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review 2017-05-15 08:26
The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood
The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus - Margaret Atwood

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood is a retelling parts of the Odyssey myth from the perspective of Odysseus's wife, Penelope.  The author's aim is to answer two questions she had while reading the Odyssey:  what led to the handing of Penelope's 12 maids and what was Penelope really up to?

This book reminds me of the prescribed fiction we had to "dissect" in school - a teachers wet dream with all those "how do you feel about xyz" or "what did the author think" questions.  In short, I found the book boring and the interludes with the chanting maids chorus and other commentary annoying.  Penelope's story would have made an ok, if somewhat insipid, alternative retelling on it's own.  The characters are flat and I found no reason to care about Penelope or her associates at all.  The Odyssey manages to make its readers care with less information and page time.  The commentaries would have made a mediocre, and not too well researched college essay on the subject..  Together, they were just annoying.  As for providing a new perspective, this is only valid if you know nothing about Greek history or mythological tales.

 

Thank Dionysus that the book was so short!

 

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review 2017-03-30 00:40
Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea (Hinges of History #4)
Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter - Thomas Cahill

The foundations of what we call Western culture today seemingly sprung from one place, Greece, yet that is not the entire truth.  Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea, the fourth volume of Thomas Cahill’s Hinges of History, examines and explains the structure of Greek society and ideas as well as the reasons why it has permeated so much of what we know of Western culture.  But Cahill’s answer to why the Greeks matter is two-fold.

 

Over the course of 264 pages of text, Cahill looks at all the features of Greek culture that made them so different from other ancient cultures.  Through the study of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Cahill examined the Greek’s view of war and honor in their grand war epic then how the same man expressed how the Greek’s expressed their feelings.  The contradiction of the Homeric works is part of a larger theme that Cahill explores in Greek poetry beyond Homer, politicians and playwrights, philosophers, and artists.  Throughout each chapter, Cahill examines what the Greeks did differently than anyone else as well as relate examples that many will know.  Yet Cahill reveals that as time went on the Greeks own culture started to swallow itself until stabilized by the Romans who were without the Greek imagination and then merged with newly developing Christian religion that used Greek words to explain its beliefs to a wider world; this synthesis of the Greco-Roman world and Judeo-Christian tradition is what created Western thought and society that we know today.

 

Cahill’s analysis and themes are for the general reader very through-provoking, but even for someone not well versed in overall Greek scholarship there seems to be something missing in this book.  Just in comparing previous and upcoming volumes of Cahill’s own series, this book seems really short for one covering one of the two big parts of Western Civilization.  Aside from the two chapters focused around the Homeric epics, all the other chapters seemed to be less than they could be not only in examples but also in giving connections in relevance for the reader today.

 

For the Western society in general, the Greeks are remembered for their myths, magnificent ruins, and democracy.  Thomas Cahill’s Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea does reveal that ancient Greece was more than that and why a culture millennia old matters to us today.  While not perfect, this book is at least a good read for the general reader which may be what Cahill is aiming for but for those more well read it feels lacking once finished.

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review 2017-01-01 14:17
Chronicles from Pre-Celtic Europe by Alewyn J Raubenheimer
Chronicles from pre-Celtic Europe: (Survivors of the Great Tsunami) - Alewyn J Raubenheimer

Chronicles from Pre-Celtic Europe takes a look at the contents of the Oera Lind Book and matches this up with modern archaeological, paleoclimatological, linguistical and genetic findings.  The book is well written and extremely interesting.  It provides food for thought and hopefully some additional research.

 

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review 2016-12-21 13:20
The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Modern Library Volume 1 of 3)
The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. 1 - Edward Gibbon,Daniel J. Boorstin

The first volume of Modern Library’s three-volume reprint of Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire covers the first 26 chapters of the author’s epic historical work.  Beginning with the death of Domitian and ending with Theodosius I’s treaty with the Goths and early reign,  Gibbon’s spans nearly 300 years of political, social, and religious history on how the great empire of antiquity slowly began to fade from the its greatest heights.

 

The history of the decline of Rome actually begins by showing the nearly century long period of rule of the “Five Good Emperors” as Gibbon shows the growth of absolute power of the Principate was governed by able and intelligent men.  With succession of Commodus Gibbon illustrated what the power of the Principate would do for an individual who was a corrupt and tyrannical ruler.  Gibbon’s then examines the political and military fallout of the death of Commodus with the declaration of five emperors in less than a year and rise of the Severan dynasty by conquest.  Gibbon reveals underlining causes of era of the ‘Barracks Emperors’ and what historians call, “the Crisis of the Third Century”.

 

With the ascension of Diocletian and through him the rise of the House of Constantine, Gibbon explores the political and bureaucratic reforms began and developed that would eventually divide the empire in his view.  After Constantine’s rise to sole emperor, Gibbon then delves into the early history of Christianity before its adoption by the founder of Constantinople.  Beginning with Constantine, the last half of this particular volume as the history and theological developments of Christianity as a central narrative as one of the contributing factors of the decline of the Roman Empire.

 

Although the description above might make one pause at starting the heavy work, Gibbon’s style and prose make history come alive with every word and gives the reader a sense of the grand scale of historical forces while not overwhelming them.  While every reader will have their own verdict on if Gibbon’s arguments and interruptions of history are correct, each avid history lover will find this opening volume of Gibbon’s magnum opus an engaging beginning in examining how one of the foundation stones of Western Civilization came to its political end while passing on its laws and culture to Europe.

