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Homer's the Iliad and the Odyssey: A Biography PDF, ePub eBook No one knows if there was a man named Homer, but there is no little doubt that the epic poems assembled under his name form the cornerstone of Western literature. The Iliad and The Odyssey, with their incomparable tales of the Trojan War, brace Achilles, Ulysses and Penelope, the Cyclops, the beautiful Helen of Troy, and the petulant gods, are familiar to most readers beca No one knows if there was a man named Homer, but there is no little doubt that the epic poems assembled under his name form the cornerstone of Western literature. The Iliad and The Odyssey, with their incomparable tales of the Trojan War, brace Achilles, Ulysses and Penelope, the Cyclops, the beautiful Helen of Troy, and the petulant gods, are familiar to most readers because they are so pervasive. They have fed our imagination for over two and a half millennia, inspiring everyone from Plato to Virgil, Pope to Joyce, Dante to Wolfgang Petersen. In this graceful and sweeping addition to the Books that Change the World Series, Alberto Manguel traces the lineage of the epic poems. He considers their original purpose, either as allegory or record of history, surveys the challenges the pagan poems presented to the early Christian world, and traces their spread after the Reformation. Following Homer through the greatest literature ever created, Manguel’s book above all delights in the poems themselves, the “primordial spring without which there would have been no culture.”

30 review for Homer's the Iliad and the Odyssey: A Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jan-Maat

    A book about the reception of the Iliad and the Odyssey, from the mighty trunk run branches, and from the branches twigs. One feels the tree wants a vigorous pruning, perhaps to raise the crown and reduce the canopy by half or so. The opinions of Byron and Blake on the translations of the Iliad and Odyssey by Alexander Pope - who cares? A chapter on Homer in medieval Islam in which the only interesting thing that is said is that there was no medieval translation of Homer into Arabic? Ditto a cha A book about the reception of the Iliad and the Odyssey, from the mighty trunk run branches, and from the branches twigs. One feels the tree wants a vigorous pruning, perhaps to raise the crown and reduce the canopy by half or so. The opinions of Byron and Blake on the translations of the Iliad and Odyssey by Alexander Pope - who cares? A chapter on Homer in medieval Islam in which the only interesting thing that is said is that there was no medieval translation of Homer into Arabic? Ditto a chapter on Christian Homer which is about Jerome and Augustine having their cake and eat it - being both Christian and finding a place generally for pagan literature, with nothing specific to say about Homer, within the new religion? Manguel here can be interesting, but when we have C.G. Jung responding to Freud, who is responding to Neitzsche, who was in response to Goethe, who was commenting upon F.A. Wolf, who had been studying Homer, one notices that one is a fair distance away from either the Iliad or the Odyssey. I guess I might have liked this more if I hadn't read it in relation to the group read of the Odyssey. However that is where I was, and so my reading was purposive. I wanted insight into the Odyssey, an interesting thought on the Iliad would be a bonus. However that is not the intention of the book which instead I will say with respect in my heart is the outpouring of a demented librarian who claims that a golden thread runs through all the books in the library collection. Manguel almost starts with the idea that Iliad embodies the metaphor that life is war, while the Odyssey says life is a journey, as such one might say that these are not books that shook the world but are the fathers and mothers of a great slice of literature, the struggle and the journey seemingly without end crossbreeding and bringing forth new monsters, one imagines taking fright at the number of authors springing forth from Homer's loins an austerely slim volume about the writers unaffected by either the Iliad, the Odyssey, or their characters, or techniques. Typical of the differences between myself and Manguel that my spirit lifted when twice he mentioned Milman Parry's work among the traditional singers of the former Yugoslavia and yet how for Manguel those were throw away digressions that didn't merit there own chapter. My desire for a pseudo biography of Iliad and Odyssey looking at the construction and transmission of traditional oral epics, the 'fixing' of Iliad and Odyssey in 6th century BC Athens, the written version produced in Ptlomenian Alexandria, the manuscript tradition down to the earliest print editions was not satisfied, such poor concerns don't enter into Manguel's vision. Which is of the literary response to Homer. But he was interesting too in Samuel Butler's assertion of the Odyssey as written by a Sicilian woman (view spoiler)[ naively I had assumed that there was a positive basis for Butler's theory, in fact the justification a negative one - the mistakes he found in the work such as a ship having two rudders and a bird of prey pulling a smaller bird apart in mid air ones he felt impossible for a man to make and therefore the Odyssey in his view could only have been composed by a woman, I feel there is a point here about the audience too since despite such mistakes the work thrived and came to be seen as the paramount literary monument of ancient Greece. (hide spoiler)] he sees a counter balance to the philologists. The philologists implicitly say that the works of Homer can by understood only through study and analysis and deconstruction. Butler says anybody can punt their own theory, roll up, roll up and 'ave a go Sir? Madam? For Goethe the work of literary understanding as practised by the philologists would lead to the questioning of all received authority, first Homer then the Bible. The flight then to wayward individual reinterpretation something like a remystification of the world. Legend gives birth to legend, the sleep of reason brings forth monsters, but for once everyone is happy, well almost.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    I was a bit skeptical when I picked up Alberto Manguel’s “Biography” on Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey. The book clocks in at just over 200 pages, and its focus is meant to show the influence of these great books on the Western world! Well, after finishing it, I’d read anything by this guy. Manguel is incredibly learned, but he wears it lightly, and he writes like a dream. If anything, I’d say he’s pleasantly subversive, since the book is probably a great tease, designed to the leave reader w I was a bit skeptical when I picked up Alberto Manguel’s “Biography” on Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey. The book clocks in at just over 200 pages, and its focus is meant to show the influence of these great books on the Western world! Well, after finishing it, I’d read anything by this guy. Manguel is incredibly learned, but he wears it lightly, and he writes like a dream. If anything, I’d say he’s pleasantly subversive, since the book is probably a great tease, designed to the leave reader wanting to either read (if they haven’t done so already) Homer, or re-read him. At the very least, to explore some of the many works by other writers influenced by Homer. Though Manguel weaves back and forth a bit, he basically starts at the beginning, with Homer himself. Was he a real person? What do we know about him? Or was he a collection of fragments, and Idea himself? There are some hazy facts or stories about a man named Homer that are impossible to verify. But we still don’t know much about Shakespeare. (Personally, I believe there was a poet named Homer.) After a Homer of sorts is established, Manguel takes off, in short, quick hitting chapters that discuss Homer’s influence on Virgil, the philosophers of the Greek and Roman worlds, the Christian Homer, Homer and Islam, Homer and the Reformation, etc., all the way up to the present time. And the great names roll on by: Pope, Dante, Shakespeare, Goethe, Tennyson, Nietzche, Freud, Joyce, Simone Weil. However, one omission surprised me: Christopher Logue, and his current rewriting of the Iliad (War Music, and following volumes). Logue’s effort has been a highly praised one (George Steiner is a major fan), and it seemed almost glaring that Logue’s ongoing treatment was skipped over by Manguel. But that’s a minor quibble. I can’t imagine a better introduction to Homer and his great books than Manguel’s wonderful “biography.”

