Read The World of Odysseus by Moses I. Finley Bernard Knox Online


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 classiciThe 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 classicist Bernard Knox notes in his introduction to this new edition, "as indispensable to the professional as it is accessible to the general reader"--a fundamental companion for students of Homer and Homeric Greece....

Title : The World of Odysseus
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ISBN : 9781590170175
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Number of Pages : 232 Pages
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The World of Odysseus Reviews

  • Kalliope
    2018-11-16 23:49

    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. I imagine that it has earned its slot with this publishing house by both: Finley’s political leanings; and what was a strikingly original proposition at the time of publication, 1954. Finley adamantly defended that Homer’s two poems are not history. They are fiction. Schliemann’s pretentions were just so, and the eventual full understanding of the Linear B Tablets completely changed our view of ancient times in the Aegean territories.In my warming up to the Odyssey it has helped me to read in Finley that Homer’s time probably was around 750 BC period; that he was not writing about the lost Mycenaean period (13-12C BC); and that neither was he writing about his own times. Finley proposes the setting of the poems to the period before Homer (10-9C BC), the so-called Dark Ages of the Greek classical world.And as dark times were dark, the most Finley dares to draw from the epics is a series of observations on the social institutions and social values that are represented. Finley’s analysis therefore is not literary, and as mentioned, neither is he providing an archaeological report--even if he uses archaeological knowledge. His view is that of an anthropologist.Many of Finley’s observations are fascinating. I particularly liked his attention paid to the way oral traditions function and how Bards construct their poems. He mentions how in the 1930s an illiterate Serbian Bard had been asked to produce a rhymed poem that he completely composed it anew as he went along, taking several days to narrate the full story. From this he draws some rules that can be applied to Homer’s composition.The BardBut I also found, as I often do with anthropologists, that some of Finley’s findings are just too obvious. For example, he develops amply the important practice of gift giving, and deduces that reciprocity, in one way or other, was expected (really?). And in this I agree with Yann’s opinion of this book. Once Finley has discarded the poems as documents, and chosen not to analyze them from a literary point of view, what can he then say that any attentive reader and observer of human nature, in general, would not have also noticed?Gift givingThis edition comes with two important Appendixes, both provided by Finley almost twenty years after his main essay. They provide interesting reading. In the first he revisits his main theories, and in the latter he censures directly Schliemann’s claims. These have now been completely discarded and I recommend the amusing The Fall of Troy------Reading The Oxford History of the Classical World, in his essay on Homer, Oliver Taplin comments on Finley's book. He says: Finley's case is that Homer is consistent and anthropologically plausible in such matters as Agamemnon's constitutional position, the inheritance customs on Ithaca, the status of wives and monogamy, the legal and social treatment of murderers, to give four examples. I would maintain that in all four cases the poems are in fact inconsistent, treating the issue differently in different contexts.... ... and from there proceeds to expand a bit more on the specifics of those four cases...