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review 2016-12-04 06:50
The Greek Genesis
Theogony (Classical Library) - Hesiod,Richard S. Caldwell,Richard Caldwell

There seems to be a debate as to the usefulness of this little text and I would pretty much fall into the category of not much. The reason that I say that is because if this book was lost then we would lose very little of our understanding of Greek Mythology. Everything that is contained in this little book is also contained in more expanded works such as the Library of Greek Mythology and Ovid. While it is a primary source, it is still something that we could probably do without. Fortunately its small size means that it does not take up much space on my bookshelf, however I would probably not find myself ever actually needing to reference it. Okay, we could probably use it to talk about the accuracy of later works, but then again, this is Greek mythology, there is no consistency in it. In fact, there isn't even any consistency with the twelve tasks of Heracles.

 

Now, you would probably say that since this book is one of the earliest Greek texts then it gives us an idea of the development of Greek mythology, and yes, that is probably true to an extent, and from an anthropological view that is probably important, but I am not interested in that. On the other hand a lot of authors seem to look back at Hesiod with some sought of awe, and granted, it helps us understand the background from which they were writing, but remember most of Greek mythology back at this time was passed down by word of mouth and Hesiod is only one view of it.

 

I have written before, and will continue to write, about how my position with regards to the Greek gods is that they were humans that were deified, and Hesiod once again goes on to prove that point. This is a genealogical text much in the same way that sections of the Bible are genealogical texts, however by the time that Hesiod came around the Greek Gods had already been deified. There are some major differences between the two forms of genealogy though. As mentioned, the non-biblical genealogies tend to deal only with the gods, unless you are looking at a familial genealogy, where as the Biblical genealogies all deal with humans, and the Bible is very specific that the people mention in the genealogies are human. Secondly the biblical genealogies actually serve a purpose where as the non-biblical genealogies are simply a list of names.

 

The purpose of the biblical genealogy is to trace the line of people who in the end become the ancestors of Christ. These genealogies tend to reach their fulfillment in the Gospels, with both Matthew and Luke (and also, as some have argued, with John as well) containing genealogies. We do note that there are differences in the genealogies, and some have criticised the Bible for that, but I will simply say that the differences simply come out of methodology as opposed to inherent errors. My understanding is that in both maths and science one can reach the same proof even though two different methodologies were used.

 

Basically, whenever we see a genealogy in the Old Testament we are always looking at how it is directing us towards the saviour that was promised in Genesis 3. For those who are familiar with these genealogies you will note that they tend to only go down in one line, meaning that while a list of children may be given, the genealogy will end up focusing only one a handful of these children to narrow it down to a specific point. The exception is the table of nations in Genesis 10, the purpose of which is to outline the beginning of the nations as the readers would have known them to be at the time (namely during the Exodus). We do see a similarity between the table of nations and some Greek genealogies as it appears that a nation back then was defined by the father of the nation as opposed to a specific culture, language group, or location (and Apollodorus does give us that idea in the library of Greek Mythology).

 

There is a mention of the war of the Gods in Hesiod, and once again I have speculated on the origins of these wars. They can be twofold. The first is the idea that these wars developed out of different tribal groups moving into an already inhabited area bring their own culture and gods with them, winning a victory over the inhabitants, and installing their own culture (as defined by their gods). For instance, in early times we have a people group who worshipped Chronos as their chief God, but then they are invaded by a people who worshipped Zeus as their chief God and as the new group overran and conquered the old group, then Chronos was sidelined in favour of Zeus.

 

The second idea is the idea that I have proposed that these gods are little more than deified humans whose existence has been lost in the midst of times, so what we are actually seeing is some form of succession crisis. This would be particularly relevant if we are looking at an Antediluvian civilisation. In the era of short life spans and high morality, such succession crises would not be evident since when the old king died then the new king would still be old enough to assume the throne, but young enough not to have a number of children that would have to wait a long time for them to ascend the throne amongst a multitude of competeing claims. It differs today in that the Queen of England, the matriarch of the royal family, is still alive and well, and her grandchildren are now ready to marry and have kids. Pope John Paul II was the oldest living Pope in the history of the papacy, and it is likely that Pope Benedict will be around for a long time yet (unless he meets either with an unfortunate accident, or is removed for some reason or another - noting that this review was written prior to him stepping down).

 

When you have the antediluvian civilisation, where biblically (and elsewhere) you have people living for hundreds of years, even if you did not begin having children until the age of a hundred, by the time you die (even if it is five to six hundred years old) you still have at least four living generations below you, all of them struggling to get your position, and knowing that for them to get to that position they would have to wait a very long time. This is something that we see in this text, namely a fear in Chronos that his children would rise up and overthrow him, so he acts proactively and removes them before they have a chance of removing him. Much of it is allegorical though (and for the sake of space I will not go into detail here, for instance the gods all seem to have been born as adults, and also Chronos eats his children, but upon his defeat, all of them are released) so it can be difficult to understand what actually went on, though to take it literally can in itself be dangerous (and also somewhat ridiculous).

 

The final point I wish to make is the interesting note that Hesiod was a shephard tending sheep on Mount Helicon when he received this vision and wrote it down. This is something that seems to happen throughout the history of humanity in that many religious icons seem to have come from humble pasts and have made a tremendous impact upon human history. Many have suggested (and it is true to an extent) that history, up until the mid 18th century, was written by the upper class. However the reason for that is because it was only the upper class that had the time to write histories, as well as being the only ones who could read and write. However, this is not always the case, particularly with these early civilisations, because much of the history was passed down by word of mouth. This is why we can have shepherds actually becoming literary heroes because they did not need to read and write, they simply needed to be able to tell a story people could remember, and also convince them that they had a vision (or actually have had a vision) to make people sit up and listen.

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/440745452
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