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Why Homer Matters

A History

Adam Nicolson


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ISBN10: 1250074940
ISBN13: 9781250074942

Trade Paperback

336 Pages


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Why Homer Matters is a journey of discovery across wide stretches of the past, sewn together by the Iliad and the Odyssey and their metaphors of life and trouble. Homer's poems—transmitted orally across the generations, shaped and reshaped in a living, self-renewing tradition—occupy, as Adam Nicolson writes, "a third space" in the way we relate to the past: not as memory, which lasts no more than three generations, nor as the objective accounts of history, but as epic, invented after memory but before history, poetry which aims "to bind the wounds that time inflicts."

The Homeric poems are among the oldest stories we have, drawing on deep roots in the Eurasian steppes beyond the Black Sea, but emerging at a time around 2000 BC when the people who would become the Greeks came south and both clashed and fused with the more sophisticated inhabitants of the Eastern Mediterranean.

The poems, which ask the eternal questions about the individual and the community, honor and service, love and war, tell us how we became who we are.


Praise for Why Homer Matters

“Highly accessible . . . Nicolson's amateurism (in the best, etymological, sense of the word: from the Latin amare, "to love") and globe-trotting passion for his subject is contagious . . . bringing the heroic age into our own.”The New York Times Book Review

“Complex, personal, and profound . . . a brash and brave piece of writing . . . filled with the swords and spears that inflict the carnage of the Iliad.”The Wall Street Journal

“Nicolson eloquently sums up what we still look for in Homer: 'wisdom, his fearless encounter with the dreadful, his love of love and hatred of death, the sheer scale of his embrace, his energy and brightness, his resistance to nostalgia.'”The Washington Post

Reviews from Goodreads


Read an Excerpt


One evening ten years ago I started to read Homer in English. With an old friend, George Fairhurst, I had just sailed from Falmouth to Baltimore in southwest Ireland, 250 miles across the Celtic Sea. We...

About the author

Adam Nicolson

Adam Nicolson's books include the New York Times bestseller God's Secretaries, Sea Room, Sissinghurst, and Seamanship. Among his honors are the Somerset Maugham Award, the W. H. Heinemann Prize, and the British Topography Prize; he lives on a farm in Sussex with his wife and their five grown children.

James Nutt