  • Steve
    2018-11-04 03:03

    The Blinding of PolyphemusJust 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 heavily on a close reading of the Odyssey.I emphasize that Finley discusses the Odyssey not as a literary text so much as a historical text, and not as a history of some "Trojan War" (this notion, and the notion that Schliemann's Troy was the Troy of the Iliad, he deflates quickly) but as a social history of a particular moment on the peninsula we now call Greece. The first historical task is to determine the time.Finley locates the actual time - as opposed to the represented time - of "Odysseus' world" not where I had naively accepted it to be; the received notion from such sources as Herodotus set the Homeric poems in Mycenaean times (12th - 14th century BCE).(*) According to Finley, the Odyssey was written in the 7th century BCE, a little less than a century after the Iliad was written, and the world it describes is not really the relatively distant past as the text pretends, but is primarily that of the 9th and 10th centuries BCE with anachronistic admixtures from both before and after that time.After explaining the craft of the bards from whose oral tradition the Homeric poets selected and sewed together various pieces, Finley briefly points out the elements of the Homeric text(s) which stem from the standard tools of this craft. But he also points out that it is the art of the selection and the sewing together of the disparate pieces which set the Iliad and the Odyssey apart from the other epic poems of the time. And here I mean not the work of Hesiod, but of five other lengthy epics written down around the same time which survived for at least five more centuries (they were in Alexandria's fabled library) but later disappeared except for remnants in anthologies or quotations appearing in other books.Finley attributes the survival of the Iliad and the Odyssey precisely to their quality. He reminds us that as the reed paper and skins on which the texts were written decayed with time, it was necessary for someone to care enough about the texts to re-write them by hand. In hoards of Greek manuscripts found preserved in the Egyptian desert a large percentage of the (incomplete due to imperfect preservation) texts were copies of the Iliad and the Odyssey. Many centuries after Homer's time, if one collected ancient Greek texts one was sure to want a copy of those two but rarely the other five.What about the texts we actually have? According to Finley, the oldest complete texts of the Odyssey we possess date to the 10th century CE. In what relation do they stand to the 7th century BCE text? As mentioned, many fragments of Homer have been found in Egyptian hoards, and the corresponding passages in the monastery texts coincide remarkably well with these old fragments, some of which date back to the 3rd century BCE. OK, that leaves a gap of some 400 years. It appears that internal philological evidence strongly suggests that the text in our possession was established in Athens between 560 and 527 BCE. But Finley assures us that because all Greeks knew Homer's stories well, this Athenian text could not have differed markedly from the original(s) and still survived. So we have some reason to believe that the text that has come down to us closely corresponds to "Homer" 's, and therefore is reporting on customs, social structures, values, religious beliefs, etc. as would a man of the 7th century BCE who is trying to present a somewhat earlier world with convincing detail but incomplete knowledge, with the knowledge of tradition.(**) He must, therefore, fill the many gaps with details from his own world.So on this basis Finley reads from the Odyssey these customs, etc. and gives us a surprisingly detailed and complete view of the warrior society which was pre-Archaic Greece. Interesting indeed are the many differences and similarities with the earlier Mycenaean age and the later Classical age.For example, in this "time of Odysseus" the basic social and economic unit is the oikos; this consists of a father, his wife, all of their sons and their spouses and children, if any, all of their unmarried daughters, their slaves and free retainers. The sons did not establish independent households until their father's death. The oikos acted as a unit with the father acting as basileus (the same term used for kings). All of the goods of the oikos were kept and distributed centrally. The larger social structures were informal and loose. The local oikoi collaborated when necessary in an agora (which meant meeting/meeting place then, not marketplace as it did later - there were no marketplaces in "Odysseus' time" and merchants were despised) led by the "noblemen," a strictly hereditary class. The king was the "first among equals" in this local class (kings there were aplenty in Greek-speaking lands at this time) and was often enough replaced by force. That the king's son would become king at his father's death was by no means assured.(***) "Justice" was either obtained by the offended oikos through its own action or not at all.This loose social structure and the near total lack of value set in the notion of community, as opposed to honor, renown, and respect of the individual, contrasts mightily both with the Mycenaean palace states and the later classical polis and is just one example of many unique aspects of Dark Age Greece that Finley finds through a close reading of the Homeric texts. I know that I will have to re-read the Homeric poems with this new perspective, for when I first read them long ago I read them as great stories, well told, and not as expressions of the values of a society which was, let's face it, quite alien to the globalized mass-mediatized mercantile society we now live in, where the highest values are wealth, celebrity, comfort and safety.(*) One of the few supporting points Finley does mention is that prior to the mysterious Catastrophe that wiped out much of eastern Mediterranean culture during the 12th century BCE, warfare in the region was carried out by vast arrays of chariots with infantry used only as screens. In the Iliad the chariots are used only to transport the heroes to the battlefield, where they dismounted and fought on foot. A complete anachronism if the battle is set in Asia Minor before 1200 BCE.(**) Unwritten traditions change over time under various social pressures, which is probably the mechanism behind Finley's observation that the actual time of the Homeric poems is only a century or two preceding their inscription onto paper.(***) Of course, this is the motive behind the actions of the 108 suitors of Odysseus' wife, Penelope; although Finley is uncertain why the agora did not simply choose a replacement for Odysseus, the intent of each of the suitors is to assure he will be chosen the next King of Ithaca by having the advantage of wedding the former Queen.Rating

  • Dax
    2018-11-16 18:55

    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.

  • William1
    2018-10-29 19:59

    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.

