Hearing Homer’s Song: The Brief Life and Big Idea of Milman Parry

Knopf. Apr. 2021. 352p. ISBN 9780525520948. $28.95. LIT
Who was Homer? This centuries-old question may be best answered by asking, Who was Milman Parry? Kanigel (Eyes on the Street) takes a deep dive into the life of the classical scholar, who was the first to officially posit that Homer was not a single individual but many people who passed down great epics from generation to generation. Parry, born to working-class parents in Oakland in 1902, became enamored with the works of Homer as an undergraduate at Berkeley. Throughout the narrative, Kanigel doesn’t neglect the struggles and frustrations of Parry’s wife Marian, who tends to their two small children while her husband pursues his scholarly passions. The author makes it clear that the marriage was strained, mirroring the disconnect between Odysseus and Penelope in the best-known of the Homeric tales. This friction hovers like a dark shadow throughout, and Kanigel’s revelation that Marian has been considered a suspect in her husband’s mysterious death in 1935 creates an underlying quiver of suspense.
VERDICT An engaging, thoroughly researched biography of a fascinating figure. Though some of the details surrounding Parry’s documentation techniques can feel a bit tedious at times, Kanigel has given readers a thoughtful look at a man whose theories have helped us to better understand the ancient world.
Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing