Thursday, January 08, 2015

The Greek Way by Edith Hamilton (Book Review #2 of 2015)


The Greek Way
This is an overview of Greek development of philosophy, the arts, and religion as well as a contrast with other cultures on earth during the classical Greek period and modern cultures. Hamilton chronicles the history of some of the major Greek philosophers and playwrights circa 5 B.C. and explains what their work says about Greek attitude toward reason, freedom, the individual, and society.

This book is apparently a classic first written in the 1930s and assigned in many high school and college courses and has been updated and reprinted several times, my version was from 1993. I learned from looking at the negative reviews on Amazon, with plenty of high school students complaining about how "boring" the book was. I did not find it that boring, but wondered what level of expertise Hamilton has on Greek, Macedonian, ancient Chinese, and modern European and Russian cultures that she comments on so readily. As such, I took most of her comments with a grain of salt. There are lengthy excerpts of Greek works to prove her points and that became tedious but it is also classical literature that is worth being exposed to.

For comparison, I recommend Charles Freeman's Egypt, Greece, and Rome that looks at each culture separately and gives the entire historical backdrop. Hamilton chronicles how views of government and philosophy changed as a result of the Peloponnesian War but provides little context for understanding that war. Aeschylus, Herodutus, Plato, etc. and sets up a comparative with each. Aeschylus with the other dramatists; Herodutus with Thucydides and Xenophon, etc.

There are some interesting comparisons and contrasts with the Bible. Hamilton does not claim the Gospels as a work of Greek philosophy, rather she illustrates the differences between ancient Jewish, Greek, and the later Judeo-Christian cultures.

She makes some bold statements that seem...false: "Greeks were the first people in the world to play," for example.

In all, I enjoyed the Freeman-like overview of Athenian culture as a refresher. I read Xenophon and Plato in the past year and want to continue with more Plato and Aristotle this year. 3 stars out of 5.

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