The illiterate poet who produced the world’s greatest epic

Odysseus is tossed on the sea when he notices a rock and clings to it. ‘As when an octopus is drawn out of its lair and bits of pebble get stuck in its suckers,’ says Homer, ‘so his skin was stripped from his brave hands by the rock.’ There is such elegant tricksiness in that simile. Homer still sits at the apex of western literature thanks to the beauty and influence of his verse. Robin Lane Fox has been teaching the epics for 50 years and studying them for many more. His lifelong fascination with the texts has bred a sort of feverish passion in him that makes him declare

Singing to the gods: a millennium’s span of ancient Greek hymns, gloriously portrayed

We are experiencing a boom of popular books on Greek mythology: Stephen Fry’s Mythos; Natalie Haynes’s Pandora’s Jar; Liv Albert’s Greek Mythology: The Gods, Goddesses, and Heroes Handbook, to name a few. Admittedly, Greek mythology has it all: love, sex, murder, incest, cannibalism, magical transformations, pirates, monsters, miracles. Surely some readers, though, will want to go even deeper, to tap into the ancient sources, incorrigibly plural and various. These sources include Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey and Hesiod’s genesis and who-begat-whom of the gods, the Theogony. (Plus a chunk of ‘Greek’ mythology which we actually get via the Roman poet Ovid.) But much of the mythology concerning the Greek gods —