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The Rape of Troy: Evolution, Violence, and the World of Homer Paperback – March 20, 2008

ISBN-13: 978-0521690478 ISBN-10: 0521690471

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 236 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (April 21, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521690471
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521690478
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,300,680 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Gottschall escorts us to the rich but sparsely inhabited borderland between anthropology, biology, and literary analysis, where he has found gold. The Rape of Troy is an original and important contribution to all three of these fields, and a very good read in addition." --Edward O. Wilson, University Research Professor Emeritus and Honorary Curator in Entomology at Harvard University

"The Rape of Troy is, above all, a brilliant little book - so brilliant that I wish it were less little. It crackles with intellectual vigor, academic rigor, and the prospect of triggering a revolution in research at the intersection of anthropology, biology, and literature.....[Gottschall's] account of "Homeric tragedy" rises to a level of sanguinary poetry that might make Cormac McCarthy envious." --David Barash, University of Washington, Journal of Human Biology

"There is no way to get bored with Gottschall. He has written a small masterpiece of evolutionary-literary analysis. Only someone with such a thorough knowledge of Homer and Homeric scholarship as he has could do this. This ability to marry disciplines with confidence and authority is rare and should be cherished....For a Homeric moment let us be free to wonder and applaud." --Robin Fox, Rutgers University, Evolutionary Psychology

"This is a fine book in a vigorous style with a delightfully fresh take on an old story. The best book on Homer I've read in years." --Barry Powell, Department of Classics, University of Wisconsin

"A rare combination of literature and science, The Rape of Troy presents an innovative study of the world of Homer from the perspective of evolutionary theory. The results are striking, highly readable and guaranteed to provoke much thought on an always topical and urgent question: what are the causes of violence?" Hans van Wees, University College London, Author of Status Warriors and Greek Warfare: myths and realities.

"Though serious in its purpose of advancing knowledge, The Rape of Troy is also powerfully literary. Gottschall became imaginatively absorbed in the Homeric poems, and through the often virtuoso quality of his interpretive rhetoric, he enables the reader to share in his responsiveness to Homer's poetry. When we speak of criticism that "impresses us with the power, richness, and responsiveness of the critic's mind," it is to criticism of this quality that we refer." Joseph Carroll, University of Missouri, Style, forthcoming

Book Description

Homer's epics reflect an eighth-century BCE world of warrior tribes and chiefdoms, fractured by constant strife. Professor Gottschall adopts the innovative approach of analysing Homeric conflict from the perspective of modern evolutionary biology, attributing its intensity to a catalyst familiar across many cultures: a shortage of available young women.

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15 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Michael Damian Gehlhausen on May 6, 2008
Format: Paperback
People have been writing about Homer for 2500 years. So, as the author says at the outset of the Rape of Troy, "it is not easy to say anything new about Homer," and it is even harder to say things that are both new AND true. But by bringing together information from biology, anthropology, and history, The Rape of Troy may well have pulled it off. The book presents a whole new theory of the driving reasons for intense violence and conflict in the real historical world that produced the Homeric Epics.
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The rigid division between the humanities and the sciences has been lamented now for the better part of the last hundred years. With The Rape of Troy, Jonathan Gottschall aims to build a bridge over a small section of this divide. Armed with a theoretical apparatus that is drawn from both Anthropology and evolutionary sociobiology, Mr. Gottschall sets out to explain the pattern of violent behavior that is depicted in the Iliad and Odyssey. The project is a bold undertaking, and Mr. Gottschall may well have pointed the way forward toward a fruitful approach to explaining certain elements of Homeric society. The Rape of Troy nevertheless falls short of being a work of serious scholarship. Although Mr. Gottschall, an adjunct assistant professor of English, seems relatively at ease with the evolutionary theories he is applying, he appears to possess only a basic familiarity with the text of Homer, a rudimentary and ad hoc understanding of the Greek world, and a limited knowledge of the language. As a result, his conclusions seem to be driven more by his theoretical preconceptions than by a balanced and thorough weighing of the evidence. The book therefore ultimately points the reader down a path that its author lacked the capacity to illuminate, much less follow himself.

The essence of Mr. Gottschall's argument is that the excessive violence of the Homeric world can be explained using the principles of evolutionary sociobiology. The basic insight that he brings to bear in his analysis is that men fight with other men in order to gain sexual access to women. Marshaling anthropological studies of primitive cultures, the author further argues that these fights become ever more violent as the supply of women of childbearing years declines.
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3 of 12 people found the following review helpful By John C. Landon on May 21, 2010
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Applying evolutionary psychology to the world of the Greeks (evidently the Greeks of the Mycenaean or earlier ages) has a superficial plausibility in one direction, but the facts of history show us something extraordinary about the transition from Archaic Greece to its brief flowering in the Classical period: its correlation with the phenomenon of the Acial Age, which gives us a glimpse of 'evolution in action' on a stupendous scale, showing us a face of 'evolution' that is operative on the highest level of culture, including that of art and literature. What is the meaning of evolution in this context?
The problem here in this regard is that the 'world of Homer' is ambiguous: the actual world of Homer is precisely that of the Axial Age Greece with its spectacular creation of literatures, beginning with the redaction of the Homeric corpus, and climaxing in Greek tragedy. The creations of Homer are a part of this Axial Age phenomenon. This is not the world of 'evolutionary psychology' along Darwinian lines. Another problem with speaking of 'evolution' with the early Greeks is that the periods of time are compressed and the relation to the world of primordial Indo-Europeans is unclear. Could the culture of the early Greeks warriors be a late development after their separation from the Indo-European mainline, and how does any of this fit into the more general portrait of Aryan migrations?

In general it does not make sense to apply Darwinian explanations to world history, because we can see two levels at work, as in the perception of the Axial Age, and its more general pattern of dynamic macro-evolution behind the stream of ordinary history. In general Darwinism fails given the counterevidence of evolutionary dynamics behind history.
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More About the Author

I am a Distinguished Fellow in the English Department at Washington & Jefferson College. My research at the intersection of science and art has frequently been covered in outlets like The New York Times Magazine, The New York Times, Scientific American, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Nature, Science, and NPR. I'm the author or editor of seven books, including The Storytelling Animal, which was a New York Times Editor's Choice Selection and a finalist for the LA Times Book Prize. I live with my wife and two young daughters in Washington, Pennsylvania.

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The Rape of Troy: Evolution, Violence, and the World of Homer
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