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The Mighty Dead: Why Homer Matters Hardcover – 22 May 2014

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: William Collins; First Edition edition (22 May 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007335520
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007335527
  • Product Dimensions: 15.9 x 3.4 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (75 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 117,133 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


‘[A] brilliant, passionate, world-wandering love letter to Homer … If the only real test of any book about Homer is that it should make you want to go back to Homer, then ‘The Mighty Dead’ passes that test in a blaze of glory’ Sunday Times

‘Nicolson dusts down Homer for a new generation. Superbly written’ Daily Telegraph

‘The book that was waiting to be written … a superbly written account of the poems’ The Times

‘Thrilling and unsettling … [a] wonderfully expressive alloy of travelogue, scholarship and advocacy, which broods with heartfelt grace … Nicolson's books always shine with the Homeric virtues of eloquence, passion, generosity, audacity and candour … He does them proud’ Boyd Tonkin, Independent

‘A hosanna to Homeric wandering and wanderlust … breathes new life into an ancient adventure’ Observer

‘A beautiful study: full of insight, generosity and unaffected passion. The writing is exhilarating’ Guardian

‘A thrillingly energised book … it transmits a whole worldview at once decipherable and dramatically strange … To read Homer is to be struck by what Nicolson calls ‘time-vertigo’ – and this book is one that holds your hand and encourages you to peer over the edge. To read it is to have a fat pair of Homeric jump-leads attached from Nicolson’s sparkling and crackling faculties to your own’ Spectator

‘As gripping as a thriller and as delicately constructed as a sonnet … an astonishing tour de force that reveals Homer to be at once as ancient as papyrus and as modern as MTV … Not only does he have an inward understanding of how Homer’s poetry works, his own prose also has the sharp glitter of a poet’s eye’ Telegraph

‘Erudite, far-ranging in time and space, and provocative …This rich and adventurous book is Nicolson’s own odyssey … [his] enthusiasm is enriching and his examination of the character of the two epics acute and fascinating. Homer matters because he can stimulate books such as this’ Literary Review

Book Description

Why Homer Matters

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Inside This Book

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

52 of 53 people found the following review helpful By Squirr-el TOP 50 REVIEWER on 8 Aug. 2014
Format: Hardcover
The Mighty Dead, Adam Nicholson, William Collins, 2014, 314pp

This is a literary book about the poems of Homer, investigating and analysing the story, the poetry, the background, the influences, and just about every aspect that you can think of. It is extremely well-written, and immerses you in the world of the Ancient Greeks in a way that a traditionally-written history book would have difficulty achieving. There are copious notes and references included here, but tucked away at the back without any indication in the text that is not ‘just’ a book about poetry. I read it over three evenings, and didn’t even notice they were there until I had finished. If you have any interest in the poems of Homer or their place in European culture, this is an excellent view of contemporary research, literary, linguistic, archaeological and whatever, but woven together into a magnificent verbal tapestry.
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50 of 53 people found the following review helpful By Jane-Anne Shaw VINE VOICE on 6 Sept. 2014
Format: Hardcover
I have to confess, I loved this book. But, then, I would: students of Greek Classical studies are prejudiced! However, 'The Mighty Dead' is not an academic tome; it's written in an easy flowing accessible style that belies its deep and wide-ranging scholarship.

The era of Homer's Iliad was the Bronze Age - but there are a series of archaeological event horizons at Troy which date from around 2200BC to 1180BC. There is an age-old division between archaeologists and the ancient texts - being a science, archaeology doesn't hold with aery-faery myth. I tend to imagine the Trojan War as ca. 1450-1380BC. Does it really matter? The Iliad creates its own world.
Nonetheless, there have been discoveries to confirm Homer's Iliad and Odyssey - not least relevant dates for the burning of Troy, the palace of Nestor at 'sandy Pylos' and the Cretan palace of Knossos, (its labyrinthine architecture possibly constructed to take advantage of the winds in the incandescent heat of a southern Mediterranean summer.)
Nicolson's 'take' on Homer is muscular. In the main, the quest in 'The Mighty Dead' was not about finding 'how like us' the ancient Greeks were, in their thinking, practices and beliefs, but how very different. And, as he points out, Odysseus's voyage home to Ithaka, like Jason's to the Black Sea, has been the subject of much speculation - some of it realistic, based on knowledge of ancient seafaring and the construction of galleys, but many other latter-day theories are specious fantasies.

