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A Cabinet of Greek Curiosities: Strange Tales and Surprising Facts from the Cradle of Western Civilization Hardcover – 27 Jun 2013

3.9 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: OUP USA (27 Jun. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199982104
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199982103
  • Product Dimensions: 21.1 x 3 x 14.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 253,069 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

Review

In a witty miscellany, McKeown acknowledges the idealised status of classical Greece, but brings it down to our brute level by quoting judiciously from its satirical poets, speculative philosophers, brutal princes and self-serving politicians. (The Times)

Wide reading and an enquiring mind have supplied McKeown with a vast store of quirky information. (Eastern Daily Press)

About the Author

J. C. McKeown is Professor of Classics at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.


Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book is not what I thought it was. It is not a collection of information about objects from antiquity. It is actually a collection of excerpts from ancient Greek writings. These are organised into chapters loosely based on themes such as Tragedy or Athletics or Women.

The anecdotes and stories are a mixed bunch, there are dry scholarly items and crude, rude ones. There are oddities, like one of my favourites which was the theory that pigs feel the cold because like all fat people their outside skin is further away from their inner heat. There are amusing ones, like the little bit from Plutarch about the amorous elephant gently fondling his inamorata's breasts. (you have to read it to get the context..). You could not sit down and read this whole book, it is not a novel or a text book or a literary work.

There is a mass of interesting things here to read, and you can read them in any order and for as long as you like. It is great with a coffee after work for twenty minutes before you start making the tea. And it is a good book for the bathroom!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I had fully expected to love this and I must also say that the author does have a good overview of the Greek corpus, frequently citing from obscure and overlooked sources.

But two things are wrong with the book:
(1) it is boring; IMHO... too many of the tidbits are just *too* random. i don't mind randomness, but I would prefer randomness with a little edge or meaning to it in the end
(2) the autor's tastes are not philosophical or historical or political as such. therefore, we get random little tidbits of no particular significance rather that tidbits that relate precisely to the really juicy parts, i.e. philosophy and history of ancient greece.

friedrich nietzsche, as we all know, was an avid student of these random tidbits surrounding ancient greece, but he excerised jugdments in which tidbits were interesting enought to relay to his readers and which tidbits would have to be considered the classicists's "cost of doing business". this book's editor unfortunately doesn't.
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Format: Hardcover
This could be an interesting and fun read as McKeown collects snippets, tales and anecdotes from a range of classical Greek (and some Roman) sources on specific issues: food, sex, women, animals etc. What this isn't, though, is an analysis of how these miscellaneous items might be read, or the context from which they come, or when they were written - which leaves them floating in a kind of timeless space and invisible cultural context.

Each snippet is presented with no comments from the author: problems of how to approach historical sources and what we might need to think about before we take them as unequivocal `truth' are not discussed. The equivalent, for a future generation, would be finding a scrapbook of clippings from the twentieth century - newspaper articles, podcasts, popular fiction - and reading them all without any context or understanding of when in the twentieth century they are from, or the source and its ideological implications and assumptions e.g. Guardian vs. Daily Mail.

For example, the literary evidence for Sparta comes from Athenian writers some of whom never visited Sparta, and who are sometimes writing hundreds of years after the time they are describing - it's like a Londoner writing about `the north' without ever having left the south and relying on, and perpetuating, generally-accepted cultural myths.

So this is entertaining, sometimes very funny, or just plain weird, but I would have preferred a more critical scholarly framework, even if it were just an introductory essay on caveats for reading historical evidence. General readers or prospective students interested in direct encounters with ancient Greek writing might enjoy this - but reading `history' is more complex and complicated than this book allows.

(This review is from an ARC courtesy of the publisher)
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is hardly a book to read in one sitting since it skips from one ancient source to another, revealing along the way humorous insights into classical and earlier Greek thought, some of it hilarious, some of it quite serious. It's a handy book to dip into for a few minutes, perhaps reading one chapter, then putting it away until you have a moment. Anyone with an interest in ancient Greece will enjoy this 'cabinet'.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is a lovely little book - full of humour and a lightly-worn learning. And, compiled and written as it is by the Professor of Classics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, so it should be.
I smiled at the fake 'quotations' on the dust-jacket's back cover, e.g., "A must for every library" - Ptolemy of Alexandria; "Unputdownable" - Atlas the Titan; "I find something new every time I dip in." - Archimedes of Syracuse.

The twenty-four (short!) chapters range over Greek literature, biographical tales of the tragedians, instances of the ancients' unbelievable beliefs and, of course, items from the 'Philogelos' Joke Book - first publication of its kind.
Chapter II, for example, concerns children and education. Regarding offspring, the author has inserted an epigraph from the Pseudo-Menander's 'Sayings,' No. 70 - 'The breeding of children is a self-inflicted grief,' and on p.17, 'Children need distractions [...] A rattle suits infants, and for older children education is equivalent to a rattle.' -Aristotle, Politics, 1340b.
For some these days, too, I guess.
In the chapter on 'Athletics,' the author drily notes 'A remarkable proportion of grants of Athenian citizenship [...] were made to bankers.' Nothing much has changed, then, in three thousand-odd years?
Further on, he quotes Pliny's 'Natural History,' 8.82, offering a story as an example of Greek gullibility, noting "no lie is so barefaced that it lacks support from someone." Another thing which hasn't changed much over millennia.
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