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The Mighty Dead: Why Homer Matters

(Why X Matters Series)

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  1,407 ratings  ·  207 reviews
Longlisted for the 2014 Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction 'A thrilling and complex book, enlarges our view of Homer ...There's something that hits the mark on every page' Claire Tomalin, Books of the Year, New Statesman Where does Homer come from? And why does Homer matter? His epic poems of war and suffering can still speak to us of the role of destiny in life, of crue ...more
Paperback, 314 pages
Published February 26th 2015 by Harper Collins (first published May 22nd 2014)
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Johnny I'd look to the end of the book, where Nicolson notes that we don't desire to emulate the men or women of Homer, and neither Homer. In fact, there is …moreI'd look to the end of the book, where Nicolson notes that we don't desire to emulate the men or women of Homer, and neither Homer. In fact, there is no moralizing to be had, no lessons, but a deepening of the questions we ask and a recognition of the luminescence of it all, even in the face of a nonsense, swirling sea.(less)
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John Anthony
Feb 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition


The World of the Ancient Greeks
The Bronze Age World


1. Meeting Homer
2. Grasping Homer
3. Loving Homer
4. Seeking Homer
5. Finding Homer
6. Homer the Stranger
7. Homer the Real
8. The Metal Hero
9. Homer on the Steppes
10. The Gang and the City
11. Homer’s Mirror
12. Homer’s Odyssey

Conclusion: The Bright Wake

This is magnificent in so many ways and my words will be inadequate mumblings as I grope towards the reasons for saying so.

Adam Nicolson's writing is sheer poetry, that alon
Jun 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I devoured this book. For over 30 years I have read the Iliad most winters - I even attempted to write an epic poem similar to the Iliad when I was in junior high, basing it on an imaginary world - and I have read the Odyssey most summers. I just finished reading it yet again, in my favorite translation by Robert Fagles. But why? Nicolson's book finally gave me the chance to explore my love of Homer from a non-scholarly angle (Nicolson fell in love with the Odyssey while reading it as he sailed ...more
While this turned out to be only a 3 star rating, it doesn't necessarily reflect the value of the book, overall, to those who are looking for an introduction to Homer -- just a commentary on my feelings of slight disappointment at the time. Nicolson's book is filled with interesting minutiae about both the Iliad and Odyssey and makes an interesting, if brief, tour of the ancient world. If you are new to this subject, I would say it's quite a good read.

I think I was expecting something different,
I marked WHY HOMER MATTERS as contemporary mostly because I figured Homer would get a laugh out of it. And why not? Classics are timeless. Even if this is about a classic as opposed to a classic itself.

Adam Nicolson covers all the bases and then some in this perspective on why Homer is perm-cool and forever relevant. He covers a lot of ground (and wine-dark sea), including key scenes in both The Odyssey and The Iliad. He makes some connections and takes some stands that will shake Homerphiles up
James Murphy
Dec 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of the most useful complements to a reading of Homer I know of. Adam Nicolson's knowledge of Homer's great works and his understanding of the Homeric world seem truly deep. Along with the important literary analysis The Mighty Dead is dense with historial fact and perspecctive concerning Bronze Age conflict, the tribal nature of Greek socity compared to the more civilized Trojans, Greek origins, and the importance of Troy to the ancient world. Nicolson has some interesting ideas: he ...more
BAM Endlessly Booked
4.5 stars what a book! I want to read The Iliad again
The author expresses himself quite well. Homer is here; Homer is now. He can be seen in the olive groves, in archeological digs, in gang mentality.
I appreciated the use of appropriate Greek words and their etymological roots. I'm inspired to learn Ancient Greek now.

Lenten Buddy Reading Challenge book # 11
Daniel Chaikin
Jan 24, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Nicolson is provocative in numerous ways, from the origins of the Homeric epics which he pulls back to the origins of indo-european civilization, to the inspiration of Keat's poem on Chapman's translation (a poem that is critical of the Alexander Pope translation). In short, he doesn't believe there was a Homer, but sees Homer as a collection of myth accumulated and standardized over time with origins around 2000 bce.

