A gripping intellectual adventure story, Sailing from Byzantium sweeps you from the deserts of Arabia to the dark forests of northern Russia, from the colorful towns of Renaissance Italy to the final moments of a millennial city under siege.... Byzantium: the successor of Greece and Rome, this magnificent empire bridged the ancient and modern worlds for more than a thousand years. Without Byzantium, the works of Homer and Herodotus, Plato and Aristotle, Sophocles and Aeschylus, would never have survived. Yet very few of us have any idea of the enormous debt we owe them. The story of Byzantium is a real-life adventure of electrifying ideas, high drama, colorful characters, and inspiring feats of daring. In Sailing from Byzantium, Colin Wells tells of the missionaries, mystics, philosophers, and artists who against great odds and often at peril of their own lives spread Greek ideas to the Italians, the Arabs, and the Slavs. Their heroic efforts inspired the Renaissance, the golden age of Islamic learning, and Russian Orthodox Christianity, which came complete with a new alphabet, architecture, and one of the world's greatest artistic traditions. The story's central reference point is an arcane squabble called the Hesychast controversy that pitted humanist scholars led by the brilliant, acerbic intellectual Barlaam against the powerful monks of Mount Athos led by the stern Gregory Palamas, who denounced "pagan" rationalism in favor of Christian mysticism. Within a few decades, the light of Byzantium would be extinguished forever by the invading Turks, but not before the humanists found a safe haven for Greek literature. The controversy of rationalism versus faith would continue to be argued by some of history's greatest minds. Fast-paced, compulsively readable, and filled with fascinating insights, Sailing from Byzantium is one of the great historical dramas-the gripping story of how the flame of civilization was saved and passed on.
|Publisher:||Tantor Media, Inc.|
|Edition description:||MP3 - Unabridged CD|
|Product dimensions:||5.30(w) x 7.40(h) x 0.60(d)|
About the Author
Colin Wells has studied with eminent Byzantinist Speros Vryonis Jr. at UCLA and holds an M.A. from Oxford University in Greats (Greek and Latin language and literature). He has written numerous articles on world history and culture for over a decade. He lives in upstate New York.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I have long had an interest in Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman history, and I also enjoy vertical histories (those books that cover a narrow subject but in depth). Sailing from Byzantium by Colin Wells is a vertical history that in its three parts attempts to describe the legacy of Byzantine culture. The importance of Byzantium, or the Eastern Roman Empire, lies beyond its territorial acquisitions or military prowess (or the loss of both as the centuries bore on until 1453). Part I focuses on western Europe, primarily Italy, and the role of humanism that led to the Renaissance. As Catholic and Orthodox worked to re-unite, as the Crusades sent large numbers of westerners east, or as the Fourth Crusades captured Constantinople, both east and west interacted ever more frequently. For the west, this meant rediscovering classical Greek texts and Greek itself. Petrarch, Boccaccio, and Florence all felt the influence, which began the process of lifting the Dark Ages from western Europe. Part II, the shortest part, explores the Byzantine influence on the Islamic world, particularly on effects of Aristotle on the development of a rationalistic philosophy epitomized by Averroes in Moorish Spain. Part III returns to Europe but investigates the Slavic and, more importantly, Russian embracing of Orthodoxy, the battles between Catholic and Orthodox for supremacy in various regions, and Orthodoxy's Hesychasm movement on the development of Russian Orthodoxy. Wells does a good job of describing the influences, how the Byzantium influenced the rest of its neighbors, and how Byzantium itself was influenced. Wells remains at a high level, and we only really get glimpses and quick overviews. And that is my main criticism of this book. At only 368 pages, I do not think it went in detail enough, did not take the various alleys and side stories it could have. Perhaps I have now read too much of this history and much of it seemed familiar to me. So my caution is that this is a good introduction, but for those well versed in Byzantium, the Renaissance, and so on, the book may seem light.
Colin Wells gives a delightful history of the Byzantines in a readable account sprinkled with surprising historical tidbits, all on a foundation of rich insight. Though we have largely forgotten the Byzantines, they live among us yet, in our cultural patterns and views of the world. Wells is particularly good at unearthing largely-forgotten movements of peoples and ideas. His sense of the flow of influence between Byzantium and the Italian Renaissance alone is worth the reading time. As I read the book, I was preparing for my first visit to Istanbul. Because of the author's careful review of the Chora (outside the wall) Church in the city, I made that museum my first stop. Breathtaking frescoes and mosaics, certainly of a kind with Giotto's work in Padua, as Wells claims. It does make one wonder at the similarity of work and the near-simultaneous timing of the works. That one afternoon in Chora made the trip satisfying and enriching. The book is written for quick reading, smooth in style, and stimulating to any lover of history and culture.