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The Greeks and the Irrational (Sather Classical Lectures)

21 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0520242302
ISBN-10: 0520242300
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Editorial Reviews


"An erudite, readable, and uncommonly interesting book." -- Scientific American

Praise for the first edition:) -- Review

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Product Details

  • Series: Sather Classical Lectures (Book 25)
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press (June 16, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520242300
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520242302
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #420,208 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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70 of 72 people found the following review helpful By Big Dave on November 5, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Dodds introduces his material with an anecdote of a young man he met in the British Museum who confessed his inability to get excited about the Elgin Marbles, because, after all, the Greeks were so "terribly rational." Dodds then poses the question, "[w]ere the Greeks in fact quite so blind to the importance of nonrational factors in man's experience and behaviour as is commonly assumed both by their apologists and by their critics?" In answering his own question (the answer is, of course, "no"), Dodds writes an interesting book.
Dodds's chapters (originally lectures) are roughly chronological and thematic, starting (as one must) with Homer's use of "ate" and working down through the increasing rationality of classical Greece to the Hellenistic Return to Irrationality. En route, he deals with perceived shamanistic influences, the notion of divine inspiration, the question of whether man has a soul, etc.
_The Greeks and the Irrational_ is great in itself and may have value, as Dodds indicates in his closing chapter, to moderns seeking to understand their own relationship with Irrationality. It is also enlightening background reading for any student of the classics generally, in particular providing useful commentary on Homer, Plato (lots on Plato) and the tragedians. Because each chapter was originally a lecture, Dodds' style is eloquent and also readable. Each chapter is buttressed with an impressive clump of endnotes (about a quarter of the book must be notes) for further research.
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36 of 37 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 13, 2003
Format: Paperback
It is not uncommon for major figures of Ancient Greek thought to be deemed 'rationalists', a word often tainted by modern science in its implications. E.R. Dodds' book is fairly difficult to gauge on this. On one hand, it reconsiders the 'rationalist overview' by tracing back various guises of irrationalism that permeated Greek culture - a belief in daimons, the conception of a useful mania, theurgy, astrology, mystery cults. Writing about these elements, Dodds surveys a wide variety of authors and themes and provides a lively compendium. On the other hand, his methodology has shortcomings. The reader soon realizes that the ambivalence of Greek thought between the power of reason and its limitations is not a virtue according to Dodds. This is a legitimate point of view, but it has important consequences on the book's agenda. It is unabashedly teleological: irruptions of irrationalism are usually seen as 'symptoms', as setbacks from Dodds' ideal of positivistic rationalism. This is emphasized by his characterization of 5th century BC as Greece's Aufklarung. The chapter on theurgy is equally representative: while it is well-researched and in-depth, it is also filled with simplifications (the equation 'theurgy = magic', frequent in 1950s and 1960s scolarship, is stated repeatedly) and shows little sympathy for either theurgy or its theorists; this section would color many subsequent studies on the spirituality of late Neoplatonism, until scholars such as H.-D. Saffrey (a pupil of Dodds) favored an approach which was more open-minded and receptive. In spite of this, Dodds' book remains extremely stimulating and should be read by all those who are fascinated by the blurred line between reason and what is out of its reach; but it should not be considered as the last word on its objects of study.
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58 of 63 people found the following review helpful By DAVID BRYSON VINE VOICE on February 17, 2005
Format: Paperback
Eric Dodds was sometime professor of Greek at Oxford. This book created a certain amount of a stir in its day both within and outside the arena of classical studies by either addressing, or being believed to address, up-to-date issues of anthropology and psychology. It consists basically of the Sather Classical Lectures that Dodds was invited to deliver at the University of California in 1950, and as it has been reissued in paperback in 1997 it's fair to assume that the publishers intend it to reach a wider readership than the dwindling band of classical initiates.

I very much hope it does that, but a word or two would probably be in place regarding what to expect and what not to expect to find in the book. The author's preface warns us not to look in the book for a history of Greek religion, and more pertinently recognises that modern scholarship is a world of specialists, and Dodds reiterates right at the end that he is `a simple professor of Greek'. Amateurs, dilettantes and bluffers will find plenty of material to suit them I don't doubt, but Dodds is not one of their number. This work is best read as a standard piece of classical scholarship, not as breaking down any moulds or enclosures. The most casual glance at the daunting catalogue of references in the notes appended to each chapter will show what a vast amount of writing on the topics covered here was in situ before Dodds, and how could it be otherwise? Any commentary on, say, Plato or Empedocles or Greek history by and large had to do its best with issues of religion and trends in thought. There are numerous references to other cultures, and Dodds is certainly better versed in such matters than other classics dons that I knew. By my standards he shows wide reading and deep interest in anthropology and human behaviour.
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