  • Yann
    2018-10-30 23:48

    Quoi de mieux pour pour profiter plus pleinement d'une œuvre de fiction que de se documenter sur l'univers dans lequel il prend place, mais aussi du monde dans lequel vivait l'écrivain qui l'a composé? En effet, il est rare qu'il ne tire pas une partie de son inspiration de ce qu'il a devant les yeux. Ainsi, la connaissance de ce contexte ne peut qu'aider à une meilleur intelligence du travail de l'auteur, et donc sans doute à un plus grand plaisir de lecture. Mais ce que propose Moses Finley dans cette petite étude intitulée le monde d'Ulysse, c'est plutôt un cheminement inverse: partir de l’œuvre de fiction homérique pour tenter de mieux comprendre le monde d'Homère et le monde d'Ulysse que nous connaissons bien mal par ailleurs, pour nous en brosser la peinture la plus plus vraisemblable possible.Quoique pleine de promesses, cette démarche est évidemment hérissée de difficultés pointues: les événements ont-ils eu lieu? A quelle époque a vécu Homère? Quel délai entre la composition de l’œuvre et les événements? L'univers décrit est-il plus contemporain à Homère, ou décrit-il ces fameux temps héroïques? Finley ne les cache pas, marche le plus souvent sur des œufs, mais pas toujours. Globalement, Finley restreint au plus ses hypothèses, et les corrobore par des travaux d'autres domaines des sciences humaines. Mais j'ai regretté que ces fameux travaux ne soient le plus souvent que cités en passant, et ne servent au final pour le lecteur béotien que d'arguments d'autorité, à moins qu'il ne s’embarrasse à acheter et à compulser la très copieuse bibliographie de l'auteur. Ainsi, par cette méthode, le monde d'Ulysse décrit par Finley, c'est grosso modo celui que découvre une simple lecture de l'Odyssée. J'ai donc eu du mal à me passionner pour l'ouvrage: l’intérêt de l’œuvre d'Homère, n'est ce pas plutôt le formidable foisonnement qu'elle a suscité, que ce soit pour enrichir son univers de nouvelles fictions, ou pour servir de support aux philosophes et exégètes qui se sont penchés pendant des siècles sur sa trame? N'est ce pas une œuvre qui a été lue et étudiée par tout les petits grecs? Se familiariser avec elle, n'est ce pas nous rendre plus à même d'apprécier un référentiel commun auquel ils n'ont eu cesse de se référer? A côté de ça, l'hypothétique caractère historique de cette épopée sur lequel Finley nous fait loucher, que les anciens avaient eu le bon sens de négliger, me semble d'une bien moindre importance; mais bon, pour moi, le plus gros problème n'est pas là.Ce qui m'a finalement le plus irrité dans cette lecture, c'est que Finley m'a semblé n'avoir aucune sympathie pour son sujet, et qu'il assomme et glace le lecteur avec une ironie froide et amère qui tombe presque toujours mal à propos. Plus d'une fois il m'est arrivé de sursauter comme un diable diable de sa boîte en lisant tel ou tel préjugé asséné avec aplomb. On dirait un de ces romains que la jalousie a entraîné à fustiger avec d'acrimonieux sarcasmes aussi gratuits qu'injustes ces satanés graeculi qui ont imposé leur culture à leur vainqueur. Aussi, je préfère de beaucoup la délicate finesse d'un Buffière, l'alacrité enthousiaste d'un Vidal-Naquet, l'industrieuse et ouverte curiosité d'une Jouanno, ou encore l'érudition active et imaginative d'un Victor Bérard à l'ennuyeux et désagréable compte-rendu d'un pisse-froid. Un peu déçu, donc, par ce livre qui n'a pas vraiment réussi à m'enthousiasmer.

  • Justin Evans
    2018-10-24 02:09

    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 anecdotes, no sex and murder stories. It's just a solid suggestion of what a world looked like, in this case, the 'Dark Ages' in the eastern Mediterranean, after the Mycenaeans and before the time the Homeric poems were coming together. Basically, not very attractive. As a side note, I should say that I was biased in favor of liking this book after I found out some of Finley's life story. According to wikipedia:"He taught at Columbia University and City College of New York, where he was influenced by members of the Frankfurt School who were working in exile in America. In 1952, during the Red Scare, Finley was fired from his teaching job at Rutgers University; in 1954, he was summoned by the United States Senate Internal Security Subcommittee and asked whether he had ever been a member of the Communist Party USA. He invoked the Fifth Amendment and refused to answer."He was fired at the end of the year and could never work in the U.S. again. A political martyr who ended up becoming a British citizen and getting knighted, after hanging out with the Frankfurters in New York? That's my kind of man.

  • John
    2018-10-31 02:14

    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 - all the dimensions of the question at hand. I only wish a similar book or article existed in the domain of signal processing - which remains a black art unnecessarily, I think, beacuse there isn't such a book.Then there is the problem of level of detail. Finley controls his discussions masterfully - just enough detail to achieve his purpose, i.e. to define each domain in the world of Odysseus, "heoric culture," that is, rather than the whole of ancient society, economy and culture, so that one has it firmly in mind - and no more - not one jot or tittle.And this is just the sort of book that should go/has gone through many editions to reflect accretions/accumulation of knowledge and the author's assessment of them. Obviously, any field of inquiry changes - or should change - unless it's not worth the bother. [Counted cross-stitch springs to mind - for some reason.] And so anyone who pretends to mastery of a field must absorb new detail and extract its meaning and significance for the questions at hand. I read one of the later editions of Finley's book - at least twenty years younger than the first, and it was clear that Finley had read most of the relevant literature that had appeared since and had grappled with it - or so his bibliographical essay suggests, modifying his original delineations and conclusions. Or so it appears.Such persons are rare indeed, and even fewer write with the clarity of purpose and directness/simplicity of style as Finley possessed and employed. I suppose a reader of Homer's poems could ignore this book, but I can't imagine why he/she would. A non sequitor follows:It's interesting. Many of Finley's comments apply with certain qualifications to the world of the American South during the late antebellum period, as primitive and archaic as it was at that time - and remains in certain of its salient attributes. [By the way, I'm descended directly from a shareholder in the Virginia Company of London, Henry Dawkes, whose name appears in the second charter, signed by James I in 1606, who came to Jamestown in 1609/1610 at the end of the starving time there and one of whose sons survived the Jamestown massacre of 1622. So I yield to no one on the point of Southern Anglo-American heritage. I'm no bigot. I just know those folks better than most.] Bertram Wyatt-Brown's "Southern Honor" covers hundreds of pages with words devoted to the similarities. So one need not be a student of ancient Greece/Mediterranean world in order to understand and benefit from Finley's discussion of "heroic culture" and the world of Odysseus. In fact, it illuminates other worlds.

