Monday, May 4, 2009

The Greek Way. Edith Hamilton.

Time. Inc. 1930 (1963).

Why read it? What made the ancient Greeks a unique culture? Greeks faced the ugliest matters with candor. Greeks created the scientific spirit. Greeks were protagonists for the mind in an irrational world. They observed the world around them and reasoned on what they observed. They did not depend on the "authorities." They knew that only the disinterested will find the truth.

The Greek spirit was to rejoice in life; the world is a beautiful place and delight to live in. Joy, sorrow, exultation, tragedy stood hand-in-hand in Greek literature. Even in the darkest moments, the Greeks did not lose their taste for life.

The tomb represented Egypt; the theater represented Greece. Believed in the exercise of vital powers along the lines of excellence. Believed that the mind ordered chaos. Believed that everything is to be examined and called into question. Philosophy was the love of knowledge. Reason makes man man.

The truth of poetry and the truth of science were both true. Art unites what is outside the mind with what is within. The Greeks saw the beauty of common things. No one who desired power was fit to wield it. The Greeks faced facts; did not desire to escape from them. The extent of freedom of speech in Athens would have been staggering to us.

A unique culture.

Sample quotes:

Editor’s Preface: “It is charming and instructive to find that…men of reason were not contemplative hermits.” p. xiii. ………. Time Reading Program Introduction: “To her [Edith Hamilton] what counted most in the Greeks was their gift for life, their taste for action and for thought, their positive, unwearying search for truth, their courage in facing even the ugliest matters with candor.” p. xvii. ………. “In their search for truth, which had for them a religious seriousness, the Greeks created the scientific spirit, which is perhaps the dominating and most impressive power in the modern world.” CM Bowra. p. xix.

“The Parthenon was raised in triumph to express the beauty and the power and the splendor of man….” p. 51. ………. “The English method [of poetry] is to fill the mind with beauty; the Greek method was to set the mind to work.” p. 67. ………. Pindar: “May God give me to aim at that which is within my power.” p. 85.

“…it is always to be borne in mind that the Greeks did not only face facts, they had not even a desire to escape from them.” p. 93. ………. “The society he [Plato] introduces us to is eminently civilized, of men delighting to use their minds, loving beauty and elegance…keenly alive to all the amenities of life, and, above all, ever ready for a talk on no matter how abstract and abstruse a subject.” p. 95. ………. Socrates: “I am a lover of knowledge…and men are my teachers.” p. 100.

“…Aristophanes is capable of more kinds of vulgarity and indecency than Shakespeare ever dreamed of.” p. 108. ………. “Aristophanes was amused by grand talk that covered empty content.” p. 125. ………. “He [Aristophanes] is so frank, so fearless, so completely without shame, one ends by feeling that indecency is just a part of life and a part of specially humorous possibilities.” p. 139.

Socrates: “Wisdom begins in wonder.” p. 145. ………. “Herodotus never judged or condemned.” p. 149. ………. Aeschylus: “All arrogance will reap a harvest rich in tears./ God calls men to a heavy reckoning/ For overweening pride.” p. 158.

Thucydides: “The thing that hath been is that which shall be.” p. 165. ………. “…circumstances swayed by human nature are bound to repeat themselves and in the same situation men are bound to act in the same way unless it is shown to them such a course in other days ended disastrously.” p. 165. ………. “His [Thucydides’] History of the Peloponnesean War is really a treatise on war, its cause and its effect.” p. 166.

“Power, whoever wields it, was evil, the corrupter of men.” p. 167. ………. “…great power brought about its own destruction.” p. 168. ………. "The arrogance that springs from a consciousness of power was the sin Greeks had always hated most.” p. 172.

Comment: Hamilton goes on to discuss Xenophon, the idea of tragedy, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Greek religion, and a comparison between the ancient Greeks and the modern world.

When John Kennedy was assassinated, someone, I think it was Jackie K., gave Bobby Kennedy a copy of Hamilton’s The Greek Way. By reading this book about the supreme realists, the Greeks, Bobby began once again to face the world. RayS.

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