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A Scholar's Odyssey
Cyrus H. Gordon
Publication Date
April 2000


2000 National Jewish Book Award Winner for Autobiography/Memoir

Cyrus Gordon—linguist, biblical scholar, and provocative interpreter of the ancient Mediterranean world—was a prolific and pioneering author with numerous scholarly treatises and popular books. With this autobiography, Gordon has given us a rich sense of individuals with whom he came into contact and the ideas that played out in his interpretations. His life story recounts the unexpected directions in which he found himself led by his emerging and developing interests. From travels throughout the Mediterranean and Mesopotamian world and his work breaking secret codes during WWII, the story of his life serves as an encouragememt and inspiration to young scholars. Woven throughout the unfolding story is Gordon’s philosophy of the interconnectedness of cultures that has been so significant, and sometimes controversial, in his career.

“This is an absolutely delightful autobiography.”—Expository Times

“This small monograph is not only the odyssey of one man; it is in a sense the story of the twentieth-century search for the roots of our civilization.”
Journal of the American Oriental Society

“The phrase that plays throughout this engaging autobiography is ‘breaking new ground.’ Cyrus Gordon, nonagenarian, is still doing that, trying to better understand how cultural diffusion worked in the Ancient Near East, where the world’s oldest civilizations created the institutions and the literature that have shaped ours. Luckily, Professor Gordon took time out also to write this rich memoir, A Scholar’s Odyssey, in which he communicates the excitement of resurrecting the past from archives of long forgotten centers such as Amarna, Nuzi, Ugarit, Mari, Qumran, and Ebla, a recovery in which he often played signal roles. In doing so, Professor Gordon names names (in and out of academia), tracks opinions (sound or bizarre), recreates epochs (creative or somnolent), and offers assessments that are authoritative, even when pungently stated. I recommend the book, especially to those who, longing for the romance that archeology is still capable of evoking in us, allow themselves to be swept by a life of deeds and imagination.”
—Jack M. Sasson, Vanderbilt University

“How refreshing it is to listen to a master storyteller recount with such rigorous honesty and deep insight his uphill quest for truth in an academic world full of jealousy and pettiness. In this compelling memoir, Cyrus H. Gordon introduces us to a whole gallery of personalities, detailing their merits and foibles. Unwilling to conform or compromise his integrity, he made remarkable scholarly break-throughs despite the obstacles placed in his path by his teachers and colleagues. A pioneer who broadened the horizons of Mediterranean studies, Gordon’s goal has been to show the ‘interlacing of peoples and civilizations’ and to persuade his audience to conceive of a ‘global world history.’ His legacy, rooted in facts, has implications far beyond its scholarly conclusions. Alongside his extraordinary productivity we find his exceptional humanity and graciousness in dealing with family, friends, colleagues and students. Anyone fortunate enough to have met the doyen of ancient Near Eastern scholars will hear his lucid voice on every page. And those who have not had the privilege will still be inspired and regaled by this absorbing odyssey. A must read for all.”
—Meir Lubetski, Baruch College, CUNY