  3. 4 out of 5

    Tanuj Solanki

    An absolute stunner of scholarship. It is meant to be a rabbit-hole, and damn yes it is. You will be attached to the Western canon post this, forever.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Tom

    There are so many things to like about this book, especially from chapter 9 on (1-8 being somewhat lackluster.), that I almost don't want to point out the shortcomings I found. Manguel is clearly a broad and thoughtful reader who nicely brings together the works of many other authors to show the importance The Iliad and The Odyssey have had in the literary heritage of western civilization down to our own day. So much of what he has to say is a pleasure to read. Overall he does a good job, but th There are so many things to like about this book, especially from chapter 9 on (1-8 being somewhat lackluster.), that I almost don't want to point out the shortcomings I found. Manguel is clearly a broad and thoughtful reader who nicely brings together the works of many other authors to show the importance The Iliad and The Odyssey have had in the literary heritage of western civilization down to our own day. So much of what he has to say is a pleasure to read. Overall he does a good job, but there are problems. A number of head-scratching errors tend to undermine my faith in his work. For example, on p. 50 Manguel dates the Roman civil war between Marius and "Sula" (sic) to Virgil's "childhood and youth." In fact both of these men died (in 86 and 78 BC or BCE, as you prefer), and their civil war had ended (in 82), years before Virgil was born (in 70). These facts, along with the proper spelling of Sulla, are easily checked. On p. 128 Manguel writes of Sir Philip Sidney "in the sixteenth century," which is correct, but in the next sentence he speaks of Sir Francis Bacon "a century later," which is just wrong. Sidney and Bacon were born in 1554 and 1561 respectively. They were thus contemporaries, and the works of theirs to which Manguel refers here were published only ten years apart(1595 for Sidney, 1605 for Bacon, as Manguel knows). A different century? Yes. A century later? No. Even if we allow that Sidney had actually written his Defense of Poesy in 1579, "a century later" is still wildly inaccurate. On p. 213 Manguel says that the action of The Iliad takes place in "less than seven weeks, a mere fifty-two days." I hope no one tells my boss that a week now has eight days in it. On p. 235 he writes "And yet, here and there, in his books lie perhaps the inklings of a answer." A answer? A editor would be more to the point. These errors leaped off the page at me, but I know a little bit about that period of Roman History and Tudor/Stuart England. That makes me wonder about errors that I don't have the knowledge to spot. Sometimes the mistakes just seem sloppy work, followed up by poor (or no) editing; other times he seems to be playing fast and loose with the facts in order to make a point. I don't know which is more damning. But if I can't have faith in the "facts" the author presents or the honesty with which he presents them, I am forced to doubt his interpretations. Which I regret, because I very much enjoy a lot of what he has to say.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Tara Redd

