the most important poems of the classical European tradition.
It was probably through their impact on classical Greek culture itself that the Iliad and the Odyssey most subtly affected Western standards and ideas. The Greeks regarded the great epics as something more than works of literature; they knew much of them by heart, and they valued them not only as a symbol of Hellenic unity and heroism but also as an ancient source of moral and even practical instruction.
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