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on 12 September 2013
I read an earlier edition (with Finley as sole author) many years ago, and knowing nothing whatever of the background from other sources, I found it a convincing debunking of any claims of Homer to historical accuracy, beyond a distorted folk memory of the Greek dark ages. Since then I have come across other evidence that puts the book in a rather different light.

The emotional tone of his book is hostile towards any suggestion that the Homeric poems have any reliable link with real bronze age events, putting their inspiration firmly in the dark ages that followed the collapse of the Mycenaean (and other) civilizations around 1100 BCE. But in making his case, Finley is, to put it charitably, selective with the evidence that he presents. He claims for example that the Mycenaean centres were no larger than perhaps a few hundred people in each, making the Homeric figure of 60,000 Greeks on the expedition to Troy pure fantasy.

But Chadwick's work on the Linear B tablets makes very clear (and Finley must have known this) that the centres must have been much larger than this. Chadwick estimated the population of Pylos alone as "at least 50,000", a figure based on a detailed analysis of the extensive archives found at the burned palace at Epano Englianos. These archives allow details of the industrial and agriculturural activity of Pylos to be reconstructed, though with obvious gaps. As I recall there were no fewer than 400 bronze-smiths listed: this in population Finley would have us believe numbered at most 1000 or so! It seems probable that the other centres (Mycenae, Tiryns etc) were of similar size, though since we don't have the benefit of the accidental incineration of so many Linear B tables as at Pylos (or at least, they haven't been found yet) we cannot know with certainty. The 60,000 figure still looks improbable (and this ignores all the other improbables such as a ten year siege!), but Finley's argument loses its force.

Whereever he can, Finley tries to discredit the credibility of the Homeric account as having any link with the bronze age. For example, Homer mentions temples, but the Mycenaeans didn't have temples. But they did, as the Linear B tablets make clear, have shrines: probably in most cases these were incorporated as part of the palaces of the Mycenaean kings, but given that the archaeological record is so incomplete, the existence of freestanding temples cannot be ruled out. It may be that the Homeric account referred inaccurately to shrines as temples, or it may be that the temples existed but were destroyed and have not yet been uncovered, so the temple argument is at best weak. But no, for Finley the suggestion enables him to score a debating point at the expense of Homer's credibility, so it has to be made.

Likewise, he rules out the historical existence of the Homeric Troy on the basis of the alleged poverty of Troy VIIa, the only possible candidate (he claims) for the Homeric Ilium. He uncharitably suggests that anyone who disagrees with him must be one of the lunatics who unfortuately infest the subject. Well, the lunatics are still here, and many of them now claim that Troy VI was the Homeric Troy, and that the destruction of the walls may have been manmade rather than the result of an earthquake. Others believe that Troy VIIa was in fact much more significant than previously believed.

The point is not to argue in favour of Homer, whatever that means, but to make clear that Finley is not a reliable narrator of the rather slender sum of our knowledge of the world of Odysseus. We simply do not know, to this day, and may never know, the answers. Finley's arrogant assumption that the case "against" Homer is cut and dried, just does not stand up to scrutiny. The real historical mystery is what psychological forces drove Finley to devote all the force of a brilliant intellect to such a partial and misleading presentation of the few facts that we do possess.
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VINE VOICEon 30 May 2014
This is a very interesting attempt by a distinguished historian to imagine the era of Homer by looking at how he, in turn, imagined the Heroic Age to have been: much as the Arthurian legend tells us more about the Middle Ages or Victorian England than Romano-British cavalry armies. As such it is little to do with the world of wily Odysseus but rather that of Homer's listeners or readers, so if you were hoping for a chat about Linear B and the Trojan War you will be sadly disillusioned. However, as a discussion of the ethos of warrior societies, of how legends grow and how heroes like to be seen (as against how they are) I doubt this account can be bettered
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on 4 September 2010
This is an older investigation since the author died in 1986, so some of the information is now out dated. For example Finley observes that Troy vii(a) is a small village, whilst it is now becoming clear from Manfred Korfnamm's archeological investations that it was, in fact, a major, and well fortified city, with upper and lower cities as well as a rich hinterland. He fails to note that Troy lay at a junction of major trade routes, as well as being an important port. It has been proven to hold a position within the Hittite world similar to Australia to the United Kingdom, and did have an uneasy relationship with Greece, these facts have been discovered from translation of linear B tablets. The city was written in linear B as Troya and Ilios, there was at one time a Trojan king Alexandu. So although this book is a scholarly study, for a student seeking to write a dissertation there are better and more up to date sources of information.
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on 14 July 2015
Absolutely brilliant. I wish I had had this companion book when I was studying Classical Civilisation, it can be read alone or it can be read with an intent to fill in your gaps.
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on 12 June 2016
Good bookseller service but I would not buy it again. A library book really.
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on 5 March 2012
Having some editions of this,famous book by M.I.Finley,(even in greek,
which is poorly translated from one of the first editions)I believe that is the best,
not only because of the magnificent Folio care, with the best photographs and perfect bound-cover, but Simon Hornblower's introduction. It is pity that M.I.Finley, was not alive, when it came in print.
One of the best books, I have in my library and be proud of.
Stamatis V.
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This book is a seminal work in the discussion of the historical world that is depicted by the Homeric epics, providing not only an informative text, but also exstensive footnotes and bibliographies.
I found M. I. Finley's work to be an essential starting point for my research on this subject, and this distinguished scholars experiance opens up many lines of enquiry for the modern student.
Well worth reading.
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on 9 July 2003
This book gives the reader a good grounding in the various contexts that apply to the Odyssey; the sequel (if I may use that word) to the Iliad. I don't think you need to be a nerdy scholar to benefit from this important work, it really isn't a heavyweight text. I have one serious criticism, not of the author but the publisher; the author's bio on the first recto page is out of date (author died in 1986) and fails to mention that Finley - real name Finkelstein - was sacked from Rutger's University during the McCarthy era because he was deemed a 'commie'. So he fled the 'Land of the Free' to England where he prospered and was eventually knighted. Deliberately omitted, I wonder?
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on 6 March 2004
Entertaining account of the social milieu of the Homeric poems. After reading the poems themselves, the perfect gentle introduction to the oft-impenetrable world of moden scholarship. Helps restore and explain the "otherness" of the Homeric world, the features that strike us as odd and even funny are well explained.
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