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Thread: Homer vs Shakespeare

  1. #1
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    Homer vs Shakespeare

    Do you prefer Homer and his two epics — The Iliad and The Odyssey — or Shakespeare?

    For me, Shakespeare is the greater and broader writer - more depth to his characters, a kind of invention of the "human" as we know it (though this is prefigured, IMO, by the Hebrew Bible's depiction of personalities like Jacob and David), poetic language that contains metaphor and simile, and a comprehensiveness of vision that accepts comic, romantic, and tragic all at once. Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth, Cleopatra, Prospero, Shylock, Portia, Viola, Malvolio, Brutus, Iago, Edmund, Edgar, Cordelia, Richard II, Falstaff, Hal, Antony, Othello, Lady Macbeth, and more - all these rich personalities that Shakespeare creates with a richness that is challenged only by the Bible IMO.

    As for Homer, however, he deserves his place as the king of poets besides Shakespeare. I find The Iliad to be as refreshingly bold, violent, brash, big, and beautiful as it was when it was first read and loved by ancient audiences. I love the fierce pathos and charisma of Achilles, the wily genius of Odysseus, the defender-of-homeland love of Hector, the pity of Priam, and more. Characterization is more lucid, less "complex" in the way that the Bible and Shakespeare are, more transparent. The divine and human interplay makes the work so fascinating, as do the questions of heroism. To be honest, I consider Achilles my favorite hero of the Homeric universe, next to Odysseus and Diomedes, with Hector being admittedly before both wily heroes.

    Yet I find Homer's narrative work so eloquently dramatic - sixty percent of The Iliad is dramatic dialogue - and powerful in the epic similes and violence that it remains in my memory as a thing of beauty, a joy forever.

    Of course, The Odyssey, with its protean Athena slipping and changing into various human forms, its wily and Jacob-like Odysseus (Jacob is the great "survivor" of the Bible, and Odysseus might be a kind of Hellenic Jacob due to the endurance he shows), its narrative-within-narrative experiments, its treatment of stories, its Orestes-motif with Telemachus journeying away on a coming-of-age adventure before returning to slaughter the evildoing suitors, the near-Asiatic emphasis on a god's personal relation with a human (reminds me of Gilgamesh), its fairy-tale riches-to-rags-to-riches again, and more.

    So I give the preference to Shakespeare, but a very very close second to Homer.

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    Shakespeare.

    He is better written, more complex and deeper, Homer has been improved over the years, Shakespeare so far not. Virgil is more polished, then came Dante, then Shakespeare and we still live in the shadow of Shakespeare as the greatest author ever since.

    The disadvantage of the other classics (Dante, Cervantes and Virgil) compared to Shakespeare is the body of work, the latter only made more and more in an incomparable variety.

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    Shakespeare is better than anyone from the list of classics, in a very postmodern way. He is the better writter. It doesn't much what he writes about, he writes. For him this verb has accumulated an intransitive value. À la Joyce.
    Et ignotas animum dimittit in artes.

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    I like the title of Professor Bloom's little book about HAMLET: HAMLET POEM UNLIMITED. The title is taken from Act 2, scene 2, line 418 from the play. In his big book, SHAKESPEARE THE INVENTION OF THE HUMAN, we find the phrase "or reinvention" in the chapter on MV. Missing from that same chapter is mention of the major classical allusion in MV, the last page of THE ODYSSEY. the last line of the first conversation in MV reads: "Though Nestor swear the jest be laughable." The last line of the first conversation in ROMEO AND JULIET is part of a multi-line cluster of Biblical allusions. The last line of Fitzgerald's translation of THE ODYSSEY reads: "Though still she kept the form and voice of Mentor." There are other lines indicating that this was on Shakespeare's mind when he wrote the play.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Haran Alkarin View Post
    Shakespeare.

    He is better written, more complex and deeper, Homer has been improved over the years, Shakespeare so far not. Virgil is more polished, then came Dante, then Shakespeare and we still live in the shadow of Shakespeare as the greatest author ever since.

