Book reviews, Homer

Why Homer Matters


  1. Why Homer Matters, Adam Nicolson,  ★★★✫

This was a great read. I heard about this book through Lisa’s blog, who praised another title by Adam Nicolson.

A few years ago, intimidated by the Iliad, who I had attempted to read several times as a young adult without much success, I joined other ladies in a reading together and discussing it at the AO book forum. We persevered, we had a lively discussion, and if I could not say it was without challenges, I felt accomplished and I took much out of the whole experience.

A little after, encouraged by a friend who had been in the reading of the Iliad who was reading the Odyssey, I too decided to read his second book. The Odyssey was a much easier read. In Why Homer Matters, Nicolson also refers to The Odyssey as a more feminine book, if you wish, opposed to the complete display of manliness, battle, and violence of The Iliad.

These are the chapters:


The first chapter is about who Homer was, or might have been. Grasping Homer was about different attempts and different views of Homer through history, because different ages have formed and shaped an idea of the poems, and that image evolves, and at times it gets rectified by archaeological findings, or new research such as this very book. Nicolson disagrees with the more extended academic dating of Homer.

Traditional dating: c. 1194–1184 BC
Modern dating: c. 1260–1180 BC

Nicolson believes Homer is as old as 1800 BC. Further chapters tell of his travels, and the basis for his theories.

I particularly enjoyed his section about the Serbian singers that sing poems accompanied by a not so good sounding instrument for rhythm more than music, and that have been studied, rendering much learning about how Homeric poetry could have been transmitted and passed from generation to generation.

I also loved his idea of the Greek character, represented by Achilles, versus the civilized Trojan spirited embodied by Hector.

I agree with one review I read that Nicolson, after chapter 8, starts digressing too much and going a lot on tangents. The book falls into a bit of a slump after the very exciting first chapters. Because of that, I changed from 4 to 3 stars. One side of me wants to give the book 4 stars. For longer than half, it draws you and incites ideas and gives you understanding of Homer. It expands our experience as readers of Homer. But it’s true that after a while, it becomes a bit more tedious, but only for a while. The conclusion is worth the whole book.

I’m not sure why or how, but after hearing Nicolson on Homer and the Homeric world he presents, with all its possibilities and ramifications, has proven to me that Homer matters.


4 thoughts on “Why Homer Matters”

  1. I love that you read books like this and review them to broaden our horizons. The Odyssey was enjoyable. Do you know if Homer write any shorter works? Like essays?


  2. Good review! I think God’s Secretaries (the one I read) also started to fall apart late. We had to read the Odyssey in high school–I didn’t enjoy it, but that’s likely more due to having Gym teacher and being stuck with 2 other college bound students forced to make up the numbers in a classroom of remedial students. Ah, the 1970s. Thank heavens we had filmstrips though, right?


  3. LOL, yes, the 1970’s! (I was born in 1971, but I know the picture you describe well, I’m close to that era too, with filmstrips, which I loved for the art class). It’s amazing how most of us don’t enjoy those books we were forced to read, even though now we like them.


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