    Predictably/annoyingly walks that itch-generating line between scholarly work and cocktail conversation with your cleverest friend, leaning towards the cocktails.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    Manguel's "biography" of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey is a fascinating survey of the influence of these works on subsequent literature (not only the direct line that leads to Vergil, Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Joyce, etc., but also some fascinating byways). He includes a biographical investigation of Homer (not as man, but as idea). Once again the breadth of Manguel's literary knowledge and the depth of his understanding impressed me. As a welcome lagniappe, Manguel gave me new insight into a fav Manguel's "biography" of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey is a fascinating survey of the influence of these works on subsequent literature (not only the direct line that leads to Vergil, Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Joyce, etc., but also some fascinating byways). He includes a biographical investigation of Homer (not as man, but as idea). Once again the breadth of Manguel's literary knowledge and the depth of his understanding impressed me. As a welcome lagniappe, Manguel gave me new insight into a favorite story by Borges. My only quibble is his use of the spelling "Virgil" instead of the correct "Vergil," a concession to popular usage that neither Publius Vergilius Maro nor my Latin teacher, Miss Inman, would have condoned. I recommend the book for anyone who is interested in a better understanding of Western literature, with the caveat that it will make the reader want to revisit Homer's original works.

  7. 4 out of 5

    James Murphy

    This is a pretty interesting book but more along the lines of a survey than an in-depty approach to the 2 epic poems. It's more of a history of the perceptions of the poems within the various cultural contexts since the classical age, and the influences on the art and literature of those ages. Most of it's convincing. Some of the influences he explains seem a reach, that on Dante, for instance. I particularly enjoyed the chapter devoted to Homer's influence on Virgil, seriously tempting me, at l This is a pretty interesting book but more along the lines of a survey than an in-depty approach to the 2 epic poems. It's more of a history of the perceptions of the poems within the various cultural contexts since the classical age, and the influences on the art and literature of those ages. Most of it's convincing. Some of the influences he explains seem a reach, that on Dante, for instance. I particularly enjoyed the chapter devoted to Homer's influence on Virgil, seriously tempting me, at last, to read The Aeneid. So that's in my future. And the chapter explaining how Iliad can be seen as the story of all wars and all men at war I thought especially fine.

  8. 4 out of 5

    David

    A great general source book for those interested in the two great books of literature. Mangual has a keen observation.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Marsha

    Fairly interesting. Not great. It was fun to remember the books, though, and dig a little deeper.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Lee Razer

