12 Incredible Quotes from Homer (2024)

Homer is widely regarded as the father of the Western canon, and his two epic poems, The Odyssey and The Iliad, are among the greatest works of literature ever produced. They tell the story of the Trojan War and the Greek hero Odysseus’ return home from it. The poems have been translated into dozens of languages and have influenced writers for millennia.

Humanity’s greatest vice.

Man is the vainest of all creatures that have their being upon earth.

The Odyssey

These words are spoken by the titular hero, Odysseus, and express what is surely our species’ greatest vice: vanity. It leads people to do terrible things, both to other people and, in the case of dictators, to entire nations.

Words to live by.

There is a time for making speeches, and a time for going to bed.

The Odyssey

Odysseus is favored by the goddess of wisdom, Athena, and it is not hard to see why when you read these words. They can be interpreted both lightheartedly and seriously and remind us to value our moments of rest as much as our accomplishments and successes.

Self-destruction.

The proud heart feels not terror nor turns to run and it is his own courage that kills him.

The Iliad

This quote is spoken by the Trojan prince Hector, who demonstrates his acute understanding of the psychology of the warrior. He knows that bravery is as likely to lead to one’s own death as it is to one’s enemies.

The value of life.

I say no wealth is worth my life.

The Iliad

These words are uttered by the Greek hero, Achilles, who declares that his participation cannot be bought or sold with any amount of money or reward. His pride and his legacy are worth more to him than money.

Death is inescapable.

Not even the gods can defend a man, not even one they love, that day when fate takeshold and lays him out at last

The Odyssey

Athena informs Odysseus’ son, Telemachus, that there are powers beyond even that of the gods. These words remind us that, despite all our scientific knowledge and religious faith, we cannot prevent those we love from dying when their time has come.

There is nothing worse than a liar.

Hateful to me as the gates of Hades is that man who hides one thing in his heart and speaks another.

The Iliad

Achilles expresses sentiments that many people can immediately relate to. His utter hatred for liars is laid out more clearly and acerbically than arguably any other person, real or fictional.

People die, but legacies endure.

Let me not then die ingloriously and without a struggle, but let me first do some great thing that shall be told among men hereafter.

The Iliad

Hector knows his death will soon be upon him and, rather than seek to avoid it, he simply wishes to achieve some heroic feat that will help sustain his legacy. This speaks to an innate human desire to leave something behind that people will remember us for.

Mortality matters

Any moment may be our last. Everything is more beautiful because we’re doomed. You will never be lovelier than you are now. We will never be here again.

The Iliad

Arguably the poem’s most moving passage, Achilles attempts to explain why a mortal life is more meaningful than an immortal one precisely because it ends. The gods can always redo things and will always get more chances, whereas mortals get one shot at life, and this makes it more fragile but infinitely more precious.

The passage of time is relentless

Like the generations of leaves, the lives of mortal men. Now the wind scatters the old leaves across the earth, now the living timber bursts with the new buds and spring comes round again. And so with men: as one generation comes to life, another dies away.

The Iliad

Glaucus may not be one of the most recognizable figures from Homer’s poem, but his words are among the most moving. His ability to link the lives of men and the changes in the natural world speaks to a fundamental truth: everything ends and is replaced eventually.

Destiny calls.

And fate? No one alive has ever escaped it, neither brave man nor coward, I tell you – it’s born with us the day that we are born.

The Iliad

Prince Hector yet again demonstrates a degree of wisdom that his great adversary, Achilles, sometimes lacks. His awareness of his own limitations showcases his humility and deference to the greater powers that shape our lives.

Grief unites us all.

And overpowered by memory both men gave way to grief. Priam wept freely for man – killing Hector, throbbing, crouching before Achilles’ feet as Achilles wept himself, now for his father, now for Patroclus once again and their sobbing rose and fell throughout the house.

The Iliad

In a poem full of epic speeches and battles, it is this simple scene that arguably stands out above all the rest. Two men, Achilles and Priam, share in the expression of grief despite being on opposite sides of the conflict. It is a reminder that there are rarely winners in war, even if one side declares itself the victor.

We all must bear responsibility.

Ah how shameless — the way these mortals blame the gods. From us alone, they say, come all their miseries, yes, but they themselves, with their own reckless ways, compound their pains beyond their proper share.

The Odyssey

These lines are spoken by the goddess Athena, who chastises mortals for their willingness to abdicate responsibility. She argues that we all must act as best we can, regardless of whether or not our actions are overseen by a higher power. Oversight is no excuse for negligence.

12 Incredible Quotes from Homer (2024)
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