Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Book Write-Up: The Greek Way, by Edith Hamilton

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 authoritarian.

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.

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