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The literature of the western world begins with one of its greatest achievements. The stories of the wrath of Achilles and its consequences, and of the wanderings of Odysseus, have been admired from ancient times to the present day. The two great epics can be read and enjoyed, unreflectingly, as tales of adventure; or they can be studied as literature, yielding, as insight and understanding grow, a deeper and more permanent pleasure. Professor Kirk's book is the means to this pleasure. It is a vivid and comprehensive account of the background and development of the Homeric poems and of their quality as literature. The epics are seen primarily as oral poetry, sung for centuries by illiterate singers; and from this view rises discussion of the problems of authorship and transmission. The historical, archaeological and linguistic evidence is also examined; and the possible contributions of the Mycenaean period and of the subsequent Dark Age are shown in a fresh light.
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