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Cannot see the wood for the trees?
on 13 December 2009
I have just finished this long book, and it was not until a few pages from the end that I began to grasp the destination towards which the enormously detailed text was travelling. I think that Robin Lane Fox is saying that the different myths mentioned in the works of (a) Homer and (b) Hesiod are accounted for by the influence or not of different groups of itinerant Greeks, and middle eastern traders, crucially contact (or not) with eighth century BC travelling Euboeans.He also wishes to refute the views of some scholars who in his opinion have overemphasised the influence of middle eastern narratives on Homer, and for this he makes an apparently convincing case.
The first half of the book covers the archaeological evidence for Euboean journeys in two parts of the Mediterranean world,in the east around the Asian coast near Cyprus, and in the west, towards the Italian coast and in particular the islands of Sicily and Ischia. The next major section deals with myth, and I personally found this extremely interesting in itself, though it was rather like starting another book entirely, despite some references to the first section. Finally, Lane Fox discusses Homer and Hesiod's use of myth, ending with a very interesting postscript about the dating of Homer.
The book contains over 130 pages of notes and bibliography, put together from a wide range of international scholarship published in many languages, such as befits a highly academic work. However, as I read the Penguin popular edition, I would have valued the addition of a shorter bibliography of readily available works in English.
It is not long since I re-read the Iliad and the Odyssey, but I have to confess to never having read more than extracts from Hesiod. To remedy this is now a task towards which I must turn, together with further reading about the Hittites, the Epic of Gilgamesh, and planning a visit to Evia, to see the sites mentioned in this book.
If I were advising the publisher about a further edition, I would suggest that Lane Fox be asked to make his overall thesis more explicit, particularly at the beginning, and then revisit it in each chapter, in order to guide his readers more directly through the massive volume of evidence that he puts before them. This would enable them to gain more from this remarkable book.