Edith Hamilton. The Greek Way. New York: Random House, 1930, 1942.
Edith Hamilton wrote a number of books about ancient Greece and Rome. She even wrote one about the Hebrew Bible. The Greek Way was
her very first book, and she wrote that during her retirement (so it’s
never too late to write a renowned book!). She would go on to receive
honorary doctorates, and even an honorary citizenship of Greece!
The Greek Way muses about such Greek figures as Pindar,
Aristophanes, Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Aeschylus, Sophocles, and
Euripides. There are also chapters about Greek art, Greek religion,
and things that the Greeks can teach the modern world. There are a
number of cases in which she compares and contrasts Greek thought with
that of the modern West and the Bible. Moreover, she explores such
topics as Greek ideas on slavery, as she refers to an anti-slavery voice
and contrasts it with that of Aristotle.
The Greeks, in her telling, were people who enjoyed life and valued
fun, even as they exalted the heroes who suffered nobly (as opposed to
feeling sorry for them). They sought to learn from past wars, looked
with longing at the past, and often valued the individual, even though
they also had a strong sense of the collective and could become
My favorite chapter in the book was the one about Greek religion.
Hamilton argued that it was a step up from the magic that preceded it,
and she observes a progression from gods who only responded to the
powerful to gods who protected the weak and valued justice. Elsewhere
in the book, Hamilton discusses a Greek attempt to reconcile suffering
with the existence of just gods, as well as differences of opinion on
the value of law and tradition.
The book way good, in its own way, and I plan to read The Roman Way shortly. I would have enjoyed The Greek Way
a lot more, however, had Hamilton included a straightforward historical
introduction about the time and figures of her book, before launching
into her musings.