We don't know who, or even if, Homer was. Given threads of internal evidence in the "Odyssey", Robert Graves invents, or discovers, that the author of the poem was a woman, herself part of the epic action. He chooses the beguiling, clear-headed Nausicaa and re-visions the post-Trojan world through her eyes. This is the theme of "Homer's Daughter", one of Graves's most daring fictional acts. The "Odyssey" has been described as a "woman's epic", full of female characters and different in kind and colour from the "Illiad" with its tight focus, its largely male world, Graves's Nausicaa is brilliant at telling dramatic aplomb. The confrontations in the Council and between Aethon and the suitors are memorably evoked. Nausicaa is a princess of mixed Greek and other ancestry, combining in herself the various cultures that inform the language and folklore of the epic. Graves makes it possible for us to believe that the author told her own story, a true one, buried within the Homeric epic. There is adventure and intrigue; the book stands near the beginning of a tradition that includes Leonardo Sciascia's "The Council of Eqypt" and Umberto Eco's "The Name of the Rose". "Homer's Daughter" is reprinted here with Graves's ambitious Trojan novel "The Anger of Achilles", which culminates in the death of Hector, emblem of the doom of Troy itself.
Robert Graves was born in 1895 in Wimbledon, the son of Irish writer Perceval Graves and Amalia Von Ranke. He went from school to the First World War, where he became a captain in the Royal Welch Fusiliers. After this, apart from a year as Professor of English Literature at Cairo University in 1926, he earned his living by writing, mostly historical novels, including: I, Claudius; Claudius the God; Count Belisarius; Wife of Mr Milton; Sergeant Lamb of the Ninth; Proceed, Sergeant Lamb; The Golden Fleece; They Hanged My Saintly Billy; and The Isles of Unwisdom. He wrote his autobiography, Goodbye to All That, in 1929, and it was soon established as a modern classic. The Times Literary Supplement acclaimed it as 'one of the most candid self portraits of a poet, warts and all, ever painted', as well as being of exceptional value as a war document. Two of his most discussed non-fiction works are The White Goddess, which presents a new view of the poetic impulse, and The Nazarine Gospel Restored (with Joshua Podro), a re-examination of primitive Christianity. He also translated Apuleius, Lucan and Suetonius for the Penguin Classics, and compiled the first modern dictionary of Greek Mythology, The Greek Myths. His translation of The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám (with Omar Ali-Shah) is also published in Penguin. He was elected Professor of Poetry at Oxford in 1961 and made an Honorary Fellow of St John's College, Oxford, in 1971.
Robert Graves died on 7 December 1985 in Majorca, his home since 1929. On his death The Times wrote of him, 'He will be remembered for his achievements as a prose stylist, historical novelist and memorist, but above all as the great paradigm of the dedicated poet, "the greatest love poet in English since Donne".'
(Image courtesy of The William Graves Collection.)