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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