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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
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. 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 Americans among us who treasure the right to own guns above most others.
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