    Just a bunch of quotes from this book, tracing the influence of Homer through Western thought. "Every great work of literature is either the Iliad or the Odyssey. - Raymond Queneau "Though Homer might have been 'best and most divine' for Socrates (or rather for Plato, who made Socrates pronounce this encomium), he also presented a philosophical dilemma... those who make images of images have no place in a well-regulated world, since they produce nothing that is true... Even Homer (and here begins Just a bunch of quotes from this book, tracing the influence of Homer through Western thought. "Every great work of literature is either the Iliad or the Odyssey. - Raymond Queneau "Though Homer might have been 'best and most divine' for Socrates (or rather for Plato, who made Socrates pronounce this encomium), he also presented a philosophical dilemma... those who make images of images have no place in a well-regulated world, since they produce nothing that is true... Even Homer (and here begins Plato's battle with the poet he most admires) cannot be allowed in the ideal republic because, not only does he put forward images that are untrue, he presents men and women with whose faults we sympathize, gods and goddesses whom we must judge as fallible. Literature, Plato says, feeds that part in our soul that relishes 'contemplating the woes of others', praising and pitying someone who, though 'claiming to be a good man, abandons himself to excess in his grief.' This 'is the element in us that the poets satisfy and delight' and, to avoid it, we should 'disdain the poem altogether', otherwise, 'after feeding fat the emotion of pity there, it is not easy to restrain it in our own suffering.'" "Virgil's Aeneid, perhaps the greatest Roman literary achievement, is explicitly modeled on Homer's poems, and if Virgil owes an immense debt to Homer, the reverse is also true, because after Virgil, Homer acquired a new identity, that of Rome's earliest myth-maker. During the first Roman centuries, three legendary figures competed for the position of founder of the city: Romulus who, with his twin brother Remus, was supposed to have been suckled by a she-wolf, Ulysses the traveller, and Aeneas, the survivor of Troy. It was Marcus Terentius Varro, 'the most learned of Romans' according to the rhetorician Quintilian, who, in the first century BC, established Aeneas as the winner... but it was Virgil who transformed the legend into something resembling history, lending the defeated Trojans a posthumous victory over their enemy. Thanks to Virgil, the works of Homer, which had seemed until that point to be merely stories (albeit masterly) of battling and travel, were read after Virgil as inspired premonitions of the world to come: first of Rome and its imperial power, and later of the advent of Christianity and beyond." "For the great scholars and readers of the early Church, the apparent conflict between the old pagan literature and the dogma of the new faith presented a difficult intellectual problem. One of the most learned of these Christian scholars, St. Jerome, attempted throughout his long life to reconcile the two. Jerome realized that he could never honestly disclaim Homer as his own beginning, nor could he ignore the intellectual and aesthetic pleasure Homer's books had given him. Instead, he could create a hierarchy, a gradus ad Parnassum of which Homer and the ancients were the necessary grounding, and the Bible the highest peak." "By the end of the fourth century, the division between the Greek east and the Latin west half of the Empire became more evident. In the east, Church and state lent its citizens the sense of living in a divinely appointed Christian realm, while in the west, service to the emperor and service to the Christian authorities were seen as two separate duties. Intellectually, the east held as essential the traditional study of the classics, both Greek and Latin; in the west, classical scholarship was judged part and parcel of pagan beliefs. Therefore, while Homer continued to be edited, studied and read in Constantinople, in Rome he all but faded from the memory of readers... While in the east, Bishop Athanasius told holy virgins 'to have books in their hands at dawn', in the west, Christians quoted Augustine who had written approvingly of holy men who lived through 'faith, hope and charity - without books.'" "Towards the end of the Middle Ages, scholars and poets returned, once again, to the questions that had preoccupied Jerome and Augustine regarding the relationship between Homer's stories and the stories of the Bible... a search for correspondences between what the ancients had told and what the Church had revealed, establishing a sequence of parallel readings that honoured one without dishonouring the other.. for example, Achilles in the Iliad and David in the Old Testament, or between the stages of Ulysses' return and the troubled exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt. In the early fourteenth century, Albertino Mussato, the most celebrated of the members of the cenacolo padovano or Paduan Circle of Latin poets, argued that the pagan writers had expressed the same ideas as those found in Scripture, but in the form of enigmas or riddles in which they had secretly announced the coming of the True Messiah." "Dante acquired his Homer through Virgil... in this sense, Virgil was not only Dante's guide through Hell, he was also his source and inspiration, and through him Dante was able to enjoy the experience of Homer's work... Even though the complex architecture of the afterlife realm is, to a large degree, Dante's own, the foundation-stone is Homer's." "Michel de Montaigne, writing in the last decades of the sixteenth century, chose Homer as one of the three 'most excellent of men' of all time... 