Hear Homer’s Iliad Read in the Original Ancient Greek

Sure, you enjoyed hearing the way Ancient Greek music actually sounded last week, but what about the way Ancient Greek poetry actually sounded? We can find fewer finer or more recognizable examples of the stuff than Homer’s Iliad, and above you can hear a reading of a section of the Iliad (Book 23, Lines 62-107 )  in the original Ancient Greek language.

It comes from what may strike you as an unlikely source: Stanley Lombardo, a University of Kansas classicist (and also, as it happens, a Zen Buddhist) best known for his translations of the Iliad, the Odyssey, and Virgil’s Aeneid into contemporary-sounding English. “Sounding less like aristocratic warriors than like American G.I.’s, perhaps,” writes classics-steeped critic Daniel Mendelsohn in the New York Times review of Lombardo’s Iliad, “his epic heroes ‘badmouth’ and ‘beat the daylights out of one another and witheringly call one another ‘trash’ and ‘pansy.'”

But Lombardo knows thoroughly the material he adapts. Even those of us who never learned Ancient Greek — if I may speak for this presumably large group of readers — can get a feel for Homer’s tale of the Trojan War and the soldiers’ long return home by listening to the professor’s delivery alone. Just above, you can see him give a reading from his English translation. It won’t surprise you to learn that he also reads the audio books. “We listened spellbound to the incantatory waves of Professor Stanley Lombardo’s voice telling the stories of Odysseus and his Odyssey and then those of the Trojan heroes of The Illiad,” writes Andrei Codrescu in an article on them for the Villager. “Professor Lombardo translated anew the immortal epics and immersed himself so deeply in their world his voice sounded as believable as the hills and valleys we crossed. His voice knows the tales and their enduring charms, and sounds for all the world like an ancient bard’s. Homer himself couldn’t have done better. In English no less, millennia later.”

Related Content:

What Ancient Greek Music Sounded Like: Hear a Reconstruction That is ‘100% Accurate’

Hear The Epic of Gilgamesh Read in the Original Akkadian, the Language of Mesopotamia

What Shakespeare Sounded Like to Shakespeare: Reconstructing the Bard’s Original Pronunciation

Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey: Free AudioBooks & eBooks

Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los AngelesA Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.

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Comments (35)
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  • mrl says:

    this sounds bad from a greek speaker perspective

  • Greco says:

    As I mentioned in the “What ancient Greek music sounded like” topic: in a remote part of Turkey near the Black Sea (in the heart of the ancient Greek world!) an ancient form of old Greek is still spoken. Romeika or Romeyka.nnOne thing it still has is the use of the ‘infinitive’ which modern Greek has lost.nnhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UcAYP4irSyQ

  • Apostolis says:

    Someone should tell him that’s not Greek! Why every foreigner who wants to study Greek does it in the Erasmus’ way? It is totally wrong! Philosophically and melodically

  • kokirii says:

    page title says “Odyssey,” recording is of “Iliad”…

  • Hermes says:

    But the “greeks” today has NOTHING to do with the ancient ones, they speak another language; it would be like an Italian trying to correct the accent of ancient Romans.

    • George says:

      Many words have changed as grammar but it is familiar.Now we speak “demotiki” but until a few years back we used “kathareuousa”which was somewhat closer to ancient greek,not similar.Even if we do not speak the ancient is not a strange language to us, and if you listen a modern greek read ancient greek you will see the difference.

  • sofia says:

    All languages evolve and ancient greek and modern greek are exactly the same language 3 thousands years apart. To a native Greek speaker it is familiar and would have been more so 30 years ago before the language was ‘simplified’. In order to study modern Greek and modern Greek literature in depth, a knowledge of ancient Greek is compulsory. The syntax and the vocabulary may be different but it still lies at the core of the language spoken today. There are also words in use today that you will find in Homeric texts, completely unchanged in nearly 3000 years.

  • Shimke says:

    As a native speaker of English, I would probably find Shakespeare hard to follow if pronounced as it was in his time; I would certainly find Chaucer odd; as for Beowulf, I doubt if I would understand more than a word here and there. But I am willing to accept that scholars can get closer to the language they SPOKE better than I can. Why are the Greeks so resistent to this seemingly common-sense notion?

  • Leonard says:

    Where may I hear Homer in Greek, spoken by a native Greek?

