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Epic Greek

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Epic Greek

Homeric Greek is the form of the Greek language that was used by Homer in the Iliad and Odyssey. It is an archaic version of Ionic Greek, with admixtures from certain other dialects, such as Aeolic Greek. It later served as the basis of Epic Greek, the language of epic poetry, typically in dactylic hexameter, of poets such as Hesiod. Unlike later forms of the language, Homeric Greek did not have available in most circumstances a true definite article.[1] Compositions in Epic Greek may date from as late as the 3rd century AD, though its decline was inevitable with the rise of Koine Greek.

Main features

Only irregular forms are provided; omitted forms can usually be predicted by following patterns seen in Ionic Greek.


First Declension
Nominative Singular: ends in -η, even after ρ,ε, and ι. For Example, χώρη, rather than χώρα. However, some nouns do end in -α.
Genitive Plural: usually ends in -αων or -εων. For example, νυμφάων, rather than νυμφῶν.
Dative Plural: almost always ends in -ῃσι or -ῃς. For example, πύλῃσιν is equivalent to πύλαις.
Certain first declension nouns may end in -α (ἱππότα) rather than -ης (ναύτης, Ἀτρεΐδης). For Example, ἱππότα, rather than ἱππότης.
Genitive Singular of these nouns ends in -αο or -εω, rather than -ου. For example, Ἀτρεΐδαο, as opposed to Ἀτρεΐδου.
Second Declension
Genitive Singular: ends in -οιο, as well as -ου. For example, πεδίοιο, as well as πεδίου.
Genitive and Dative Dual: ends in -οιϊν. Thus, ἵπποιϊν appears, rather than ἵπποιν.
Dative Plural: ends in -οισι and -οις. For example, φύλλοισι , as well as φύλλοις.
Third Declension
Accusative Singular: ends in -ιν, as well as -ιδα. For example, γλαυκῶπιν, as well as γλαυκώπιδα.
Dative Plural: ends in -εσσι and -σι. For example, πόδεσσι or ἔπεσσι.
Homeric Greek lacks the quantitative metathesis present in later Greek:
Homeric βασιλῆος instead of βασιλέως, πόληος instead of πόλεως
βασιλῆα instead of βασιλέᾱ
βασιλῆας instead of βασιλέᾱς
βασιλήων instead of βασιλέων
Homeric Greek sometimes uses different stems:
πόλεως instead of πόλιος


First Person Singular (I)
Genitive Singular: ἐμεῖο, ἐμέο, ἐμεῦ, μευ, ἐμέθεν.
First Person Plural (We)
Accusative Plural: ἡμέας, ἄμμε.
Genitive Plural: ἡμείων, ἡμέων.
Dative Plural: ἄμμι(ν)
Second Person Singular (You)
Genitive Singular: σεῖο, σέο, σεῦ, σευ, σέθεν.
Second Person Plural (You)
Accusative Plural: ὕμέας, ὕμμε.
Genitive Plural: ὕμείων, ὕμέων.
Dative Plural: ὕμμι(ν)
Third Person Singular Masculine (Him)
Accusative Singular: ἕ.
Genitive Singular:εἷο, ἕο, εὗ, ἕθεν.
Dative Singular: ἑοῖ, οἰ.
Third Person Plural (Them)
Accusative Plural: σφε, σφέας, σφας.
Genitive Plural: σφείων, σφέων.
Dative Plural: σφι, σφισί.
Third Person Singular Pronoun (He, She, It) (The Relative) OR Singular Article (The) (This is rare)
Nominative Singular: ὁ, ἡ, τό. (etc.)
Third Person Plural Pronoun (He, She, It) (The Relative) OR Plural Article (The) (This is rare)
Nominative Plural: οἰ, αἰ, τοί, ταί.
Dative Plural: τοῖς, τοῖσι, τῇς, τῇσι, ταῖς.
Interrogative Pronoun Singular and Plural (Who, What, Which)
Nominative Singular: τίς.
Accusative Singular: τίνα.
Genitive Singular: τέο, τεῦ.
Dative Singular: τέῳ.
Genitive Plural: τέων.

