Introducing the Ancient Greeks: From Bronze Age Seafarers to Navigators of the Western Mind

Introducing the Ancient Greeks: From Bronze Age Seafarers to Navigators of the Western Mind

by Edith Hall
     
 

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“Wonderful . . . a thoughtful discussion of what made [the Greeks] so important, in their own time and in ours.”—Natalie Haynes, Independent
The ancient Greeks invented democracy, theater, rational science, and philosophy. They built the Parthenon and the Library of Alexandria. They wrote down the timeless myths of Odysseus and Oedipus, and the

Overview

“Wonderful . . . a thoughtful discussion of what made [the Greeks] so important, in their own time and in ours.”—Natalie Haynes, Independent
The ancient Greeks invented democracy, theater, rational science, and philosophy. They built the Parthenon and the Library of Alexandria. They wrote down the timeless myths of Odysseus and Oedipus, and the histories of Leonidas’s three hundred Spartans and Alexander the Great. But understanding these uniquely influential people has been hampered by their diffusion across the entire Mediterranean. Most ancient Greeks did not live in what is now Greece but in settlements scattered across Turkey, Syria, Egypt, Libya, France, Italy, Bulgaria, Russia, and Ukraine. They never formed a single unified social or political entity. Acclaimed classics scholar Edith Hall’s Introducing the Ancient Greeks is the first book to offer a synthesis of the entire ancient Greek experience, from the rise of the Mycenaean kingdoms of the sixteenth century BC to the final victory of Christianity over paganism in AD 391.
Each of the ten chapters visits a different Greek community at a different moment during the twenty centuries of ancient Greek history. In the process, the book makes a powerful original argument: A cluster of unique qualities made the Greeks special and made them the right people, at the right time, to take up the baton of human progress. According to Herodotus, the father of history, what made all Greeks identifiably Greek was their common descent from the same heroes, the way they sacrificed to their gods, their rules of decent behavior, and their beautiful language. Edith Hall argues, however, that their mind-set was just as important as their awe-inspiring achievements. They were rebellious, individualistic, inquisitive, open-minded, witty, rivalrous, admiring of excellence, articulate, and addicted to pleasure. But most important was their continuing identity as mariners, the restless seagoing lifestyle that brought them into contact with ethnically diverse peoples in countless new settlements, and the constant stimulus to technological innovation provided by their intense relationship with the sea.Expertly researched and elegantly told, Introducing the Ancient Greeks is an indispensable contribution to our understanding of the Greeks.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
04/14/2014
British classicist Hall (The Return of Ulysses) has composed a panorama of two millennia of Hellenic history, depicting Greeks as sea lovers who “felt trapped when they were far inland.” Starting with the Minoan and Mycenaean thalassocracies (a political system based on sea domination), Hall embarks on an odyssey toward the four long poems of Homer and Hesiod that offer “unforgettable scenes of fighting, sailing, and farming,” pausing to appreciate the three essential crops—“grains, vines, and olives”—at the heart of Greek identity. The meandering tour features a Who’s Who of Greek thinkers: scientists Thales and Anaximander; Heraclitus, first philosopher; Xenophanes of Colophon, “first skeptic”; Parmenides, founder of ontology; Zeno and his paradoxes; atomic theorist Democritus; comparative anthropologist Hecataeus; and Herodotus, historian and “Father of European Prose.” Greece’s “apex of creativity” in democratic Athens during the fifth and fourth centuries B.C.E. segues to the marching Argeads of Macedonia under Alexander the Great, who bequeathed his world empire “to the strongest.” Hall limns how the Greeks “colonized the minds of their Roman masters,” since “cultural hegemony has more lasting effects than political dominance.” The prose is fluid and lambent, and though chapters are lengthy, readers will welcome the volume’s accessibility. Maps & illus. (June)
James Romm - James Romm
“Penetrating and acute.”
Mark Gamin - Cleveland.com
“A hearty, delightful voyage through 2,000 years of Greek history, written with wit and verve and deep insight.”
Kirkus Reviews
2014-03-29
British classicist Hall (Greek Tragedy, 2010, etc.) defines 10 characteristics that unified ancient Greek culture. The author focuses on an individual characteristic during a particular historical period: For example, the Mycenaeans, whose heroes and wars are the subjects of Greek culture's foundational epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey, were, like all the Greeks who followed, seafarers. The Greeks' inherent suspicion of authority shaped their ethnic identity, which began to cohere in the eighth century B. C. around the idea that each free man had equal rights and privileges. (Hall is matter-of-fact about the miserable position of women in ancient Greece but is given to delightfully tart asides such as, "Medea [in Euripides' tragedy] is the Athenian husband's worst nightmare realized.") Their inquiring natures sparked the births of natural science and philosophy as intellectual disciplines in the sixth century B. C. Their insatiable competitiveness led Alexander the Great to conquer most of the known world but kept him from naming an heir and prevented his warring successors from presenting a united front against the rising threat of Rome. The Greeks' love of excellence and addiction to pleasure are among the other traits Hall explores. It's a clever way to organize 2,000 years of history, albeit slightly schematic—an impression reinforced by her tendency to frequently recap the 10 characteristics and a weakness for such this-will-be-on-the-test phrases as, "in the next chapter we ask" or "their achievements form the subject matter of this chapter." These mildly annoying academic mannerisms are trivial in comparison to Hall's wonderfully rich portrait of Greek culture's evolution and underlying continuity from the Bronze Age to the triumph of Christianity. Maintaining a judicious neutrality in the modern scholarly wars, the author acknowledges that the Greeks adopted many of their Near Eastern neighbors' best ideas and practices yet praises them for the unique "cluster of brilliant qualities" not found elsewhere in the ancient world. An excellent survey for general readers, refreshingly opinionated without neglecting to give conventional wisdom its due.
James Romm - Wall Street Journal
“[Hall’s] insights into cultural history can be penetrating and acute. . . . [She] is an engaging writer and an acute scholar.”
Mark Gamin - Cleveland Plain Dealer
“A hearty, delightful voyage through 2,000 years of Greek history, written with wit and verve and deep insight.”
Paul Cartledge
“New and groundbreaking.”
Froma Zeitlin
“Edith Hall’s characteristically original approach to the world of classical antiquity is on full display. . . . Hall will accompany the reader on a voyage of both pleasure and discovery.”
Adrienne Mayor
“Vivacious and learned. . . . Filled with striking anecdotes and little-known facts, this book will delight any student of the ancient Greek world.”
Sheila Murnaghan
“A superb introduction, informative and inspiring. With deep expertise and unabashed enthusiasm, Edith Hall surveys the whole history of the ancient Greeks and pinpoints the shared traits that explain their enduring achievements.”

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393239980
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
06/16/2014
Pages:
336
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.40(d)

Meet the Author

Edith Hall is one of Britain’s foremost classicists, having held posts at the universities of Royal Holloway, Cambridge, Durham, Reading, and Oxford. She is the author and editor of more than a dozen works on the ancient world. She teaches at King’s College London and lives in Gloucestershire.

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