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Books - History - Ancient - Greece - Ten Things to Read About the Greeks -- as selected by Hanson

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Greek and Macedonian Art of War
by Frank E. Adcock
Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars
Paperback (01 June, 1974)
list price: $15.95 -- our price: $15.95
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Reviews (2)

5-0 out of 5 stars Excellent introduction to Greek warfare
This book is a little gem. It is the transcription of a series of lessons, each of which covers an aspect of Greek Warfare from the Heroic Age to the Ellenistic Kingdoms.Although short, the book is exhaustive and definitely worth buying for both the military enthusiast and the general reader. The only criticism I might make is that there are no illustrations; this makes it difficult to visualize the chapter on naval warfare. For this reson, the book should be read together with the "Illustrated Encyclopedia of Ancient Warfare" by Warry.

5-0 out of 5 stars A Concise Compendium of Classical Combat
Adcock gives an all-too-brief overview of Hellenic and Hellenistic military art.He begins with the city-state at war and then devotes chapters to infantry and naval matters.Next he turns to the moreHellenistic topics of cavalry, elephants, and siegecraft.He then gives usa chapter on strategy, and concludes with a chapter on generalship.Thebook was an interesting read, and I got to the last page far too soon. ... Read more

Isbn: 0520000056
Sales Rank: 400894
Subjects:  1. Ancient - Greece    2. Greece    3. History    4. History - Military / War    5. History, Military    6. Macedonia    7. Military - General    8. Military art and science    9. To 146 B.C    10. To 1500   


$15.95

Greeks and the Irrational
by E.R. Dodds
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Hardcover (01 June, 1986)
list price: $35.25
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Reviews (13)

5-0 out of 5 stars 'A SIMPLE PROFESSOR OF GREEK'
Eric Dodds was sometime professor of Greek at Oxford. This book created a certain amount of a stir in its day both within and outside the arena of classical studies by either addressing, or being believed to address, up-to-date issues of anthropology and psychology. It consists basically of the Sather Classical Lectures that Dodds was invited to deliver at the University of California in 1950, and as it has been reissued in paperback in 1997 it's fair to assume that the publishers intend it to reach a wider readership than the dwindling band of classical initiates.

I very much hope it does that, but a word or two would probably be in place regarding what to expect and what not to expect to find in the book. The author's preface warns us not to look in the book for a history of Greek religion, and more pertinently recognises that modern scholarship is a world of specialists, and Dodds reiterates right at the end that he is `a simple professor of Greek'. Amateurs, dilettantes and bluffers will find plenty of material to suit them I don't doubt, but Dodds is not one of their number. This work is best read as a standard piece of classical scholarship, not as breaking down any moulds or enclosures. The most casual glance at the daunting catalogue of references in the notes appended to each chapter will show what a vast amount of writing on the topics covered here was in situ before Dodds, and how could it be otherwise? Any commentary on, say, Plato or Empedocles or Greek history by and large had to do its best with issues of religion and trends in thought. There are numerous references to other cultures, and Dodds is certainly better versed in such matters than other classics dons that I knew. By my standards he shows wide reading and deep interest in anthropology and human behaviour. On the other hand my standards in these matters are a thing of shreds and patches, and if I wanted to improve that situation this is not where I would look. The focus here is exclusively on Greeks, and any parallels cited are cited from that point of reference. Another thing to be wary of is trying to read this book as any kind of parable for our times. In my own view it is a powerful parable for our times, but that's my own parable only. In the last chapter Dodds alludes to recent history. His date is 1950, which is nearer to the start of the first world war than to 2005. It seems to me that what he has to say about the recrudescence of irrational religion and what he calls `the pathetic reverence for the written word' is very near the bone indeed in 2005, but even if I'm right Dodds could not have known that in 1950, and modern history is invoked by him to illustrate ancient history, not the other way about.

