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Who Killed Homer: The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom Paperback – April 1, 2001

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 323 pages
  • Publisher: Encounter Books; 1st paperback ed edition (April 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1893554260
  • ISBN-13: 978-1893554269
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #247,899 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The answer to the attention-grabbing question posed by classicists Victor Davis Hanson and John Heath in the title of this passionate defense of their field (which is also a damnation of their academic colleagues) is not a pretty one. "It was," they admit sadly, "an inside job."

Why, at the end of the 20th century, should we give a hoot in the first place about a brutal, misogynist society that rose to greatness on the back of slaves? Because, they argue, it was the first place; for all the faults of ancient Greece, the seeds of what Western civilization is today were planted there. "What we mean by Greek wisdom," they explain, "is that at the very beginning of Western culture the Greeks provided a blueprint for an ordered and humane society that could transcend time and space, one whose spirit and core values could evolve, sustain, and drive political reform and social change for ages hence."

But Hanson and Heath are not content to simply make a fiery, articulate case for what's right about understanding this particular ancient civilization in a contemporary world where more and more non-Western societies openly seek to embrace the democratic spirit. They go on to launch a deliciously vituperative jeremiad on what's wrong with the priorities of those entrusted with passing on this wisdom. Classics departments, as portrayed in Who Killed Homer?, appear to be filled with politically correct, insecure footnote fawners who, steeped in minutiae, miss the Big Picture. Hanson and Heath have a plan, sure to raise the hackles of tenured professors, for reviving classical studies that emphasizes the importance of teaching, communicating, and popularizing over publishing arcane monographs in journals not even the writer's family will ever read, insisting that the alternative--the extinction of a vivid intellectual pursuit--borders on cultural suicide. --Jeff Silverman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

"To help one's friends and hurt one's enemies is the central tenet of Archaic Greek morality," write the authors. Unfortunately, one would have preferred more of the first and rather less of the second. The authors' "enemies" are the orthodoxy-honing, text-diddling academics whom many readers familiar with the culture wars already hope will follow their Scholastic forebears into oblivion. While there is a guilty pleasure to reading the lengthy excerpts that the authors include as examples of the wretched state of academic prose, these really are dead horses, well beaten. But Hanson and Heath, two classicists, each with over two decades of studying and teaching, are luckily unrepentant philhellenes, and they offer a spirited defense of the Greeks; to a lesser extent, the Romans; and the scholars whom they admire. Neatly combating the argument that because Greeks were misogynistic, slave-owning syllogists, they can be ignored, the authors try to remind readers how to think like the ancient Greeks in matters that count. While the Greeks are often blamed for encroaching materialism, avarice, self-indulgence and soullessness, we often fail to consider the countering forces of moderation, civic responsibility and unbending moral code that governed life in a polis. Hanson and Heath shine here, bringing out numerous classical admonitions and cautionary tales from Homer to Antigone, to lessons to be learned from the Greeks at war. Free speech, self-criticism, broad inquisitiveness, democracy, individualism and the like, we are reminded, are good things. Perhaps for their next book, Hanson and Heath will ignore their colleagues and address themselves wholly to the demos. It's what Pericles would have wanted.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Victor Davis Hanson is Professor of Greek and Director of the Classics Program at California State University, Fresno. He is the author or editor of many books, including Who Killed Homer? The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom (with John Heath, Free Press, 1998), and The Soul of Battle (Free Press, 1999). In 1992 he was named the most outstanding undergraduate teacher of classics in the nation.

Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

174 of 180 people found the following review helpful By Graham Henderson on December 20, 2002
Format: Paperback
It may seem that another reader�s review of this book is superfluous. The battle lines are clearly drawn. You either hate Hanson or you love him. When I say that I love him, I am simply saving those who hate him the trouble of reading further.
But for those of you who are new to the debate, there may be some value in reading on. Victor Davis Hanson emerged on the scene in the early 1980s with a wonderful little book called �The Western Way of War: Infantry Battle in Classical Greece�. This readable, engaging tome was taken up by, among others, John Keegan who embraced some of the ideas and began to publicise them.
�Who Killed Homer� emerged much later. It is a brilliant polemic � a fact that is often missed by the critics who belabour Hanson with the charge of being too controversial � I think that was rather the point. Hanson wrote in despair and anger. He despaired of the state of education in our colleges and universities. And he has written an impassioned, polemical diatribe on the subject. As Stephen Ozment remarked, �this is a book for anyone who has loved or hated a college or university�.
Like Bernard Knox who as a young man lashed out at the excessive technicality of classical studies (after reading an extended study in a classical journal entitled �The Carrot in Ancient Greece�), Hanson is incensed at the dearth of true learning at universities. He would have us go back to general principals. He would have professors stop publishing and start TEACHING.
First and foremost, Hanson makes the case for Greek civilisation. However we get our Greek, he would say, we must get it. Western Culture, he says, is largely founded on Greek ideas, filtered through intervening civilisations and systems of thought. I despair of the school curriculum I see these days.
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73 of 73 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 4, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I've gotten a kick out of reading others' impressions of this book. As a former Classics B.A., I can sympathize with lots of sides of this argument, and so the book comes off a little bombastic. That said, the message that classical education should be saved from extinction is a very important one, and deserves as wide an audience as possible.
The issue is relevant to everyone, on one of any number of levels: the importance of history, the value of translation, the psychological insights into ancient culture and therefore human nature, I can go on. Studying ancient languages,as a general exercise, can serve a valuable individual, and en masse cultural purpose in the pursuit of meaning and the construction of better ways of living for the present. It runs the gamut of educational value: as philosophy, as politcal science, as psychology. I think most people, at least in theory, would agree with this.
All the authors are saying is that the value of studying ancient languages is simply not being preserved by any particular stewards, as in centuries past. They are concentrating on Greek and Latin because those ancient languages are the key to understanding our Western culture. They are not saying that Chinese or South American ancient languages are less import PER SE, they are simply saying that Greek and Latin are the MOST RELEVANT languages to our Western culutre, whose values have influenced more and more cultures across the world. These values- democracy, equality, freedom, etc.- are taken for granted by my post-Vietnam generation, and so studying their roots may not seem very PRACTICAL.
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119 of 128 people found the following review helpful By Big Dave on October 2, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The core of WKH? (as Hanson and Heath charmingly call their own book) is a savage indictment of university Classicists. The answer to the question "who killed Homer and why?" is classicists, and for filthy lucre. For money, career, fame and professional advancement, classicists have betrayed the Greeks by preferring academic heights to actual teaching, by turning Classical Greece into one more subject for multiculturalist, postmodernist, queer theorist, what-have-you studies, by ignoring the greatness and uniqueness of Greek culture and not caring what the Greeks actually have to say. The professors don't live like Greeks, they fail to match word and deed. So disinterested grad students (with their eyes firmly on the professorial heights) do all the actual teaching, and the students aren't coming anymore.
And Hanson and Heath confess that they don't believe that university Classics can be saved.
(Incidentally, the authors make it pretty clear that taking the Greeks seriously is antithetical -- and may be a good antidote -- to nonsensical multiculturalism. There is truth, there is virtue, and all things are not equal.)
Interestingly, this core is sandwiched between introductory chapters which set out the unique importance of the Greeks and also the history of Classical Studies, emphasizing the sometimes revolutionary contributions of amateur classicists and a closing chapter giving an introductory syllabus and commentary to aspiring amateur classicists, ten books by Greeks and ten books about Greeks. Hanson and Heath say they hope for another Homer, but they seem to be sending out a homing beacon to another Schliemann, Parry or Ventris.
Good for them. Their devastating scorched earth criticism and their fluent, accessible writing make this book a fun read as well as a compelling one.
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