Homeric Greek
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Homeric Greek

Homeric Greek is the form of the Greek language that was used by Homer in the Iliad and Odyssey and in the Homeric Hymns. It is a literary dialect of Ancient Greek consisting mainly of Ionic and Aeolic, with a few forms from Arcadocypriot, and a written form influenced by Attic.[1] 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 3rd century BC, but it disappeared with the rise of Koine Greek.

Main features

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 ? to ?: thus, Homeric , , for Attic , , /? "Troy", "hour", "gates (dat.)".[2] Exceptions include nouns like ? "goddess", and the genitive plural of first-declension nouns and the genitive singular of masculine first-declension nouns: , "of goddesses, of the son of Atreus".


First declension[3]
The nominative singular of most feminine nouns ends in -?, rather than long -?, even after ?, ?, and ? (an Ionic feature): ? for ?. However, ? and some names end in long -?.
Some masculine nouns have a nominative singular in short -? rather than - (, ): for Attic ?.
The genitive singular of masculine nouns ends in - or -, rather than -: for Attic .[note 1]
The genitive plural usually ends in - or -: for Attic .[note 2]
The dative plural almost always end in -(?) or -: ? for Attic .
Second declension
Genitive singular: ends in -, as well as -. For example, ?, as well as .
Genitive and dative dual: ends in -?. Thus, ? appears, rather than .
Dative plural: ends in -?(?) and -. For example, , as well as ?.
Third declension
Accusative singular: ends in -, as well as -. For example, , as well as ?.
Dative plural: ends in -? and -. For example, ? or .
Homeric Greek lacks the quantitative metathesis present in later Greek (except in certain masculine ?-stem genitive singulars):
  • Homeric instead of , instead of
  • instead of
  • instead of
  • instead of
Homeric Greek sometimes uses different endings:
  • ? alternates with ?

A note on nouns:

  • After short vowels, the reflex of Proto-Greek *ts can alternate between -?- and -- in Homeric Greek. This can be of metrical use. For example, and are equivalent; and ; ? and .
  • A relic of the Proto-Greek instrumental case, the ending -(?) (-(?)) can be used for the dative singular and plural of nouns and adjectives (occasionally for the genitive singular and plural, as well). For example, (...by force), (...with tears), and ? (...in the mountains).


First-person pronoun (singular "I", dual "we both", plural "we")
Singular Dual Plural
Nominative , ? , ,
Genitive , ?, ?, , ? , ,
Dative ?, ?, ?(?)
Accusative , , , ?, ?
Second-person pronoun (singular "you", dual "you both", plural "you")
Singular Dual Plural
Nominative , ? ?, ,
Genitive ?, , , , , , ? , ,
Dative , , ? ?, ?(?)
Accusative ?, , ?
Third-person pronoun (singular "he, she, it", dual "they both", plural "they")
Singular Dual Plural
Nominative ?
Genitive , , , , ? ,
Dative , (?), (?)
Accusative ?, , ? , , ?
  • Third-person singular pronoun ("he, she, it") (the relative) or rarely singular article ("the"): ?, ?,
  • Third-person plural pronoun ("they") (the relative) or rarely plural article ("the"): nominative , , , , dative ?, , , ?, ?.
Interrogative pronoun, singular and plural ("who, what, which")
Accusative ?
Genitive ,
Genitive ?


Person endings
-? appears rather than -. For example, for ? in the third-person plural active.
The third plural middle/passive often ends in -? or -; for example, ? is equivalent to ?.
Future: Generally remains uncontracted. For example, ? appears instead of or instead of ?.
Present or imperfect: These tenses sometimes take iterative form with the letters -- penultimate with the ending. For example, : 'they kept on running away'
Aorist or imperfect: Both tenses can occasionally drop their augments. For example, may appear instead of , and may appear instead of ?.
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.[4]
The subjunctive appears with a short vowel. Thus, the form , rather than .
The second singular middle subjunctive ending appears as both - and -.
The third singular active subjunctive ends in -(?). Thus, we see the form ?, instead of ?.
Occasionally, the subjunctive is used in place of the future and in general remarks.
The infinitive appears with the endings -, -, and -, in place of - and -. For example, ? for ; ? instead of ; ?, , or ? for ; and () in place of ?.
Contracted verbs
In contracted verbs, where Attic employs an -?-, Homeric Greek will use -- or -- in place of --. For example, Attic ? becomes .
Similarly, in places where -- contracts to -?- or -- contracts to -?-, Homeric Greek will show either or .