What one does expect and demand from a professor of Greek is knowledge and elucidation of what Greeks said thought and did. This is where The Greeks and the Irrational comes up trumps. There are eight chapters plus two appendices (on maenadism and the semi-magical theurgy). Dodds begins, very reasonably, at the beginning with Homeric terminology for the divine, seeing a culture in which values were a matter of status rather than of morality in any modern sense. He traces the development of the latter together with an analysis of various kinds of `madness', the significance (for Greeks not for Swedenborg or for Kant or for moderns) of dreams, the phenomenon of shamans in the context of trends in religious belief, the rise of rationalism and the counter-reaction that followed it, and the complex issue of Plato's teachings, which are far from unified or consistent. His final chapter is `The Fear of Freedom', and for my money this rings (or tolls) a loud clear bell in the early years of the third millennium. Genuine freedom of thought, much less of expression, is resented widely as being subversive, it seems to me, not least in a culture that likes to pose as embodying liberty by some kind of definition. In this Dodds seems to me to support my own view, but my own view it remains. Dodds is talking about Greeks.

The presentation of the material improves as the book goes along. The early chapters contain too much Greek that should have been reserved for the notes in what was after all lectures, not the printed word, and will not be fully intelligible without help unless you have Greek. For all that they remain readable, and anyone who can recognise a first-class mind and a first-class scholar will recognise it here. In this respect Dodds has not been as adept as his Cambridge opposite number Denys Page, whose History and the Homeric Iliad followed about a decade later in the Sather series of annual lectures.(Curiously, Page was restricted to six lectures, not the eight he seemed to have been expecting.) Dodds has all eight at his disposal, the book is beautifully written, and I ended wishing there had been more. Still a book for a wide reading-public I should say, wherever intellectual curiosity and a wish to understand human thought-processes thrive.

5-0 out of 5 stars Greek Enlightenments
Surprised to see this old classic still in print, one can certainly recommend it, though with a list of debating points. Written in the Age of Freud the viewpoint is a trifle dated, yet not so, and wears well, despite the slight 'Greek on the couch' tone. It should not surprise us that the Age of Reason coursing through the Greeks should coexist with a great deal of Hyperborean tribal lore among some quite rude and saucy fellows, with their epic tales, animal sacrifices, Olympian divinities and iron weapons. Further, we overselect the 'Ionian Enlightenment' from a world far richer in content, one where Pythagoras sounds echoes of Indian religion, reincarnation was associated with the classic cultic mysteries, and the polytheism denatured by later monotheism flowered for the last time as the first version of the 'aesthetic state' so doted upon by Hegel, Wagner, and Nietzsche. The latter, after all, blames Euripides for 'rationalizing' the rich masterchords of the world of Greek tragedy. Dodds worries along with Gilbert Murray over this aspect of the Greek 'irrational' but we seldom realize that Indian culture and Greek culture in the Axial Age resembled each other more than we think.

But more than that, it is our own conception of rationality that might be at fault. After all, between the high Enlightenment, Kant and Hegel on reason in history, then the instrumental reason critiqued by Adorno, we have no good stable definition of what rationality we are talking about. Homer's nod! What is the boundary of the 'irrational'? In an age of scientism, that boundary is miscast, and the Greeks remain to be discovered as a people with a balance we may well have lost! Always a fascinating piece of work.

