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Difference Between The Iliad and The Odyssey

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The Iliad and the Odyssey are two of literature's most famous epic poems. Both were written by the ancient Greek poet Homer and profoundly influenced Western literature and culture. While they share some similarities, such as their focus on heroic characters and their use of poetic language, there are also significant differences between the two works.

The main difference between the Iliad and the Odyssey is that the former tells the story of the Trojan War, while the latter recounts the adventures of the Greek hero Odysseus as he makes his way home from the war.

In this article, we will explore the unique qualities of each epic poem and examine what sets them apart.

Comparison Table: The Iliad Vs The Odyssey

SpecificationsThe IliadThe Odyssey
Subject matterTrojan WarAdventures of Odysseus
CharacterizationMartial prowessIntelligence and cunning
ThemesHonor, shame, heroismNostos, hospitality, loyalty
Structure and styleLinear narrative, formalized languageEpisodic, folklore, mythology

The Iliad

the iliad
The Trojan war in The Iliad

The Iliad is one of Western literature's oldest and most revered works. It tells the story of the Trojan War, a legendary conflict between the Greeks and Trojans that lasted ten years. Here are some key aspects of the Iliad:

Overview of the plot

Statue of Achilles in Hyde Park, London

The Iliad opens with the anger of Achilles, the greatest warrior among the Greeks, who the commander-in-chief, Agamemnon, has dishonored. Achilles withdraws from the war, which leads to a series of battles and setbacks for the Greeks. The Trojans, led by their prince Hector, gain the upper hand until Achilles returns to the battlefield and slays Hector. The poem concludes with Hector's funeral and Achilles and Agamemnon's reconciliation.

Key characters and their roles

Aside from Achilles and Hector, the Iliad features a wide range of characters from both the Greek and Trojan sides. These include Agamemnon, the Greek commander-in-chief; Odysseus, the cunning hero who would later be the protagonist of the Odyssey; and Priam, the king of Troy.

Themes explored

The Iliad explores several themes, such as the nature of heroism, the futility of war, the role of the gods in human affairs, and the power of honor and shame.

Literary style and techniques used by Homer

Homer's use of similes, epic epithets, and extended metaphors is one of the defining features of the Iliad. He also employs a formalized structure known as the "ring composition," in which the poem begins and ends with a similar scene or image.

Overall, the Iliad is a powerful work of literature that delves deep into the human condition and the complexities of war. Its characters and themes continue to resonate with readers today.

The Odyssey

the odyssey
A Roman mosaic showing Odysseus tied to the mast of his ship to resist the songs of the Sirens

The Odyssey is another epic poem by Homer, and like the Iliad, it has had a significant impact on Western literature and culture. However, while the Iliad tells the story of the Trojan War, the Odyssey focuses on the adventures of the Greek hero Odysseus as he makes his way home from the war. Here are some key aspects of the Odyssey:

Overview of the plot

After the fall of Troy, Odysseus and his men face numerous challenges and obstacles on their journey back to their homeland, Ithaca. These include encounters with monsters, hostile sorceresses, and the wrath of the sea god Poseidon. Meanwhile, back in Ithaca, Odysseus' wife Penelope and son Telemachus struggle to fend off suitors who seek to take Odysseus' place as king.

Key characters and their roles

In addition to Odysseus, the Odyssey features some memorable characters, such as the goddess Athena, who helps Odysseus throughout his journey, and the sorceress Circe, who transforms Odysseus' men into pigs.

Themes explored

The Odyssey deals with themes such as the power of cunning and intelligence, the importance of hospitality, and the nature of loyalty and betrayal. It also explores the concept of nostos, or homecoming, and the idea that one's true home is not just a physical place but also a state of mind.

Literary style and techniques used by Homer

Like the Iliad, the Odyssey makes use of epic similes, epithets, and metaphors. However, it also incorporates elements of folklore and mythology, such as the story of the cyclops Polyphemus and the journey to the underworld.

The Blinding of Polyphemus by Pellegrino Tibaldi

Overall, the Odyssey is a compelling and imaginative work of literature that takes readers through the ancient Mediterranean world. It presents a fascinating blend of history, mythology, and human experience, and remains a timeless classic of Western literature.

Differences Between The Iliad and The Odyssey

Subject matter

The most obvious difference between the Iliad and the Odyssey is their subject matter. The Iliad tells the story of the Trojan War, while the Odyssey recounts the adventures of the Greek hero Odysseus as he makes his way home from the war. While the Iliad focuses on a single, protracted conflict, the Odyssey is more episodic in nature, with Odysseus encountering various obstacles and challenges on his journey home.


Another difference between the Iliad and the Odyssey is how they portray their main characters. In the Iliad, characters are defined primarily by their heroic deeds and martial prowess. In contrast, the Odyssey emphasizes intelligence and cunning, with Odysseus using his wits to outsmart his enemies and overcome obstacles.


The two works also explore different themes. The Iliad deals with the consequences of war, the nature of heroism, and the power of honor and shame. On the other hand, the Odyssey focuses more on the themes of nostos, or homecoming, and the importance of hospitality and loyalty.

Structure and Style

The Iliad and the Odyssey also differ in structure and literary style. The Iliad is a more tightly structured work, with a linear narrative that builds towards a climactic ending. In contrast, the Odyssey is more episodic, with a looser narrative structure that allows for a greater range of adventures and encounters. The Iliad also employs a more formalized language and structure, while the Odyssey incorporates more folklore and mythological elements.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which is older, the Iliad or the Odyssey?

The Iliad is believed to have been composed first, followed by the Odyssey.

How old are the Iliad and the Odyssey?

The exact age of the Iliad and the Odyssey is unknown, but most scholars believe that they were composed in the 8th century BCE, making them over 2,700 years old.

However, the poems were not written down until several centuries later, and the surviving manuscripts date from the 10th or 11th centuries CE.

Despite their age, both works continue to be studied and appreciated for their literary and cultural significance.

Should you read the Iliad or the Odyssey first?

While there is no right or wrong answer to this question, many scholars and readers recommend starting with the Odyssey before moving on to the Iliad. This is because the Odyssey is generally considered to be more accessible and easier to read, with a more episodic structure and a protagonist who is easier to relate to.

Additionally, the Odyssey provides a good introduction to the world of Ancient Greek epic poetry and mythology, making it easier to understand and appreciate the Iliad when you read it later.

However, the choice of which to read first is ultimately up to personal preference and interest.


In conclusion, the Iliad and the Odyssey are two of the most significant works in Western literature, and while they share some similarities, they also have important differences.

The Iliad tells the story of the Trojan War and emphasizes martial prowess, honor, and shame. At the same time, the Odyssey recounts the adventures of the cunning Odysseus on his journey home and explores themes of nostos, hospitality, and loyalty.

These differences in subject matter, characterization, themes, and literary style reflect the distinct and varied aspects of human experience and have contributed to the enduring popularity and significance of these two epic poems.

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About the Author: Nicolas Seignette

Nicolas Seignette, who holds a scientific baccalaureate, began his studies in mathematics and computer science applied to human and social sciences (MIASHS). He then continued his university studies with a DEUST WMI (Webmaster and Internet professions) at the University of Limoges before finishing his course with a professional license specialized in the IT professions. On 10Differences, he is in charge of the research and the writing of the articles concerning technology, sciences and mathematics.
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