  • James Murphy
    2018-11-03 01:55

    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 and mastery of the bardic tradition he practiced. There are 3 appendices, the most useful being an appraisal of the famous excavations of Heinrich Schliemann at Hissarlik along the Aegean coast of Turkey which he declared were the remains of Troy. This is a classical work of scholarship which provides complementary background to a reading of the Iliad and Odyssey. I enjoyed reading it again.

  • Lada Fleur
    2018-11-02 01:06

    Le livre intellectuellement prenant, fascinant comme un monde voile par le temps revolu, enfoui et venant par bribes de la nuit des tempa comme mythe.Homere et Homerides, ceux qui se rapportent a lui. Des philosophes et savants. Qui est Homere. pour qui parle- t- il et omment?Homere, il est essentiel de le rappeler, n'etait pas simplement un poete; il etait un conteur de mythe et de legendes. L'elaboration d'une mythologie avait evidemment debute chez les Grecs bien plus tot: elle n'avait jamais cesse partout ou il y avait des Grecs, toujours oralement et souvent solennellement. Il s'agissait d'une activite sociale de haut niveau, et non de la reverie fortuite et d'un poete ou du trop- plein d'imagination d'un paysan. L'objet essentiel du mythe etait l'action, non les idees, les croyances ou les representations symboliques, mais les evenements et les faits - guerres, deluges, aventures sur terre et air, querelles familiales, naissances, mariages et les morts...L-imagination mythique implique toujours un acte de croyance. Sans cette croyance en la realite de son objet, le mythe perdrait tout fondement.Finley conteste bien-sur cette vue de E. Cassirer,que les Grecs sont au contraire civilises et cultives au point que ce n-est pas Posseidon qui empechent Ulysse de regagner sa maison d'Ithaque, ce sont en fait des contes symboliques ou allegoriques....pareils au reve, transmettant une experience et un savoir deja elabores dans le domaine de la morale et la psychologie Interessant le chapitre 2 Aedes et les heros. il a un rapport entre les heros et lesaedes. Les heros lancent letr defi pour se montrer, pour se faire valoir, Zeus et vous tous dieux! permettez que mon fils, comme moi, se distingue entre les Troyens, qu-il montre une force egale a la mienne et qu-il regne, puissant, a Illion.. L'aede comme Homere tient son histoire, il la manie tout ce qu'il a accumule, il a cree un monde coherent, il a su cree une oeuvre de genie tout en restant dans la voie traditionnelle du monde grec. Le decalage de temps fait la distance. C'est le procede epique. C'est l'imagination du poete

  • Jim
    2018-11-12 20:18

    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, when the putative Trojan War took place, where the locations in Odysseus's ten year wanderings are to be found on a map, whether Odysseus actually ruled from Ithaca, whether there was a single poet who wrote both Greek epics, where he/they came from, whether he/they were really blind or even male, and so on. Finley derides the whole notion of "Homer-as-war-correspondent," namely, as a reliable guide to the who, what, why, when, and where of historical fact. What Finley does provide is an inventory of what life in the time of Odysseus was liked based on internal evidence from the epics. As such, it is eminently readable and eye-opening, especially to one who, like myself, just finished re-reading Homer's Odyssey.

  • Chris
    2018-10-21 03:18

    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.