    The disadvantage of the other classics (Dante, Cervantes and Virgil) compared to Shakespeare is the body of work, the latter only made more and more in an incomparable variety.
    Virgil does something different from Homer, nowhere he has Homer's action scene power. Hardly anyone has. But that is quite irrelevant, Drama didn't stop in time with Shakespeare. It has developed, so it is hardly true nobody improved Shakespeare's drama. English language either. How to say Milton have no improved english poetry or Wordsworth or Tennyson? And of course, the novelists of XIX century found ways to represent humanity that is a big improvement to playwritting. They had no need of actors to portray emotions.

    Even claims about Shakespeare having invented humanity and reducing the classical influence to the bible, is far fetched. So, Oedipus was what? And sorry, but even drama has as a trait the exploration of character while epic poetry explores themes, Homer gave us a lot of complex characteres. Odysseus for example. No character in literature, be it Jesus, Oedipus, Hamlet, Quixote, etc can claim to be more human/complex than him. They are equals.

    And Shakespeare may have a big array of contribution in high level, it is a big advantage. But so is Dante, not only the comedy is really 3 different works, as La Vita Nuova, Il Convivio or almost anything he wrote are masterworks, in a wider variety of genres than just drama and lyrical poetry. Cervantes has this variety, after all he could do in prose and poetry. Virgil has 3 different masterwork poems in 3 different genres. Ovid has several. The case towards Shakespeare is compelling, the case towards Dante, Virgil, Homer, Ovid, Cervantes and a few others is compelling too, unless the argument is having written in english.
    #foratemer

  6. #6
    I just want to read. chrisvia's Avatar
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    My knee-jerk reaction is, of course, Shakespeare, but there is much more to consider than the size of their respective output. Indeed, as JCamillo hints at, were history to have handed down all the plays of the Greek dramatists, there would be a veritable debate based on breadth of creation. But beyond that, I find a lot of imbalance when comparing Shakespeare and Homer.

    Homer is the beginning of the western canon and puts forth a standard unequaled until perhaps Dante (I need to weight this). His work became the backbone of Greek education, while the blind poet presumably sang his epic versus to a scribe with the intention of compiling what had been perpetuated by oral tradition. As history moves along, the Romans appropriate Homer's (and Hesiod's) written mythology, which is then canonized by Vergil, Ovid, Dante, et al. But, it is to Homer they are indebted. His work is so ingrained in the culture (even 800+ years later) that the people recorded in the book of Acts believe that Barnabas and Paul are Zeus and Hermes. And in the flourishing of culture of the Renaissance, the debt owed to Homer is compounded.

    Then comes Shakespeare. His world is much different from Homer's. Shakespeare, for starters, lives in a time when his work can be written, printed, sold, etc. He has the interest of making money and entertaining audiences. We get to observe his artistic development: compare Two Gentlemen of Verona with King Lear, say. But Shakespeare quickly rises to the top in terms of pushing the language beyond its limits, depth of character, and infecting the collective consciousness. At this point, when we read the whole of Shakespeare, he seems not even to have needed Homer.

    Thus, Shakespeare transcends those before him; but Homer has no one whom to transcend.

    One wonders what Homer could have done if given more time.

    In terms of enjoyment--splendor of reading experience--it is tough for me to choose. It depends on my mood. I can get equal enjoyment out of one as the other. They are both on my desert island list. But, in the end, I suppose I will stick with my gut and choose Shakespeare for the sake of answering the OP's original question.
    Last edited by chrisvia; 08-04-2017 at 11:30 AM.
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    Dante corpus is not even remotely comparable to Shakespeare's, both he and Cervantes and Virgil are one hit wonder artists. Shakespeare just did more and more in an unparalleled variety. An artist who does 3 masterpieces is not comparable to one who does 10, If Dante had not written the Comedy he would be much less popular, if Shakespeare did not have Hamlet, he would still be known for Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Othello and King Lear.

    Quote Originally Posted by JCamilo View Post
    Even claims about Shakespeare having invented humanity and reducing the classical influence to the bible, is far fetched. So, Oedipus was what? And sorry, but even drama has as a trait the exploration of character while epic poetry explores themes, Homer gave us a lot of complex characteres. Odysseus for example. No character in literature, be it Jesus, Oedipus, Hamlet, Quixote, etc can claim to be more human/complex than him. They are equals.
    Drama is the artistic medium of greater depth of character, even more than Novel, but Greek drama prioritizes action and plot, Homer is not an example of complex characterization, sorry and Jesus is not a character for artistic purposes.

