Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The World of Odysseus” as Want to Read:
The World of Odysseus
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The World of Odysseus

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  676 ratings  ·  63 reviews
The World of Odysseus is a concise and penetrating account of the society that gave birth to the Iliad and the Odyssey--a book that provides a vivid picture of the Greek Dark Ages, its men and women, works and days, morals and values. Long celebrated as a pathbreaking achievement in the social history of the ancient world, M.I. Finley's brilliant study remains, as classici ...more
Paperback, 232 pages
Published September 30th 2002 by NYRB Classics (first published 1954)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The World of Odysseus, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The World of Odysseus

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
3.91  · 
Rating details
 ·  676 ratings  ·  63 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Jul 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: classical, 2014, cultural

Revisiting the Odyssey, after not having touched Homer for a few years, I also tumbled upon this book thanks to Steve’s review. I have therefore welcomed this read as an approach to Homer’s epic world.

Because that is precisely what Finley says, that Homer’s was an Epic World.

Steve has already given the background to Finley and his times and circumstances. The fact that this book is published by NYRB is already a sign that it holds a special place to that of any other (scholarly) works on Homer.

The Blinding of Polyphemus

Just before he ran afoul of the Communist witch hunt in 1954, was fired from Rutgers and ended up a knighted Master of a college at Cambridge University, Moses I. Finley (1912-1986) published this little gem. Since he wrote this for a non-academic audience (it was first published by Viking Press), he does not argue, cite or support at length - he just describes the world of Odysseus in the light of archaeological, philological and other data known up to 1954, relying he
Oct 31, 2017 rated it liked it
A thorough look into the sociological implications of “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey.” Finley discounts the possibility of a real Trojan War on the same grand scale as told by Homer, but he finds value in what the famous orator has to tell us about the Greek ‘hero’ society of that period. I admire Finley’s direct approach to the controversial topics, but the material is a little dry. A good book, but best suited for passionate fans of Homer.
Justin Evans
May 23, 2011 rated it really liked it
Ah, for the golden age of academic writing. Is it beautiful? No. But it is clear, concise and argumentative. No 'pointing out a problem' stuff here; Finley just gives you the answers as he sees them. You'll be in no doubt as to what he thinks at any stage in your reading. For instance, "the historian of ideas and values has no more Satanic seducer to guard against than the man on the Clapham omnibus." Love it.
But this isn't popular history by any means, for good and bad. There are no catchy ane
Appendix II, with its apoplectic rant against Schliemann's Troy and the false leads provided by the archaeological record in general, is alone worth the price of the book.
Nov 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Finley's book must count among the very small set of superb introductions ... to anything. Like the very few such superlative overviews/introductions, Finley starts with square one, as in, "this is the very first thing you need to understand;" "this is the second thing;" and "because you understand thing one and thing two, I can tell you about things three and four, which derive from thing one and thing two in the ways I shall describe," and so on until he delineates all the domains of the field ...more
Dec 22, 2010 rated it really liked it
Published almost half a century ago, M. I. Finley's The World of Odysseus is perhaps one of the most reliable books about what we can learn from Homer's Iliad and Odyssey. As much as we love to find that great literature and history can be made to mesh, what we do not about Homer's world greatly exceeds what we do know.

For instance, we are not sure where Troy is located, whether there was a historical Trojan War, whether Achaians (whether under Agamemnon or some other leader) ever invaded Troy,
James Murphy
Feb 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
A reread, I realized. Though read many years ago, I still found this to be an interesting book and a fine companion to a reading of the Iliad. Finley's subject is the revelation of the real Greece which existed behind Homer's 2 heroic poems. His research and a lifetime of Homer studies allowed him to write material explaining Greek morals and values, the role of community and how kinship and even individual households fit into it, labor and wealth, leadership, and Homer's own relationship with a ...more
Quite frankly, I don't know why anyone would see Homer as a good study of what was, but Finley's quasi rebuttal is packed full of data and insight.
John David
Nov 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: ancient-history
If the course of your education was anything like mine, you first encountered Homer somewhere around the beginning of what Americans call “high school” (which begins at roughly age thirteen). Depending on your enthusiasm, you were excited or bored to tears – but in either case, it’s almost certain that both you and the teacher at the front of the classroom were woefully underprepared for the undertaking. Shakespeare is usually introduced at around the same time and can induce the same kinds of f ...more
Simon Mcleish
May 01, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
Originally published on my blog here in June 1999.