  • Simon Mcleish
    2018-11-19 22:14

    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 Milman Parry include events and people known from more conventional historical sources, making this easier.)Finley manages to distinguish two kinds of writing in Homer, other than principally fanciful episodes (like the Cyclops encounter in the Odyssey). There are distorted reflections of some past time, and insertions from the poet's own time. Sometimes they are combined, as in the descriptions of chariot fighting: the poet knows that chariots were used, but not how (because the use had died out by his time), so imagines them to be a kind of taxi to get to the battlefield, where the hero gets out to fight on foot. The description of gift exchange, which closely parallels similar systems known to anthropologists, is ancient; similes involving iron are contemporary.Finley discusses many issues related to his theme, and is always interesting and convincing. There is the relationship between the poems and the Linear B tablets; between the poems and the excavations by Schliemann and others at Hissarlik and in Greece; between the works of Homer and Hesiod, near contemporaries; how later editing (known to have occurred) might have affected the poems; the existence and identity (identities) of Homer; the attitude towards the gods revealed in the poems (a downplaying of the more homely, primitive gods like Dionysus and Demeter). To a non-classicist like myself, his conclusions always seem to make sense. It is the romantic weight of the poems themselves, as evidenced in the desire to connect Hissarlik to the Troy of the Iliad by going beyond the archaeological evidence, which meant that The World of Odysseus caused such controversy.

  • M. Milner
    2018-11-20 02:08

    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 opinions with careful readings of Homer, opposing them against other Ancient Greeks (Hesiod, generally), and with the support of our knowledge of oral epics in other cultures and other ancient societies. And the way he does it, carefully laying out an opinion and explaining why how he reached it, never comes across as overly academic - or in a way that talks down to his readers.In a nutshell, Finley lays out a thesis that neither The Iliad or The Odyssey have any real basis in fact: they may have been a Troy, but it certainly wasn't subject to a ten-year siege, for example, or that one can chart Odysseus' journey on a map. He goes a step further, too, explaining customs between city-states (finally, a good explanation for the gift-giving!), between a king and his community and man and the gods (a really interesting note: the sun god Helios has such little power he has to get Zeus to react to Odysseus' men eating his cattle). It's a short read, but one that's remarkably full of insight. Recommended!

  • Susan
    2018-11-09 18:59

    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 introduction

  • Clarissa Feio
    2018-11-02 20:50

    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
    2018-11-07 21:52

    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 period and area. Jewish stories from the period are not carbon copy, but interesting.Finley discussion of how epic poetry was composed is just fabulous. A must read if you like works like Beowulf, Gilgamesh, Icelandic epics, El Cid, and The Chanson de Roland. Bards had a stock of incidents, character traits, settings, and other tools we'd describe today as literary devices but set in their own time and place. Modern bards in Afghanistan and parts of eastern Europe appear to "work" the same way. Fascinating discussion of the epic art.More to say when I finish reading it.Okay, finished the book...this book was more like a social anthropology text dealing with the social institutions of the late bronze age Greek community. Having cut my college teeth on such writing, I really enjoyed this a lot more than I expected. Shades of my old professor Merlin Myers (a Cambridge man).The chapter titled "Morals and Values" vindicated my assertion than Islam is the vehicle that has transported Bronze and Iron Age culture into modern times. Referring to the ancient Greek admiration of warrior heroes, Finley says on page 115 "warrior and hero are synonyms, and the main theme of a warrior culture is constructed on two notes--prowess and honor. The one is the hero's essential attribute, the other his essential aim. Every value, every judgment, every action, all skills and talents have the function of either defining honor or realizing it. Life itself must not stand in the way...even life must surrender to honor."Honor is the essential characteristic of cultures that today practice Islam. In these societies the group trumps individual value, and honor is public opinion come alive. Society controls individuals by the threat of gossip, and social groups control gossip by purging individuals who court or generate unflattering gossip.Finley continues (p. 116) "The significant fact is that never in either the Iliad or the Odyssey is there a rational discussion, a sustained, disciplined consideration of circumstances and their implications, of possible courses of action, their advantages and disadvantages. There are lengthy arguments...they are quarrels, not discussions, in which each side seeks to overpower the other by threats, and to win over the assembled multitude by emotional appeal, by harangue, and by warning."On p. 120 he goes on "...the meaning of his [the warrior/hero] life, received its final test in three parts: whom he fought, how he fought, and how he fared. Hence as Thorstein Veblin phrased it, under "this common-sense barbarian appreciation of worth or honor, the taking of honorable in the highest degree." Welcome to the world of Yassir Arafat and Osama bin Laden, a pair of hero thinkers.Homer's works have a great deal to contribute to the foreign policy idea of a "peace process" with the Arab Middle East, but who bothers to read Homer these days?Finley leaves us wondering how the cultural Greeks managed to shed the heroic underpinnings of their Bronze Age culture. The process was Darwinian in its slowness, as the grip of patria potestas in Roman society--the father with control over life and death of his family members--proves. Welcome to the world of honor killing.

  • Mary Catelli
    2018-11-06 21:16

    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 gratuitous lies, how the heroes were frequently called divine, and much more interesting stuff.

