What About Homer’s Iliad?

[[Note: Homer’s Iliad has now entered into “under development” status. We hope to make it available as soon as we can! — RB, Aug 15, 2007]]
The guys over in marketing asked me about the editions of Homer’s Iliad that we have on pre-pub. Why would Logos users find that sort of stuff useful?
So I thought I’d take a quick stab. First, it’s Homer. Classic epic poetry and all that. If you’re not familiar with the basic storyline of the Iliad (and the Odyssey, for that matter) you really should be just because it will make you a more well-rounded individual.
As regards Biblical studies, I think there are two main areas where something like Homer’s Iliad can be used.
The first has to do with parallel concepts. One of these parallel concepts can be illustrated using 1Th 4.9-10a:*

Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. (1Th 4.9-10a, ESV)

Now, here’s Iliad 23.304-308

304 drew his car. And his father drew nigh and gave counsel305 to him for his profit – a wise man to one that himself had knowledge.Antilochus,306 for all thou art young, yet have Zeus and307 Poseidon loved thee and taught thee all manner of horsemanship;308 wherefore to teach thee is no great need, for thou knowest309 well how to wheel about the turning-post;Homer, & Murray, A. T. (2007). The Iliad. At head of title: Homer. The Loeb classical library (Homer, Iliad 23.309). Bellingham: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

The parallel concept is that of deity teaching man. The Hellenistic Commentary to the New Testament further explains: “Achilles had offered a prize for the best driver in a chariot race. Antilochus is encouraged by his father with words that may have been current in the Hellenistic world, echoed by Paul, and recognized by his readers — though of course communicating a different content.”*
Second, and to my mind the more useful of the two areas, is examining usage of words and concepts also found in the LXX or the New Testament. The Iliad is a large corpus, routinely dated in the seventh or eighth century BC (read: a looooonnnngggg time ago). The Greek version is fully morphologically tagged. This means that parts of speech and dictionary forms are encoded behind the actual word in the text. The Greek version also has English glosses for each word (note that the interlinear lines can be turned on or off using View | Interlinear, so you can remove the gloss line, and the morph line, and the lemma line if you see them as “crutches”). There are parallel aligned translations in English, French, Spanish and German. Lots of area to look for classical Greek usage of words and concepts, and lots of help for the person somewhat familiar with Greek but unfamiliar with Homer.

The Homeric literature (the Iliad included) gives us a glimpse into how words were used then, in the context of epic poetry. This can help us better understand the Greek of the New Testament. One quick example is that of the word ἁμαρτάνω, the verb form of “sin”. The NT uses this sense of the word, but the word did not always directly communicate the concept “to sin”. In classical literature (e.g. Homer, Iliad 5.287) ἁμαρτάνω is used in the general sense of ‘miss the mark’, particularly of thrown spears (cf. LSJ p. 77, which also cites Iliad 10.372). In specific contexts within classical literature, including Homer, this could be seen as failing or of doing wrong. BDAG notes this generally with no citations (BDAG p. 49); LSJ helps with some citations (Iliad 5.287, 10.372); a search of the Logos edition of the Iliad, however, gives the total list so the word usage can be further evaluated.
In the Logos edition of the Iliad, there are 16 instances of the lemma ἁμαρτάνω. These were located with a search for “lemma:αμαρτανω“. The “lemma:” specifies the field to search, the word after the colon is the search target. (Sort of like how some of Google’s advanced search operators work). Here are the results:

From here, you can run a lemma report. See the link to Search Analysis By Lemma? Click on that. Here’s what you’ll get:

With this information to hand, you can work through the morphologically-sorted list of instances and see what you think. The Greek text has glosses, but you can also consult the English (or French or Spanish or German, if you please) as you work through the issues to see how your term was translated.
Finally, the question everyone always asks. “Why only the Iliad? Why not the Odyssey too?” We’d love to do the Odyssey and have plans to pursue it — if the Iliad prepub succeeds, then keep your eyes open for a version of the Odyssey at some time in the future!

* Boring, M. Eugene, Klaus Berger and Carsten Colpe. Hellenistic Commentary to the New Testament, (Abingdon: Nashville), 1995. pp. 493-494.


  1. Steve Maling says

    Thanks for running this up the prepub flagpole to see how many of us vote yes. Having spent a semester on “The Iliad” as an undergraduate [“before most of you were born”;)], I very much hope this project comes to fruition.

  2. While I won’t be one of those supporting the pre-pub Iliad, I do understand the second point you made in the above post, though I question the first, finding too weak a parallelism.

  3. Hans Urs von Baltasar said that Homer’s sympathetic portrayal of humanity, in its force and depth, is a picture of something that is also in the Bible. So Homer helps us to understand what we are, and therefore, since we are made in God’s image, what “God’s image” is. Also, Homer’s distance from us in time makes his work a good fulcrum for our thoughts.