You can dip in at any point, and be carried along as in a lively cafe conversation — that is, if your friend happens to be a polymath with seemingly all of European literature (in the original languages), as well as Vedic writings, in his head, but whose flow of associations leaves you feeling not out of your depth, but smarter and better read ... The author enjoys making provocative statements and letting them twinkle before moving on ... Calasso is especially good at describing the characters of myth and legend with a novelist’s omniscient authority — and the occasional zinger ... That these stylish sentences come through with such verve in English — one is almost never aware the book is a translation from the Italian — is due in no small part to the translator, Richard Dixon ... The connection of the book’s later chapters to the celestial hunter (Orion, forever stalking through the heavens) is less clear; by the end, the book seems less about man’s transformation from hunted to hunter than about the larger topic of metamorphosis.
Calasso is elliptical, allusive and dazzlingly eclectic. We might expect to encounter Darwin, dispensing the final cut to the animal past as human history, but not Beatrix Potter, for the further powerplay of swathing the animals in human garb and sentiment. Like Marsilio Ficino’s 15th-century attempt to revive Plato’s academy at Florence, The Celestial Hunter is ‘an initiation through the book’, speculative but capable of changing how you see things.
Calasso has a style that is at times obscure and impenetrable; unlike most writers of contemporary nonfiction, he never explicitly articulates his point—giving you the wild feeling of swimming in the open ocean. He likes to start his short sections with declarative, aphoristic sentences that give pause ... Yet Calasso follows these opaque openings with meandering paragraphs that give the reader the experience of trying to catch a fish with your hands—the moment you think you’ve grasped something, it slips away ... maybe this is what Calasso is doing with The Celestial Hunter—trying to unravel a tangle of reasons that can never be unraveled. By the end of the book, I felt that the fish ultimately got away. Calasso left me in the middle of the ocean, exhausted and unsure what I was doing there.
Calasso is famously serpentine in his style, approaching his subject through oblique digressions, obscure anecdotes, and constant locomotion. And so his narrative of how humans imitated predatory animals and internalized the symbolism of the hunt covers familiar archetypes—Orion in the night sky, Artemis the pure and ruthless—but also roams beyond Olympus into Egyptian, Vedic, and Persian sources ... His tone is authoritative, so confident in the veracity of his intellectual synthesis that he verges on audacity; one may even detect the ghost of Nietzsche. It may be best to engage with this book almost like a novel, allowing its impressions and profundities to flow without worrying about verifiability.
... thought-provoking ... While some chapters retell memorable stories, most are loosely organized collections of digressions on themes of metamorphosis, imitation, sacrifice, and divinity. The text is laced with aphorisms and bold declarations, but its real strength lies in Calasso’s great facility with languages, especially ancient Greek, which aids his ability to do original research, and his ability to make connections over vast territory ... Though less thematically cohesive than other series entries, this philosophical tome will provide historians with much entertaining speculation on the story of humankind.