Most helpful positive review
34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
Something new and refreshing
on 25 November 2008
I don't usually write book appraisals for the simple reason that what I wanted to say after reading a book has already been said by somebody else. This book has already got fairly good amount of appraisals. But for once, in my opinion, has not been said the right things.
Prof Strauss' purpose is to place Homer's Epic in the context of the times it meant to represent. Homer is often put in doubt by people that see his story from the perspective of a modern man or from the perspective of Classical Greece. Prof Strauss uses his vast knowledge of the Bronze Age, from archaeology and other contemporaneous cultures to show that Homer's story is not only credible but also very much in accordance with the customs, practices and creeds of the times.
Much criticism of Homer, both today and in the classical times, was because we didn't know much about the Bronze Age and we tend to assess the credibility of the story by comparing with what we know of Classical Greece at best, with our own times at worst. Prof Strauss shows the Epic in the light of what we know of Bronze Age instead.
The great credit of this book and his author is that it manages to give us not only a wealth of evidence and examples of similar events in other contemporaneous cultures, like Hittites and Egyptians, but also that it gives us a glimpse of the way people of the Bronze Age saw it happening. Prof Strauss, in contrast with many other scholars, shows respect for the beliefs and frame of mind of the people of yore, and tries to put the frequent allusions to Gods and omens in context. The principle he follows is that whether the gods did intervene or not is irrelevant; what is important is that by believing that the gods did intervene, the people of the times acted in accordance to it. The result, therefore, is as if the gods did interfere.
We tend all too often to take for granted that just because we now believe in other gods (like science) we are cleverer or wiser that our forefathers. This arrogance leads us often to misunderstand History and misinterpret facts. Prof Strauss seems to strike a perfect balance between keeping the insight modern science gives us and the way these events were seen by the people at the times.
In addition to these rare qualities for a modern scholar, Prof Strauss also shows to be an excellent writer. He manages to tell the story, feed us with loads of Historical research and insights in the psychology of Bronze Age people in a smooth, easy reading and exciting way. The book is a pleasure to read.
Derisive comments lamenting that the book is made for the masses are unfair and snobbish. We seldom notice erudite, scholarly-made books because theses are all but forgotten in dusty shelves of libraries, nobody reading them because, frankly, they are a bore to read. To criticise a book for easy accessibility to the hoi polloi is to confound form and context. The difference between an intellectual and a pseudo-intellectual is that the intellectual tries to explain complex things in a simple way in order to come across other people. A pseudo-intellectual complicates what he says in order to hide that he has very little to say. Prof Strauss definitely has a lot to say to us and he says it well. I hope to see more books from him in the future.