To understand Homer he goes in many different directions, collecting a variety
Apr 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This should be a required companion volume either before or during reading The Odyssey and Iliad. I understood so much more about the cultures of both the Greeks and the Trojans and their histories after reading it. He takes you to the places where much of the action occurred and where they speculate that the Greeks originated. He also explores the history of Homer and the theories about him. All of this is done in an incredibly readable fashion.
Tim Atkinson
Jul 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
'Longlisted for the 2014 Samuel Johnson prize,' it says on the cover. All I can say is that 2014 must've been a stonking year if this book didn't even make the shortlist! I've seldom read a book that spreads itself so magisterially (and readably) over literary criticism, ancient history, linguistics, morality, poetry, psychology, sociology, and geography. It's in many ways a genre-busting book, containing autobiographical elements alongside insights into Homer, the world of the Ancient Greeks fr ...more
Jul 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One poet's love affair with Homer. Each chapter's different perspective-- chiefly on the Iliad, but the Odyssey gets a look-in too-- is enchantingly written and genuinely insightful. (Not the scholarly consensus on dating by a long chalk, but powerfully argued). ...more
Rex Libris
There was some interesting materials in here about Homeric traditions and what you currently in the places that are supposed to the locations of the legends, but the good stuff was drowned out by drone an author who seemed to be in love with the sound of his own voice.
Gwen Cooper
Jul 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I initially chose this book for obvious reasons--but The Iliad and The Odyssey are two of my favorite works in all their many translations, so it was great to spend some quality time with a writer who's an enthusiastic amateur rather than a Homeric scholar per se. If you're a fan of Homer, or of Greek mythology generally, then this is a truly great read--one that will leave you wanting to go back and brush up on your Iliad/Odyssey knowledge. Lots of great travelogue stuff in here too, which alwa ...more
Aug 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
That Adam Nicolson is an excellent journalist I already knew but as a non fiction novelist he is a revelation. Don't be put off by the seemingly high brow subject matter. He makes Homer accessible and describes just why it is so important to western civilisation especially in these rudderless times. Its a travelogue through the classical world recreated in the present day, throwing up all manner of nuggets on all sorts of topics as we wind our way through the Mediterranean, up to the Hebrides an ...more
Mar 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A year ago, I picked up Fagles translation of the Iliad, more from a dutiful sense that I should reconnect with the classics I read many years ago than in expectation of pleasure. Then came an intense, demanding but utterly engrossing and compelling reading experience. That's what The Iliad has done to people for thousands of years, and it meant that I came to The Mighty Dead as a lover of Homer. This book is written for people like me, but it is such a superlative, masterful piece of writing th ...more
Michael Johnson
Jun 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This may just be one of the best lay-person's explorations of classical literature and epic poetry I have ever had the pleasure to read. Nicolson has a poet's grasp of image and language and a critic's sense of literary significance and resonance. This book is not only an excellent introduction to Homeric epic, but it serves as a reminder of why continuing emphasis on the humanities and interdisciplinary study is crucial in understanding the world around us and our place in it. Nicolson's musing ...more
Jaqui Lane
Dec 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've now read this book twice....several pages tagged.
Wasn't expecting to me so moved by this story but I should
have not been surprised.

Just one quote. 'Here was a form of consciousness that understood
fallibility and self-indulgence and vanity: and despite that knowledge didn't
surrender hope of nobility and integrity and doing the right thing.'
As relevant today as it ever was.

Worth buying, reading, keeping and re-reading.
Dan Walker
Dec 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, adventure
If you don't have the patience to read the Illiad, then read this book instead. Not only does it relate the stories in it, it debates them and places them in historical context. It attempts no less than an explanation of the epic poem, how it came to be, what it means, and what we should think about it today.

Personally, I think it should be required reading for anyone who has read the Old Testament and been disturbed by it, particularly the conquest of Canaan. Because if the Greeks are one of th
Sep 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wonderful. Made me eager to order a couple of the newer translations Nicholson quoted from and read the Iliad and the Odyssey again. In Why Homer Matters, Adam Nicholson explores the reasons why Homer, well over two thousand years after his poems were composed, still offers unique and precious gifts to modern readers, and also, on a personal level, he describes how reading Homer has enriched his own life.

Nicholson moves between sections describing his experiences with Homer – times and places w
Apr 29, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have not read Homer since University. I find it amazing that we are still reading in the original or in translation something written in 700 B.C. The events depicted in the epics are thought to have taken place, as early as 1800 B.C.

Nicholson explores the age old question of was there such a person as Homer or more than one person. The author covers the history of Homer, Nicholson says the linguistic analysis suggest that “The Iliad” was first then “The Odyssey”. Nicholson sums up what we stil
Don O'goodreader
Why Homer Matters by Adam Nicolson is a comprehensive tome on the analysis of Homer. I imagine every student with a Homer writing assignment will now simply choose a chapter from this book and have their research done.The most up-to-date comprehensive compendium of research related to The Illiad and The Odyssey.

