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The Mighty Dead: Why Homer Matters [Hardcover]

Adam Nicolson
4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
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Book Description

22 May 2014

Where does Homer come from? And why does Homer matter? His epic poems of war and suffering can still speak to us of the role of destiny in life, of cruelty, of humanity and its frailty, but why they do is a mystery. How can we be so intimate with something so distant?

In this passionate and deeply personal book, Adam Nicolson sets out to explain why these great ancient poems still have so much to say about what it is to be human, to love, lose, grow old and die.

‘The Mighty Dead’ is a journey of history and discovery, sewn together by the oldest stories we have – the Iliad and the Odyssey, which emerged from a time before the Greeks became Greek. As nomadic tribes of the northern steppe, they clashed with the sophisticated cities of the eastern Mediterranean. These poems tell us how we became who we are.

We witness a disputatious dinner in 19th-century Paris and Keats finding in Chapman’s Homer the inspiration to travel in the ‘realms of gold’. We go to Bosnia in the 1930s, with the god of Homer studies Milman Parry where oral poetry still thrived; to Spain to visit the possible site of Hades; to Troy, Ukraine, Syria and the islands of the Mediterranean; and to that most ancient of modern experiences, the open sea, in calm and storm.

Reflecting on fathers and sons, men and women, on the necessity for love and the violence of warriors, on peace and war, youth and old-age, Homer is the deep voice of Europe, as dark as Mavrodaphne and as glowingly alive as anything that has ever been.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: William Collins (22 May 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007335520
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007335527
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 15.8 x 3.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 4,227 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

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Customer Reviews

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4.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars POET OF AN (ALMOST LOST) AGE 6 Sep 2014
By Jane-Anne Shaw, MA VINE VOICE
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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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Discovering Homer 6 Jun 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a truly wonderful book that illuminates, surprises, dazzles and moves. If you ever thought Homer was a difficult inaccessible subject, then this book will completely change your mind. Adam Nicolson demonstrates brilliantly Homer's understanding of humanity and the amazing relevance his writing has for all of us. Thrilling.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I have not enjoyed a book so much for a long time - I was really sorry to finish it. It is a mixture of academic research and theory with private reminiscences, all in beautiful and poetic language. I am going straight back to Homer to read The Iliad and the Odyssey again with new insight.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A mighty interesting read 8 Aug 2014
By No More Mr. Mice Guy TOP 100 REVIEWER
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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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brave Attempt, Great Vision 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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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating 12 Jun 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I bought this thinking that it would be really good but perhaps a little bit dry considering its content. How wrong I was! Adam Nicolson is such a good writer. His work is lyrical and the words just flow. The history and insight are mouth-wateringly interesting and I am devouring it with great pleasure.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting approach 13 Sep 2014
By gd
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This offers an accessible insight into Homer's world. The language is clear and engaging. Not at all demanding. Well worth it especially if you are daunted by prospect of Homer 's writings.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Excellent recommended
Published 1 day ago by Phillip A Stephens
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
A highly readable approach to Homer and the Trojan War. Worth reading with Nagy The Ancient Greek Hero.
Published 2 days ago by Oygen
5.0 out of 5 stars looks great.
Bought it following newspaper review, looks great.
Published 24 days ago by Penny Peters
5.0 out of 5 stars A rare gift, highly recommended
A marvelous synthesis of individual passion and wisdom founded on both experience and erudition. This book is a gift; both rare and revealing. Read more
Published 29 days ago by Banana
5.0 out of 5 stars The Mighty Dead, A Mighty good read
This is one of the best books I have read this year and it totally inspires you to read Homer in Robert Fagles brilliant translation.
Published 1 month ago by mrs e b edmunds
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
A fresh insiteon Homer
Published 1 month ago by Evans
5.0 out of 5 stars I loved this book
Yes, I loved this book. I didn't agree with all Adam Nicolson's arguments, but that didn't matter because it was a wonderful and moving account of his passionate relationship with... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Helena Nightingale
5.0 out of 5 stars Reinstates Homer at the heart of our lives
Brilliant book that ended too soon. Immaculately researched and insightful. Highly recommended. Only complaint, and its hardly a complaint, is that at 71% of the way through the... Read more
Published 1 month ago by HappyReader
5.0 out of 5 stars But brilliantly explained by Adam Nicholson - a wonderful writer - ...
Absolutely Superb! A new take on the bronze age greeks. What a murdering bunch of thugs they were ! Not what we were taught at school ! Read more
Published 2 months ago by Gordon Toumaniantz
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Wonderful book. I quote it to my friends every day.
Published 2 months ago by Jane Kilvington
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