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The World of Odysseus (1954)

by M. I. Finley

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,132817,643 (4)25
Homer's great epic poems, the "Iliad" and the "Odyssey", have brilliantly evoked for twenty-five centuries a world of gods, heroes and men that is still central to our conceptions of ourselves. But what really was the world of Odysseus like? When did that society flourish? Did the Trojan War take place? How can we use the Homeric poems as historical evidence, and what other evidence do we have of the world of Odysseus? The distinguished historian M.I. Finley answers our questions with his renowned lucidity, and draws our attention to many newly fascinating aspects of this perennially fresh subject.… (more)
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» See also 25 mentions

English (7)  Italian (1)  All languages (8)
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
I read this book for the first time 12 years ago. I always remembered this as one of the most interesting history books I read. Now that I re-read the book, I am not disappointed. I find fascinating how M. I Finley uses concepts developed in anthropology to analyse Homer. ( )
  Clarissa_ | May 11, 2021 |
Shows how Homer reflects a time closer to his own century than to the time several hundred years earlier that the real events actually occurred.
Read in Samoa Mar 2003 ( )
  mbmackay | Nov 27, 2015 |
Ah, for the golden age of academic writing. Is it beautiful? No. But it is clear, concise and argumentative. No 'pointing out a problem' stuff here; Finley just gives you the answers as he sees them. You'll be in no doubt as to what he thinks at any stage in your reading. For instance, "the historian of ideas and values has no more Satanic seducer to guard against than the man on the Clapham omnibus." Love it.
But this isn't popular history by any means, for good and bad. There are no catchy anecdotes, no sex and murder stories. It's just a solid suggestion of what a world looked like, in this case, the 'Dark Ages' in the eastern Mediterranean, after the Mycenaeans and before the time the Homeric poems were coming together. Basically, not very attractive.
As a side note, I should say that I was biased in favor of liking this book after I found out some of Finley's life story. According to wikipedia:

"He taught at Columbia University and City College of New York, where he was influenced by members of the Frankfurt School who were working in exile in America. In 1952, during the Red Scare, Finley was fired from his teaching job at Rutgers University; in 1954, he was summoned by the United States Senate Internal Security Subcommittee and asked whether he had ever been a member of the Communist Party USA. He invoked the Fifth Amendment and refused to answer."

He was fired at the end of the year and could never work in the U.S. again. A political martyr who ended up becoming a British citizen and getting knighted, after hanging out with the Frankfurters in New York? That's my kind of man.

( )
4 vote stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
An attempt to recreate the world of the Homeric epics from clues contained within the epics themselves. I found this most interesting book, since I tend to use ancient literature for similar ends. His contention that the oral tradition behind the epics represents the Dark Age Greece, rather than the Mycenaean era is well supported and well argued. He draws on archaeology occasionally, but mostly relies on the epics themselves.
1 vote gael_williams | Oct 8, 2011 |
I read this after rereading Homer...great commentary..wish I had this when in college. ( )
  pjjackson | Mar 14, 2011 |
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (6 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Finley, M. I.primary authorall editionsconfirmed
Baker, GrahameCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gil, OriolTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hornblower, SimonIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Knox, BernardIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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It is awkward for an author to preface the new edition of a book that has been frequently reprinted, in ten languages, since its original publication twenty-two years ago; which has been cited, discussed, attacked in innumerable books and articles; and which has been the acknowledged starting point of studies by other historians of society and of ideas. [Preface to the Second Edition]
'By the general consent of criticks,' wrote Dr Johnson, 'the first praise of genius is due to the writer of an epick poem, as it requires an assemblage of all the powers which are singly sufficient for other compositions.' [Chapter 1, Homer and the Greeks]
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Homer's great epic poems, the "Iliad" and the "Odyssey", have brilliantly evoked for twenty-five centuries a world of gods, heroes and men that is still central to our conceptions of ourselves. But what really was the world of Odysseus like? When did that society flourish? Did the Trojan War take place? How can we use the Homeric poems as historical evidence, and what other evidence do we have of the world of Odysseus? The distinguished historian M.I. Finley answers our questions with his renowned lucidity, and draws our attention to many newly fascinating aspects of this perennially fresh subject.

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