My only disappointment is the title. The title question is addressed on the last page, and this felt to me like an after thought. As Greek history through Homer, the book is a great read.
Jan 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
ADORED THIS. It was the book I had been waiting for. Perfectly relates Homer to our world. Blog post here: ...more
Kate Welsh
This had lots of fascinating information, but the style wasn't really what I was looking for; I'd have preferred more academic rigor and less musing about the author's own life. ...more
I decided to pick this up after reading Circe and tackling Elizabeth Wilson's new translation of the Odyssey, which was published after this book was written. I loved Miller's Circe and Wilson's intro, but Homer himself did not speak to me as I had hoped.

Nicolson is a man obsessed with Homer. His descriptions are filled with over-the-top extremes and occasional contradictions, but they are enthralling. It was fun to ride his coattails through the ancient world. Eventually it became clear he had
David Sanchez
Dec 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Just finished this book. I recommend it highly. It is a beautifully written, very personal exploration of the Iliad and the Odyssey and Homer’s place in the collective consciousness of Western Civilization. It may inspire you to revisit (or visit for the first time) these epic poems which, with their beautiful rawness and vitality, can still speak to us of the human condition and fate in a way that remains relevant today. This book inspires me to bring my own experiences, struggles and pain, and ...more
Apr 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I’ll begin this brief review by strongly recommending this book. If I had not already read the poems in question, this book would have compelled me to do so. As it is, I’m going to have to reread the Iliad and the Odyssey before the year is out.

Why does Homer matter?

To be honest (and lazy), I couldn’t put it better than Nicolson does himself:

I see it differently: my Homer is a thousand years older [than the reputed 8th century BC author]. His power and poetry derive not from the situation of a f
Apr 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Homer matters because Homer, in a godlike way, understands what mortals do not. He even understands more than the gods, who emerge from the poems as sometimes terrifying but unreliable, intemperate and eventually ridiculous beings. That is his value, a reservoir of understanding beyond the grief and turbulence of a universe in which there is no final authority." Oh, great, another great read and now I guess I will have to read The Iliad and The Odyssey! This is a wonderfully written examination ...more
Dec 15, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Homer then has the bard - a blind man whose name is Demodocus, which means "popular with the people" - say something that drives far into the center of what Homer means and why Homer matters: "The gods did this and spun the destruction of the people / For the sake of the singing of men hereafter." The song, this poem, this story, is the divine purpose of the war. The war happened so that the poem could happen.
It is the deepest Homeric wink. The Phaeacians are enjoying this, it says, you are en
Feb 15, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
(I'm putting this under Englandland's shelf because there is no mistaking the author as anything but a walking-over-hills Brit)

This is a good book. I think the New Yorker review gets it right on, noting that this is a book about books that kicks it old school, in that it doesn't polarize into either the "sweaty" academic camp or the soft 21st century connection schlock (Sidenote: this is why I dislike the inappropriate, misleading title) or, God forbid, the lessons and moralizing.

Nicolson isn't
Jan 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Passionate and intelligent, Nicolson’s wide-ranging exploration of the cultural phenomena that produced Homer's poetry is both a compelling personal story and an impressive piece of evidence-gathering.

His main argument is that the poems are much older than commonly believed and are the result of the encounter between migrating warrior tribes from the steppe-lands north of the Black Sea with the refined city states of the southern Mediterranean. The cultural tension this meeting generated, he ar
Jan 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is a magnificent book. Don't be put off by the marketing gimmick of the title - Nicolson isn't trying to sell you Homer, he's explaining with verve, passion, personal insight and erudition why Homer is part of our cultural DNA. Highlights include his spirited case for a far earlier dating of the Iliad than most scholars would be prepared to concede, his comparison of the Achaean warriors' honour code with gang warfare in St Louis, and his searing account of how being raped at knife-point in ...more
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Adam Nicolson writes a celebrated column for The Sunday Telegraph. His books include Sissinghurst, God’s Secretaries, When God Spoke English, Wetland, Life in the Somerset Levels, Perch Hill, Restoration, and the acclaimed Gentry. He is winner of the Somerset Maugham Award and the British Topography Prize and lives on a farm in Sussex.

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News & Interviews

  As dedicated readers already know, some of the best and most innovative stories on the shelves come from the constantly evolving realm of...
53 likes · 13 comments
“There are 201 words in the Iliad and the Odyssey that occur only once in Homer and never again in the whole of Greek literature.” 1 likes
“The earliest complete Odyssey to have survived is from the late tenth century, now in Michelangelo’s Laurentian Library in Florence,” 1 likes
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