The story of our ongoing fascination with Homer, the man and the myth.
Homer, the great poet of the Iliad and the Odyssey, is revered as a cultural icon of antiquity and a figure of lasting influence. But his identity is shrouded in questions about who he was, when he lived, and whether he was an actual person, a myth, or merely a shared idea. Rather than attempting to solve the mystery of this character, James I. Porter explores the sources of Homer’s mystique and their impact since the first recorded mentions of Homer in ancient Greece.
Homer: The Very Idea considers Homer not as a man, but as a cultural invention nearly as distinctive and important as the poems attributed to him, following the cultural history of an idea and of the obsession that is reborn every time Homer is imagined. Offering novel readings of texts and objects, the book follows the very idea of Homer from his earliest mentions to his most recent imaginings in literature, criticism, philosophy, visual art, and classical archaeology.
About the Author
James I. Porter is the Irving Stone Professor of Literature at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of numerous books, including Nietzsche and the Philology of the Future, The Invention of Dionysus: An Essay on ‘The Birth of Tragedy’, and The Sublime in Antiquity. He has also edited several books and is a coauthor of Postclassicisms, also published by the University of Chicago Press.
"Porter is an exceptional scholar. Clear, intelligent, and filled with fascinating examples, this book is contemporary while reaching beyond the fashionable, and it will arouse a good deal of discussion." — Simon Goldhill, author of Preposterous Poetics
“Homer: The Very Idea is an extraordinary quest in search not of the elusive Homer but of Homer’s elusivity. Porter takes up Homer as a phenomenon repeatedly produced over millennia, in different times and places, as the gauzy point of origin for cultural value that refuses to vanish. By critically engaging the idea of Homer, he delves deep into the very logic of the tradition’s value. An inimitable tour de force of transhistorical spectrology.” — Brooke Holmes, author of Gender: Antiquity and Its Legacy
“This book is a reckoning with who or what we understand Homer to be and how we have reinvented him for our own ends. Porter makes clear the impossibility of Homer both as a concept and as a person, revealing him as the illusion of a perfectly formed whole that has been kept alive for millennia, a ghost in the machine, a phantom both alive and dead. As a leading scholar in dismantling assumptions about the classical past, Porter has written an original, compelling, and eye-opening book that will generate excitement and admiration.” — Alex C. Purves, author of Homer and the Poetics of Gesture