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Other Greeks: The Family Farm and the Agrarian Roots of Western
 
 

Other Greeks: The Family Farm and the Agrarian Roots of Western [Kindle Edition]

Victor Davis Hanson
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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"Brilliant and moving. . . . Hanson's informed exploration of the crucial role of the small farmer in the creation of Greek civilization is a much-needed reminder that the artistic and intellectual splendor of Athens' great age did not spring to life fully formed, like Athena from the head of Zeus; it has its base in the countryside."--Bernard Knox, "Washington Times

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Everyone has been taught that the Greek city-state is the ultimate source of the Western tradition in literature, philosophy, and politics. For generations, scholars have focused on the rise of the city-state and its brilliant cosmopolitan culture. Now Victor Hanson, the author of several studies of ancient warfare and agriculture, has written a book that will completely change our view of Greek society. For Hanson shows that the real "Greek revolution" was not the rise of a free and democratic urban culture, remarkable as this was, but the historic innovation of the independent family farm. The heroes of his book, therefore, are what he calls "the other Greeks" - the neglected freehold farmers, vinegrowers and herdsmen of ancient Greece who formed the backbone of Hellenic civilization. It was these tough-minded, pracitcal, and fiercely independent agrarians, Hanson contends, who gave Greek culture its distinctive emphasis on private property, constitutional government, contractual agreements, infantry warfare, and individual rights.

Hanson's reconstruction of ancient Greek farm life, informed by the hands-on knowledge of the subject (he is a fifth-generation California vine and fruit-grower), is fresh, comprehensive, and totally absorbing. But his detailed chronicle of the rise and tragic fall of the Greek city-state also helps us to grasp the implications of what may be the single most significant trend in American life today - namely, the imminent extinction of the family farm.

