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The Greeks: A Portrait of Self and Others (OPUS) [Kindle Edition]

Paul Cartledge
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Who were the Classical Greeks? This is not an original question, but in this book it is given an original and challenging answer. Paul Cartledge examines the Greeks in terms of their self-image, mainly as it was presented by the supposedly objective historians: Herodotus, Thucydides, and Xenophon.

The Greeks were the inventors of history as we understand it, just as they are our cultural ancestors in so many other ways. Yet their historiography remained rooted in myth, and the mental and material context of many of their inventions for which we rightly treasure the Greek achievement - especially democracy, philosophy, and theatre, as well as history - was often deeply alien to our own ways of thinking and acting.

The aim of The Greeks is to probe fully that achievement, principally using a typical Greek mode of conceptualization: polarity or binary opposition. The book explores in depth how the dominant - adult, male, citizen - Greeks sought, with limited success, to define themselves unambiguously in polar opposition to a whole series of `Others' - non-Greeks, women, non-citizens, slaves, and gods. - ;Who were the Classical Greeks? This is not an original question, but in this book it is given an original and challenging answer. Paul Cartledge examines the Greeks in terms of their self-image, mainly as it was presented by the supposedly objective historians: Herodotus, Thucydides, and Xenophon.

The Greeks were the inventors of history as we understand it, just as they are our cultural ancestors in so many other ways. Yet their historiography remained rooted in myth, and the mental and material context of many of their inventions for which we rightly treasure the Greek achievement - especially democracy, philosophy, and theatre, as well as history - was often deeply alien to our own ways of thinking and acting.

The aim of The Greeks is to probe fully that achievement, principally using a typical Greek mode of conceptualization: polarity or binary opposition. The book explores in depth how the dominant - adult, male, citizen - Greeks sought, with limited success, to define themselves unambiguously in polar opposition to a whole series of `Others' - non-Greeks, women, non-citizens, slaves, and gods. -

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Amazon Review

A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. We've seen the ruins, read the philosophy and bought into the myths. The Ancient Greeks have become very much part of us; their legacy, Western civilisation. But the familiarity has tipped into over-familiarity and, as Paul Cartledge points out, we are in danger of ignoring the fundamental differences between them and us. There's the language for a start. Democracy, for example, meant something very different to the Greeks to the way we understand it now; the British and American systems would have been dismissed as oligarchies. Politics was not the media blood sport that it has become today, it was one of the central activities that defined the lives of the Greeks. Similarly, their pantheistic universe would be totally at odds with our monotheist or atheist world. For all their civilisation, the Greeks mostly lived a subsistence lifestyle at the whims of nature. Even the very rich had little concept of or confidence in passing on their wealth to future generations. The present was all that mattered and much of their thinking was shaped by inherently conservative notions of preserving the status quo; the present day reverence for progress would have been anathema. Indeed their thinking was dominated by the possibility of decline--which accounts for the idealised versions of the City state in Plato's The Republic and Aristotle's The Politics. That said, many of the achievements of the Greeks were little short of miraculous. Forget the Trojan war and the empire building of Alexander the Great, the cultural and sporting diversity alone--much of which we still celebrate today--would have been enough to guarantee their place in history. While no apologist for the Greeks, Cartledge is hardly their sternest critic either, but this does not detract from this elegant and readable history. He avoids the dryness of many histories by focusing on 15 key figures--from Homer to Alexander--and lets events unfurl around them as he charts the rise, fall, rise again and final collapse of the Greek empire. This is the ideal companion for every would-be know-all on holiday in the Med. --John Crace

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 962 KB
  • Print Length: 248 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, UK (9 Sept. 1993)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B003N19DP6
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #501,660 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
The ancient Greek world is approached through a series of short studies of famous Greeks, a chapter each. The language is easy, the pacing good and the information is easily digested. Historical events and social background are mixed in with each biographical history. It's not the place to learn fundamental background information on the civilisation itself but rather gain some insight into the people that helped shape it. Our journey skips through Greek history like a skipping stone across a lake, never going in depth and missing huge chunks. What you do get is a feeling for the impact of the Greek civilisation on all those that followed it.
There are a few problems. The author tells us he has made a conscious decision to include women in his selection. This leads to some minor figures gaining themselves a chapter with little actual biographical content. It also means there doesn't appear to be room for some figures that should really be there. Omissions include Plato, a pivotal figure in Greek thought and a figure with a massive impact on world history. Alexander the Great and his mother appear though, strictly-speaking not Greek at all. Hedodotus also doesn't make the cut. These omissions seriously undermine the book's overall usefulness.
There are some jarring uses of modern English, Achilles has a 'best buddy' and there are 'hookers'. This is an American edition, so you get American spelling and some curious choices of words.
One major annoyance is the occasional retrospective application of modern moral judgements on Greek civilisation. This is a very bad thing and has no place in a serious historical tract. I guess this for the American market. We are told, over and over in some cases, that Greek society was sexist and that slavery is bad.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Reasonable introduction 25 April 2015
By John Hopper TOP 1000 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Kindle Edition
My edition of this book is called "The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization", but the description clearly matches this one.

