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Travelling Heroes: Greeks and Their Myths in the Epic Age of Homer

3.69  ·  Rating details ·  234 ratings  ·  39 reviews

This remarkable and daringly original book proposes a new way of thinking about the Greeks and their myths in the age of the great Homeric hymns. It combines a lifetime's familiarity with Greek literature and history with the latest archeological discoveries and the author's own journeys to the main sites in the story to describe how particular Greeks of the eighth century

Hardcover, 513 pages
Published September 4th 2008 by Allen Lane (first published April 7th 1999)
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Average rating 3.69  · 
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Daniel Chaikin
66. Travelling Heroes : In the Epic Age of Homer by Robin Lane Fox
published: 2008
format: 419 page paperback (plus 80 page bibliography/index)
acquired: July from Half Price Books
read: Oct 20 - Nov 5
rating: 2½

The cover blurb says, "Multilayered and beautifully written..." Don't be fooled by that nonsense, Fox's text is so dense that it's barely readable. As he sees it, he's really trying to do something new and dynamic with this book, combining as much archeological evidence as he can find and wi
Jun 16, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Not only did I find Travelling Heroes incredibly dry and yes, occasionally boring, I also felt a bit misled by the description on the back and even the title. At first I thought that misstep was just me and maybe I got confused, but several other reviewers here mentioned the same thing, meaning it's clearly an issue and making me feel a lot better about slapping a rating on this one. References to Homer's epic works are scattered here and there among the pottery shards, but mostly this is about ...more
Nov 02, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction-read
The author begins with a simile from the Iliad (2.780-85) in which Homer compares the sound of advancing Greek troops to the sound of the earth beneath the "anger of Zeus who delights in thunder, whenever he lashes the ground around Typhoeus in Arima, where they say is Typhoeus' bed . . ." He then takes the reader on a tour of the eighth-century world of Greek "travelling heroes," during which he solves the Homeric reference with which he began by identifying Arima. Along the way, he teaches the ...more
Jun 11, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Stunningly erudite and well researched - including 90 pages of small-type notes and bibliography for 360 pages of text - this is a dense and scholarly work masquerading as a book for the general reader. I do not often feel stupid and overwhelmed when reading history, but I occasionally did with this book. It's written in a casually fluent sort of tone that only an Oxford don could pull off. Because the subject matter is mostly the 8th century BC, and it relies mostly on (by necessity) spotty and ...more
Sep 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this as a commentary to Homer and Hesiod, but it is so much more than that.

Fox has an interesting thesis that he presents in an engaging manner.

This is not a simple read. It is not a book to be skimmed. I found myself having to re-read passages, not from clumsy authorship, but because the threads are tightly knitted and require one to really mull them over.

The mix of anecdote, the consideration of the topic from multiple angles, make this a worthy read.

Among the more valuable points made
Dec 18, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Cristobo De
Apr 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
Why only four stars out of five? Well, It is a hard read. Robin Lane Fox is really an accomplished scholar and he has a bad time trying to convey all his knowledge to us, laypeople. However, if you keep reading the reward is worth the effort.
It is amazing how far archeology has reached. This book actually manages to track and explain in detail the first migrations out of Greece after the dark centuries, some 2700 years ago, then explore the links between Greek, Anatolian and Middle Eastern myth
Stephen Simpson
Jul 01, 2019 rated it did not like it
Dense, dull, and not remotely close to what the back cover suggested.
Martin Glen
Nov 17, 2008 rated it really liked it
Just started this, after reading the author's history of Classical Greece and Rome (The Classical World: From Homer to Hadrian). The premise of the book is that the Greek Mediterranean diaspora in the early years of the first millenium BC created a unique medium for the development of the rich cultural legacy that followed. The problem with this eminently sensible idea is that the only non-archaeological evidence still around is either secondary or extremely fragmented. Still, this is Fox's driv ...more
Babak Fakhamzadeh
May 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
Excellent book where the author meanders around the 8th century BC Mediterranean, linking together the cultures prevalent at the time, using Homer's Iliad and Odyssey as a backdrop.

