The Greek Achievement

I read this book a couple of weeks ago. I experienced a little trepidation when I started reading it, because I worried that it was going to be highly academic and therefore a real trial to get through. I shouldn’t have worried; it was magnificent. The whole first chapter – it might have been a long prologue – was about how Europeans treated the Greeks and their inherited heritage (hmmm, just occurred to me those words are related), from the Englightenment onwards – which explains a great deal about the received tradition, really. Just for that it was worth reading – why a classical education was stressed (to keep the upper classes different from the masses, in his opinion), and pointing out the things that 19th C historians glossed over, to make themselves feel better (slavery, poor treatment of women, what Athenian democracy really meant). He goes from the Mycenaeans and Minoans – what we know – through to the closure of the Platonic Academy in the 4th C AD by Christians, meaning that for the last part he spends a lot of time looking at the East, which is different from most other books on Greece, which will stop with the conquering of Greece by Rome.

I learnt a lot. And it was a pure joy to read, too – I genuinely looked forward to picking it up, because his style was entrancing, something too often lacking in academic books, especially ones about classical topics.

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