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Rediscovering Homer by Andrew Dalby

Book Review by Pantagathus

I am one of those people who secretly thinks that every epic adventure that has been penned since the Odyssey is just second rate literary counterfeiting. I first read both the Iliad and the Odyssey outside an academic environment and most of the commentary I've read since those first readings has usually been by other ancient writers.

The wit, the sagacity, the all encompassing humanity of Homer's works is so elegantly manifest that in the back of my mind I've always wondered: what is there to discuss other than universal admiration for the works? From time to time when I do glance at some modern, Jungian interpretation of the epics, I still find my internal voice saying something along the lines of "You said it brother!"

All that being said, when I saw that the venerable Andrew Dalby had this book Rediscovering Homer due for release, I put it on my wish list months ahead of publishing. After it was published in July, it wasn't too long afterwards that I had a copy in my hand and was thoroughly engaged in what new insight Mr. Dalby had to offer.

That insight being that the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey that we know of in written form, was perhaps a woman. I will throw out one caveat here and say that Mr. Dalby has taken a lot of heat for the assertion that found it's way into press releases; which is that Homer was a woman. Anyone who reads the book or engages Mr. Dalby on the point directly will know that is not what he is driving at.

What he is driving at surfaces throughout the book; but, those moments, those little innuendos leading up to when he actually presents the thesis, tend to leave the reader wondering what it has to do with all the other fascinating things he's presenting. Publisher's Weekly tactfully said it best: "some hedging accompanies the assertion." Unfortunately, what caused consternation with me personally was that I had the benefit of hearing the primary tractate from him before opening the book, and I still felt that way, so I really wondered what someone walking into it blind would think. There are just some statements that seemed awkwardly out of place to me in the context of the book as a whole...

When leaving the gender issue aside, the book offers many terrific insights. Not too surprising, Mr. Dalby's fleshing out of minute clues from dialect and word use is exemplary. I found this to be strongest in the chapter about the Catalogue of Ships which was my personal favorite. The other aspect that I personally found quite fascinating and enjoyable was how the Homeric Trojans were removed from their vacuum and placed contextually through language analysis of historical records, inside the world of their real life neighbors the Hittites.

All in all, there is absolutely no reason to repudiate Mr. Dalby's primary thesis. As we are reminded a couple of times, one of the most celebrated early Greek poets Sappho was a woman. However, though Mr. Dalby's research on women in global, oral poetic tradition through the ages is sound, it provides tenuous support in the end to his case for this particular and pivotal circumstance in archaic Greece.

This book definitely deserves to be a part of any serious bibliography in regards to Homeric studies and I applaud Mr. Dalby for his contribution. For me personally, I came to realize that it's not in me to fuss over trifling details of these works we may never be able to prove. I agree with Robert Calasso when he said:

"There is something assumed in Homer but never mentioned, something that lies behind both silences and eloquence.

It is the idea of perfection.

What is perfect is its own origin and does not wish to dwell on how it came into being. What is perfect severs all ties with its surroundings, because it is sufficient unto itself. Perfection doesn't explain its own history but offers its own completion."

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Book Review of Rediscovering Homer: Inside the Origins of the Epic - Related Topic: Roman Greece


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