A Note on Nouns

I. -σ- and -σσ- alternate in Homeric Greek. This can be of metrical use. For example, τόσος and τόσσος are equivalent; μέσος and μέσσος; ποσί and ποσσί.
II. The ending -φι (-οφι) can be used for the Dative Singular and Plural of nouns and adjectives (occasionally for the Genitive Singular and Plural, as well). For example, βίηφι ( force), δακρυόφιν (...with tears), and ὄρεσφιν ( the mountains).


Person Endings
-ν appears rather than -σαν. For example, ἔσταν for ἔστησαν in the Third Person Plural Active.
The Third Plural Middle/Passive often ends in -αται or -ατο; for example, ἥατο is equivalent to ἧντο.
Future: Generally remains uncontracted. For example, ἐρέω appears instead of ἐρῶ or τελέω instead of τελέσω.
Present or Imperfect: These tenses sometimes take iterative form with the letters -σκ- penultimate with the ending. For example, φύγεσκον: 'they kept on running away'
Aorist or Imperfect: Both tenses can occasionally drop their augments. For example, βάλον may appear instead of ἔβαλον. Resultantly, necessary adjustments may need to be made in compounds; in this vein, ἔμβαλε would appear instead of ἐνέβαλε.
The Subjunctive appears with a short vowel. Thus, the form ἴομεν, rather than ἴωμεν.
The Second Singular Middle Subjunctive ending appears as both -ηαι and -εαι.
The Third Singular Active Subjunctive ends in -σι. Thus, we see the form φορεῇσι, instead of φορῇ.
Occasionally, the Subjunctive is used in place of the future and in general remarks.
The infinitive appears with the endings -μεν, -μεναι, and -ναι, in place of -ειν and -ναι. For example, δόμεναι for δοῦναι; ἴμεν instead of ἰέναι; ἔμεν, ἔμμεν, or ἔμμεναι for εἶναι; and ἀκουέμεν(αι) in place of ἀκούειν.
Contracted Verbs
In contracted verbs, where Attic employs an -ω-, Homeric Greek will use -οω- or -ωω- in place of -αο-. For example, Attic ὁρῶντες becomes ὁρόωντες.
Similarly, in places where -αε- contracts to -α- or -αει- contracts to -ᾳ-, Homeric Greek will show either αα or αᾳ.


Adverbial Suffixes
-δε: conveys a sense of 'to where'; πόλεμόνδε: 'to the war'
-δον: conveys a sense of 'how'; κλαγγηδόν: 'with cries'
-θεν: conveys a sense of 'from where'; ὑψόθεν: 'from above'
-θι:conveys a sense of 'where'; ὑψόθι: 'on high'


ἄρα, ἄρ, ῥα: force conveys transition: 'so' or 'next'
δή: force conveys emphasis: 'indeed'
ἦ: force conveys emphasis: 'surely'
περ: force conveys emphasis: 'just' or 'even'
τε: force conveys a general remark or a connective: 'and'
τοι: force conveys assertion: 'I tell you ...'


Homer (the Iliad and the Odyssey) uses about 9,000 words, of which 1,382 are proper names. Of the 7,618 remaining words 2,307 are hapax legomena.[2][3]


The Iliad, lines 1–7

Μῆνιν ἄειδε, θεὰ, Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος
οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί’ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε’ ἔθηκε,
πολλὰς δ’ ἰφθίμους ψυχὰς Ἄϊδι προῒαψεν
ἡρώων, αὐτοὺς δὲ ἑλώρια τεῦχε κύνεσσιν
οἰωνοῖσί τε πᾶσι· Διὸς δ’ ἐτελείετο βουλή·
ἐξ οὗ δὴ τὰ πρῶτα διαστήτην ἐρίσαντε
Ἀτρεΐδης τε ἄναξ ἀνδρῶν καὶ δῖος Ἀχιλλεύς.