    Shakespeare is just better in each level (language, characterization, themes), while Homer despite be the beginning of Western Canon suffer from being remote from us, in this sense Shakespeare is more updated.

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    Honestly, however wrote the Comedy is the person with a not even remotely comparable corpus, but shakespeare fanboyism falls shortly when you try to reduce Virgil and Dante to one hit wonder artists.
    #foratemer

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    Artist and Bibliophile stlukesguild's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JCamilo View Post
    ...shakespeare fanboyism falls shortly when you try to reduce Virgil and Dante to one hit wonder artists.
    Indeed. I would have to question how well anyone knows Dante or Virgil if he can seriously make an attempt to reduce them to "one hit wonders". Attempting to so minimize the achievement of the Aeneid or the Comedia is like dismissing Michelangelo as a painter as a "one hit wonder" ... after all he ONLY has the Sistine frescos (and a few other less-known works) in comparison to Monet's hundreds of canvases. Beyond the achievement of the Comedia... a work built of three epic poems which stands on the level of Wagner's Ring-cycle, Bach's cantatas, or the Sistine frescoes... Dante also penned a wealth of magnificent sonnets, La Vita Nuova, which collected many others sonnets, and the Convivio. Virgil also lays claim to the Eclogues and the Georgics. Another member here, Mortal Terror, would likely put forth Ovid before Virgil with his Metamorphoses, Heroides, Amores, Ars Amatoria, Tristia, etc...
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    Artist and Bibliophile stlukesguild's Avatar
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    Shakespeare is the greatest writer that I know (IMO)... yet there are many writers including Dante, Virgil, Homer, Ovid, Milton, Tolstoy, Ferdowsi, Goethe, etc... who are not far behind... and who often surpass the Bard in certain areas.
    Beware of the man with just one book. -Ovid
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    The fact that they are one-hit wonder writers does not mean that the works they produced are of less value or that they produced nothing else, only that these authors are known solely for their main works. Other works by Dante and Virgil would not be worth the reputation of the author without his magnus opums. The fact is that if Dante had no written Divine Comedy he would be much smaller poet, if Virgil had not written Aeneid he would not be Homer's successor but only a poet of elegies. The same goes for Milton and others.

    If Shakespeare had not written Hamlet or King Lear he would still have many other plays equally famous and influential. But if Shakespeare had only written one-third of his plays he would obviously be a minor author, there would be far fewer films and operas based on his works, his reputation and influence would be much smaller. .
    Last edited by Haran Alkarin; 08-16-2017 at 11:23 AM.

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    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    Literature is not a competitive sport. In football, if one team wins, the other loses. It's a zero sum game, with objective standards (which team scores the most goals or points). The standards in literature are subjective; the artistic value of the work is dependent on the emotional response of the reader.

    The OP recognizes this ("Do you prefer Homer and his two epics — The Iliad and The Odyssey — or Shakespeare?"). So should we, lest we suggest that those who fail to share our personal preferences have inferior tastes.

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    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
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    I quite agree that there doesn´t exist a contest of great authors. There is that thing called canon which lists great authors according to a national or international tradition, but even a canon may be biased by including or excluding the literature of certain groups.
    Preference is quite another matter as one may prefer authors which are or are not considered great authors from the canonic point of view.
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    The problem is not a contest, the problem is when someone tries to imply without the Comedy Dante would be a minor poet, without considering that before the comedy his reputation was already solid and Vita Nuova would keep him as one of the greatest and most influential lyrical poets ever. The Comedy is so huge that overshadows any other accomplishment. The same goes with Virgil: Bucolics and Georgics (which some critics consider his major work and neither are elegies) had already placed him on the top of the roman poetic scene, the Aeneid was his last work - he never tasted the fame this work gave to him. So,the problem is this attempt to diminish two (and other) giants with this false notion their fame lies only in one work and not considering they make works so definitive that everything else is underated.
    #foratemer

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    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
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    I absolutely agree with you, Camilo. What I don´t agree with is the measuring of great authors against each other. All of them have their individual worth established by one or more literary works.
    "You can always find something better than death."
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