'Nothing lives on the lips of men,' wrote Montaigne, 'like his name and his work: nothing is as known or accepted as Troy, Helen and his wars - that may never have taken place on real ground. Who does not know of Hector and Achilles? Not only individual lineages but most nations seek their origins in Homer's inventions. Mehemet II, Emperor of the Turks, wrote thus to our Pope Pius II: "I am amazed that the Italians should band against me, since we both have a common Trojan origin and, like the Italians, I have an interest in avenging the blood of Hector on the Greeks whom they however favour against me."' "But Homer could be understood as a counter-argument to the Enlightenment's view of a world driven by rationality alone, a view put forward, for instance, in Diderot's D'Alembert's Dream of 1769. The book, intelligent and humorous, consists of a series of philosophical dialogues in which Diderot proposes a revised materialist account of human history and animal life, suggesting that emotions, ideas and thoughts could be explained through biological evidence, without recourse to theology or spirituality, and dismissing all uncritical reverence for the past... For Diderot, Homer belonged to a primitive, superstitious age." "For Shelley too, Greece was Homer. Homer's poems, he wrote in A Defence of Poetry in 1821, 'were the elements of that social system which is the column upon which all succeeding civilization has reposed. Homer embodied the ideal perfection of his age in human character; nor can we doubt that those who read his verses were awakened to an ambition of becoming like Achilles, Hector, and Ulysses: the truth and beauty of friendship, patriotism, and persevering devotion to an object, were unveiled to the depths in these immortal creations.'" "If Homer had created the model both of craft and theme, then, Byron believed, it was the modern poet's task to translate both elements into a contemporary idiom. The subjects of war and travel in the Iliad and the Odyssey were recast into Childe Harold's Pilgrimage (1812) and Don Juan (1819-24), in which both heroes have something of Ulysses in their makeup and become the privileged witnesses of less than heroic Troys." "Shortly before his death in 1832, Goethe finished the last section of his autobiography, Dichtung und Wahrheit. In it, he hails his century as one fortunate enough to have witnessed the rebirth of Homer. 'Happy is that literary age,' he wrote, 'when great works of art of the past rise to the surface again and become part of our daily dealings, for it is then that they produce a new effect. For us, Homer's sun rose again, and according to the requirements of our age... No longer did we see in those poems a violent and inflated heroic world, but rather the mirrored truth of an essential present, and we tried to make him as much ours as possible.'" "Homer was for Nietzche a creative Apollonian force that wrote his poems 'in order to persuade us to continue to live.' Homer's gods justify human life by sharing it with us mortals; for his heroes, the greatest pain is therefore to leave this life, especially when one is young... Freud did, however, follow Nietzche in noting that the value we place on life after death was a development of post-Homeric times and, like Nietzche, quoted in support of his theory the answer Achilles gave to Ulysses in the Underworld." "William Butler Yeats, in an essay written in 1905, which Joyce had with him in Trieste, had suggested that the time was ripe for a new writer to revisit the ancient world of the Odyssey. 'I think that we will learn again,' he said with visionary wisdom, 'how to describe at great length an old man wandering among enchanted islands, his return home at last, his slowly gathering vengeance, a flitting shape of a goddess, and a flight of arrows, and yet to make all these so different things... become... the signature or symbol of a mood of the divine imagination.' In Yeats' rallying call, and in Vico, Joyce found confirmation of his intuition. Philological synchronicities bolstered his confidence. The Odyssey begins with Ulysses on Calypso's island, Ogygia. Joyce discovered that Ogygia was the name that Plutarch had long ago given to Ireland. Although Joyce had told Vladimir Nabokov in 1937 that basing his Ulysses on Homer's poem was 'a whim' and that his collaboration with Stuart Gilbert in preparing a Homeric correspondence to Ulysses was 'a terrible mistake' (Joyce deleted the Homeric titles of his chapters before Ulysses was published in book form), Homer's presence is very obviously noticeable throughout the novel. Nabokov suggested that a mysterious character who keeps appearing in Ulysses, described only as 'the man in the brown macintosh' and never clearly identified, might be Joyce himself lurking in his own pages. It might just as well be Homer, come to supervise the renovation of his works." "In the process of association, however, they all become Joycean, as in the beautiful use of Homeric epithets in Joyce's description of the Citizen Cyclops:The figure seated on a large boulder at the foot of a round tower was that of a broadshouldered deepchested stronglimbed frankeyed redhaired freelyfreckled shaggybearded widemouthed largenosed longheaded deepvoiced barekneed brawnyhanded hairylegged ruddyfaced sinewyarmed hero.""Joyce's Ulysses is not an interpretation of Homer, neither is it a retelling, even less a pastiche. Dr. Johnson, writing in 1765, argued that 'The Pythagorean scale of numbers was at once discovered to be perfect; but the poems of Homer we yet know not to transcend the common limits of human intelligence, but by remarking, that nation after nation, and century after century, has been able to do little more than transpose his incidents, new-name his characters, and paraphrase his sentiments. The reverence due to writings that have long subsisted arises therefore not from any credulous confidence in the superior wisdom of past ages, or gloomy persuasion of the degeneracy of mankind, but is the consequence of acknowledged and indubitable positions, that what has been longest known has been most considered, and what is most considered is best understood.' Joyce did other than acknowledge Homer's position: he re-imagined the story of the primordial journey undertaken by every man in every age. His coupling was less between Ulysses and Bloom than between Homer and Joyce himself, less between the creations than between the creators. Other writers made Homer theirs through translation, transposition, projection. Joyce did it by starting again."