Adverbial suffixes
- conveys a sense of 'to where'; 'to the war'
- conveys a sense of 'how'; 'with cries'
- conveys a sense of 'from where'; 'from above'
- conveys a sense of 'where'; 'on high'


, , 'so' or 'next' (transition)
'and' (a general remark or a connective)
? 'surely'
'just' or 'even'
'I tell you ...' (assertion)

Other features

In most circumstances, Homeric Greek did not have available a true definite article. ?, ?, and their inflected forms do occur, but they are in origin demonstrative pronouns.[5]


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.[6][7]


The Iliad, lines 1-7

, , ?
, ? ?' ? ?' ,
?' ?
· ? ?' ·

? ? .

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.

See also


  1. ^ Some suggest that - may have originally been the more expected -, with - later being transcribed - under the influence of other (literary) dialects, whilst others suggest that - may have been an Aeolic form. (See ? and ? for expected ? and .)
  2. ^ - for expected - would occur for the reasons given in Note 1.


  1. ^ Stanford 1959, pp. lii, liii, the Homeric dialect
  2. ^ Stanford 1959, p. liii, vowels
  3. ^ Stanford 1959, pp. lvii-lviii, first declension
  4. ^ Carroll D. Osburn (1983). "The Historical Present in Mark as a Text-Critical Criterion". Biblica. 64 (4): 486-500. JSTOR 42707093.
  5. ^ Goodwin, William W. (1879). A Greek Grammar (pp 204). St Martin's Press.
  6. ^ The Iliad: A Commentary: Volume 5, Books 17-20, Geoffrey Stephen Kirk, Mark W. Edwards, Cambridge University Press, 1991, ISBN 978-0-521-31208-0 p53, footnote 72
  7. ^ Google preview


Further reading

  • Bakker, Egbert J., ed. 2010. A companion to the Ancient Greek language. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Christidis, Anastasios-Phoivos, ed. 2007. A history of Ancient Greek: From the beginnings to Late Antiquity. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
  • Colvin, Stephen C. 2007. A historical Greek reader: Mycenaean to the koiné. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Edwards, G. Patrick. 1971. The language of Hesiod in its traditional context. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Hackstein, Olav. 2010. "The Greek of epic." In A companion to the Ancient Greek language. Edited by Egbert J. Bakker, 401-23. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Horrocks, Geoffrey C. 1987. "The Ionian epic tradition: Was there an Aeolic phase in its development?" Minos 20-22: 269-94.
  • ----. 2010. Greek: A history of the language and its speakers. 2nd ed. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Janko, Richard. 1982. Homer, Hesiod, and the Hymns: Diachronic development in epic diction. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
  • ----. 1992. "The origins and evolution of the Epic diction." In The Iliad: A commentary. Vol. 4, Books 13-16. Edited by Richard Janko, 8-19. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
  • Lord, Albert B. 1960. The singer of tales. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Nagy, Gregory. 1995. "An evolutionary model for the making of Homeric poetry: Comparative perspectives." In The ages of Homer. Edited by Jane Burr Carter and Sarah Morris, 163-79. Austin: University of Texas Press.
  • Palmer, Leonard R. 1980. The Greek language. London: Faber & Faber.
  • Parry, Milman. 1971. The making of Homeric verse: The collected papers of Milman Parry. Edited by Adam Parry. Oxford: Clarendon.
  • Reece, Steve. 2009. Homer's Winged Words: the Evolution of Early Greek Epic Diction in the Light of Oral Theory. Amsterdam: Brill.
  • West, Martin L. 1988. "The rise of the Greek epic." Journal of Hellenic Studies 108: 151-72.

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