4-0 out of 5 stars Stimulating, despite a questionable agenda
It is not uncommon for major figures of Ancient Greek thought to be deemed 'rationalists', a word often tainted by modern science in its implications. E.R. Dodds' book is fairly difficult to gauge on this. On one hand, it reconsiders the 'rationalist overview' by tracing back various guises of irrationalism that permeated Greek culture - a belief in daimons, the conception of a useful mania, theurgy, astrology, mystery cults. Writing about these elements, Dodds surveys a wide variety of authors and themes and provides a lively compendium. On the other hand, his methodology has shortcomings. The reader soon realizes that the ambivalence of Greek thought between the power of reason and its limitations is not a virtue according to Dodds. This is a legitimate point of view, but it has important consequences on the book's agenda. It is unabashedly teleological: irruptions of irrationalism are usually seen as 'symptoms', as setbacks from Dodds' ideal of positivistic rationalism. This is emphasized by his characterization of 5th century BC as Greece's Aufklarung. The chapter on theurgy is equally representative: while it is well-researched and in-depth, it is also filled with simplifications (the equation 'theurgy = magic', frequent in 1950s and 1960s scolarship, is stated repeatedly) and shows little sympathy for either theurgy or its theorists; this section would color many subsequent studies on the spirituality of late Neoplatonism, until scholars such as H.-D. Saffrey (a pupil of Dodds) favored an approach which was more open-minded and receptive. In spite of this, Dodds' book remains extremely stimulating and should be read by all those who are fascinated by the blurred line between reason and what is out of its reach; but it should not be considered as the last word on its objects of study. ... Read more

Isbn: 0844662240
Sales Rank: 1307299


World of Odysseus, The : Second Edition (Penguin History)
by M. I. Finley
Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars
Paperback (29 March, 1979)
list price: $11.95
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Reviews (8)

5-0 out of 5 stars Unanswerable
Well, here's Finley's conclusion: Homer's stories about the Trojan War are fiction, and Schliemann's "discoveries" of Troy do not support his wild claims (despite Schliemann's other services to archaeology).Finley quotes the sceptical judgment of Charles Newton, the British Museum curator, who in 1878 wrote that we don't know the size of that kernel of truth in Homer's epics.Finley went further: there is no historical truth at all in The Iliad, and as little in The Odyssey also.

My impression is that Finley was, and remains, a minority.Most Greek scholars (historical, archaeological, or philological) feel that there IS some real facts in Homer.For instance, J. B. Bury, writing in early last century in his History of Greece to the Death of Alexander the Great, stated that the traditional date of the Fall of Troy - i.e., the date indicated by Homer - 1183 BC, is correct, and that Homer's Troy corresponds to archaeological facts!

Bury was the Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge (strange title for a scholar of ANCIENT Greece and Rome), writing his book at a time when Finley was an infant.It is possible that archaeological finds by 1954 have cast more doubts on Schliemann's labors, which were made in the 19th century.But then Finley quotes Newton with approval, and Newton wrote in 1878.It is equally possible (though I don't know) that modern archaeological discoveries have further supported Schliemann and not Finley.

In a sense, the whole debate is moot.Many great works of literature are a mix of facts and fiction: Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, China's Three Kingdoms and The Journey to the West, Shakespeare's Julius Caesar.These are great books.To be sure, that kernel of truth may be very small in Homer, but we don't read Hamlet, let alone see it acted on stage, because we think the story is "real".That Homer's stories were believed by the ancients to be true (Alexander for one) is a major reason why we still have them today.

And who can say for sure one finds nothing but true facts in history books?Can't true history contain a kernel of fiction also?Alexander, who believed in Homer without question and was inspired by The Iliad, is the subject of countless biographies, but whether we know whole truth and nothing but concerning Alexander is still a mystery.The difference between him and Achilles is a matter of degrees.

4-0 out of 5 stars An Excellent "Epilogue" to Homer
Reading Finley immediately after you finish Homer allows you to revisit the epics' individual passages and tie them into coherent themes. Finley's discussion of the Greek household, or oikos, is especially good, as are his insights on giftgiving. The world that Homer sang of is a stark contrast to the more familiar, Classical Greece, and yet the seeds of that Greece (and hence our world) are already reconizably there. Perhaps they are there in a truer, less alloyed form.

The only regrettable part of this book is the second appendix, a speech that Finley later gave on Schliemann. It is full of such professional bitterness that one begins to doubt Finley's decency. The publisher produced a gem of a book, but it should seriously consider removing these few pages in future editions.

