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The Rape of Troy


  • 1 b/w illus. 1 table
  • Page extent: 236 pages
  • Size: 216 x 138 mm
  • Weight: 0.28 kg


 (ISBN-13: 9780521690478)

Homer's epics reflect an eighth-century BCE world of warrior tribes that were fractured by constant strife; aside from its fantastic scale, nothing is exceptional about Troy's conquest by the Greeks. Using a fascinating and innovative approach, Professor Gottschall analyses Homeric conflict from the perspective of modern evolutionary biology, attributing its intensity to a shortage of available young women. The warrior practice of taking enemy women as slaves and concubines meant that women were concentrated in the households of powerful men. In turn, this shortage drove men to compete fiercely over women: almost all the main conflicts of the Iliad and Odyssey can be traced back to disputes over women. The Rape of Troy integrates biological and humanistic understanding - biological theory is used to explore the ultimate sources of pitched Homeric conflict, and Homeric society is the subject of a bio-anthropological case study of why men fight.

• Looks at the violence of Homer's epics from the point of view of evolutionary biology • Combines ideas and knowledge both from biology and the humanities • Gottschall writes in clear, engaging prose in this pioneering work


Introduction; 1. Rebuilding Homer's Greece; 2. A short ethnography of Homeric society; 3. Why do men fight? The evolutionary biology and anthropology of male violence; 4. What launched the 1,186 ships?; 5. Status warriors; 6. Homeric women: re-imagining the fitness landscape; 7. Homer's missing daughters; 8. The prisoner's dilemma and the mystery of tragedy; Conclusion: between lions and men.


'Gottschall brings new evidence from anthropology and evolutionary biology to show how Homer's world fits a common pattern where too many young men and not enough women leads to big trouble; think of those who died at Troy, for Helen. This is a fine book in a vigorous style with a delightfully fresh take on an old story. The best book on Homer I've read in years.' Barry B. Powell, Halls-Bascom Professor of Classics Emeritus, University of Wisconsin-Madison

'Gottschall escorts us to the rich but sparsely inhabited borderland between anthropology, biology, and literary analysis, where he has found gold. The Rape of Troy is an original and important contribution to all three of these fields, and a very good read in addition.' Edward O. Wilson, University Research Professor Emeritus and Honorary Curator in Entomology, Harvard University

'A rare combination of literature and science, The Rape of Troy presents an innovative study of the world of Homer from the perspective of evolutionary theory. The results are striking, highly readable and guaranteed to provoke much thought on an always topical and urgent question:what are the causes of violence?' Hans van Wees, University College London

'There is no way to get bored with Gottschall. He has written a small masterpiece of evolutionary-literary analysis. … This ability to marry disciplines with confidence and authority is rare and should be cherished. … As the social anthropologists taught us, witchcraft and pollution are that which disturbs established categories. Dirt is matter in the wrong place. But we have to risk getting dirty if we are to show how evolutionary science can illuminate great literature. Progress is being made, and Gottschall's remarkable book should inspire us all to do better. Lord knows there are quibbles enough here to keep us all busy, scholars and scientists alike, and that is how it should be. But for a Homeric moment let us be free to wonder and applaud.' Robin Fox, Evolutionary Psychology

'Gottschall is thoroughly well-versed in ethnography, evolutionary psychology and classical scholarship, and he deploys all three with care and sophistication.' John Holmes, The British Society for Literature and Science

' … an innovative and impelling study. Gottschall has succeeded in marrying literary and scientific disciplinary categories in a way that can only stimulate thought and argument on both sides of the great divide.' The European Legacy

'The Rape of Troy is a book well worth exploring and the reader will take away not only a better understanding of Homer, but perhaps also a deeper insight into oneself.' Ancient Warfare

'Though serious in its purpose of advancing knowledge, The Rape of Troy is also powerfully literary. Gottschall became imaginatively absorbed in the Homeric poems, and through the often virtuoso quality of his interpretive rhetoric, he enables the reader to share in his responsiveness to Homer's poetry. When we speak of criticism that “impresses us with the power, richness, and responsiveness of the critic's mind,” it is to criticism of this quality that we refer.' Joseph Carroll, University of Missouri

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