Homer's The Iliad and The Odyssey: A Biography (Books That Changed the World)

Homer's The Iliad and The Odyssey: A Biography (Books That Changed the World)

Alberto Manguel

Language: English

Pages: 304

ISBN: 0802143822

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


While it is unknown if there ever was a man named Homer, there is no doubt that the epic poems assembled under his name form the cornerstone of Western literature, feeding our imagination for over two and a half millennia. The Iliad and The Odyssey, with their tales of the Trojan War, Achilles, Ulysses and Penelope, the Sirens, the Cyclops, Helen of Troy, and the petulant gods, are familiar to most readers because they are so pervasive. From Plato to Virgil, Pope to Joyce, the poems have been told and retold, interpreted and embellished. In this graceful and sweeping book, Alberto Manguel traces the lineage of the poems from their inception and first recording. He considers the original purpose of the poems—either as allegory of philosophical truth or as a record of historical truth—surveys the challenges the pagan Homer presented to the early Christian world, and maps the spread of the works around the world and through the centuries. Manguel follows Homer through the greatest literature ever created and, above all, delights in the poems themselves.

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references to Homer and his works in Plato’s Dialogues. ‘Do you yourself not feel [poetry’s] magic and especially when Homer is her interpreter?’ asks one of those who have listened to Socrates’ arguments. ‘Greatly,’ Socrates answers. And at the end of Book IX, when one of the participants observes that such an ideal state as the Republic can be found in no place on earth, Plato lends Socrates an implicit reference to Homer that, by its very use, undermines the severity of the explicit ban. ‘It

under the direction of the scholar Hunayn ibn Ishaq al-‘Ibadi who, assisted by a school of disciples, translated into Syriac and Arabic almost the entire corpus of Greek and Hellenistic philosophy and science. Hunayn often made use of his knowledge of Homer to help clarify certain obscure images, unknown names and difficult analogies in the classical Greek texts. Because Hunayn knew his Homer, he was able to explain to his readers that, for example, the Cyclops mentioned in a certain book was ‘a

edited with an Introduction and Notes by George Steiner, London, Penguin Books, 1996. 22 Matthew Arnold, On Translating Homer, London, Smith, Elder & Co., 1896. 23 Ibid. 24 Ibid. 25 Ibid. 26 A. E. Housman, ‘Introductory Lecture’ [1892] in The Name and Nature of Poetry and Other Selected Prose, edited by John Carter, Cambridge and London, Cambridge University Press, 1961. Chapter 13 1 John Keats, ‘Letter to Benjamin Bailey’, 18 July 1818, in The Complete Works of John Keats, vol. IV, edited

allowed more than one town to share in the poet’s glory, as was the case with his Don Quixote ‘whose birthplace Cide Hamete was unwilling to state exactly, because he wished that all villages and cities of La Mancha contend amongst them to adopt him and claim him as theirs, as the seven Greek cities contended for Homer’.10 One of the oldest traditions affirmed that Homer had come into the world on the island of Chios, and the lateseventh-century BC ‘Hymn to Delian Apollo’ (attributed in

only poet thus honoured and his biographies filled a popular desire to know more about the celebrated author. And yet, the fact that Homer has a biography (or several) does not, of course, prove that he existed. ‘Some say,’ wrote Thomas De Quincey in 1841, ‘there never was such a person as Homer.’ ‘No such person as Homer! On the contrary,’ say others, ‘there were scores.’28 It may be that Homer was born not as a man but as a symbol, the name that the ancient bards gave to their own art, turning

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