The Life of Greece by Will Durant
I have yet to find an author on ancient history who writes any better than Will Durant. And if your opinion differs, please let me know as I’d be forever grateful. One of the enjoyable things about Durant’s writing is his books are truly ‘readable’. He keeps things interesting, is thorough, and he goes out of his way to explain the big picture… that is, tying together the sequence of events within a country with what is happening at the same moment elsewhere around the globe.
In reading Greek history there is a lot to absorb. Covering approximately 1000 years- give or take a hundred- Durant schools the reader on the empire’s rise and fall. He patiently takes you from the glorious days at the pinnacle of power to the devastating destruction caused by war, internal strife and political disorder, a corrupted government, depletion of natural resources, and the decay of moral values and waning patriotism.
There are valuable lessons to be learned by studying the history of any great empire, though it is somewhat frightening in knowing that history has often repeated itself.
Will Durant offers a wide variety of information in this 700 page tome:
-the sequence of events in Greece’s rise and decline including distinct ages and eras, wars, power struggles, boundary disputes, government leaders, and evolving philosophies from 1400 BC to 30 BC
-in-depth analysis of Greek’s three famous philosophers: Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle
-the evolution of Greek mythology and other religions- legends, shrines, festivals, and patron saints- and how the Greek myths and Jewish beliefs influenced the evolution of Christianity
-facts about Greek literature- comedy and drama, poetry and prose: Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey, Pindar and Thucydides
-cultural development and social interests from sports and the Olympics to dance and music, the arts of sculpture and painting, architecture, clothing and jewelry
-economic growth and failures, natural resources and trade with other countries
-scientific discoveries in medicine, astronomy, and mathematics
-personal interest stories about the philosophers, the great leader Pericles, Alexander the Great, and King Ptolemy the ancestor of Cleopatra
-marriage and family
-education and jobs
-morals and ethics
-the legal system, slavery, and women’s rights
This book has it all!
I would like to leave you with several quotes:
“Greek civilization was at it’s best when democracy had grown sufficiently to give it variety and vigor, and aristocracy survived sufficiently to give it order and taste.”
“The Athenians are too brilliant to be good, and scorn stupidity more than they abominate vice… endlessly curious and perpetually mobile. No people ever had a livelier fancy, or a readier tongue. Clear thought and clear expression seem divine things to the Athenian; he has no patience with learned obfuscation, and looks upon informed and intelligent conversation as the highest sport of civilization.”
“The life of thought endangers every civilization that it adorns. In the early stages of a nation’s history there is little thought; action flourishes; men are direct, uninhibited, frankly pugnacious and sexual. As civilization develops, as customs, institutions, laws, and morals more and more restrict the operation of natural impulses, action gives way to thought, achievement to imagination, directness to subtlety, expression to concealment, cruelty to sympathy, belief to doubt; the unity of character common to animals and primitive men passes away; behavior becomes fragmentary and hesitant, conscious and calculating; the willingness to fight subsides into a disposition of infinite argument.”
This quote was finished with a statement explaining that by the time a nation reaches this level of progression, it’s wealth presents an irresistible temptation to barbarians of surrounding nations… thus the inevitable downfall.
Rated 5 Stars.
All contents © 2015 Lois Weisberg. All rights reserved.