Poetry, for us, is an art form where language is employed for aesthetic purposes as well as semantics. For the ancient Greeks, ποίησις (poiesis) was a 'making' or 'creating.' Homer's words are original, yet come from a supernatural teacher, the breath he inhaled from the Muse.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By C. R. Tsua on 18 Jun. 2015
Format: Paperback
Lovely, brilliant book about one man's love for Homer's works. It really is lovely to read but does get rather intense around the middle as he delves into his own life and experiences and puts them in perspective of Homer's verse.

Anyone who wants to read the Iliad or the Odyssey might like this book as a sort of introduction to the works themselves as Nicholson illustrates his personal views on the nuances and meanings that can be derived from them. Of course, this means there are spoilers but I think if you've had a broad education you should already have a grasp of what happens in the Iliad anyway.
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Charles Vasey TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 1 July 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The author is a great enthusiast for the works of Homer; though I suspect more of an Odyssey man than an Iliadista (I belong to the latter school). This book represents an attempt to explain that enthusiasm, to put it in a historical context and to reflect on its power. If writing or reading poetry has its difficulties, how much more difficult to communicate one's own love of a piece to others; a task requiring Proustian skills. I never felt I fully grasped what Adam Nicolson saw in the works (as against what I see), though his extended section on Odysseus in the grip of Poseidon probably took me as near to that madeleine as I will reach without going to sea.

Fortunately the book succeeded very well in so many other areas. The use of language to place the original events in realms of a steppe-people (red meat and raiding) was very persuasive, moving back the events behind the poem to 1800 BC rather than 1250 BC. The discussion of bardic tradition (is it constantly changing - the Kriepiad, or astonishingly regular - Scottish Islesmen) and the comparison with contemporary tales (The Story of Sinuhe)are all very valuable. If Nicolson never quite got his love of the Odyssey into my fat head he succeeded with his description of place - the gates of Hades in Spain, and the megaron of Emporio in Chios could almost be sniffed. All in all he continues in the tradition of singing this most ancient of songs: many-voiced lord of windy Carnock.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By amazon customer TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 15 Sept. 2015
Format: Hardcover
The perfect companion for all ancient history enthusiasts is the ROMA VICTRIX WINE BEAKER Calix Imperium, Roma Victrix Pewter wine beaker

Adam Nicolson reaches across centuries and knits past and present together in his richly written book "Why Homer Matters." For Nicolson, Homer's epic poetry may enshrine the past, but the 'Iliad" and the "Odyssey" also live in a radiant present. Nicolson writes that the air Homer breathes "is the complexity of life, the bubbling vitality of a boat at sea, the resurgent energy...of the bright wake starting to gleam behind you."

Nicolson guides us through our own journey of discovery as he helps us look beneath the stones of memory for a living Homer. Who was Homer? Was there one Homer or a series of writers over the centuries? Was Homer's poetry primarily a written art or was it based on oral tradition? What can Homer say to us about violence and bloodlust? Nicolson examines all of these questions in detail and allows us to weigh the evidence.

The book carries us into the world of Homer through Nicolson's travels across the Mediterranean world. Nicolson's language is sensual, visceral, and at times extremely hard hitting - an idea of Homer not for the faint of heart. With Nicolson, we sail across Homer's "unharvestable sea" - in Greek pontos atrygetos - and finds clues to the painful and revelatory condition of life on earth. Reading "Why Homer Matters" has spurred me to pull the "Iliad" and the "Odyssey" off the shelf and reread them once again, but this time with Nicolson as a personal guide. Highly recommended.
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