Homer Whole: A Reading of the Iliad

THE ILIAD IS ONE OF THE MOST MISINTERPRETED—and thereby maligned—books ever composed, recited, or written. Homer Whole sets out to correct this mis-reading of the great epic, to move it out of the caves of primitivism current readers consign it to and raise it to its proper place as the central foundational work of modern literary art.

Generalizations like “Homer glorifies war,” “Homer’s highest value is violence,” or “honor in Homer is gained only through pillage, slaughter, and war” are heard too often to be suffered easily, and they are also incorrect, being half-truths no less false than “girls are bad at math” or “Frenchmen are arrogant.”

Reading the Iliad with an open rather than a pre-judging or pre-selecting mind—that is, reading it “whole”—brings to light psychological elements, philosophic dimensions, emotional nuances, and myriad dramatic subtleties that remain forever locked in darkness for those who assume, believe, or have been taught that the poem is “primitive,” that it comes from “an age of barbarism,” extolling only pillage, greed, and violence.

The Iliad has in it much blood, gore, suffering, and death; but it also, in Blake’s great phrase, holds much “Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love.” To emphasize one side of the poem over the other; to assume one to be “good” and the other “bad”; one “barbaric” and the other “civilized”—this is to read the Iliad with one eye closed and the poem reduced to one-dimensionality, its aesthetic, emotional, and philosophical textures and depths—the essence of its modernity—unseen and unknown.

Homer Whole describes and elucidates the real reasons why the Iliad has survived as the seminal classic that it is, reasons unknown to most readers, both inside academia and out.


Read what some readers have said about the book:

What a pleasure! Homer Whole flows beautifully and brings the Iliad alive in a way I’ve never experienced it. I can imagine actually being present at the confrontation between Achilles and Agamemnon, or between Paris and Hector, or sitting with the elders on the wall of Troy. And the pace is perfect–relaxed, contemplative. I love the references to great works of literature as stepping stones for observing changes in human experience over time. A joy to read.

Homer Whole fills a reader with a sense of the magical continuity of literature and its immense richness—including its references to Shakespeare and Virginia Woolf as ways of elucidating Homer. In offering the remarkable idea that Homer is working in the region of deep human psychology—as in the passage, presaging Shakespeare, where Helen’s ideas dramatically evolve and change as she speaks—Homer Whole makes for inspiring literary analysis.

About Eric Larsen

Professor Emeritus at John Jay College of Criminal Justice (CUNY), Eric Larsen has written and published widely for many years. The Decline and Fall of the American Nation completes a tetralogy of novels that began with An American Memory (1988) and continued through I Am Zoë Handke (1992) and The End of the 19th Century (2012). Larsen is also author of the non-fiction books A Nation Gone Blind: America in an Age of Simplification and Deceit (2006), Homer Whole: A Reading of the Iliad, and The Skull of Yorick: The Emptiness of American Thinking at a Time of Grave Peril—Studies in the Cover-up of 9/11 (2011).