Homeric Greek is the form of the Greek language that was used in the Iliad, Odyssey, and Homeric Hymns. It is a literary dialect of Ancient Greek consisting mainly of Ionic, with some Aeolic forms, a few from Arcadocypriot, and a written form influenced by Attic. It was later named Epic Greek because it was used as the language of epic poetry, typically in dactylic hexameter, by poets such as Hesiod and Theognis of Megara. Compositions in Epic Greek may date from as late as the 5th century CE, and it only fell out of use by the end of Classical antiquity.
In the following description, only forms that differ from those of later Greek are discussed. Omitted forms can usually be predicted from patterns seen in Ionic Greek.
Homeric Greek is like Ionic Greek, and unlike Classical Attic, in shifting almost all cases of long ᾱ to η.
Examples of Homeric Greek phonology.
||Troy (nominative singular)
||an hour (nominative singular)
||gates (dative plural)
Exceptions include nouns like θεᾱ́ ("a goddess"), and the genitive plural of first-declension nouns and the genitive singular of masculine first-declension nouns.
For example θεᾱ́ων ("of goddesses"), and Ἀτρεΐδᾱο ("of the son of Atreus").
- First declension
- The nominative singular of most feminine nouns ends in -η, rather than long -ᾱ, even after ρ, ε, and ι (an Ionic feature): χώρη for χώρᾱ. However, θεᾱ́ and some names end in long -ᾱ.
- Some masculine nouns have a nominative singular in short -ᾰ rather than -ης (ναύτης, Ἀτρεΐδης): ἱππότᾰ for Attic ἱππότης.
- The genitive singular of masculine nouns ends in -ᾱο or -εω (rarely - only after vowels - -ω), rather than -ου: Ἀτρεΐδᾱο for Attic Ἀτρείδου.[note 1]
- The genitive plural usually ends in -ᾱων or -εων: νυμφᾱ́ων for Attic νυμφῶν.[note 2]
- The dative plural almost always end in -ῃσι(ν) or -ῃς: πύλῃσιν for Attic πύλαις.
- 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(ν) 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 (except in certain masculine α-stem genitive singulars):
- 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 endings:
- πόληος alternates with πόλιος
A note on nouns:
- After short vowels, the reflex of Proto-Greek *ts can alternate between -σ- and -σσ- in Homeric Greek. This can be of metrical use. For example, τόσος and τόσσος are equivalent; μέσος and μέσσος; ποσί and ποσσί.
- A relic of the Proto-Greek instrumental case, the ending -φι(ν) (-οφι(ν)) 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 (...by force), δακρυόφιν (...with tears), and ὄρεσφιν (...in the mountains).
First-person pronoun (singular "I", dual "we both", plural "we")
||ἐμεῖο, ἐμέο, ἐμεῦ, μεῦ, ἐμέθεν
||ἡμείων, ἡμέων, ἀμμέων
||ἡμέας, ἧμας, ἄμμε
Second-person pronoun (singular "you", dual "you both", plural "you")
||σεῖο, σέο, σεῦ, σευ, σέθεν, τεοῖο
||ὑμέων, ὑμείων, ὔμμέων
||σοί, τοι, τεΐν
Third-person pronoun (singular "he, she, it", dual "they both", plural "they")
||οὗ, εἷο, ἕο, εὗ, ἕθεν
||ἕ, ἑέ, μιν
||σφε, σφέας, σφας
- Third-person singular pronoun ("he, she, it") (the relative) or rarely singular article ("the"): ὁ, ἡ, τό
- Third-person plural pronoun ("they") (the relative) or rarely plural article ("the"): nominative οἰ, αἰ, τοί, ταί, dative τοῖς, τοῖσι, τῇς, τῇσι, ταῖς.
Interrogative pronoun, singular and plural ("who, what, which")
- 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 τελῶ.
- Present or imperfect: These tenses sometimes take iterative form with the suffix -σκ- before 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, and ἔμβαλε may appear instead of ἐνέβαλε.
- Homeric Greek does not have a historical present tense, but rather uses injunctives. Injunctives are replaced by the historical present in the post-Homeric writings of Thucydides and Herodotus.
- 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(ν). 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 'so' or 'next' (transition)
- τε 'and' (a general remark or a connective)
- δή 'indeed'
- ἦ 'surely'
- περ 'just' or 'even'
- τοι 'I tell you ...' (assertion)
In most circumstances, Homeric Greek did not have available a true definite article. Ὁ, ἡ, τό and their inflected forms do occur, but they are in origin and usually used as demonstrative pronouns.
Homer (in 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. According to classical scholar Clyde Pharr, "the Iliad has 1097 hapax legomena, while the Odyssey has 868". Others have defined the term differently, however, and count as few as 303 in the Iliad and 191 in the Odyssey.
The Iliad, lines 1–7
Μῆνιν ἄειδε, θεά, Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος
οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί’ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε’ ἔθηκε,
πολλὰς δ’ ἰφθίμους ψυχὰς Ἄϊδι προΐαψεν
ἡρώων, αὐτοὺς δὲ ἑλώρια τεῦχε κύνεσσιν
οἰωνοῖσί τε δαῖτα· Διὸς δ’ ἐτελείετο βουλή·
ἐξ οὗ δὴ τὰ πρῶτα διαστήτην ἐρίσαντε
Ἀτρεΐδης τε ἄναξ ἀνδρῶν καὶ δῖος Ἀχιλλεύς.
Theodore Alois Buckley (1860):
Sing, O goddess, the destructive wrath of Achilles, son of Peleus, which brought countless woes upon the Greeks, and hurled many valiant souls of heroes down to Hades, and made themselves a prey to dogs and to all birds but the will of Jove was being accomplished, from the time when Atrides, king of men, and noble Achilles, first contending, were disunited.