A triumph 0f popularization: extraordinarily knowledgeable, informal in tone, amusing, wide ranging, smartly paced.” —The New York Times Book Review
“The best introduction to classical Greek culture yet written. . . . Learned, stylish and inspiring. . . . Well-informed, insightful and on the whole written in a sparkling style.” —Los Angeles Times
“Astonishing. . . . If anybody can get us reading about Homer, Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Thucydides, Xenophon and more, Cahill will.” —Chicago Tribune
“Fascinating. . . . Commendable. . . . Cahill has an impressive knowledge of the Greek world. . . . His admirable skill at summing up movements of enormous complexity surface throughout the book.” —The Seattle Times
Thomas Cahill's Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea is the fourth book in a best-selling series that treats Western history as a long chain of gift-giving to the world, where the gifts are art, literature, political and moral values, science and philosophy. He is a talented writer, and his tour of Greek culture is a triumph of popularization: extraordinarily knowledgeable, informal in tone, amusing, wide-ranging, smartly paced. We learn much from him about Greek achievements, from Homer's epic vision to the importance of free speech, from the development of the disciplined war machine the Greeks called the phalanx to Plato's love of reason. Cahill has produced an updated version of Edith Hamilton's beloved Greek Way of 75 years ago, one that is much more sensitive to the Greeks' oppression of women and uncritical endorsement of slavery, their tinges of xenophobia and the fearsome nature of their war making.
Cahill assumes his readers possess scant knowledge of classical history or literature and arranges each chapter like a chatty lecture, complete with introductory readings from original sources as springboards for expounding the ideas and ideals they portray. We even find a pronunciation glossary for the Greek cast of characters and, for those who could never read the signs over fraternity and sorority houses, the Greek alphabet with transliterations. He makes complex things simple without rendering them simplistic.
Tracy Lee Simmons
Dukakis makes an oddly fine match for this learned, accessible and occasionally glib survey of early Greek culture and its contributions to Western civilization. While her gruff Boston accent may seem like a strange match for a historical work, it suits this text, which moves fluidly between quoting Sappho on one page and referring to the gods as keeping something "on the QT" on another. Indeed, Cahill's project aims not merely to explain the Greeks, but to enliven them. In an effort to take them off their crumbling pedestals and make a modern audience appreciate them as a complex people struggling to comprehend and improve their world, he quotes passages from well-known Greek works and writes comfortably and unassumingly in a colloquial, contemporary style. Perhaps this is why Dukakis fits right in. As an actress, she has more than enough skill to carry listeners through a lengthy excerpt from the Iliad, but she can also project a no-nonsense demeanor that makes the reader feel like she's sitting you down and telling you how it was. The result is a vivid, tangible look at who the Greeks were and what they have come to mean. Simultaneous release with the Doubleday hardcover (Forecasts, Aug. 25, 2003). (Nov. 2003) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
As part of his "The Hinges of History" series (e.g., Desire of the Everlasting Hills), Cahill once again presents an entertaining book. This one tells the English-speaking world why the Greeks are relevant to their current culture. He has taken a clever angle by dividing Ancient Greek influence into such categories as "How To Rule," "How To Think," and "How To Party." His enthusiasm and irreverence will prove infectious to most readers and outweighs his tendency to oversimplify certain issues, such as why certain texts survived and others did not. Cahill does not actually address with any depth the evolution of the Greek influence over the ensuing 3000 years but does admit to less attractive influences, such as sexism and slavery. Some may deem this as an updated version of Edith Hamilton's The Greek Way; Cahill stays focused on the Greeks and gives little space to the other influences in play at the same time, but one must concede that that is his thesis. Recommended for all public libraries and academic libraries without a Classics Department. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/03.]-Clay Williams, Hunter Coll., New York Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Adult/High School-Cahill has set himself a daunting task in Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea, in which he seeks to make the ancient Greeks accessible to a modern audience. Yet he succeeds. The author examines ancient Greek civilization through a number of specific roles that underpinned that society, such as the warrior, the politician, and the philosopher. He delves into their development and shows how they exemplified and perpetuated the different aspects of behavior and thought that defined their times. The use of specific types with whom readers can relate makes for an effective means of bridging the gap between their civilization and ours. With this common ground established, Cahill can show exactly how ancient Greece has influenced western civilization today, such as in the approach to the military and in the creation of the system by which we organize our knowledge and methods of learning. Scholars of the subject might quibble with certain of the author's pronouncements, and he seems to have an overly dismissive attitude toward the civilization of ancient Rome. Yet there can be no gainsaying the fact that Cahill has succeeded in his goal; by the end of the book, readers can thoroughly understand why the ancient Greeks matter to us today.-Ted Westervelt, Library of Congress, Washington, DC Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
In highly readable fashion, Cahill explores the Greeks' great gifts to Western civilization, along with some less benign bequests that continue to grieve us. It might be hard for us retroject ourselves into the Greek consciousness, suggests Cahill (How the Irish Saved Civilization, 1995, etc.), who proceeds to make it simple, situating many of our most knee-jerk responses to social, political, religious, and ethical life within the orbit of the Greek worldview. Americans, too, are a blend of circumstances and the refinement or debasement thereof: still a warrior culture ("males always primed for battle and sexual conquest"), still a bellicose society ready for war ("terrible but innate to civilization"), still Greek-dependent for our views of morality and justice in a fated universe ruled by passion. We too strive for the resourcefulness of Odysseus, tempered by "the ability to sympathize, to mourn, and to cherish familial relationships," elevated for the Greeks by the influence of wonderful Sappho. We're pursued by the Furies of guilt, take pleasure in conviviality (think keggers, for the lowest common denominator), believe in innocence by dint of hung jury, question taboos by deliberation and choice. Yes, Cahill notes, the European Enlightenment was critical, but so was Athens' "wildly participatory" democracy, likely the fallout of an alphabet that spread literacy, demystification, and irreverence. The author parades a rogue's gallery of true subversives, from Homer to Solon ("a sort of Athenian Franklin D. Roosevelt, an innovative though basically moderate statesman"), from pre-Socratic notions of atomic theory and mystery to Socrates' questing and questioning to Plato's ultimateforms. Then, late in the Grecian formula, Pericles' resolve: "The secret of happiness is freedom and the secret of freedom a brave heart." Like all things Greek, highly interpretable, allowing "the Greco-Roman turn of mind combined with Judeo-Christian values." Like having a worldly, well-versed, and imaginative uncle tell you a good story, tendering the known while fearlessly filling in the gaps with seamless, colorful graftings.