Robert Fitzgerald (1974):

Anger be now your song, immortal one,
Akhilleus' anger, doomed and ruinous,
that caused the Akhaians loss on bitter loss
and crowded brave souls into the undergloom,
leaving so many dead men—carrion
for dogs and birds; and the will of Zeus was done.
Begin it when the two men first contending
broke with one another—
                    the Lord Marshal
Agamemnon, Atreus' son, and Prince Akhilleus.

Alexander Pope (1720):

Achilles' wrath, to Greece the direful spring
Of woes unnumber'd, heavenly goddess, sing!
That wrath which hurl'd to Pluto's gloomy reign
The souls of mighty chiefs untimely slain;
Whose limbs unburied on the naked shore,
Devouring dogs and hungry vultures tore.
Since great Achilles and Atrides strove,
Such was the sovereign doom, and such the will of Jove!

Samuel Butler:

Sing, O goddess, the anger of Achilles son of Peleus, that brought countless ills upon the Achaeans. Many a brave soul did it send hurrying down to Hades, and many a hero did it yield a prey to dogs and vultures, for so were the counsels of Jove fulfilled from the day on which the son of Atreus, king of men, and great Achilles, first fell out with one another.

Andrew Lang:

Sing, goddess, the wrath of Achilles Peleus' son, the ruinous wrath that brought on the Achaians woes innumerable, and hurled down into Hades many strong souls of heroes, and gave their bodies to be a prey to dogs and all winged fowls; and so the counsel of Zeus wrought out its accomplishment from the day when first strife parted Atreides king of men and noble Achilles.

Robert Fagles:

Rage—Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus' son Achilles,
murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans countless losses,
hurling down to the House of Death so many sturdy souls,
great fighters' souls, but made their bodies carrion,
feasts for the dogs and birds,
and the will of Zeus was moving towards its end.
Begin, Muse, when the two first broke and clashed,
Agamemnon lord of men and brilliant Achilles.

Stanley Lombardo (1997):

Rage :
     Sing, Goddess, Achilles' rage,
Black and murderous, that cost the Greeks
Incalculable pain, pitched countless souls
Of heroes into Hades' dark,
And left their bodies to rot as feasts
For dogs and birds, as Zeus' will was done.
   Begin with the clash between Agamemnon--
The Greek warlord--and godlike Achilles.

Richard Lattimore:

SING, goddess, the anger of Peleus' son Achilleus
and its devastation, which put pains thousandfold upon the Achaians,
hurled in their multitudes to the house of Hades strong souls
of heroes, but gave their bodies to be the delicate feasting
of dogs, of all birds, and the will of Zeus was accomplished
since that time when first there stood in division of conflict
Atreus' son the lord of men and brilliant Achilleus.

See also



  • Pharr, Clyde. Homeric Greek: A Book for Beginners. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, new edition, 1959. Revised edition: John Wright, 1985. First edition of 1920 in public domain.
  • H. L. Ahrens, Griechische Formenlehre (Göttingen, 1852)
  • A. Fick, Die homerische Odyssee in der ursprünglichen Sprachform wiederhergestelt (Göttingen, 1883), Die homerische Ilias (ibid., 1886)
  • W. Schulze, Quaestiones epicae (Goterslohe, 1892).
  • B. Delbrück, Syntactische Forschungen (Halle, 1871–1879)
  • Wilhelm Hartel, Homerische Studien (i-vi., Vienna)
  • Albert Thumb, Zur Geschichte des griech. Digamma, Indogermanische Forschungen (1898)
  • D. B. Monro, A Grammar of the Homeric Dialect (Oxford, 1891) (the best grammar in English)
  • JACT, "Reading Greek" (Cambridge, 1978)

External links

  • has interlinear versions of the Iliad and Odyssey for the Palm Pilot
  • The Chicago Homer provides a Web-based interface for studying Homer (and Hesiod) suitable for beginners or experts
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