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31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A mighty interesting read
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...
Published 9 months ago by Squirr-El

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars verbose & over written
Verbose & over written. Only of interest as literary criticism - if you like your criticism written by a starstruck adolescent
Published 15 days ago by eken47


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31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A mighty interesting read, 8 Aug. 2014
By 
Squirr-El (The Metropolis, England) - See all my reviews
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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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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book that matters., 17 Dec. 2014
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Just brilliant.

I worried at first because the book sets out too much that is already common knowledge. Was it just going to continue in this manner?

No. Adam Nicholson has seemingly lived with and in Homer since his childhood, and he generously shares his depth of knowledge about the history, the rich poetry and its expressive technicalities,and the sheer magnificence of the concept of the Iliad and Odyssey.

Hat's off, Gentlemen! this book is a dazzling revelation of such deep understanding of Homer's worth - it is a book that matters.
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33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars POET OF AN (ALMOST LOST) AGE, 6 Sept. 2014
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. However, epic poetry was also formulaic - confined to the prescription of the hexameter, with many repetitions. Gods, goddesses and heroes all had their traditional epithets attached - 'grey-eyed Athene,' 'wily Odysseus,' 'god-like Achilles.' All these had to fit into the pattern. In addition, as Nicolson says, there are similar stories or myths peculiar to their own locales and yet which occur elsewhere, in seemingly unconnected locations.

Nicolson favours the English translations of Robert Fagles. I prefer Richmond Lattimore's versions - but this is personal taste. There are a few errors in the book, which I put down to editors or printers. A caption for one of the colour plates is out of sync - the Cyclopean walls of Tiryns appear opposite p.107, the caption opp. p.186, but this is a publishing error. Like the random typos, it should be picked up and corrected if the volume goes to another edition.
There are thirty-two pages of comprehensive notes, chapter by chapter, plus a informative bibliography for reference or further reading, listed by subject headers or themes.