  • Kobe Bryant
    2018-11-15 20:49

    I must be really smart because this all seemed obvious to me

  • Bill FromPA
    2018-11-10 18:53

    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 the heart and mind while humanity retains both. There appeared recently a book about the Odyssey which talked of it as a sociological document only. It had a fabulous success and the American author was at once offered chairs in Oxford as well as Cambridge. That 1957 letter to archaeologist Axel Boethius is quoted from The Selected Letters of Bernard Berenson at the start of Appendix I of The World of Odysseus by M. I. Finley. Of course, the book Berenson refers to is this very book by Finley. To over-do my book-as-mirror metaphor, Finley looks into the Iliad and Odyssey as through a glass darkly to see if he can discern the society of which the poems are a reflection. To be clear, he believes that the poems can be used to understand aspects of Greek civilization not of Homer's own era, circa 800 BCE, but of the so-called 'heroic age' approximately 300 years earlier. Finley claims that, except for a few identifiable anachronisms, the poems give a consistent and probable description of economic and social institutions of the time, information unavailable from other written records.The information Finley derives from the poems will be of interest to anyone looking for insight into certain aspects of Homer, but I am not clear on why it should necessarily be considered historically accurate. Finley is explicit that Homer cannot be taken as an accurate reporter of architecture, chariot warfare, geography, or history (Appendix II is a lecture which throws several buckets of cold water on the idea of a historical Trojan War), and I did not find his arguments convincing that accuracy could nevertheless be found in his descriptions of social organization and practices. Finley's main claim for this information's basis in reality is that it is consistent within itself to a greater extent that would be possible if it were purely imaginary. He also cites studies of bardic traditions of transmission and poetic formulas to support the idea that such information could be accurately transmitted orally over centuries.

  • JJ
    2018-10-26 02:07

    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 survey is otherwise so broad) nor does it affect its central thesis that the world of Odysseus was an honor-based society, driven by personal relationships in the cases of both men and gods.

  • Mihai Zodian
    2018-11-12 02:58

    "Finley a facut vâlvă acum câteva decenii prin teoria sa destul de curajoasă: Iliada și Odiseea ar fi fost inspirate de societatea Epocii Întunecate elene, perioadă situată după dezastrul micenian. Poemele nu ar fi nici invenții, cum s-a crezut pentru o vreme, nici legende din vechime. După o uzuală speculație despre Homer, o denumire care pentru istoric ascunde doi autori, ne este explicat statutul celor două opere literare, în același timp și manuale, fundamentul religiei sau surse de modele etice.Să nu uităm că, atunci când Platon dorea să-i gonească pe poeți din cetatea ideală, el se referea, în principal, la Homer. În eterna dispută dintre poezie și filosofie, se pare că cea din urmă a pierdut, în ciuda iluziilor intelectualilor: din cele peste 1200 manuscrise găsite în Egipt până în momentul redactării Lumii lui Odiseu, 550 erau legate de Iliada și Odiseea, ”Platon e reprezentat doar prin 36 de papirusuri, Aristotel prin 6”[2] . Teoriile după care metafizica e sursa răului sau a binelui cad din rațiunea unui interes insuficient.Grecii considerau poemele autentice, le interpretau ad litteram și-ar fi fost transmise, printr-o metodă admirabilă, sugerată de cercetările lui Milman Parry în Bosnia. Într-o perioadă în care scrisul aproape dispăruse, barzii au memorat Iliada și Odiseea prin formule stil ”Ahile cel iute”, repetate de-a lungul recitărilor. Așa s-ar explica asemănările și diferențele între ele, de pildă, Odiseea se petrece în Vest, întâlnim mai puțini zei, acțiunea se centrează în jurul lui Ulise.Civilizația miceniană se prăbușișe, din motive încă neclare, crize interne, migrație sau cucerire, lumea polis-urilor încă nu venise, deși unele elemente sunt anunțațe. Între cele două s-a discutat, în literatura de specialitate despre un fel de Ev Mediu, în care scriitura dispăruse. Iliada și Odiseea vorbesc despre o mare expediție din trecut, însă oamenii trăiesc într-o altă epocă.Povestea vine dinaintea sfârșitului lumii, societatea din poeme este ”post-apocaliptică”. Au trecut crizele, noii emigranți se așează, unele centre își revin, nimeni știe cum conduceau regii din legende. Pentru a înțelege dimensiunile diferențelor, în Iliada, este suficient celebrul exemplu al carele de lupta, folosite ca mijloace de transport, purtând niște nobili interesați mai curând de dueluri decât de lupa organizată. Ce ne spun poemele despre lumea lor, după Finley? Avem de-a face cu o societate stratifică în care aristoi, nobilii, controlau avuția și puterea; cu bariere rigide: ”crearea unor noi averi … nu era cu putință, … căsătoria era strâns legată de clasă”[3] . Îndeletnicirea lor principală: războiul și prada, oferind scena unor moravuri brutale, bărbații învinși omorâți, femeile transformate în sclave. Majoritatea populației ar fi fost formată din țărani, crescători de animale, uneori mici meșteșugari. Societatea era grupată în gospodării familiale, ”oikos”, cu argați și sclavi, dintre care, evident, cele mai importante aparțineau nobililor. ”Bogăția casnică e elementul hotărâtor … baza e pământul”[4], schimburile era organizat într-un sistem de daruri asemănător celui potlatch din Nordul Americii. Aristocrația trăia pentru prestigiu, după cum ne sugerează legenda lui Ahile, mai curând decât pentru mizele concrete ale conflictelor. Legăturile de familile se amestecă cu practica răzbunărilor, crimele țin de dreptul privat, așa cum ne arată trilogia Orestia, ce avea să glorifice superioritatea polis-ului conservator asupra societății arhaice. Cu toate acestea, nu lipsea forme ale comunității politice.Regele, un fel de primul între egali, putea convoca adunarea, care era limitată la sfaturi, dar dreptul de a vorbi aparținea nobililor. ”Basileul” trebuia să țină cont de opinia publică, dar și de tradiția îndeobște religioasă, pe care o vedem reprezentată uneor de preoți-profeți și cititori în vise. Femeile aveau un statut inferior bărbaților, fără acces la decizii, uneori tratate ca pradă de război.În același timp, în poeme, zeii erau tratați ca oamenii, cu pasiuni și interese concrete și mai ales, ceea ce a șocat pe mulți puritani, nu erau morali, nu îi forțau pe oameni să se conforme unui ideal etic, iar norocul și soarta jucau un rol decisiv. Prin această mitologie, se conturează o formă incipientă de umanism, indivizii fiind creaturi asemănătoare zeilor din punct de vedere al caracterului și motivațiilor; erau deseori înrudiți, se luptau unii cu ceilalți etc. ”După ce Homer prefăcuse pe zei în oameni, omul avea să învețe să se cunoască pe sine”[5] , subliniază Finley.Și-aici ne întâlnim cu o mai veche ambiguitate a filosofilor talentați; nu doar că poezia amenință domeniul ideilor, ci și inspiră filosofia sau, cel puțin îi deschide drumul. Teza lui Finley a fost contestată, lipsesc alte izvoare primare pentru a o confirma sau infirma; ceea ce rămâne în picioare este ambiția de a reconstrui o epocă din perspectiva mentalităților și-a ideii că uneori, în spatele legendelor, se află ceva adevărat. Ușor de citit, cu un argument clar și bine prezentat, Lumea lui Odiseu include o prefață a autorului pentru ediția românească.[1] [2] M. I. Finley, Lumea lui Odiseu, Editura Științifică, 1986, p. 6.[3] Idem., p. 74.[4]Idem., p. 82.[5]Idem., p. 182"