4-0 out of 5 stars The "Odyssey" and "Iliad" in their historical contexts
"The World of Odysseus" is a book with a unique intent:use archaeology and what historians have pieced together about pre-Classical Greece to describe the society that Odysseus (and the other characters of the Odyssey/Iliad) would have known at the time of the Trojan War.From theorizing about Homer's identity, to speculating on the relationship between Penelope and Odysseus, the author succeeds in a sotry nearly as interesting as the Odyssey itself.
In any discussion about Homer and the epics, invariably questions arise about their historicity.Whole forests have been felled, and TV programs of varying (to say the least) accuracy have been broadcast about this point.The autor contends that such discussion is tangential to the real issue:the myth itself is important in what the content tells us about Greek society of the time-roughly 1200 BC.Thus, considering that Homer is relating actual locations and personages, but assuming the tales about the Gods were satire totally misses the point of the poems.All aspects of society are covered:customs, religion and class all get well written chapters.A pretty solid social history of Bronze-Age Greece.What tells against the book though is its age.Naturally the latest archaeology and theories don't appear here.Recommended as excellent background to the study of these two epic poems. ... Read more

Isbn: 014013686X
Sales Rank: 471929
Subjects:  1. Children: Grades 3-4    2. Ancient Greece    3. Cultural studies    4. Folklore    5. History / General    6. Literary studies: classical, early & medieval    7. World history: BCE to c 500 CE   


Homer on Life and Death
by Jasper Griffin
Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars
Paperback (01 December, 1983)
list price: $29.95 -- our price: $29.95
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Reviews (1)

5-0 out of 5 stars To read it is to love it.
How this little gem has been so completely overlooked I simply do not understand.I have to confess that I am as guilty as the next person.As an inveterate reader of the Iliad in translation and of everything I can get my hands on about the Iliad, I had somehow missed this.I first saw it obliquely referenced in the New York Review of Books.I can not even remember what the book being reviewed was.But i Do recall that Griffin's book was mentioned in a footnote.

It took me a couple of weeks to read it -- though it clocks in at barely over 200 pages.Not because it it tough slogging, but because the ideas are so startling and so ingenious that you have to sit back, savour them, re-read them, and then press on.I kept my favorite translation of the Iliad to hand (Fagles) and spent hours cross-referencing Griffin and Fagles texts in their respective margins.Now when I pick up the Iliad in search of a memorable passage I have a note that takes me straight to Griffin's lucid, limip analysis.

As a society we do not understand death very well -- and we are not prepared for it.I first confronted this when my mother died.I ralized then that nothing I had learned, nothing I had ever read, prepared me properly for the event.I wish I had read Griffin on the subject before that fateful day.At one point he writes, "...the Iliad is a poem of death rather than of fighting.The subject of the poem is life and death, constrasted with the greatest possible sharpness."

He writes passionately at all times -- and, on ocassion, almost polemically.But his opinions are always founded on the most careful analysis of the text.

Here he is on the value of Greek myth:

"Greek myth is distinguished from others above all by the dominant position within it of myths about heroes....They illuminate...the potential and limitations of man in the world.In the noble speeches and tragic insights of a Sarpedon, a Hector, an Achilles, we see both the terrible and unalterable laws of life and death, and also the greatness which man can achieve in facing them.The loyalty of Penelope, the endurance of Odysseus, the self-sacrifice of Patroclus, even the tragic dignity of the guilty Helen: all show us that amid suffering and disaster human nature can remain noble and almost god-like."

Griffin also translates EVERYTHING.Many of his era, including the magisterial Syme, would hardly have deigned to do this -- assuming that even the lay reader should have a knowledge of Latin or Greek. But not Jasper Griffin.Thank you Jasper.....