This is my Book of the Year, 2014. It reminds of the C.P. Cafavy poem, 'As you set out for Ithaka / hope the voyage is a long one, / full of adventure, full of discovery ...'
Overall, a valuable contribution to the vast library of Homer studies, as well as a compilation of life experiences, history, the Odyssey, the Iliad, travelogue and musings on 'Why Homer Matters.'
Because he does.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good read, 20 Jun. 2014
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Allan Mahnke "Allan" (Minneapolis, MN USA) - See all my reviews
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This book is aimed at the general reader and does a wonderful job of explaining the continued importance of the Homeric texts. Having taught these epics for many years, I am grateful for this articulate explanation of the importance of the texts. I wish I could have done it myself.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Why Homer matters to Adam Nicholson is really what the first chapters feel like and I admit to struggling with them a little, 15 Jan. 2015
By 
M. J. Millar (Edinburgh, Scotland) - See all my reviews
As the blurb states, this is a deeply personal book, referencing the author's own experiences at a level that can make reading this seem almost voyeuristic. Why Homer matters to Adam Nicholson is really what the first chapters feel like and I admit to struggling with them a little. In retrospect, however, the whole book hangs together well and does pull together a mass of information on different aspects of Homer. I came away from reading this knowing more and wiser for it. An enjoyable read, once past the first chapters.
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32 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Discovering Homer, 6 Jun. 2014
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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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why Homer matters. Nicolson, 7 Mar. 2015
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One may have read the rave reviews from the media when the hardback edition was shortlisted for books of the year in 2014. Media reviewers, unless it is for something like the TLS, rarely explain the reason for their superlatives, so we may be left with a kind of generalised adulation which, because it is generalised, fits into the linguistic contingencies of the PR machinery. I got this partly because of the subject and partly because of the reviews. On reading, I was hooked, very quickly. The first thing that struck me was the quality of the writing, two criteria being clarity and fluidity that writers of first chapters - be it fiction or non-fiction, spend some time and care on; the quality in the main was sustained, and there were passages that I found very beautiful; for example when Nicolson is talking about his experience of sailing and the sea, or when he is paraphrasing an incident in the Odyssey or Illiad, and one has the sense that his love for Homer has enabled Homer again to speak to us. This is really what the book is all about, and why Homer matters.
For anyone who is interested in say, the development of Greek Philosophy, one becomes aware of the Greecean diaspora as Rome established herself, but Homer and Plato ran ahead, in the same sort of way that Shakespeare and Mozart ran ahead of their times, because as their times diminished, their influence did not. Nicolson does not waste time with discussing Plato's view of Homer, for that is not his brief: his brief is to put Homer in context, and the considered erudition does that. Considered, because a) he is aware of what constitutes' popular' in that it must be comprehensible, and if possible, seen as relevant; and b) he is also aware of an innate wish to learn about our origins. He does this by adopting a number of different voices: the archeologist, talking about how pervasive Bronze Age culture was; the travel writer, going to places referred to, and describing them in a manner of the Welsh or Irish poets; the ethnologist, talking about the memory of the tribe and traditions of story telling - without reading a book; the poet, talking about the importance of metre in song; the anthologist, talking how people take their stories with them, and adapt them; the linguist, talking about the origins of language as reflected in the spoken language before it really took on a written form; and so on.
The level of scholarship is very high, but its fruits are not treated like items in isolation, for the very structure of the whole piece, enables one body of information to flow into the next without disruption, while at the same time enriching it. So for example, parallels can be drawn between the gangs in America and their motivations, and the warrior groups outside Troy and their motivations. I will never, be able to think about the Bronze Age in the same way again; indeed I will never be able to think about what Homer has given us, in the same way again. This is historical writing with a difference: it invites both reflection and re-evaluation.
The book is full of surprises, not only when our preconceptions are challenged, but also insightful parallels. I remember reading a book by a French archeologist who was convinced that the Odyssey was a Mariner's code, so that for example, the whirlpools of Scylla and Charybdis are not in the Mediterranean, but off the coast of Scotland., and their modern description and names, fits the description in the Odyssey. Links between burial mounds in Ireland and those in the eastern Mediterranean are because they were of the same cross -european epoch. Nicolson has been to the Bronze age Tine mines in Spain, and describes them as Hades; I have been to Newgrange in Ireland, and will never forget the experience - his book has enriched that experience.
If Plato was about discovering the Truth, Homer is about accepting reality as it is experienced. Odysseus epitomises the Greek virtue of metis; Achilles on the other hand, in my eyes at least, now represents something totally different, and in a way something much more profound. This is not to reduce the Prodigal Son motif which permeates the Odyssey, Achilles just provides another viewpoint. Nicolson quotes Simone Weil at the end of the book, as a wise woman; perhaps a representative of Athene, who knows?
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brave Attempt, Great Vision, 1 July 2014
By 
Charles Vasey (London, England) - See all my reviews
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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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Faultless evocation of a terrible world, 22 April 2015
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Homer is the original Invisible Man of history - we know effectively nothing about him. His poems may be part of Western culture, but they are not often read in their entirety except by specialists , and often presented in a sugary Hollywood format. yet when we actually read them, even in a good translation, we find a frightening, barbaric world, human beings tossed around like toys by Gods, an atmosphere closer to tragedy than the dignified epic we may have expected.
Here is Adam Nicolson to explain all this, and much more besides. In a book that's essentially faultless, he presents us with Bronze Age Greeks who resemble the Vikings more than they do Plato and Socrates, confronting and overwhelming the more civilised, urban Trojans. It's convincing, and as with other insights of his, well supported by recent archeological evidence.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must, 25 Jan. 2015
For me, this book is not only good or indeed excellent but essential. It puts Homer`s works in their geographical and social context and, in so doing,provides wonderful illumination. The first few chapters are hard going but persistance is justified. I shall reread the poems with a new insight and far greater understanding. Nicholson`s eclectic knowledge of the whole Mediterranean and its history, of the roots of language and the interplay of movements of early peoples, gives a satisfyingly three dimensional view of the period. So many aspects of life and knowledge are brought in to explain features of them and especially the Iliad. He draws on Pharaonic Egypt, the Hittite empire, Khazakstan, Sweden and Celtic Ireland and many more to illustrate and indeed explain incidents in these epics. A truly wonderful book.
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