Travelling Heroes

In the Epic Age of Homer
by Robin Lane Fox

I greatly enjoyed Mr. Fox’s The Authorized Version, a detailed analysis of the historical context and development of the Bible. That book treats the Bible as a historical document, and explains many of its oddities, inconsistencies, and flat-out contradictions. It’s not pro- or anti- Christian; it simply treats the Bible as a document worthy of serious scholarly analysis, without exaltation or condemnation. I greatly enjoyed the many revelations in that book, so I pounced upon this title, expecting similar insights into Greek history in the crucial period from 900 BCE to 700 BCE.
I must report my disappointment with the book; I really couldn’t figure out what the point is. The basic argument is that Greeks from the island of Euboea travelled the Mediterranean Sea, mixing it up with Phoenicians, Etruscans, Sicels, and other peoples, and thereby creating the foundations for Greek myth.

Why Euboeans? There were lots of other Greeks meandering over the Mediterranean: Corintheans, Athenians, Thebans, etc. Why the almost exclusive focus on Euboeans? I realize that archaeologists have established that the city of Lefkandi on Euboea flourished during the period in question, but that doesn’t justify attributing all Greek activity during that period to that single city. Mr. Fox’s rejection of the rest of Greece baffles me.

I get the feeling that Mr. Fox had to throw everything he knows about that period – which is considerable – into the bubbling intellectual pot of this book. An entire chapter is devoted to a single mountain north of Phoenicia, how it captured the religious attention of the locals and somehow worked its way into Greek mythology – even though it doesn’t really show up in Greek mythology. There’s also a discussion of hook-shaped peninsulas and how they seem to have attracted attention – but how this fits into a larger picture is certainly lost on me.

The book reads like a rambling lecture by an immensely knowledgeable but slightly senile old professor. He sure knows a great deal about the subject, and he seems to know how it all fits together, but he can’t seem to tie the pieces together for the reader.