Sunday, December 29, 2013

Short Notes: Two Books on Greek Literature

The Iliad is the first extant book of European Literature. Part of an oral tradition of poetry, it is supposed to have been composed by a blind,wandering minstrel named Homer who is also considered to be the writer of that other great Greek Epic, the Odyssey. Over the years both these books have influenced writers and critics tremendously.

And really Homer can be quite magnificent. Here's Apollo descending from the heights of Olympus to help a person in distress:

So he spoke in prayer,and Phoebus Apollo heard him and came down in fury from the heights of Olympus, his bow and covered quiver on his back. With every movement of the furious god,the arrows rattled on his shoulders, and his descent was like nightfall.

Here's the isolated bravery of Hector:

So now my destiny confronts me. Let me at least sell my life dearly and not without glory, after some great deed for future generations to hear of.

Recently, I read two books related to Greek literature.

Alberto Manguel's book is the biography of the two great epics of Greek literature and analyses their reception and reconstruction over the years. The book reads well and there are certain points that I was delighted to discover:

Samuel Butler considered Homer to have been young woman of Sicily. While I was aware that certain critics have offered the argument that Homer was a woman, I had no idea Butler was one of them.

It was also nice to know the Arabic names:

Homer- Umatirash
Hector- Aqtar
Achilles - Arsilaous

Also there was an interesting tid-bit. Apparently when Turkey was at war with Greece and Italy was helping the latter, the leader of the Turks wrote to his Italian counterpart as to why the Italians were helping the Greeks. His argument was that both the Turks and the Italians were sons of Hector (Troy is in present-day Turkey and the legendary founder of Rome is Aeneas, a cousin of Hector). They should, in fact, combine against the Greeks, who being the sons of Agamemnon, had once destroyed the land of their fore-fathers, Troy. I absolutely loved this mish-mash of politics and legend.

The other book, A Literary History of the Greeks, is by Robert Flaceliere, a scholar and professor of Classical Greek. The book bears the stamp of his scholarship and provides a comprehensive view of Greek political and cultural history right from the mythical times of the Trojan war to the Roman conquest of Greece. Politicians, artists, philosophers, sophists, orators, writers, painter...all are discussed in this book which doesn't isolate literature but rather presents it in the socio-historical context of the day.

The book is an interesting read but I was rather saddened after finishing it because so much of the knowledge of the Greeks is now lost to us. The text are either extinct or just survive in fragments.


First Line: It seems fitting that the two books which, more than any others, have fed the imagination of the Western world for over two and a half millenia, should have no clear starting-point and no identifiable creator.

Title: Homer's The Iliad and The Odyssey: A Biography

Author: Alberto Manguel

Publication Details: ND: Manjul Publishing House, 2012

First Published: 2007

Pages: 285

Other books read of the same author: None


First Line: Even if Helen's beauty was not its only cause, and though Homer's account of it may not be completely reliable, the Trojan war did nevertheless take place.

Title: A Literary History of Greece

Original Title: Histoire Literaire De La Grece

Original Language: French

Author: Robert Flaceliere

Translator: Douglas Garman

Publication Details: London: Elek Books,1964

First Published: 1962

Pages: 395

Other books read of the same author: None


The books might be available in libraries. I borrowed them from libraries too. [898.01 092-MAN] & [949.5 F 591 L].

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