  11. 5 out of 5

    Bruno Lages

    "How astonishing that, in a language we no longer know how to pronounce, a poet or various poets whose faces and characters we cannot conceive, who lived in a society of whose customs and beliefs we have but a very vague idea, described for us our own lives today, with every secret happiness and every hidden sin."

  12. 4 out of 5

    Daniel

    I started this book as a supplement to a writing project I'm working on, however about halfway through I realized it wasn't quite what I needed. Still, it was an interesting read.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Peter Nowakowski

    Read it as a book on tape on a solo trip to CT to see Mom & Dad

  14. 5 out of 5

    Theron

    This was one of those books that I read because of the author rather than the topic. [Book:Homer’s the Iliad and the Odyssey: A Biography|1579091] by [Author:Alberto Manguel] (here and here), is the third book that I have read by Manguel. Previously, reading [Book:A Reading Diary: A Passionate Reader’s Reflections on a Year of Books|53079] and [Book:A History of Reading|53085], both I really enjoyed. The last time I read the Odyssey was around 1990 while I was taking an Ancient History course at This was one of those books that I read because of the author rather than the topic. [Book:Homer’s the Iliad and the Odyssey: A Biography|1579091] by [Author:Alberto Manguel] (here and here), is the third book that I have read by Manguel. Previously, reading [Book:A Reading Diary: A Passionate Reader’s Reflections on a Year of Books|53079] and [Book:A History of Reading|53085], both I really enjoyed. The last time I read the Odyssey was around 1990 while I was taking an Ancient History course at the University of Arizona. My now forgotten Professor was the entertainment rather than the books that we supposedly read and learned. However, since reading Manguel’s book, I am somewhat interested in pick up the Robert Fagles translations. Manguel covers everything you might expect in a biography of a book – it’s creation, context and impact. Homer (the person or collective) wrote these poems about 2,800 years ago about events (the Trojan War and [Book:Ulysses] about the long journey home to Ithaca) that supposedly took place four hundred years before his time. Since the writing, there have been many other works that have included fragments of these stories, or entire passages – each paying tribute to Homer and his living stories.

  15. 5 out of 5

    David Robbins jr

    I loved this book. Over 200 pages of intelligent rumination on a man who may not have existed. It's really beautiful work by Alberto Manguel. (For the record, I'm a huge fan of "The Iliad", but not so much of "The Odyssey".) I came away thinking of Homer as a mix of actor and the first known freestyler. (None of this is Manguel's suggestion -- rather just my imaginings. I don't want you to think the book modernizes Homer. It doesn't. It's refreshingly erudite and clear.) Homer was likely a profe I loved this book. Over 200 pages of intelligent rumination on a man who may not have existed. It's really beautiful work by Alberto Manguel. (For the record, I'm a huge fan of "The Iliad", but not so much of "The Odyssey".) I came away thinking of Homer as a mix of actor and the first known freestyler. (None of this is Manguel's suggestion -- rather just my imaginings. I don't want you to think the book modernizes Homer. It doesn't. It's refreshingly erudite and clear.) Homer was likely a professional rhapsode, reciting commonly-known stories. My guess is Homer became known as the master likely because he was the best creatively and stylistically speaking. And he must have been the best by miles. Even the curmudgeonly Socrates (via Plato's "Ion") suggests this. I imagine Homer might be at an event or household and he'd largely tell stories by rote, improvising on the telling, acting out parts and pathos, altering rhyme, playing with hexameter. Anyway -- this wonderful book will get you imagining that world too. Manguel paints it well, brings in other scholars, other ancient voices, and uses his arsenal -- which is a well-read mind. One of my favorite anecdotes is T.E. Lawrence suggesting that Homer's all-too-clumsy (and tiresome if you ask me) ending in "The Odyssey" is really a result of the rhapsode wanting to extend his stay as guest at some great accommodation. Ha!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Phillip McCollum

    "It’s always the latest song, the one that echoes last in the listeners’ ears, that people praise the most." I've never read anything by Alberto Manguel, or to be honest, anything like the literary criticism found in this book. The biography was an interesting way of tackling not only the work of an epic poet, but his effect on the learned folks who came after him. To understand the power of something, one need not experience the thing itself; the aftershocks of ideas over time and space are enou "It’s always the latest song, the one that echoes last in the listeners’ ears, that people praise the most." I've never read anything by Alberto Manguel, or to be honest, anything like the literary criticism found in this book. The biography was an interesting way of tackling not only the work of an epic poet, but his effect on the learned folks who came after him. To understand the power of something, one need not experience the thing itself; the aftershocks of ideas over time and space are enough for us to recognize its greatness. Such is the case with Homer. Manguel does an admirable (though often overly esoteric) job of telling not just Homer's stories, but the story of Homer. He begins with a summary of The Iliad and The Odyssey, then takes the reader on a mostly chronological tour of his influence. From the views of Greek philosophers and early Christians, up through Samuel Butler and James Joyce, finally settling on more recent authors such as Margaret Atwood, we're treated to Homer's epic works in varying shades of opinion. To get the most out of this biography, I'd recommend reading through both poems first. You'll benefit even more if you've studied the works of Virgil and Dante. But once you've done so, I think you're bound to enjoy Manguel's book.