The World of Odysseus is the book which made Finley's name as a classical scholar. He takes a fresh look as a historian at Homer's two great poems, which (even if not by the same hand) show many similarities in the world they depict. He uses insights derived from studies of other peoples based on an oral tradition to assess how the Odyssey and Iliad might relate to historical fact. (Poems like the Nibelungenlied and the Yugoslav poetry studied by
Roz  Milner
A clear, concise and fascinating look at the world of Ancient Greece, M.I. Finley's The World of Odysseus busts a ton of myths about two of the most famous stories to emerge from the ancient world and lays out a clear vision of how Finley thinks things were nearly 3,000 years ago.

On the surface, it sounds like one of two things: dull, full of academic jargon and of little interest to the average person, or full of supposition and guesswork. Surprisingly, it's neither of them. Finley supports his
Jan 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: tbr17, non-fiction
Published in 1954, this short introduction to the culture of the society that may have created the Iliad and the Odyssey is a useful accompaniment to reading those works. The author uses information from a variety of sources, including Homer’s epics themselves. Succinct and occasionally dry, the book is packed with details. While obviously this does not reflect research from the past sixty-odd years, classic scholar Bernard Knox makes the case for the book’s continued relevance in his introducti ...more
Daniel Polansky
An attempt to construct pre-literate Greece through the Homeric oral epics. Broadly interesting, though one does get the sense that an awful lot of this is riding on what might have been a throw away line by an itinerant half-drunk poet (most poets are half-drunk most of the time, I don't see why it would have been any different in ancient Greece.)
Jan 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I read this book for the first time 12 years ago. I always remembered this as one of the most interesting history books I read. Now that I re-read the book, I am not disappointed. I find fascinating how M. I Finley uses concepts developed in anthropology to analyse Homer.
Noelle M
Nov 16, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Finley proposes Homer took old stories and put them in contemporary settings and costumes and customs etc., kind of like Walt Disney with medieval fairy tales, but classier. Homer did his bard-thing somewhere on this side of 800 B.C., maybe 150 years before the Babylonian invasion of Palestine in 590 B.C.

Very interesting because Jewish Palestine in 590 B.C. sits smack dab between Homer and Pericles, and cultural things Finley describes pop out of the BOM text purporting to describe the general p
Tony Laplume
Feb 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
As an amateur enthusiast of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey (I once spent a year reading through various versions of The Iliad, for instance), it's nice to finally dig a little deeper into them. Finley's commentary was hailed as a breakthrough at the time of its original release, and this edition includes follow-up thoughts. It's filled with fascinating insight, and also a somewhat maddeningly, perhaps in retrospect, incomplete interpretation of what it was ultimately all about.

The bullet points of th
Dec 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book.

I read the Folio a Society edition.

It is a little dated, but I think it would reward the effort for it's un-romantic discussion of the historicity of the events of Homer's epics and the society envisaged therein.

The bibliographical essay in the back of the book and the two appendices are worth the price of the book. Coupled with Robin Land Fox's "traveling heros", these two books would give one a very good survey of different ways of approaching the Homeric problem.
Mary Catelli
Looking at Homer's works and the world they are set in.

The rituals of gift exchange, the way they had a specific term for one's husband's brother's wife that later fell out of us when men started to set up their households while their fathers were still alive, social structure and those specialists who weren't in the aristocrats -- or heroes -- but were too valuable to be mere peasants, kingship and power, the morals (which Plato so deplored because of all the raids, or robbery), Odysseus's grat
Kobe Bryant
Feb 06, 2017 rated it liked it
I must be really smart because this all seemed obvious to me
Jan 05, 2019 rated it liked it
Personally I think there's not too much fresh and exciting things to dig in this book if you are already acquainted with the Homeric analysis lectured by professors over and over again in college or having Nietzsche thinking or other culture analysis theories taken for granted. I mean, you already have it, grab something else if your yearly reading challenge is getting you. It's a good one rather than a great one.

It turns out that the part, quoted by Donald Kagan in his The Fall of Athenian Empi
Bill FromPA
Any library of sufficient size (and that size may be only a modest shelf, depending on the curator) comes to resemble a hall of mirrors, with each book seeming to be a reflection, reversal, or distorted image of other books. Sometimes an author or editor may give a hint of that mirroring effect within the pages of a single book.
All my life I have been reading about Homer, philological, historical, archaeological, geographical, etc. Now I want to read him as pure art only, as commensurate with t
Jan 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
Concise, clear and informative. In this short volume Finley manages to unpack a fantastic amount of information and surmise about life and culture of Dark Ages Greece. Many of the episodes and customs in Homer's poem that are strange to the modern reader make a great deal of sense after reading this book. The discussion of gift exchange and its economic and social roles is especially illuminating.

