cover image Why Homer Matters

Why Homer Matters

Adam Nicolson. Holt, $30 (320p) ISBN 978-1-62779-179-3

British author Nicolson (The Gentry) contemplates the towering legacy of the Iliad and Odyssey, while probing the mysteries of Homer’s identity and birthplace. Scholars insist on the eighth century B.C.E. as the origin of the epics, but Nicolson provides intriguing archeological and linguistic evidence that they are considerably older, including Milman Perry’s studies placing the epics within an oral tradition of an illiterate era. Nicolson’s language does credit to his muse, describing Homer’s style as a “neck-gripping physical urgency,” and Achilles as “a beacon of hate... radiant with horror,” whose combat is a “crazed berserker frenzy of... grief-fueled rampage.” He shares personal feelings about Homer becoming his “guidebook to life” and a “kind of scripture,” even a means of therapeutic reflection after a traumatic event. However, the cultural differences between the roaming warrior Greeks and the cultured, established Trojans elicit shortsighted comparisons to modern gang life. More careful consideration is given to the poems’ major themes and settings, particularly the islands Odysseus visited, and Nicolson makes a strong case for the Odyssey’s “Hades” location lying in Southern Spain, perhaps symbolizing a Bronze Age copper mine near Rio Tinto. Nicolson’s penetrative insight into the Homeric universe is a largely successful piece of scholarship accessible to a wide audience. [em]Agent: Zoe Pagnamenta, Zoe Pagnamenta Agency. (Nov.) [/em]