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The East Face of Helicon: West Asiatic Elements in Greek Poetry and Myth (Clarendon Paperbacks) Paperback – 18 Feb 1999

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Product details

  • Paperback: 692 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford; New Ed edition (18 Feb. 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0198152213
  • ISBN-13: 978-0198152217
  • Product Dimensions: 15.5 x 3.8 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 565,710 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description


An impressive and substantial volume ... The book is very readable and OT scholars can learn much from it (Journal for the Study of the Old Testament)

About the Author

The late Martin West FBA was formerly Professor of Greek, University of London (1974-91).

Inside This Book

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First Sentence
Culture, like all forms of gas, tends to spread out from where it is densest into adjacent areas where it is less dense. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

1 of 21 people found the following review helpful By K. S. GIANNAKOS on 2 Nov. 2011
Format: Paperback
It is not something special.I think that some authors should avoid politics in history or mythology.
It underestimates their works.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 2 reviews
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Ex Oriente Lux 28 Sept. 2010
By Peter C. Patton - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The East Face of Helicon by the consummate Classicist Martin West is a the last word on the influence of Ancient Near Eastern Literature on early Greek poetry, myth, and drama. It supports to a large extent Martin Bernal's Black Athena at least as regards the influence of older Western Semitic literary motifs and archetypes on Greek literature. It does not raise the issue of Egyptian influence which dominates Bernal's work. Martin Bernal's three volume Black Athena is synthetic and much more speculative dealing with a preponderance of evidence, whereas Martin West's approach is focused, analytic, and displays Greek types against Assyrian, Babylonian, Hittite, Uartian, and Hebrew literary archetypes in an organized manner. They do quote each other, however. West displays his evidence for the reader without trying to show or even hypothecate mechanisms of transmission as does Bernal. Martin West's East Face of Helicon is an elegant and persuasive work.
Prof. P.C. Patton, Ph.D.
Ancient Near Eastern Studies
8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Not convincing. 30 July 2011
By Edvard Odessia - Published on
Format: Paperback
Fairly readable, but unwieldy in terms of size, price, and logic. I got through about 200 pages before I lost interest in wallowing through more of Professor West's alleged cultural links between Hellas and the Near East. I skimmed the rest of the book to confirm that his approach was consistent throughout and that I wasn't missing some dramatic change.

In the preface, the author gives warning that these links are theoretical and may be controversial. But that warning in no way prepared me for his blitz of vague guesses and fanciful speculation. He tries to draw cross-cultural connections to just about every word recorded in the Ancient Greek corpus. This is an academic form of carpet-bombing: footprint the landscape to make sure you don't miss any approach guaranteed to hit a lot of wrong targets.

An example of the author's poor (and poorly-defended) guesswork: The Greeks gave their gods a mountain home, and so did the Semites; therefore, the Greeks must have imported the idea. Ditto the fact that both the Greeks and the Mesopotamians located their Land of the Dead underground; therefore, the Greeks must have borrowed it. Has Professor West never looked up at a mountain and felt religious awe? Or considered that humans bury their dead *in the ground*, making it the obvious locale for the afterlife? But suppose you think my simple, intuitive explanations are simplistic. Consider then the fact that other cultures that could not plausibly have had contact with the Middle East--e.g. American Indians and Polynesians--also shared these beliefs. To pass muster in academe, shouldn't you consider alternative explanations? Shouldn't you address analogous cases that your premise could not explain?

Another problem: over and over, the author uses phrases like "We must assume..." and "One would have to believe..." to cover gossamer-thin links. I think he needs to review the meanings of Necessary and Sufficient; I can't see how such examples would qualify as either.

The book is better when the author is being purely instinctive, as when he reasons that the Greeks owned plenty of slaves captured from foreign lands, and that these slaves would have shared their folk tales and religious beliefs with their Greek households. I agree.

It's ironic that I went into this book believing the basic premise. I still do, but now I think it's weaker. Instead of this book, I recommend Peter Jones' "An Intelligent Reader's Guide to the Classics", which is shorter, more entertaining, and less speculative. Jones refers favorably to the idea of cultural borrowing championed in "Helicon," and even mentions this book in a footnote, but he doesn't go overboard.
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