This is an introduction to ancient Greek culture and history, written to accompany a TV series in 2000, that I picked up on impulse in my local library. The book is divided into 15 short portraits of prominent (or not really prominent in some cases) Greeks who influenced or were in some way representative of ancient Greek society. It includes a range of obvious examples: Homer, Pericles, Socrates, Aristotle and Alexander, also others much less well known, including one who may be a fictional creation of Plato (who is not included separately from Socrates, but whose influence is felt throughout much of the book). The approach is generally effective in presenting an introduction to its subject, but I think the author bangs on rather excessively about the subordinate role of women in Greek society (which has of course been true historically of women in the great majority of societies over time until recently, and alas still in many societies now). The book does give a reasonable feel for the flow of Greek history, particularly the relations between Athens and the other city states in the 5th and 4th centuries. A reasonable read, though the format and choice of some of the portraits makes for a slightly disjointed feel.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A story of 15 Greeks, their good and bad points. 6 Feb. 2001
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
A clearly written, easily read book which I couldn't put down once I'd picked it up. Cartledge covers 15 heroes and heroines of Ancient Greece and gives the reader a real sense of their identity and personality. Nice that Greek women have a part to say in this synopsis of Greek History. Well worth a read for all ages.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A lively, engaging, compelling story of Greek history. 3 Mar. 2000
By Midwest Book Review - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The Greeks examines life in the ancient Hellenic world: an era when the foundations of modern science and politics were laid. Based on a three-hour PBS series airing February, this provides a lively story of Greek experience through the eyes and experiences of her heroes and heroines in an excellent, involving account which comes alive. Highly recommended as a strong alternative to the usual dry Greek history.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Superb Introduction to the Greek Lives 8 Feb. 2014
By James Norwood - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Homer and Herodotus were intent on writing about "the wondrous deeds of men." One of the world's leading experts on ancient Greek civilization, Paul Cartledge, provides a more nuanced and balanced appraisal of the legacy of the Greeks. This short volume was intended as a companion to the television series of the same name, "The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization." However, the book is not a transcript or expanded narrative of the program, which focused on the lives of only four Greeks (Themistocles, Cleisthenes, Pericles, and Socrates). Rather, Dr. Cartledge has prepared a lively and compelling series of short biographical profiles of fifteen ancient Greeks, spanning Homer to Alexander the Great.

The book is especially appealing for the lay reader. At the same time, there will be fascinating discoveries and new information for the advanced student of Greek culture. In addition to profiling some of the luminaries from the Greek world, the author has incorporated chapters on lesser-known Greeks, including seven women. The discussion of Sappho (the great lyrical poet), Artemisia (the naval commander), Cynisca (the supplier of horses for a prize-winning chariot team at the Olympic games), and Diotima (the confidante of love to Socrates) are especially interesting.

With the exception of Plutarch, the sources for the life stories of the ancient Greeks are exceedingly thin. The author has drawn upon a wide range of materials, including trial transcripts, works of philosophy, inscriptions, and vase paintings, to piece together the fifteen biographies. The book also provides good historical background in each chapter that enables the reader to place the life story in proper context. The organization of the biographies proceeds chronologically. As a whole, the book offers a thumbnail sketch of Greek history through the lives of fifteen Greeks.

The abundant illustrations include a beautiful set of color plates drawn primarily from great artists who have celebrated the ancient Greeks in painting. The selections include Rembrandt's painting of Homer, Justus van Gent's late medieval portrait of Solon, and an especially provocative nineteenth-century French painting of Sappho by Léopold Burthe.

This unique book is thoughtful, well-researched, and well-written. It contains many pearls of wisdom drawn from the lives of individual Greeks, plus an overall summary of Greek culture. The nineteenth century was the great age of Philhellenism. With this book, the reader may discover a new love of this topic and come to feel like the Romantic poet Percy Shelley that "we are all Greeks."
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The perfect companion for the video 24 Dec. 2000
By Mario Fantoni - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Focusing in the lifes of remarkable Greeks, this series (book and video) makes the Greek civilization accessible to us. Indispensable to anybody interested in the Greek culture.
4.0 out of 5 stars Otherness 16 Dec. 2013
By Marcos - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
A very good analysis about the Greeks and their culture. The author explores the idea of ​​otherness, in a surprising and enlightening way. We are heirs of the values ​​of Greek culture, but not all of their values ​​because we live in another world.
1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Written during the "oldest dead white men" phase. 28 April 2013
By Autodidactac - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This book has as light malodor of criticizing the Greeks from a modern perspective. Cartledge's later works do not appear to have this taint of political correctness. He does do a very fine job of reminding the reader that cultures are different and that not all cultural similarities mean congruence. Had he avoided the academic fad of the era I would give it four stars.
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