The author shows that the island of Euboea, roughly 'around the corner' from Athens, played a hugely important role in connecting the eastern with the western Mediterranean, during the 9th and 8th centuries BC, and that, during that period, a lot of the Greek mythology, stories of the gods and their companions, interm
Interesting at times but often dull.
I just can't get too interested in pottery sherds...and there's a lot about pottery sherds.
To me he doesn't really prove what he sets out to...and the title of the book seems only partly relevant to the text, I'd hoped for more on Jason and Odysseus and less on Eubean and Phoenician pottery.
He starts with the question, well he eventually gets to it anyway: what was the noise that the Achean army made that sounded like Zeus beating the seven shades out of Typho
Nov 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
Those who want history (me) about the 8th Century from this book get what they want and those who are looking for a book about Homer's heroes' myths don't really get what they want. Most of us will probably agree that the title is deceiving.

The book is about the cultures surrounding Homer. It's mostly a factual examination of lives based on and definitely obscured by our limited ability to interpret limited evidence from Homer's possible time period.

Homer's stories were probably composed during
Erik Graff
Sep 29, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
Contrary to the appended book description this has nothing to do with the late "Homeric Hymns". It does, though, have something to do with the two earlier epic poems, the Iliad and Odyssey, attributed to "Homer" and to the writings of Hesiod. The focus, however, is more on the Greeks of the eighth century B.C.E., Homer and Hesiod being thought by author Fox to belong to that century, and most particularly on the Euboean Greek adventurers and merchants who, in his opinion based mostly on the arch ...more
Feb 01, 2014 rated it it was ok
Based on the description on the back of the book, I expected this to be a look at the historical basis for the Homeric myths. Instead, it's a look at the archeological and textual evidence for the trading routes and colonies of 8th century Greeks, principally Euboeans, and how their travels and interactions with other cultures may have influenced subsequent tellings of Greek myths. As such, it's okay (the prose is pretty dry), but many of the author's arguments seem to be based on speculation, a ...more
John Gordon
Nov 11, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
I commenced this book with anticipation and high hopes but was unfortunately disappointed. The author weaves archeological, written and phonetic evidence together to understand the geographical origins of the myths of Homer and his time. The complexity of the archeological puzzle of the ancient times is incredible and the author is obviously very knowledgable on the subject.
Despite some interesting moments the reading was generally rather dry and heavy making the book a struggle to complete.
Apr 15, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: greece, non-fiction
I liked this but I felt at times it became a little tedious.Robin Lane Fox explores questions ranging from the origins of Greek gods to the spread of the classical culture in the Mediterranean world.He uses archaeology,places,objects,language,local stories and Homer to explain how these ancient peoples interpreted and saw their environment.Some of his conclusions I found myself disagreeing with however for the most part I found this a very interesting and revealing account of how this ancient so ...more
The concept is interesting, but the book is a little dull. There really isn't anything too new in the book. It provides good background and some interesting theories, but it :shrugs:. It's not the thriller the cover advertises. ...more
David Thomson
Jul 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I can imagine that this will be a bit of a marmite book. Robin Lane Fox has written some books previously with more of a popular feel but this feels much closer to his academic interests as a classicist and therefore this comes across as a PhD thesis, with a dense and detailed style. So be warned. This may not be your cup of tea.