Finley devotes a lot of space to arguments against the historicity of the Trojan War in toto. This i
Oct 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone reading Archaic Greek literature
Finley's World of Odysseus is a truly splendid introduction to the complex topic of the nature of Archaic Greek society. It is erudite, engaging and easy to read. It provides a wealth of cultural background to The Iliad and The Odyssey in a well-structured manner.

I've heard the charge levied against this book that it is dated, but I don't agree. It is old, certainly, and it lacks coverage of a few key architectural finds since its publication - but this does not affect its thoroughness (for the
Tara Redd
Oct 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
I might not have liked this so much had I not literally just left Schliemann’s fantasy mansion in Athens and settled into that last appendix over (a few) glasses of wine. Sassy, sassy appendix II. But even so, for me, this was a different and strange way of looking at these poems. Some lingering anthropological intuitions tell me there’s something serious to be argued with here, but I’d have to reread it to tell you what precisely raised those scritchy not-right feelings. But I think it bears re ...more
Reid Luzzader
Oct 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
From the New York Review of Books Classics series, I read it as a supplement to "Early Greek Political Thought" in the Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought series.

Finley argues that Homer's "Iliad" and "Odyssey" correctly reflect the society and morals of Ancient Greece from about 1250 BC.

It's a world that comes across as very alien to us and even to the thought of later Greeks. There is nothing of the prudence and moderation of Aristotle's "Ethics". The Homeric heroes are conque
Nov 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Is a excellent book. An applause.
Dec 25, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A review of the Homeric world as understood by one of the foremost classicists of the mid 20th century.
Maria Hrickova
May 03, 2018 rated it liked it
uneven. some parts 3, some parts 5; final essay /reflection on his work and book/ the best
Jan 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
“The World of Odysseus” by M.L. Finley is one of the seminal works about Homer’s “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey.” Published in 1954, it has been reprinted numerous times. The copy I read is a 1988 reprint.
Finley’s short work provides background and perspective for those two epic poems of 2,500 years ago, telling of the importance of Homer to the Greeks and to Western civilization, and examining chapter-by-chapter the morality, economics, and political life of what is now Greece during the time o
« previous 1 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
NYRB Classics: The World of Odysseus, by M.I. Finley 1 9 Oct 31, 2013 08:45AM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • The Oxford Classical Dictionary
  • War and the Iliad
  • Poets in a Landscape
  • The Greeks and the Irrational
  • The End of the Bronze Age: Changes in Warfare and the Catastrophe ca. 1200 B.C.
  • The Echo of Greece
  • The Nature of Greek Myths
  • The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours
  • Travelling Heroes: Greeks and Their Myths in the Epic Age of Homer
  • Orpheus: The Song of Life
  • Greek Religion
  • The Barbarian Conversion: From Paganism to Christianity
  • Courtesans and Fishcakes: The Consuming Passions of Classical Athens
  • The Oxford History of Greece and the Hellenistic World
  • Homer's the Iliad and the Odyssey: A Biography
  • The Roman Revolution
  • The Greeks
  • Alexander to Actium: The Historical Evolution of the Hellenistic Age
See similar books…
Sir Moses I. Finley was an American and English classical scholar. His most notable work is The Ancient Economy (1973), where he argued that status and civic ideology governed the economy in antiquity rather than rational economic motivations.

He was born in 1912 in New York City as Moses Israel Finkelstein to Nathan Finkelstein and Anna Katzenellenbogen; died in 1986 as a British subject. He was e
“The age of heroes, then, as Homer understood it, was a time in which men exceeded subsequent standards with respect to a specified and severely limited group of qualities. In a measure, these virtues, these values and capacities, were shared by many men of the period, for otherwise there could have been no distinct age of heroes between the bronze and the iron. Particularly in the Odyssey the word "hero" is a class term for the whole aristocracy, and at times it even seems to embrace all the free men. "Tomorrow," Athena instructed Telemachus, "summon the Achaean heroes to an assembly," by which she meant "call the regular assembly of Ithaca.” 1 likes
More quotes…