The book’s most headline-grabbing claim is about authorship. Dalby argues that the composer of The Iliad and The Odyssey was a woman. Initially, this idea seems pretty silly, and not even original. Samuel Butler (author of Erewhon) argued in the 19th century that The Odyssey is by a woman, on the grounds that the poem is set in a nonmilitary world, and shows deep sympathy with female characters. The argument is a weak one: The whole point of imaginative literature, some would say, is that it allows poets, writers, and audience to participate in alien forms of experience.
But Dalby deploys a much stronger set of arguments for female authorship, based on comparative anthropological analysis of how women preserve songs, stories, and folk tales.