    I think it is wrong to say that modern Greeks do not know how to speak the Greek of their ancestors. While it may be true that we do not have recordings of Greek spoken at Homer’s time, or of Herodotus, or in Athens or Sparta or Ionia or other places, we still have the descendants, speaking a living language.

  • ioannisS says:

    @Leonard (April 27, 2014)

    you can try my YouTube channel at

    for free content (usually free samples of my audiobooks in ancient Greek), or more and complete works on my website http://www.Podium-Arts.com

    For those who ask why Greeks are resistant to a pronunciation different from modern Greek, it’s mostly because of an inadequate educational system and ignorance of the writings of the ancient grammarians.
    If one would only tell them where to look at…

    Another reason is the belief (Zeus knows where it comes from!) that anyone pronouncing differently has inimical motives, touching their very right to identify themselves as descendants of the ancients.

    It’s totally absurd

  • criss stanculescu says:

    I am romanian i speak 3 languages and for me it was odd and full of american accent. Very good ideea but maybe an actual greek wil do better?

  • Constantin Spantidakis says:

    Yes, there is a bit of english accent, but this is the very pronunciation of Ancient Greek. Modern Greeks (I am) are chauvinistic.

  • Andrei says:

    I am not Greek, but I have lived in Greece and learned modern Greek.
    This lecture has a horrid American accent. Not even an English accent. It’s just the way vowels and consonants are pronounced. In a total foreign way to anything Greek. Imagine a Chinese would read Shakespeare. No matter how hard he’d try, he just can’t sound credible.
    I have the same feeling when an American says he speaks in classical Latin, claiming to use the “right way to pronounce it”.
    Please understand that it doesn’t have to do with modern Greek versus ancient Greek. It just sounds American. The r’s are too soft, the a should never sound like an ai. He just reads classical Greek almost the way he would read English.

  • Nike says:

    I have a major in Ancient Greek and am currently learning the modern language. There are MANY radical differences in pronunciation between the two languages, much less in vocabulary. In consequence, I can read Greek newspapers with relative ease, but no one could possibly understand what I say. For instance:

    Beta is ‘b’ in Ancient Greek (AGRK), ‘v’ in modern (MGRK).
    Gamma is hard ‘g’in AGRK, and a voiced velar or palatal fricative in MGRK (there is no English equivalent).
    Chi is an aspirated ‘k’ (say ‘kuh’ while forcefully breathing out) in AGRK, Chi is usually ‘h’ in MGRK.
    Theta is an aspirated ‘t’ in AGRK, in MGRK it is the ‘th’ in

    The list goes on…

    Additionally, almost all the vowels and dipthongs are completely different.

    Ancient Greek has 13 different vowels and even more diphthongs, Modern Greek has 5 different vowels.

    It is no surprise this sounds weird to a Modern Greek speaker.

  • Tom says:

    Kudos to this man for trying to speak and represent to the world how Ancient Greek might have sounded. Having said that, his pronounciation is hopelessly flawed and distracting with an American English accent. Even though there are many notable differences between the modern and ancient Greek languages, their similarities are more notable than their differences. This attempt does not display those similarities effectively.

  • Maria says:

    Chapeau for trying to speak ancient Greek, but his American accent is so strong that contaminates every single world.

  • Nicko says:

    Because the issue at hand may be confusing two things need to be clarified.

    a) it is true that insisting (as many here in Greece do) that ancient Greek should only be read with a modern Greek pronunciation is as ridiculous as insisting it should only be read with a reconstructed pronunciation. Both systems have their own value – MGk as the only authentically living version, reconstructed as a scientific tool for understanding Ancient Greek language and literature. Metrics, for example, is impossible with modern pronunciation.

    b) it is therefore pointless to criticize prof. Lombardo for not adopting a modern Greek pronunciation. any criticism should take as a starting point the reconstructed pronunciation

    c) as far as the reconstructed pronunciation goes, prof. Lombardo would have sounded every bit as funny to an Ancient Greek as most English speakers do today when speaking modern Greek. This is not to blame him; it is often very difficult for English-speakers to get rid of their accent – I’ve met none who spoke MGk without a thick accent, even veteran university professors of the language – and the added difficulty when studying a language system like AGk without native speakers or sound records is enormous. This is from someone who specialized in AGk historical linguistics in his MA. I do think, however, that prof. Lombardo is trying hard to distinguish between kappa and khi and if so, he deserves credit for one of the most difficult points. As you many know, AGk khi would have sounded pretty much like modern English k.

