Book Review: Inventing Homer: The Early Reception of Epic by Barbara Graziosi

How do ancient sources represent the figure of Homer? This question launches Graziosi’s study, which reaches back to the sixth and fourth centuries BC, cataloguing how ancient sources describe, debate, and imagine the poet “Homer.”

The book is divided into six chapters, each tackling a different issue around Homer: his birth, name and place of origin, dating, blindness and closeness to the gods, his relationship to other poets, and the “heirs” of Homer. The latter refers not to putative biological heirs (though she does discuss the Homeridae) but to how different ancients framed their relationship to the poet.

One of the most valuable assets of this study is the way it models a way of thinking about ancient sources, neither “believing” them or “doubting” them but examining them as a way to reveal the assumptions that animate them. This enables Graziosi to reveal what modern assumptions that have shaped the way the poems have been studied and interpreted. While I may not always agree with her conclusions, the study is fascinating and a pleasure to think with. This is a study I have returned to again and again.

4 thoughts on “Book Review: Inventing Homer: The Early Reception of Epic by Barbara Graziosi

  1. This seems like a really valuable read for Homer fans and scholars!

    ….Also, I have to admit, when I first read “dating”, I was like, “Oooh, who was Homer allegedly romantically involved with? What did a date with him entail?”…before realizing that you meant the OTHER kind of dating… And now I am curious about what a great ancient poet (if he really existed) would have done to impress someone on a date. Maybe all he would need would be a stunning landscape, accompanied by some of his own beautiful descriptions.

    Thanks for this unexpected little imaginary moment!

    Oh – and if YOU were to go on a date with Homer (assuming he was interested in women?), where would you take him – today and in the ancient world?

    1. It really is an awesome work of scholarship 🙂
      And I LOVE the direction you took this in and the question you ask here. Definitely, we can tell who, between the two of us, is the fiction writer and who the nonfiction 😆
      Okay, so if I were to take Homer on a date in the present, I’d take him to Chios, one of his putative birthplaces. Specifically, I’d take him to the place where, according to Chios legend, he taught his students. Obviously, the entire date would be devoted to me asking him to answer all the unknowns. So he probably wouldn’t call me again, haha. Or maybe he’d really like talking about himself? 🤔 If we were on a date in ancient times, I think I’d still like to go to Chios and see the ancient sites in their prime ❤️

  2. Thank you for answering my somewhat nonsensical question – and with a really profound and lovely answer! I bet Homer would totally enjoy having a date with you and would probably ask you on a second date! Who doesn’t love talking about oneself? But I hope he wouldn’t be totally self-obsessed, and would manage to get some questions in there about you, too!

    1. Hahaha, thank you! A second date with Homer would be quite the honor! Questions he might ask me: “but tell me about you…how did you become so obsessed with me?” 🤣

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