Since Thomas Jefferson Hanson points out, American democracy has been though to depend on the virtues that have traditionally been bred on the farm: self-reliance, honesty, skepticism, a healthy suspicion of urban sophistication, and a stern ethic of accountability, which, as the Greeks teach us, have always been the core values of democratic citizenship. Hanson rightly fears the consequences for American democracy when the family farm disappears, taking with it our last links to the agrarian roots of Western civilization.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 976 KB
  • Print Length: 570 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0029137519
  • Publisher: Free Press (1 Jun 1995)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B003YCOQZG
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
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  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #644,151 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Vital in importance, disappointing in quality. 17 Jan 2001
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Hanson's thesis is that the hoplite class of landowning small family farmers originally created the autonomous city-state, in their own image and to serve their own interests, and thus more than anyone else shaped Greek culture from the time of Homer to that of Alexander. It is a pioneering treatment of an immensely important and hitherto scandalously neglected subject, so that this is a "must read" for any student of ancient Greece. I only wish it were a better read.
Hanson's own oft-cited membership in the family-farmer class can be an asset, since he illustrates in his own voice the characteristic mindset that he also aims to describe: opinionated, pessimistic, and contemptuous of seemingly all non-agrarian institutions, customs, persons, and ways of thinking. But these mental characteristics are also very limiting. Hanson himself admits as much, applying such terms as "narrow" and "chauvinism" to his ancient predecessors; but to see and acknowledge such limitations in them is not necessarily to transcend them himself.
There are several other problems with the book as well. Hanson's passion for his subject all too often overwhelms his organizational planning for the book, as he reiterates favorite points in any and all contexts. He is also excessively given to braving out any inconvenient gap in the available evidence with an imperious "must have" or "could only have". And finally, the dots remain unconnected between the agrarian foundations and the enduring contributions of ancient Greek civilization. At one point, Hanson admits that the artistic and intellectual excellence that we call the "Greek miracle" only arose when and because Athens turned away from the agrarian ideal in various ways.
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Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
78 of 80 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Real Foundation of Ancient Greek Culture 3 Jun 2000
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Over the years I have read many books on the ancient world, but always came away dissatisfied, feeling as if I could not quite grasp what these ancient Greeks were all about. Sure, these books all covered the various battles and the struggle with Persia. They all dealt with Athenian democracy, Spartan militarism, and the various philosophical schools. We all know how the Macedonians eventually put an end to "Greek freedom." But just what was it that made these Greeks so different? How and why did they emerge with a polis culture that gave us so much of our Western heritage? Why were these Greeks so different than the orientals and the Romans? Finally, we have a book that goes a long way in explaining what it was that made the ancient Greeks so unique. At last we have a work that provides some answers as to "what these Greeks were all about."
I would agree with Donald Kagan who wrote, "The Other Greeks, is the most original and important contribution to an understanding of the ancient Greeks I have ever read." Here Victor Hanson explains how the rise of intensive agriculture and the independent farmer put an end to the Greek Dark Ages and he explains why this was an entirely new phenomenon in history. The rise of the polis, this egalitarian community of farmers now producing its own food, fighting its own wars, and making its own laws was something entirely novel in history. This Greek agrarianism became an ideology that infused Greek life with new energy and creativity.
Hanson details how the shift to private ownership and intensive cultivation by individual farmers gave birth to Western values and created the hoplite army. Relying heavily on ancient sources, as well as his personal knowledge of agriculture, he explains how and why the Greek yeoman created the hoplite army and how it functioned. During the polis period there was almost no miltary parasitism in most Greek city-states.
But Hanson does not view the polis through rose- colored lenses. He understands that the polis developed during a period when Greece was left alone by other powers around the Mediterranean world. He is aware of its innate conservatism and the fact that it was not "truly" democratic. The rise of Greek agrarianism, after all, did lead to an increase in slavery in the countryside. And lastly, Hanson deals with the decline of the polis in a world where the Greeks were forced to more and more deal with an opened society and international involvement. The Athenians made the most dramatic and remarkable attempt to adapt the polis culture to the needs of the new age, but, ultimately, the agrarian based polis culture was unfit to the requirements of the new world. The problems of new and wider citizenship and international economics found the polis system wanting. The Hellenistic Age and the conquests of Rome were based on the foundations of Greek culture, but in no way did they recreate the city-state life of ancient Greece. Power, wealth and excess were the hallmarks of the succeeding ages.
If there is any criticism of the book, and I almost hate to offer it considering the great achievement of Hanson, it is that the writing is often repetitious. The reader should be prepared for this. But, I cannot see how anyone can consider themselves well read in the history and culture of ancient Greek without reading this book and considering the points that Victor Hanson has made. A proper understanding of ancient Greece is impossible without a comprehension of what Hanson has given us. We all owe him much for these insights. This book belongs on the shelf of everyone with an interest in the ancient world and its insights will give you a yardstick by which to evaluate other times and cultures. After all, how people make their living is critical to understanding their time and culture.
22 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars significant 27 Sep 2005
By parmenides - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The author of the book claims that the city-states of southern Greece were agrarian democracies the agricultural surplus
of which together with the democratic spirit made possible the birth and growth of philosophy-science, history and art.

Victor Hanson has written a number of wonderful books I have enjoyed in the past; unfortunately this is not of the same
standards of exposition because:

(1) the text is not well worked; he repeats himself in many places
making the text too long for the ideas and analysis it contains;
even a book of half size could make very clearly the points of this book

(2) despite the long text, the author fails to make his case transparent;

for example he does claim that the Persian wars acted like an excitation to the Greek polis that initiated growing resonances that eventually destroyed the fabric of the city state; In his view this made the poleis (Athens in particular)
more capitalistic and urbanised destroying in this way their reliance in terms of economy and military on the agrarian population; once the latter diminished the Greek polis was virtually over;

I do find all these plausible but the author never really answers
successfully the following: when the Atheneans and Thebans
fought the Macedonians at Cheronia they fought an old style hoplite battle; their infantry proved as powerful as during the Persian wars; at the time of their defeat their agrarian population was intact and especially the Theban polis was a typical city state (while Athens admittedly not);

that is the major question of why in the all-Greek struggle for the domination of Greece the Macedonian Kingdom conquered the
Theban-Athenean polis? this question is never answered sufficiently in the text; how could it? the author tried to
do something improbable: to explain the conquest of the city-state (thebans-atheneans) by the kingdmom-state (macedonians) WITHOUT any analysis of the state of Macedon;

He fails gravely because of this: he knows about the Athenean polis much more than about the Macedonian kingdom; as a result he is never convincing in explaining why in the all greek struggle of the 4th century Macedon emerged as a winner.

