Homeric Greek

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Homeric Greek
Greek alphabet
Language codes
ISO 639-3

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, though its decline was inevitable with the rise of Koine Greek.

Main features[edit]

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 η: thus, Homeric Τροίη, ὥρη, πύλῃσι for Attic Τροίᾱ, ὥρᾱ, πύλαις/πύλαισι "Troy", "hour", "gates (dat.)".[2] Exceptions include nouns like θεᾱ́ "goddess", and the genitive plural of first-declension nouns and the genitive singular of masculine first-declension nouns: θεᾱ́ων, Ἀτρεΐδᾱο "of goddesses, of the son of Atreus".


First declension[3]
The nominative singular of most feminine nouns ends in , 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, rather than -ου: Ἀτρεΐδᾱο for Attic Ἀτρείδου.
The genitive plural usually ends in -ᾱων or -εων: νυμφᾱ́ων for Attic νυμφῶν.
The dative plural almost always end in -ῃσι 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 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 pronoun (singular "I", dual "we both", plural "we")
Singular Dual Plural
Nominative ἐγώ, ἐγών νῶι, νώ ἡμεῖς, ἄμμες
Genitive ἐμεῖο, ἐμέο, ἐμεῦ, μεῦ, ἐμέθεν νῶιν ἡμείων, ἡμέων
Dative ἐμοί, μοι ἡμῖ(ν), ἄμμι(ν)
Accusative ἐμέ, με νῶι, νώ ἡμέας, ἧμας, ἄμμε
Second-person pronoun (singular "you", dual "you both", plural "you")
Singular Dual Plural
Nominative σύ, τύνη σφῶϊ, σφώ ὑμεῖς, ὔμμες
Genitive σεῖο, σέο, σεῦ, σευ, σέθεν, τεοῖο σφῶϊν, σφῷν ὑμέων, ὑμείων
Dative σοί, τοι, τεΐν ὑμῖν, ὔμμι, ὗμιν
Accusative σέ σφῶϊ, σφώ ὑμέας, ὔμμε
Third-person pronoun (singular "he, she, it", dual "they both", plural "they")
Singular Dual Plural
Nominative σφωέ σφεῖς
Genitive οὗ, εἷο, ἕο, εὗ, ἕθεν σφωΐν σφείων, σφέων
Dative ἑοῖ, οἱ σφι(ν), σφίσι(ν)
Accusative ἕ, ἑέ, μιν σφωέ 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")
Nominative τίς
Accusative τίνα
Genitive τέο, τεῦ
Dative τέῳ
Genitive τέων

A note on nouns:

  • -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.
  • 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 (...by force), δακρυόφιν (...with tears), and ὄρεσφιν (...in the mountains).


Person endings
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, 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.[4]
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 'so' or 'next' (transition)
τε 'and' (a general remark or a connective)
δή 'indeed'
περ 'just' or 'even'
τοι 'I tell you ...' (assertion)

Other features[edit]

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


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.[6][7]


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.

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[edit]

Wiktionary has a category on Epic Ancient Greek


  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[edit]

  • 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.