Friday, August 06, 2010

Rediscovering Homer: Inside the Origins of the Epic
Rediscovering Homer: Inside the Origins of the Epic

by Andrew Dalby

He knew the things that were and the things that would be and the things that had been before.
- Homer, The Iliad

While the title of Andrew Dalby's fascinating look at Homer is Rediscovering Homer, I would suggest that reinventing or unearthing the remains of Homer might be more appropriate. Not that he does not venture "inside the origins of the Epic", but that his project bears closer resemblance to an archaeological dig than a voyage of discovery. It is a dig that comes up short in part because it necessarily must be buttressed with speculation. Most scholars agree that the origins of the Epics of Homer and other ancient poetry are shrouded in mystery. We do not have enough hard evidence to reach firm conclusions about the true source of the poems in the form that we have them. Any conclusions about the poet and the process would seem to be speculative at best. This book is an attempt to challenge the notion that the written epics we have are the creation of an author named Homer. Homer the poet lived long before the epics were written and we do not know who eventually wrote them down. And, as Andrew Dalby argues, we do not even know the gender of the author. The attempt to provide this speculation with support makes for a fascinating book, albeit one that would be somewhat slimmer without general background material about the Homeric epics that is familiar to all who have read them. For those unfamiliar with the poems this book is a good introduction with the caveat that the second part of the book about the maker of the Odyssey and Iliad is controversial. Fortunately, the author concludes the book with a thoughtful "Guide to Further Reading" coda that provides excellent suggestions for readers interested in exploring further the world of the epic poem.

Rediscovering Homer by Andrew Dalby. W. W. Norton & Co., New York. 2006

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