(3) in order to make his case he exaggerates (non persuasively) at points:

for example his treatment of the Persian wars; reading his text it appears as a miracle that the Greeks prevailed; but miracles
do not happen in real life; especially if they repeat themselves;
Marathon could be a miracle, but Salamis too? and Platae and Mycale and Xenofon's anabasis? The truth is that the Greek phalanx was unstoppable if used efficiently; the Persians lost because wars are decided by infantry and the greek infantry was far superior in open ground;

Overall, i found the text useful but with many important things missing; let us hope that future scholarship will explain
in better terms why the city-state lost to the macedonian kingdom
and (equally important) why the macedonian kingdom (and Greece as a whole) gave in to Rome; understanding these will help us understand better why the city-state collapsed.
21 of 30 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Other Greeks, plus my farm in CA 22 April 2000
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This book had its good points, many of them: lots of information on Greek farming -- everything from its history to its connection to the hoplites, an engaging enough writing style, some interesting speculation on the effect of farming on Athenian democracy and law, and more. Also, like the title says, it was talking about the "other" Greeks, the ones usually ignored. Unfortunately, because they were also ignored by the Greeks except for some minor discussion, which Hanson duly talks about, a lot of this is speculation based upon modern farming. This has its points, but isn't necessarily anthropologically sound. Still, it's an interesting piece of speculation, and there's a lot of information here. Also, large portions of this work deal with the author's own experiences as a vintner in California, as well as those of his grandfather and neighbors. While interesting and amusing, there is often a wide digression from the alleged subject of the work. Read this for some interesting ideas and some information on Greek farmers elsewhere uncollected but don't expect the entire work to concentrate on the subject. There's almost as much on the author's personal philosophy and views on modern farming policy and practice in the USA as there is on those in ancient Greece. I'm rating this as 3 stars as far as scholarly value, but I think it's probably more like 4 as far as entertainment. It kept me busy on several airplanes, anyway.
28 of 41 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Vital in Importance, Disappointing in Quality. 20 Jan 2001
By Brian Donovan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Hanson's thesis is that the hoplite class of landowning small family farmers originally created the autonomous city-state, in their own image and to serve their own interests, and thus more than anyone else shaped Greek culture from the time of Homer to that of Alexander. It is a pioneering treatment of an immensely important and hitherto scandalously neglected subject, so that this is a "must read" for any student of ancient Greece. I only wish it were a better read.
Hanson's own oft-cited membership in the family-farmer class can be an asset, since he illustrates in his own voice the characteristic mindset that he also aims to describe: opinionated, pessimistic, and contemptuous of seemingly all non-agrarian institutions, customs, persons, and ways of thinking. But these mental characteristics are also very limiting. Hanson himself admits as much, applying such terms as "narrow" and "chauvinism" to his ancient predecessors; but to see and acknowledge such limitations in them is not necessarily to transcend them himself.
There are several other problems with the book as well. Hanson's passion for his subject all too often overwhelms his organizational planning for the book, as he reiterates favorite points in any and all contexts. He is also excessively given to braving out any inconvenient gap in the available evidence with an imperious "must have" or "could only have". And finally, the dots remain unconnected between the agrarian foundations and the enduring contributions of ancient Greek civilization. At one point, Hanson admits that the artistic and intellectual achievements that we call the "Greek miracle" only arose when and because Athens turned away from the agrarian ideal in various ways. At another, he lists twelve core values that western culture inherited from these ancient agrarians; and though the attribution is plausible enough in this case, the twelve listed values are not what we most treasure in the Greek heritage--except perhaps those among us who regard the Second Amendment as the crown jewel of the Bill of Rights.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enlightened Pages into Greek World 10 Jan 2010
By Janell M. Ramos - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
At first glance, this book looks overwhelming. But, is in fact an excellent and quite smooth read. Currently, I am using this book as my main research tool for fleshing out the real life of ancient Greece for a fiction novel: The Olive Tree. Thank you VDH for once again providing the inspiration and information necessary to envision life thousands of years ago.

The book is well organized and thoughtfully presented. If you are looking for a peek into what Greek culture was--apart from the literary and infamous or famous components--how they lived, then this is for you. Just think that if two thousand years from now the West was evaluated on our military campaigns and what remnants they found of George Lucus, Spielberg, and Andy Warhol and Vogue magazine. How would they see our world? VDH allows a deeper more thorough look--a view passed the open window for us to gaze upon. Thank you!
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