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Travelling Heroes: In the Epic Age of Homer Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 7, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Oxford classicist Fox explores the 700s BCE, the century to which he imputes the composition of the Iliad and the Odyssey. Explaining that this was an era of cultural contact between Greeks—specifically, those from the island Euboea—and residents of the eastern littoral of the Mediterranean Sea, he delves deeply into the nature of that exchange. Aiming to evoke the Euboeans’ mind-set, he springs from the archaeological traces of their settlements to the gods and heroes of the Near East they adapted into their own myths. While there is considerable textual explication of Homer and Hesiod involved in Fox’s procedure, he pulls the mythical characters from the pages and places them in the physical landscapes with which the Euboeans not only associated them but believed they actively inhabited. So doing lends the appealing impetus of travel writing to Fox’s account that aids readers in absorbing the world of pagan belief. Detailed but recurrently on point, Fox will connect with readers drawn to the Homeric age. --Gilbert Taylor

Review

Praise for Robin Lane Fox’s Travelling Heroes

“Fox has produced a work of prodigious scholarship. . . . A major contribution to Classical scholarship. . . . Strongly recommended.”
—Clay Williams, Library Journal

“[Robin Lane Fox’s] intellectual discipline is impressive.”
Kirkus Reviews

The Classical World: An Epic History from Homer to Hadrian

“Fox is a fluent, perceptive color commentator on the pageant of ancient history, while giving readers some idea of where the parade was headed.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Lane Fox's survey deserves to be widely read. Indeed, I cannot think of a better introduction to the subject for those with no prior knowledge. . . . Lane Fox's strong and clear narrative will stimulate those reacquainting themselves with this fascinating era as much as it enthralls newcomers.”
The Washington Post

“Fox, the author of numerous works on classical civilization, is a masterful writer whose elegant but highly readable prose offers an evolving portrait of Greek and Roman culture over a period of roughly 900 years. . . . [Fox] discusses in often fascinating detail topics that are normally given short shrift in general histories. . . . This is an excellent work of scholarship and literature.”
Booklist

The Unauthorized Version: Truth and Fiction in the Bible

“Biblical historiography, with an edge. . . . [S]ound and clearly argued. A wealth of information.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Magnificent...delivered with authority and verve. Learned but never pedantic, [Lane Fox] is an unfailingly incisive, thought-provoking, humane, courteous, and often entertaining guide.”
The Economist

“A remarkable achievement . . . [Lane Fox] manages, like a skilled juggler, to keep a number of intellectual balls in the air...with wit and grace. . . . The book could serve as a useful review for knowledgeable readers or as a crash course for the biblically impaired.”
The New York Times Book Review

“[A] bracing precis of cutting-edge biblical criticism . . . The Unauthorized Version reacquaints us with one of the chief achievements of post-Enlightenment civilization.”
Philadelphia Inquirer

“Fox does not approach his subject as an antagonist, but with the care and knowledge to make the text more meaningful. This book deserves a place in all libraries.”
Library Journal

See all Editorial Reviews
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This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (April 7, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679444319
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679444312
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.6 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,414,968 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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30 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Trinque VINE VOICE on April 16, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Robin Lane Fox's "Travelling Heroes: In the Epic Age of Homer" is a challenging, illuminating work. After a short introduction, the author presents a highly detailed examination of the archaeological evidence for the spread of Greeks - especially Greeks from the island of Euboea - through the Mediterranean in the 8th century BC, an examination so detailed that seemingly every piece and fragment of Euboean ceramics ever found outside of Greece is discussed.

After the archaeological exposition, Fox launches into his main subject: the creation and evolution of Greek myth and poetry as it was influenced by what these 8th century Euboean travelers saw and experienced. Fox contends that for the most part Greek myths were indigenous, not fundamentally borrowings from other peoples, but that the indigenous mythic elements were modified and shaped by the new worlds into which the Greeks were moving: not lands empty of other people, but lands where other people were already living and telling their own mythic tales. This long central portion of "Travelling Heroes" demands careful attention by the reader, as the evidence and arguments presented are complex and subtle. Of necessity, the foundations for the author's conclusions are less solid than the archaeological evidence presented earlier in the book; frequently, the evidence is linguistic or threaded through literary sources dating centuries later.

The final section of the book examines the direct effects of the 8th century Euboean experience upon the poems of Homer and Hesiod (Fox concludes that Homer most likely worked on Chios in the middle of the 8th century, while Hesiod came a few decades later).

Undoubtedly, Robin Lane Fox's conclusions will not find universal acceptance, but at a minimum this book provides a fascinating view of the foundations of much of Western culture.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By S. Bahr on May 24, 2009
Format: Hardcover
The Post reviewer criticizes this book for being too academic for the general public, but I found it to be fascinating. There are those of us who are students of history even though we aren't academics--we like to be challenged intellectually, too--we don't need to read another generalized history of the Greek world. This is a very well-written, exhaustively researched book and I highly recommend it.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Mark Mellon on June 22, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Robin Lane Fox is a distinguished British classicist with a number of signficant books to his credit that have helped expand the modern understanding of the ancient world. "Travelling Heroes" is another example of this. In this book, Fox attempts to probe and gain a greater comprehension of the bases for the Greek myths that form the background context for and also add a good deal of content to the Homeric tales, the Iliad and the Odyssey. He does this through careful consideration of ancient texts, the geography of the Homeric world, and by review of some of the most recent archaeological evidence.

This inquiry lead the author to some rather startling conclusions: some of the most important Greek myths such as Zeus's victory over the monster Typhon can be attributed not only to Eastern influences from such faiths as those of the Assyrians and Hittites, they were also swayed by stories from the far West of antiquity (Italy and parts beyond) and also by the geographical features that were witnessed by the Greek "travelling heroes" of antiquity.

Fox goes further in his hypothesis and specifically identifies the group of early Greek wanderers who he deems responsible for this enriching of Greek mythology: 8th Century BCE seafarers and colonists from the island of Euboea or its colonial offshoots. He is able to provide some fairly solid evidence for this theory in reliance on stratigraphic analysis of pottery deposits, other physical evidence at field sites (such as the presence of volcanic or earthquake activity), and through close reading and interpretation of ancient sources. Fox goes further to investigate how this mythic activity on the part of the early Euboeans did or didn't influence the work of near contemporaries such as Hesiod and Homer.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By S. Pactor VINE VOICE on July 11, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This Robin Lane Foxes take on the "Greece v. the Near East" debate, i.e. to what extent classical Greek culture was inspired by the older, more well established of the near east, specifically the neo-hittite indo european speakers. Fox approaches the question by taking heavily from recent archaeological studies in the Mediterranean world and methodically discussing the "world" of 8th century Greek/Euboean adventurers. The writing style and scholarship are first rate, I literally gobbled this book up. Foxes conclusion is basically that the Greek/Euboeans were aware of Near Eastern religious practices largely through individual experiences both trading and settling in places like Crete. Fox outlines different points of contact and also does an excellent job charting western expansion in the 8th century.

Although I'm not a specialist in the field, I found his placement of Homer in the 8th century as convincing. I think Fox, while obviously conversant with some of the advances in "indo european" studies, is largely dismissive of that discipline, but of course it's impossible to ignore the relationship between Hittite culture and Greek myth.
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