If you love the Iliad, you will LOVE Griffin.I also discovered a reference to this book at the end of "Who Killed Homer".Now, depending upon your view of Hanson (I love him) that may either damn or exalt Griffin in your eyes.But for what it is worth, Hanson listed this little book as one of the ten books on antiquity that MUST be read.And he is right!! ... Read more

Isbn: 0198140266
Sales Rank: 462855
Subjects:  1. Ancient and Classical    2. Greek Literature    3. History & Surveys - Ancient & Classical    4. Literature - Classics / Criticism    5. Literature: Classics   


$29.95

Alexander to Actium: The Historical Evolution of the Hellenistic Age (Hellenistic Culture and Society)
by Peter Green
Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Paperback (01 October, 1993)
list price: $50.00 -- our price: $43.11
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Reviews (13)

1-0 out of 5 stars Ho-hum
Green is a stuffy self-important bore, judging by this tome. He writes with a certain grace, but has a knack for making the interesting dull.

2-0 out of 5 stars Alexander to Actium: The Historical Evolution of the Helleni
Although this book contains much interesting information on the hellenistic age, I think it has several flaws. First, it contains too many subjective opinions to be properly 'scientific'. Second, Green's sarcasms are often so biting and his views so negative, that it is likely to kill the lay persons' fascination for the subject. Furthermore, his views on art and architecture is often at variance with most authorities. A case in point is the Laocoon, which in Green's opinion is a dreary piece of art. Great artists such as Michelangelo and Rubens clearly did not share this view. I am not saying that it is not allowed to share a few personal opinions in such a vast book, but in this case it clearly diminishes the value of the text for both the professional historian and the lay person.

2-0 out of 5 stars Peter Green Trying To Impress His Peers
It is hard to believe this ponderous tome was written by the same Peter Green who wrote the engaging "Alexander of Macedon 356-323 B. C.: A Historical Biography."
Obviously written to impress and withstand the criticism of a small group of his academic peers, there is very little in this weighty volume to recommend it to the average reader, unless he is an insomniac. It is virtually guaranteed to put you asleep, head swimming in the names of minor characters of the Hellenistic age, included not so much for completeness as to avoid criticism from those nit-picking pretenders who find it easier to tear down a work than write an original one of their own.
While undoubtedly important in the academic retinue that delights in debating minutia and cutting other authors down to size by finding minor faults, there is no value in this work to any outside the cloistered halls of Academe.
Peter green does not display the ability of Eugen Weber of UCLA to bring the Hellenistic age to life for the average student. This book belongs, along with the Dead Sea Scrolls, in a cloister devoted to its lifelong study to the exclusion of all else.
Save yourself [the money], unless you are a history professor who wishes to catch Peter Green in some minor error, and thereby justify your tenure by writing a scathing review. This book was written for academic scholars only, and written in such a way as to render it bullet proof from attack.A big disappointment and a crashing bore for the average student! ... Read more

Isbn: 0520083490
Sales Rank: 148593
Subjects:  1. Ancient - Greece    2. Ancient Greece - History    3. History - General History    4. History: World   


$43.11

The Heroic Temper: Studies in Sophoclean Tragedy
by Bernard M.W. Knox
Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars
Paperback (01 June, 1983)
list price: $19.95 -- our price: $19.95
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Reviews (2)

5-0 out of 5 stars An Enthralling Examination of the Sophoclean Hero
Recently, I've read a fair number of books relating to Greek tragedy and of them all this is the best. In it Knox offers a profound and compelling examination of the nature of the heroes of Sophocles' plays. His arguments are persuasive, being based on a study of the actual words that occur and recur throughout the plays. Thus, there is quite a bit of ancient Greek quoted in the original; fortunately, it is all translated so that the argument can be easily followed by those who have no Greek.

Unlike most scholars, Knox writes beautifully. The English is unhampered by theoretical jargon -- there is no mention of hermeneutic circles, metatheatre, metanarratives, or
metapsychology. In an age when Martin Heidegger appears to be the model of style in scholastic writing, Knox's elegant
and clear writing makes for a refreshing change indeed.

Another refreshing change is that he treats Sophocles as though he were an ancient poet rather than as though he were an ancient structural anthropologist with an interest in depth psychology, something which is almost eccentric nowadays.Moreover, Knox's passion for Sophocles is palpable and infectious.

