Homer and Hesiod - Greek Poets and Their Poetry Forms

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The Greek culture has a long and rich history, especially in literature.
There are too many poetry forms that stem from this culture to explore them all, so today we will learn a little bit about Homer and Hesiod, two of Greece's early poets, and a few of the major Greek poetic forms.
Homer BRIEF HISTORY In ancient times, people "would sing the stories of the Trojan War and its Greek heroes; these songs would be the Greek equivalent of a mini-series, for the stories were so long that they would take days to complete.
The Greeks believed that the greatest of these story-tellers was a blind man named Homer, and that he sung ten epic poems about the Trojan War, of which only two survived (although the Greeks seem to have known them).
As a group these poems told the entire history of the Trojan War; each poem, however, only covered a small part of that history" (Hooker).
Homer is known best for writing the Iliad and the Odyssey.
They, as mentioned above, were about the Trojan War.
However, "Homer's authorship and, indeed, even his very existence are established by tradition; nothing is actually known about him" (Matthews and Platt 43).
The Iliad and the Odyssey have a special importance because it is where later Greeks looked to for the history of their people, their religion, and for the moral ideals with which to guide how they lived.
Homer also wrote some Hymns that have survived to modern times.
Hesiod BRIEF HISTORY Like Homer, Hesiod also wrote in epic form.
His most famous works were called: Theogony and Works and Days.
Also like Homer, his work was a guide for how people should behave.
"In 'Works and Days' he speaks about justice and hard work, which is the only way to success, and he gives advice about agriculture, commerce, navigation as well as about marriage, bringing-up children and other moral and useful precepts" (Papageorgiou-Haska).
Both Hesiod and Homer are believed to have lived about twenty-eight hundred years ago.
Epic BRIEF HISTORY The name epic comes from the word "epos.
" This Greek word translates into the phrase "to tell a tale" (Padgett, 65).
MUST HAVES --Tell a story.
--There is no set length, BUT they are usually very long.
So long, in fact, that they are sometimes split up into chapter-like sections that are called cantos (Padgett, 65).
--About a specific account of heroism, and its intent should be to motivate morality in the reader.
--Rhythm is dactylic hexameter: "This means that each line contains six metrical feet of three beats each, the first a long syllable and the second and third short syllables (as in 'gratitude' and 'Oldsmobile')" (Padgett, 65).
COULD HAVES or What's The Poet's Choice In All This? --Whether or not to rhyme.
Historically, these were oral and rhyme helps with memorization, but there is no strict rule to rhyme.
--Choice of hero and his or her specific act of heroism.
Pick a hero of long ago or a current one.
You don't even have to name a specific person, but instead a heroic effort that many people perform.
--Rhythm, yes-I already listed that in the "must haves," but dactylic hexameter is the traditional Greek rhythm.
English epics are mainly iambic pentameter.
If you choose to use your poetic license here, I would pick a meter and stick with it throughout your poem.
OF NOTE --Funny epics go by the term "mock epic.
" The Elegy BRIEF HISTORY This form dates back to ancient Greece.
The Teachers & Writers Handbook of Poetic Forms says, "the word elegy comes from the Greek word elegeia, which means 'song of mourning'" (Padgett, 62).
This same handbook tells us that in the 7th century B.
, "the first person to write an elegy was probably Mimnermus of Colophon.
" At least, his is the first written record found of an elegy.
There may be many earlier elegies lost to time or haven't been discovered yet (Padgett, 62).
The elegy started out, in modern times, as a term for a specific type of couplet but grew into a form based on genre - sorrowful, contemplating and mourning over death in general or over a specific person's death.
MUST HAVES --Must be about death or a loss that is like death--unless you choose the Roman change that made them about love (see below).
--If you choose to create a classical elegy you will want to begin with the subject of your elegy, then share your mourning, and finally your acceptance of the death/loss.
COULD HAVES or What's The Poet's Choice In All This? --Any form (or no particular form) just follow the form's rules if you use one.
--Any rhyme (or no rhyme), unless a form is used, then you follow the rhyme scheme for that form.
--Any meter (or no set meter) unless a form is used, then you follow the meter required for that form.
--Length can be long or short.
However, if you use a form, that form might dictate the length.
OF NOTE The Greeks wrote elegies about death, but later Romans made them about love.
This remained relatively unchanged until "England in 1611.
" At that time, John Donne brought the elegy about death back into writing fashion.
(Padgett, 62).
Lyric & Specifically the Monody BRIEF HISTORY Way back in ancient Greece, the lyric had two types: the choral lyric, which was performed by many people, and the monody, which was sung by one person.
Since there are very few rules out there for this poetic form, I will create some for you to use as a guide based on its historical use.
I will use the Monody, Choral Lyric, and the Tyranny of the Hand-Book article by Davies, and Classics in Translation by Mackendrick and Howe as my historical guides.
MUST HAVES --Must mourn a death.
--Must be on the short side, but not usually as short as the epitaph and epigram are.
--Must be in the POV of one person, although the lament could be about the loss of many.
COULD HAVES or What's The Poet's Choice In All This? --Any rhyme (or no rhyme), unless a form is used, then you follow the rhyme scheme for that form.
Generally things that are sung rhyme and this form was originally sung.
Consult your poetic license when you decide how to go for this one.
--Any meter (or no set meter) unless a form is used, then you follow the meter required for that form.
This form usually had simple meters, and if one is chosen stick to it throughout.
--Stanza length, choose any, but stick to the same throughout.
Example: if you choose an eight-line stanza and want three stanzas, make them all have eight lines.
--Any form (or no particular form) just follow the form's rules.
OF NOTE --The Classics in Translation book had an interesting note.
They said that this form is "closely associated with the Ionians, [and] is nearer to popular folk poetry" (Mackendrick and Howe, 93).
--Lyric poetry is not a specific form, but more of a category for a poetry form that's meant to be sung.
Modern lyric poetry might not be sung, but it should at least have a musical quality to it.
There are almost forty forms that could be considered lyric poetry (Turco, 102).
Source Notes Davies, M.
Monody, Choral Lyric, and the Tyranny of the Hand-Book.
The Classical Quarterly, New Series.
38, No.
1, pp.
Hooker, Richard.
" Bureaucrats & Barbarians: The Greek Dark Ages.
Washington State University.
1 Mar 2009.
Mackendrick, P, & Howe, H (1980).
Classics in Translation.
Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press.
Matthews, Roy T.
, and F.
DeWitt Platt.
The Western Humanities.
NY: McGraw-Hill, 2004.
Padgett, Ron.
The Teachers & Writers Handbook of Poetic Forms.
NY: T & W Books, 2000.
Papageorgiou-Haska, Roula .
" Cosmogony-Theogony.
05 June 1996.
Hellonic Electronic Center.
1 Mar 2009 .
Turco, Lewis.
The Book of Forms.
Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 2000.
Williams, Miller (1986).
Patterns of Poetry: An Encyclopedia of Forms.
Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Louisiana State University Press.
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