There is a careful marshalling of his evidence - there is a great deal of discussion of pottery and dates, for example, for the first half of the book - to lay the groun
Brooke Salaz
Feb 22, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Another scholarly yet entertaining work from Fox. He expertly tracks the well-traveled 8th c. BC Euboeans to show how they interpreted what they saw to the east and west of their home and used what they learned from their seafaring and observed in the physical landscape, cult practices, written language, human interaction often sexual congress with women to enhance and support their own mythical stories. He provides evidence for Homer living during this period and writing the Iliad prior to the ...more
Linda Phillips
Sep 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Lane Fox is an incredible knowledgeable archaeologist whose knowledge is iup to date, and detailed. I was enthralled by this book explaining, not only Homer, whose part in the story eventually gets addressed, but by the thrilling revelations of the Euboeans and their interactions with the Greeks and the Phoenicians. Accounts of the role in history of Mount Huzzi and the Orontes River tantalizingly touched the toes of myths from further east, including the Genesis myths, and I would have liked to ...more
George Gale
I feel a bit bad about not liking this book, but only a bit. I had a grand view in my head of what it would be, and visions of lounging by the Mediterranean reading of Odysseus and his chums zipping hither and thither, and it all being rendered on the very real Mediterranean beside which I was lounging so contentedly.

It’s not that.
David Jones
I wanted to like this and it started well. But - much like Odysseus - it wandered all over the Mediterranean, only without the excuse of a vengeful god in pursuit. It sorely needed an editor and a clearer path through the verbiage. And less repetition.
Jan 22, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: bookshelf
I am placing this book in my bookshelf because I want to read another book of his, The Unauthorized Version. His knowledge of Greece and that area of the world has made me very curious about his take on the books of the Bible and their history.
Jimena Casillas
Oct 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Does travel make heroes?
Aug 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
Interesting book on the period known as the Greek dark ages between the fall of the Mycenaean palace period and the Classic age of Greece.

Lane fox's central theme is that the Greek myths as told by Hesiod and Homer had there origins in a diaspora of Greek merchants, sailors and soldiers from Euboea both east to Turkish/ Levant coast and west to Sicily and Italy. In both locations they found geographical locations, tales and artefacts which they recognised as analogous to their own tales and myt
Nov 18, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This book is fairly well-researched and thus, fairly dull. Advertised as a book that will focus on the Heroes of the Greek and Latin histories and the works of Homer, this book is really none of that. Rather than focus on the heroes themselves, this book focuses all on locations, locations, locations.

It has a lot of great information if you have a serious interest in the movement of ancient civilizations across the land. However, if you are just the average person picking the book up, thinking i
Dec 06, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: zzz, mythology, history
The author looks for every shred of evidence he can find about contact with other cultures in the Greek dark ages. While he defends his theories pretty well, they still seem pretty speculative. Sometimes his conclusions are interesting and his enthusiasm is infectious. More often, it's very dry. Once every few dozen pages he sneaks in a truly awful/excellent joke. I don't regret reading it, but I couldn't honestly recommend it. ...more
Margaret Sankey
Jul 23, 2011 rated it liked it
From one of my favorite classicists, archeological and textual evidence for widespread contact between Mediterranean peoples, as seen in artistic works, mythology, religious practice and shared memories of natural disasters, "monsters" and political events ...more
Sep 19, 2014 rated it it was ok
I just couldn't finish this book. The detailed descriptions of ancient archaelogical finds bogged down the whole book. I gave up about halfway, which I usually don't do. But so many other books are calling... ...more
Niels de Terra
Mar 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A rare and heroic scholarly achievement

Robin Lane Fox displays his absolute mastery of the subject in a manner that compels the erudite reader to press on and complete the journey guided by Fox's genius.
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Robin Lane Fox (born 1946) is an English historian, currently a Fellow of New College, Oxford and University of Oxford Reader in Ancient History.

Lane Fox was educated at Eton and Magdalen College, Oxford.

Since 1977, he has been a tutor in Greek and Roman history, and since 1990 University Reader in Ancient History. He has also taught Greek and Latin literature and early Islamic history, a subject

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“I wish I was here, or I wish I was there...' In our age of global travel we are all potential heirs to the simile of Hera's flight.” 2 likes
“Their (the Greeks)encounters with foreign were not coloured by the belief that such people's religion was false and inferior, the belief that thinges Christians, Muslims, Hindus or atheist nowadays” 2 likes
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