  • Kenneth
    2018-11-09 19:02

    A review of the Homeric world as understood by one of the foremost classicists of the mid 20th century.

  • Stewart
    2018-11-05 00:17

    “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 of Homer and the Heroic Age centuries before. It can’t be overemphasized the importance of these two epics to what has become Western civilization. Finley writes, “If is true that European history began with the Greeks, it is equally true that Greek history began with the world of Odysseus.” There are many cogent comments Finley makes in the book. The several paragraphs he spends on the gods and goddesses in ancient Greek life and those depicted in “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” especially caught my interest. The ancient Greek pantheon is indeed awesome, especially when you add the demigods, nymphs, mythological creatures, and heroes of divine lineage. Even if one does not believe in their literal existence, this pantheon describes – with vast imagination – a nuanced and insightful psychology of humans: from Zeus to Poseidon, and Medusa to Pegasus, and the Muses to the Eumenides, and Calypso to the Cyclops. These gods and goddesses mingled freely with the Greeks, and indeed were very much human; they were corporeal, possessed different personalities and skills, but were immortal and wielded superior powers. “One element which deserves particular notice is the complete anthropomorphism,” Finley writes. “God was created in man’s image with a skill and a genius that must be ranked with man’s greatest intellectual feats. The whole of heroic society was reproduced on Olympus in its complexities and its shadings.” Later, Finley writes, “The humanization of the gods was a step of astonishing boldness. To picture supernatural beings not as vague, formless spirits, or as monstrous shapes, half bird, half animal, for instance, but as men and women, with human organs and human passions, demanded the greatest audacity and pride in one’s own humanity.” The polytheism of the ancient Greeks and Romans was very much different from the monotheism of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam that succeeded it. The Greek gods were quite understandable and their powers, although strong, were limited. They fought among themselves, had virtues and vices. The God of Christians, Muslims, and Jews is a remote deity with unlimited power – all-knowing, omnipotent, with traits and motivations beyond the comprehension of humans. I should mention that the Greek and Romans with their polytheism were tolerant of the gods and goddesses of other peoples, not something I can say of the monotheism practiced during much of the history of Europe and the Middle East. This classic book, of only 177 pages, is a fine supplement to those who have read “The Iliad” and/or “The Odyssey” and want to know more of the relevant background to these two classics. The information and insight provided will delight the general reader and the scholar alike.

