Homer’s Odyssey has been voted the most influential story to have shaped the entire world, according to a poll of more than 100 international authors, academics, journalists and critics conducted by Britain’s BBC.
The Odyssey is, in part, a sequel to The Iliad, the other great work ascribed to Homer, and is the second-oldest extant work in Western literature.
Scholars believe The Odyssey was composed near the end of the 8th century BC, somewhere in Ionia, the Greek coastal region of Anatolia.
The poem mainly focuses on the Greek hero Odysseus, king of Ithaca, and his journey home after the fall of Troy. It takes Odysseus a decade to reach Ithaca after the ten-year Trojan War.
Explaining why she voted for Homer’s Odyssey, Natalie Haynes, a writer and broadcaster in the UK, said, “Because it is one of the great foundational myths of Western culture, because it asks what it means to be a hero.”
She continued, “because it has great female characters in it, as well as men, because it is full of gods and monsters and is properly epic, and because it forces us to question the assumptions we might have about quests, war, and the ever-current issue of what it means to return home.”
Bethanne Patrick, a contributing editor at Lit Hub, added: “I believe the journey of Odysseus defined a streak of individualism particular to Western culture that has led to much change in the world — good and bad.”
The top ten most influential stories in the history of the world are the following, in descending order:
The Odyssey (Homer, 8th Century BC)
Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1852)
Frankenstein (Mary Shelley, 1818)
Nineteen Eighty-Four (George Orwell, 1949)
Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe, 1958)
One Thousand and One Nights (various authors, 8th-18th centuries)
Don Quixote (Miguel de Cervantes, 1605-1615)
Hamlet (William Shakespeare, 1603)
One Hundred Years of Solitude (Gabriel García Márquez, 1967)
The Iliad (Homer, 8th Century BC)