  • Alex says:

    Ok, thank mr. Lombardo for his excellent attempt, and what Nicko says above is true, but then what is the actual value of this great work (attempt), if the sound which is the point of the work does not come close to modern or ancient Greek? What is the point of the reconstructed sound if it does not come close to the ancient or the modern sound?

    The problem with reproduction of sounds not found in ones mother tongue is not the inability to pronounce something right, but the inability to hear it right. There is a modest bibliography on the subject. That should be required reading/study of linguists and it goes far beyond the field of linguistics, and into psychoacoustics and neurology.

  • kate says:

    I am greek and I agree with you. everybody trying to correct a scholar, this is so “traditional” and i’m sick of it.

  • Benjamin David Steele says:

    It’s ethno-nationalist pride. A common bias. And it has nothing to do with the scholarship of spoken language. Consider your example. Shakespearean English is almost unrecognizable by modern standards, but that is only from a few centuries ago. Ancient Greek is millennia old and it is obvious that it would have little in common with how Greek is spoken today.

  • Ioustinos says:

    This is no “original Ancient Greek” sampling. This is pure academic Erasmian pronunciation, an artificial accent meant to make learning easy as each phoneme is distinguished from each other (i.e. avoiding Koine/Medieval/Modern iotacist vowel shift) and avoiding difficult sounds. Erasmian is almost a hybrid of Ancient and Modern Greek; it includes the /ai, oi, au, eu/ diphthongs of Ancient Greek while voiced consonants beta, gamma and delta are plosive as in Ancient Greek /b, d, g/ in opposition to phi, theta and chi which are fricatives (in Ancient, they’d be aspirated plosives like in English ‘p’, ‘t’, ‘k’). A true scholarly reconstruction of Ancient Greek should include a tonal accent system and distinct long and short vowel timing. The quality distinction between eta and epsilon in Erasmian is as the ‘e’ in ‘late’ vs. in ‘let’, whereas in the reconstruction these vowel heights are opposite. And omicron never pronounced as ‘aw’ in ‘not’…ever.

  • Alex Alexides says:

    Wow, a bit surprising browsing through recordings of (mainly) Old English to happen upon a link to this. Oddly enough, the top sample from Book 23 was recorded by me directly in study with Dr. Lombardo. He did give me permission to post it to YouTube, so I suppose he wouldn’t mind it being here as well.

    I’m always shocked by the amount of Greeks (speaking modern fluently, myself being American of Greek heritage who does not speak Modern) always weighing in on this particular video, and now here. Given his nature and the depth of his scholarship, I doubt Dr. Lombardo would mind this, though I feel a bit responsible as this was posted for others to learn from, merely as an academic resource. I can only say that during this private study, when another reading was available online, Dr. Lombardo wasn’t bothered by the comments, merely responding that he was reading in meter (for those critical of metrical Homeric concerns).

    As someone who studies mostly older forms of English (and a native English speaker), I cannot say that I agree with modern Greeks that Greek as spoken in the era of Homer would sound even remotely like it is today, nor that it has escaped the shifts in pronunciation that have been present in so many other languages. Homeric Greek varies quite a bit from other ancient forms studied, in fact, and much like Latin and even Shakespearean English (not to mention Middle and Old), has gone massive scholarly attempts at reconstruction of the original pronunciations. One would hardly expect, knowing the massive changes within English historically, for it to be easily or even remotely understood to a modern English speaker, but perhaps this is a poor comparison, but as far as historical linguistics go, it is usually sufficient with very few exceptions in Indo European languages.

    This is what scholars devote their studies to, after all, and the sample above reflects this. The main purpose here wasn’t simply so that I (and by extension those hearing the posting) could learn to pronounce the passage properly (a passage of my choosing) once learning it in translation well, but also to recreate the drama of it, the emotion, as one would’ve heard in a reading in Ancient times.

    Thank you for posting it here, and I am glad that so many have enjoyed it with minimal nitpicking aside, and that my choice of this particular passage continues to move many with its deep emotional impact.