  • Jan
    2018-11-17 03:17

    When this book was first released in the 1950's, it was no doubt groundbreaking, as it attempted a rigorous view of a field of scholarship that had long been built on castles in the sand -- the historical study of Ancient Troy.Fifty years later, debates continue about the historicity of the Iliad and Odyssey, but "The World of Odysseus" is still fresh and very much a vital work of sociology. M.I. Finley, rather than grasping for clues toward an ill-conceived conclusion, considers the fundamental problems of using oral heroic poetry as a basis of historical study (even ten years after World War II, accounts of Greek bards were shockingly unreliable and exaggerated) and then moves on to a more productive question: what can we learn from Homer, if not about specific historical events, then about the structure of a society?Valuable insights arise about a period of Greek history that is otherwise unattested: the Dark Ages between the mysterious falls of Mycenae and the Hittite Empires and the post-Homeric times from which plenty of literature survives. We get a picture of a sparsely organized society, in which personal honor gets played out in raids and gift exchange, later elevated to great deeds of heroes. Finley's work grows in plausibility as he points to analogous social structures in other primitive societies, expressed in a similar way as Homer, and he speculates on the continuity between a belief in truculent personal gods and the moral and metaphysical religion that would later evolve among the Greeks.Extremely well-written and clear-eyed, this is a great work of sociology, acknowledging the limits of history but also serious about understanding the society that could have given birth to such great works of literature.

  • John Mccullough
    2018-10-22 19:16

    This is a good, scholarly account of what we knew about the Mycenaen Civilization, the "home turf" of the Greeks who stormed the walls of Ilium - Troy. Finley does a fine job of introducing us to the bones and some of the flesh of the world in which Odysseus, his family and his people lived. Much was gleaned from archaeology, but Homer's IliAd and the Odyssey provide so many details that cannot be gleaned from archaeology alone. This book is current as of 1964, so much has been learned since then (and since I read the book), but it is an excellent introduction to the subject. For more current information, especially the extremely exciting insights provided by being able to read those strange clay tablets occasionally found in Mycenaean sites. John Chadwick's books will catch you up on that - The Decipherment of Linear B, and The Mycenaean World.

  • Tanja
    2018-11-12 22:13

    Finley's book was at times a bit difficult to get through, especially since I made the mistake of not keeping my old tattered copy of Homer's epics close at hand. It has been a while since I read them, and his references to the text sent me scurrying to my bookshelf, trying to find the appropriate passage. It is not that Finley's subject matter is not interesting, I have to admit that I do not know very much about the time and place in which the Odyssey and the Iliad are set (although I certainly know a bit more now), but Finley's presentation is a bit dry. And I guess I should not be surprised that in all likelihood, there were two or more Homers, rather than the one master poet who created the two epics; the attribution of at least some of Shakespeare's works are being questioned, why should Homer remain unscathed.

  • Mark
    2018-11-11 00:12

    A bit of a slog to read in places, as the tone is academic. Fortunately, it is not long. And the insights into what the Homeric texts say about life in ancient (as in really ancient, pre-Athenian democracy) Greece are pretty stunning. They also add a whole new literary dimension to appreciating The Iliad and Odyssey. I'm sure there are decent alternatives out there, but just having finished Finley's book, it's Hard to imagine getting a better concise accompanying text to illuminate the significance of Homer. (Or as Finley points out, Homer(s), as it's likely two different men wrote both poems.)

  • David
    2018-11-12 00:54

    This was one of the first books I read on the ancient Greeks and I was hooked by what I read. I had spent time in Egypt and Greece and had mixed emotions about what I saw. The Egyptian sites were monumental in scale, but not "human" in nature whereas it was the reversed for the Greek sites. After reading this book, I started to see the myth of that world explained in better terms. These were not the Greeks of the Acropolis but the ancients world of the Mycenaeans. Finley amazed me in what we can decipher through archaeology and the tales of Homer to reveal this period of history in which most of western literature is based. Great read.

  • Jonathan
    2018-11-17 23:16

    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.

  • Joshua
    2018-11-19 23:13

    Several years ago I read "A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century " by Barbara Tuchman. A marvelous history because she used a French knight, who's life spanned most of the century, as the focus of the book. The result was a history which was informative and fascinating. I thought, therefore, based on the title, "The World of Odysseus" would be similarly structured. My mistake. M.I. Finley displayed his indisputable knowledge of the subject but his style was far too scholarly for my taste. It was a dry text.