BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,

One more tonight ...

Just in case you're wandering in on this review from LibraryThing specifically for this book and not having the benefit of the chronological unfolding of my main journal, I've gotten a bit behind on my reviews and have opted to "cherry pick" the books from the "to be reviewed" stack to deal with, this being the third I've picked up today.

Before I get into actually dealing with John Forsdyke's Greece Before Homer: Ancient Chronology and Mythology, I need to get one horrible half-joke out of the way ... "Unless you're George Brett, in which case it would be Pine Tar Before Homer!" ... which is a pretty clear example of why I'm not doing stand-up. Anyway ...

This is a fairly old book ... both the copy I have (which is the 1964 Norton re-print), and in general (it first came out in 1931). I found an interesting quote about the author: "Neither a notable scholar nor an easy man to get along with, he is principally known for his war-time saving of the British Museum." ... it is notable that he only seems to have a hand-full of publications to his credit, despite having a rather long life (dying at age 96 in 1979). Although he lived well past Schliemann's excavations, the archaeology almost doesn't come into play here, with the focus being on what survives in the written record.

I was, frankly, amazed at how late it seems that writing came to the Classic world. Living in an ever-more "literate" world (made so much more so by computer communications), it's hard to imagine a culture where the knowledge is passed along by oral memory. However, the era of Homer was the early transition from the spoken to the written word, and happened only about 850bce. As such, much of the "ancient history" of the Greeks is a bit murky, and Forsdyke spends a lot of this book picking apart the various threads present in the Odyssey, Iliad, and related tales.

I suppose that, given the extreme antiquity of Mesopotamian cuneiform and Egyptian hieroglyphics (both of which were in use well over 2,000 years before "Classic" Greece), I had just assumed that there had been a written Greek language that had been used for all those Myths that we grow up with. Instead, this book shows, the written word came late, and many of the Myths were filled with names that were "functional" at best (translating to the equivalent of the likes of "Liar", son of "Thief") and often just made up (creating a person by back-formation of the name of a tribe or city). It is interesting to see the author "sorting through" the names to see which characters might have some historical validity among all this other "fill".

Another fascinating point is how "flexible" the Greeks were with identifying deities with those they were familiar with. Of course, coming from a culture based in part on Greco-Roman traditions, it seems natural for us to make the classic "substitutions", Jupiter-Zeus, Neptune-Poseidon, Pluto-Hades, Juno-Hera, Mars-Ares, Venus-Aphrodite, Mercury-Hermes, etc., and even carrying these over to other pantheons (such as the earlier Egyptian and the later Norse deities). However, it appears that if a particular God or Goddess encountered in another setting had even a passing resemblance to a Greek version, the temple, cult, or city associated with that deity would just be referred to by the name of the Greek deity, causing much confusion when trying to figure out where a particular "statue of Hermes" might be, when some very different God was actually being worshiped there. The Greeks also played "fast and loose" with foreign words, taking the name of a ruler, deity, or city and shifting it over to whatever sounded closest in Greek (a habit, I suppose, inherited by the British in their empire).

Forsdyke also spends a chunk of the book trying to sort out who might have written what, and when. This largely went "over my head" but it is supported by an interesting chart of dozens of Greek authors with their supposed dates over a 2,000 year span (from 850bce onward).

Greece Before Homer appears to be out of print, but there are numerous copies of various editions available for as little as $3.99 (plus shipping) from the Amazon new/used vendors. I picked this up at a used book store last year, so there are also copies out there "free floating" if you want to go looking.

Visit the BTRIPP home page!

Tags: book review

  • Writing your truth ...

    This is one of those books that was sitting around in my to-be-read piles for years (I got it via one of the B&N after-Xmas on-line clearance…

  • What should be and what not ...

    I thought I was done with having to “pad” orders to get up to free shipping minimums when I signed up for Amazon's “Prime” service, but since their…

  • Falling out ...

    So, maybe it's “just me”, but this seems to be an example of how fickle the serendipity of the dollar store can be. I allow the “just me” option,…

  • Post a new comment


    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded 

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.
  • 1 comment