  • Alex Alexides says:

    Thank you, I humbly agree.

  • Alex Alexides says:

    Thank you, and to Alex above. I get these comments on the actual (Book 23) video all the time, and generally ignore them, as the proper person to comment on the methods of reconstruction is not myself but Dr. Lombardo. There is no way to reconstruct the ancient without angering some who speak the modern–in most languages. It is only in a very few that such ire is met by scholars from other countries studying and presenting works in the reconstructed original. I feel a rather nationalist bent, as remarked on below, when I see criticisms of these Homeric readings, which are obviously close to my heart.

  • Er-mal says:

    I would refer to some facts.
    1- Tukidides .
    There( Troy) were not greeks just pellargians.
    2- Herodotus.
    We(greeks) got our Gods from pellargians , where we did arrived here
    ( Greece)
    3. The origin of two important tribes of anciant Greece ( Dorian-Ionian) were from north( Dardania)
    Their king was Ylli that coincided with the book of Ylli-ada.
    What I wont to explain is the fact that is logical and very possible, the ancient greek to sound as nordich language.

  • Er-mal says:

    And another coincidence is the fact that Dardanians are part of the grat nation of
    and are the founders of Yll-ion in Troy.
    Remember and the Dardanelles Strait.

  • Aleksey says:

    What a unique culture! If you want to know more of it, you should definitely learn the language. Lucky those who reside in LA, they’re able to take greek classes in Los Angeles [https://preply.com/en/Los-Angeles-CA/greek-tutors]

  • Χωρίς Όνομα says:

    I don’t care how many Ph.Ds this guy has in linguistics but what he claims is the Homer’s Iliad read in ancient Greek is a mumble jumble of incomprehensible junk. Please do not offend us Greeks by pretending to know how to pronounce our language. Actually, even a modern Greek cannot reproduce the exact sound of the ancient Greek language. Lombardo you are a disappointment.

  • henri says:

    I’m not Greek, so maybe I’m allowed to point out, without being accused of chauvinism or whatnot, that it seems really implausible that Ancient Greek would have sounded so much like modern English phonetically.

  • Gene Engene says:

    It would have been so simple, and rather easy, to learn the difference between the sounds of even modern Greek vowels, and the sounds of current American vowels. That would have largely ameliorated the prevalent American accent. This was taught to me in a class for non-Greek students at the Hellenic-American Union (now Hellenic University) in Athens, many years ago. It was so effective, that I was often asked where I was from, as my modern Greek did not betray my American-ness, a very handy thing, in 1975 Athens.
    There are points, too, when his delivery sounds too reverent, for want of a better term, often a fault of scholarly interpreters, with not much performance training. The same is often true of poets reading their own work. He does try with the dialogue, but makes little distinction from one character to another. They all sound the same.

  • Don Bronkema says:

    kuDAWSS is singular; pl is kude or kudai, no? Thus there can be no such beastie as ‘a kudo’, no???

  • Aramis de la Nuez says:

    Oh my GAWD…I am rolling over with laughter. This is not GREEK nor KOINE. This is a gringo imitating GREEK. This is not the word one reads Greek.

  • Epicurus says:

    “Hermes”… You are NOT qualified to express an opinion about today’s “greeks”.
    Same dirt was spoken by the Falmerayer about the enslaved Greeks of the Ottoman empire, because he was expecting to find (after 2000years) the glorious classical Greeks of 500BC, but not the starving slaves of a barbaric Turkish tribe, who conquered them at 1453 AD.

    We today’s Greeks are completely the same as DNA research defines !!
    Ours Today’s Greek’s language is a continouation of the acnient one having 2 branches, “katharevussa”who is a continuation after the Hellenistic era and was used the educated Greeks and “demotiki” used by the common and uneducated Greeks.

    Anyway, both versions are mixed with the ancient one. Any well educated Greek can understand the ancient language as a whole in a paragraph and all educated or ont, are able to read an ancient text, because letters are the same, and too many ancient word are still use today. Also the vast majority of Greek modern language’s word are having their route trasing into the ancient ones, as resulting by them.

    Finally…Even if we do not speak the ancient language today, this does not makes less Greeks than our ancient anchestors and their language is not a strange language to us.
    If you listen a modern Greek person reading ancient Greek text, you will not see any difference !!

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