The second part of the Odyssey takes epic in new directions, giving significant roles to people of 'lower status' and their way of life: epic notions of the primacy of the aristocrat and the achievements of the Trojan War are submitted to scrutiny. Books XIII and XIV contain some of the subtlest human exchanges in the poem, as Athena and Odysseus spar with each other and Odysseus tests the quiet patience of his swineherd Eumaeus. The principal themes and narrative structures, especially of disguise and recognition, which the second part uses with remarkable economy, are established here. The Introduction also includes a detailed historical account of the Homeric dialect, as well as sections on metre and the text itself. The Commentary on the Greek text pays particular attention to the exposition of unfamiliar linguistic forms and constructions. The literary parts of the Introduction and the Commentary are accessible to all.
Homer was probably born around 725BC on the Coast of Asia Minor, now the coast of Turkey, but then really a part of Greece. Homer was the first Greek writer whose work survives.
He was one of a long line of bards, or poets, who worked in the oral tradition. Homer and other bards of the time could recite, or chant, long epic poems. Both works attributed to Homer - The Iliad and The Odyssey - are over ten thousand lines long in the original. Homer must have had an amazing memory but was helped by the formulaic poetry style of the time.
In The Iliad Homer sang of death and glory, of a few days in the struggle between the Greeks and the Trojans. Mortal men played out their fate under the gaze of the gods. The Odyssey is the original collection of tall traveller's tales. Odysseus, on his way home from the Trojan War, encounters all kinds of marvels from one-eyed giants to witches and beautiful temptresses. His adventures are many and memorable before he gets back to Ithaca and his faithful wife Penelope.
We can never be certain that both these stories belonged to Homer. In fact 'Homer' may not be a real name but a kind of nickname meaning perhaps 'the hostage' or 'the blind one'. Whatever the truth of their origin, the two stories, developed around three thousand years ago, may well still be read in three thousand years' time.