Skip to content
Register Sign in Wishlist

Homer on the Gods and Human Virtue
Creating the Foundations of Classical Civilization


  • Date Published: February 2019
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9780521141550

£ 20.99

Add to cart Add to wishlist

Other available formats:
Hardback, eBook

Looking for an inspection copy?

This title is not currently available on inspection

Product filter button
About the Authors
  • This book seeks to restore Homer to his rightful place among the principal figures in the history of political and moral philosophy. Through this fresh and provocative analysis of the Iliad and the Odyssey, Peter J. Ahrensdorf examines Homer's understanding of the best life, the nature of the divine, and the nature of human excellence. According to Ahrensdorf, Homer teaches that human greatness eclipses that of the gods, that the contemplative and compassionate singer ultimately surpasses the heroic warrior in grandeur, and that it is the courageously questioning Achilles, not the loyal Hector or even the wily Odysseus, who comes closest to the humane wisdom of Homer himself. Thanks to Homer, two of the distinctive features of Greek civilization are its extraordinary celebration of human excellence, as can be seen in Greek athletics, sculpture, and nudity, and its singular questioning of the divine, as can be seen in Greek philosophy.

    • Offers a compact, engaging and accessible discussion of the two questions that all students of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey inevitably ask: why are Homer's gods so comical and who is Homer's greatest hero: Achilles, Hector, or Odysseus?
    • Challenges the conventional view that Homer is, at best, a great poet and, at worst, a name that represents a primitive oral tradition, by arguing that Homer was a great thinker, the philosophic founder of classical Greek civilization, and a principal figure in the history of political and moral philosophy
    • Illuminates the relationship between Homer's political, moral, and religious teachings and classical civilization
    Read more

    Reviews & endorsements

    'Turning to the epics of Homer as resources for reflection about the deepest sources of human virtue and happiness, Ahrensdorf's challenging and persuasive book, by inverting the familiar views of the central characters created by the poet, elucidates the relation between the singer of songs and the true meaning of excellence.' Arlene W. Saxonhouse, University of Michigan

    'This provocative study will arouse controversy as it attempts to revive the ancient view of Homer as a teacher of virtue and to demonstrate that Achilles, rather than the apparently more lovable Hector or more rational Odysseus, really is the best of the Achaeans.' Jenny Strauss Clay, University of Virginia

    'Peter J. Ahrensdorf's Homer on the Gods and Human Virtue is a profound and moving book. His argument will provoke healthy controversy. It will also demand respect for its meticulous attention to intellectual history and scholarly disputes, its fair-mindedness, and its gravitas. The book is gracefully written and intensely argued, exemplifying the courageous wisdom of the poet Homer and the warrior Achilles in reflecting on questions of justice, divine providence, human mortality and human happiness.' Susan Collins, University of Notre Dame, Indiana

    '… [Ahrensdorf] gives us striking insights into the epics, and highlights Homer's humanity …' Susan Kristol, The Weekly Standard

    'Ahrensdorf makes a strong - indeed, to my mind, irrefutable - argument that the apparently dutiful, home-loving Hector is in fact anything but that; in Ahrensdorf's treatment, Achilles rightly emerges as the more profoundly thoughtful and ultimately more compassionate man.' First Things

    'Ahrensdorf shows the complexity and seriousness of Homer's moral universe. Especially strong is his examination of the virtue of Achilles' rage, the rage that begins the Iliad.' The Washington Free Beacon

    'Under Ahrensdorf's hand, Achilles emerges as the only hero who truly rivals Homer himself in terms of the depth of his wisdom, and his liberation from convention inspires the later birth of philosophy in classical Greece.' Review of Politics

    'Homer on the Gods and Human Virtue takes the poet seriously and, by doing so, illustrates the powerful voice that Homer and - more generally - literature can and should have within political philosophy. Unlike so many volumes, Ahrensdorf's new book on Homer successfully navigates between the twin dangers that haunt such endeavors: he neither cherry picks the story selectively to support his argument, nor does he lose sight of his thesis (and hence the philosophy) in the labyrinth of the poetry. As a result, this contribution successfully marries literature and philosophy. Ahrensdorf's introduction is a beautiful and succinct defense of the place of Homer in the study of politics, and the body of the book … explores the relationship between men and gods and the resulting implications for human virtue.' Michelle M. Kundmueller, Polis: The Journal for Ancient Greek Political Thought

    '[Ahrensdorf]'s depiction of Homer as a philosophical poet of the first rank is compelling. This book is deserving of a close reading by scholars and students alike.' Robert J. Rabel, The Classical Review

    'To call Peter J. Ahrensdorf's book on Homer 'thought-provoking' would be an understatement, as the length and substance of this review might convince you. It is a book to be read and reread, enjoyed and argued with, a book that will, with its swift pace and disarming forthrightness, whisk you through it in a few sittings.' Robert Goldberg, Interpretation: A Journal of Political Philosophy

    See more reviews

    Customer reviews

    Not yet reviewed

    Be the first to review

    Review was not posted due to profanity


    , create a review

    (If you're not , sign out)

    Please enter the right captcha value
    Please enter a star rating.
    Your review must be a minimum of 12 words.

    How do you rate this item?


    Product details

    • Date Published: February 2019
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9780521141550
    • length: 281 pages
    • dimensions: 230 x 153 x 20 mm
    • weight: 0.45kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. The theology of Homer
    2. Achilles and Hector
    3. Achilles and the limits of virtue
    4. Odysseus and Achilles.

  • Author

    Peter J. Ahrensdorf, Davidson College, North Carolina
    Peter J. Ahrensdorf is the James Sprunt Professor of Political Science and an affiliated professor of classics at Davidson College, North Carolina. He is the author of Greek Tragedy and Political Philosophy: Rationalism and Religion in Sophocles' Theban Plays (2009) and The Death of Socrates and the Life of Philosophy: An Interpretation of Plato's Phaedo (1995); the coauthor of Justice among Nations: On the Moral Basis of Power and Peace (with Thomas L. Pangle, 1999); and the cotranslator of Sophocles' Theban Plays (with Thomas L. Pangle, 2013). He is also the author of many articles and essays on Plato, Thucydides, Hobbes, Sophocles, Sarmiento, and Homer. Ahrensdorf has received a Fulbright scholarship to study and teach in Argentina, two National Endowment for the Humanities fellowships, five Earhart Foundation fellowship research grants, a Boswell Faculty fellowship, and the Hunter-Hamilton Love of Teaching Award from Davidson College.

Sorry, this resource is locked

Please register or sign in to request access. If you are having problems accessing these resources please email

Register Sign in
Please note that this file is password protected. You will be asked to input your password on the next screen.

» Proceed

You are now leaving the Cambridge University Press website. Your eBook purchase and download will be completed by our partner Please see the permission section of the catalogue page for details of the print & copy limits on our eBooks.

Continue ×

Continue ×

Continue ×
warning icon

Turn stock notifications on?

You must be signed in to your Cambridge account to turn product stock notifications on or off.

Sign in Create a Cambridge account arrow icon

Find content that relates to you

Join us online

This site uses cookies to improve your experience. Read more Close

Are you sure you want to delete your account?

This cannot be undone.


Thank you for your feedback which will help us improve our service.

If you requested a response, we will make sure to get back to you shortly.

Please fill in the required fields in your feedback submission.