  17. 4 out of 5

    David A. Beardsley

    This book is part of a series called “Books That Changed the World,” (although as we all know, Homer’s books created the world). It is a useful and interesting overview of Homeric readings through the centuries, and covers a lot of familiar territory as indicated by some of the chapter titles: “A Life of Homer,” “Homer in Hell.” But some less well-known: “Homer in Islam,” “Homer Through the Looking-Glass.” And not much of anything on my own favorite category: “Homer as Allegory.” Given that this This book is part of a series called “Books That Changed the World,” (although as we all know, Homer’s books created the world). It is a useful and interesting overview of Homeric readings through the centuries, and covers a lot of familiar territory as indicated by some of the chapter titles: “A Life of Homer,” “Homer in Hell.” But some less well-known: “Homer in Islam,” “Homer Through the Looking-Glass.” And not much of anything on my own favorite category: “Homer as Allegory.” Given that this ostensibly is “A Biography” of the works, this omission is puzzling, if not derelict. I’ve almost given up on hoping to hear any contemporary writer on Homer talk about the inner or “spiritual” meaning of his work, but given its long history, this neglect constitutes an almost willful ignorance. At one point we are told almost in passing, “Children were taught that Ulysses ignored the Sirens in the same way the soul should ignore the senses…” (p. 48), and that’s about the end of it. How about Plotinus?: “This is not a journey for the feet.” And yes, the author does use “Ulysses” rather than “Odysseus,” in order “to simplify the reading….” Really? For whom? Those about to take an epic journey called a “Ulyssey?” But overall, a well-written introduction for beginners.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Arcadia

    I'm inclined to bow down when thinking about Manguel. His immense knowledge is awe-inspiring, truly. And he puts this awesome power of his to well use in his 'Biography'. Excellent choice of genre, of course. Through this life story, Manguel lays down the basis of the origin of the Iliad and the Odyssey, the origin of the -suspected- author Homer, they're lives as myths, as Classics, as poetry and as song. However, the amount of detail sometimes border-lined on pedantic. There were moments where I'm inclined to bow down when thinking about Manguel. His immense knowledge is awe-inspiring, truly. And he puts this awesome power of his to well use in his 'Biography'. Excellent choice of genre, of course. Through this life story, Manguel lays down the basis of the origin of the Iliad and the Odyssey, the origin of the -suspected- author Homer, they're lives as myths, as Classics, as poetry and as song. However, the amount of detail sometimes border-lined on pedantic. There were moments where I failed to grasp the point of certain written information, but Manguel made it engaging and followable nonetheless. Furthermore, despite the general easygoingness of the book, I'm afraid that for me, the use of commas was unfortunate at times. They broke the narrative flow of the text, rendering some sentences incomprehensible. However, this was not frequent so I don't have too much to complain about. I am intrigued by the challenges the Iliad and the Odyssey has posed thinkers throughout time and I'm very excited to read and create my own Homer. :)

  19. 5 out of 5

    Silvio Curtis

    It's a survey of Homer's reception in literate, mostly European cultures from ancient Greece through the present. Manguel alternates between telling about generalized attitudes to the poems during certain time periods and telling about the poems' influence on specific authors. I liked the first mode quite well, but a bit suspicious of the second. (For Virgil, the only one of the writers who I've also read, Manguel's comments seemed to subjective for someone who hadn't read Virgil to depend on an It's a survey of Homer's reception in literate, mostly European cultures from ancient Greece through the present. Manguel alternates between telling about generalized attitudes to the poems during certain time periods and telling about the poems' influence on specific authors. I liked the first mode quite well, but a bit suspicious of the second. (For Virgil, the only one of the writers who I've also read, Manguel's comments seemed to subjective for someone who hadn't read Virgil to depend on and to compressed for someone who had read Virgil to evaluate). Also, the next to last chapter, on the supposed universality of The Iliad's fascination with war, left a bad taste in my mouth. Nevertheless, I found the book good as an introduction to the cultural history of Homer. I would recommend it for others who have a minimal knowledge of it (though a good one of the poems themselves) but not to people who already have in-depth knowledge of it.

  20. 5 out of 5

    James

    I have been rereading the Odyssey and last year reread the Iliad. As background reading I found this collection of essays and commentary to be a valuable compendium of literary information. Alberto Manguel's commentary is best read with the original works by Homer. However, the commentary goes beyond the typical analysis of the text and includes references to and about the Odyssey and The Iliad that I found helpful. The influence of Homer's poetry on Virgil, Dante and religions from Christianity I have been rereading the Odyssey and last year reread the Iliad. As background reading I found this collection of essays and commentary to be a valuable compendium of literary information. Alberto Manguel's commentary is best read with the original works by Homer. However, the commentary goes beyond the typical analysis of the text and includes references to and about the Odyssey and The Iliad that I found helpful. The influence of Homer's poetry on Virgil, Dante and religions from Christianity to Islam is valuable. Since this book is brief it can be used as a starting point for further investigation into any number of avenues in pursuit of understanding the importance of Homer for us today. Alberto Manguel is an excellent guide.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Rob

    An erudite exposition of the role of Homer's books in Western society, this is a book that I plan on reading again. Unfortunately for me, I chose to read (listen) to this via audiobook. The problem lay in the fact that thought-provoking sections would set off a round of introspection, causing the text to march ahead while I was lost in thought. I'd come back to an awareness of the book, having missed sections. I think that this one would be better suited to dead-tree or some other static represe An erudite exposition of the role of Homer's books in Western society, this is a book that I plan on reading again. Unfortunately for me, I chose to read (listen) to this via audiobook. The problem lay in the fact that thought-provoking sections would set off a round of introspection, causing the text to march ahead while I was lost in thought. I'd come back to an awareness of the book, having missed sections. I think that this one would be better suited to dead-tree or some other static representation so that one can muse on what one finds. Part history, part criticism, part meditation this book gives the lie to the notion that only the moderns have discovered and described the nuanced feelings that humanity has in common. Highly recommended.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    This is a survey through more than 2,000 years of literary and philosophical history entirely through the lens of The Iliad, The Odyssey, and the figure known as Homer. What effect did all of these have on people through time, what were their opinions and uses of the texts and the author? This cumulative look, as it layers and layers upon itself, is interesting for those with an interest in literary history and intellectual history. However, for those interested in the text as literature or the This is a survey through more than 2,000 years of literary and philosophical history entirely through the lens of The Iliad, The Odyssey, and the figure known as Homer. What effect did all of these have on people through time, what were their opinions and uses of the texts and the author? This cumulative look, as it layers and layers upon itself, is interesting for those with an interest in literary history and intellectual history. However, for those interested in the text as literature or the text as history, this isn't the book for you. You might glean some fragments, but that is not the focus.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jayaprakash Satyamurthy

    Over the years, people have nitpicked over every aspect of the Homeric epics, they've found more meaning than is actually there, and less, they've exalted it beyond all reason and vilified it for poor reasons. Others have entered into a dialogue with it, remaking it and using it as the inspiration for fresh works of their own. Manguel ably guides us through the various strands of western philosophy, scholarship and literature.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Baklavahalva

    An enjoyable introduction, packed with cool factoids. Manguel, it occurs to me, is like Borges, only more approachable. Basically, this book covers the trajectory of Homer's reception from after his time until today in Euro-America (there's also a chapter on the Muslim world!) with a chilling twist at the end that makes me want to give it the fourth star.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Billy Sheppard

    I enjoyed this book for what it is. Manguel has collected a compendium of stuff related to Homer most of which will be of interest to anyone seriously interested in The Iliad and Odyssey. That is what this book is about. There are references to translators, antecedent books by Dante, Virgil, Joyce, etc. It was an interesting bucket full of information roughly on the subject of Homer.

  26. 4 out of 5

    l.

    Patchy and disorderly tbh. My first Manguel and I wasn't hugely impressed but I think my expectations may have been high for a 240 page book on Homer's influence. BUT I was not aware of this Samuel Butler who posited that the Odyssey was written by a young woman living in Sicily. I must read his thesis. It sounds amazingly hilarious.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Carlton

    A well thought through series of essays on aspects of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and how they have been viewed through time. Picking up references to other books and stories that I have written was fun,although I nowhere near as well read as the author.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Tim

    How to describe Manguel? Polymath, essayist, man of letters, a la Dr. Johnson and Francis Bacon. And this an impressively scholarly but ever-so-readable “essay,” “biography” he calls it, not on Homer but on The Odyssey, itself? Fascinating.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Aradweb Aradweb Adil

    If it is to hard to go through Iliad translated by Robert Fagles, then just grab this book. It is not just about the Homer's The Iliad and The Odyssey Biography but can be a quick references to all the book chapters in both book.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Liz

    I consider these books to be over rated for their literary value. I recognize their importance in history, and religion, and the way literature has advanced/ However, I do not feel that they are piratically well written and I don;t consider them among the greats.

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