Monday, January 27, 2014

Military history books: The Odyssey and ancient Greek concepts of being a hero

While I do not normally discuss historical fiction on these pages, I will make an exception for Homer’s Odyssey.  The Odyssey covers the travels of Odysseus following his participation in the Trojan War as can be found in The Iliad.  His travels take ten years and this noble warrior and his men deal with a wide range of natural and supernatural obstacles.  Both books together can be considered an early work of historical fiction to the extent that it is unclear how much of the tales are drawn from history and how much from imagination.

The Bryn Mawr Classical Review reviews The Meaning of Meat and the Structure of the Odyssey by Egbert J. Bakker.  In this study, Bakker closely examines the role of meat eating and feasting among Odysseus and his band of men.  While this seems to be a small matter to examine, the author touches on what the story means to an ancient and what cultural norms the actions in the book represent.  The author examines what it means to be a civilized hero in ancient society and also spends time on the conflict between Zeus and Poseidon.

While the study of meat consumption and its meaning in the Odyssey may seem to have little relevance to the study of military history, it gives one an idea of what norms ancient Greeks might have applied to the concept of being a hero or a warrior.  The reviewer praises the book for its substance and efficient brevity.  I am impressed by the subject matter and the reviewer has also won me over.  I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the social aspect of ancient Greek warrior life and thought. 
1913 - (Odysseus in the battle with the suitors); Berlinische Galerie

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