So, an excellent read. If you read only one book about Sophocles, this is the one I would recommend.

5-0 out of 5 stars Excellent Introduction to Sophocles
First, a caveat: Knox very emphatically examines Sophocles on the basis of what Sophocles actually wrote.This has the virtue of accuracy and of keeping out fringe theorizing, but the vice of adding a modest Greek component.Knox always puts the Greek in a parenthetical (i.e., you'll never fail to understand a sentence because of the Greek), but there is a lot of it.If you don't know any Greek, this might encumber your reading somewhat.

Having said that, _The Heroic Temper_ is a fantastic little book.Knox spends two chapters discussing the "Sophoclean Hero" in terms of all seven surviving tragedies, showing that the same character types, the same narrative tropes and even very consistently the same vocabulary is used in all seven.He compares and contrasts Sophocles and Aeschylus (especially with respect to "Prometheus Bound") and analyzes the Sophoclean hero in terms of Sophocles' political context and religion.

This alone is eye-opening and ought to precede any reading of Sophocles, but Knox then goes on to discuss in greater detail "Antigone" (two chapters) and "Philoctetes" and "Oedipus at Colonus" (one chapter apiece).I wish I'd had this book in college -- it's worth more than all the lectures I heard on Greek tragedy.

The six chapters were in fact originally six lectures, and (Greek parentheticals aside) the book retains a verbal, even conversational tone.Well written, insightful, powerful -- the book is a winner. ... Read more

Isbn: 0520049578
Sales Rank: 102951
Subjects:  1. General    2. Greek Literature    3. Performing Arts   


$19.95

The origins of the Peloponnesian War,
by G. E. M De Ste. Croix
Unknown Binding (1972)
list price: $25.00
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Isbn: 0801407192
Sales Rank: 813559


Greece in the Bronze Age
by Emily Vermeule
Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars
Paperback (01 June, 1972)
list price: $19.95
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Reviews (1)

5-0 out of 5 stars In memoriam - Let us offer at least one short rave
This book should have at least one review, don't you think? I was a student of hers when she was writing it. It was the first of her children (she had two more) and she labored over it for more than a year in very trying circumstances. The problem was, she was trying to teach the Bronze Age and there were no syntheses in a field in which, unless you had the right connections, everything you did or said was wrong. She persisted. There are still no good rivals of this book, and the book is still an excellent overview. It contains no brilliant theses. There is much good realism. If you read between the lines, she foreshadows the later debunking of Schliemann, who planted artifacts in the shaft graves. She well knew that, if you contradicted the wrong people, you would, like Evans' master of archaeology, never work in the field again. But, she put excellence first and came up with an excellent book. The author passed on in February of 2001. I think we were all lucky to have had her for so long. She too is a classic now.One can only hope she knows answer to the mysteries she studied for so long. ... Read more

Isbn: 0226853543
Sales Rank: 616757
Subjects:  1. Ancient - Greece    2. Bronze age    3. Civilization, Mycenaean    4. General    5. Greece    6. Sociology   


Shame and Necessity (Sather Classical Lectures, Vol 57)
by Bernard Williams
Paperback (01 October, 1994)
list price: $19.95 -- our price: $19.95
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Isbn: 0520088301
Sales Rank: 189569
Subjects:  1. Ancient - General    2. Ethics in literature    3. Greek poetry    4. History and criticism    5. Literary Criticism    6. Literature - Classics / Criticism    7. Necessity (Philosophy) in lite    8. Necessity (Philosophy) in literature    9. Philosophy, Ancient, in litera    10. Philosophy, Ancient, in literature   


$19.95

The Greek Commonwealth: Politics and Economics in Fifth-Century Athens
by Alfred E. Zimmern
Paperback (September, 1931)
list price: $5.95
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Isbn: 019500230X
Sales Rank: 620266
Subjects:  1. Economic conditions    2. Greece    3. Politics and government   


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