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Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter (Hinges of History) Paperback – July 27, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this elegant introduction to Greek life and thought, Cahill provides the same majestic historical survey he has already offered for the Irish, the Jews and the Christians. He eloquently narrates the rise of Greek civilization and cannily isolates six archetypal figures representative of the development of Greek thinking. He opens with a consideration of Homer's Iliad and its glorification of the warrior way as an exemplum of life in the Greek state. Cahill then proceeds to offer an evolutionary look at the rise and fall of Greece by examining the wanderer (Odysseus), the politician (Solon), the playwright (Sophocles, Aeschylus, Euripides), the poet (Sappho), the philosopher (the pre-Socratics, Plato, Aristotle) and the artist (Praxiteles). These figures provide lessons in how to feel, how to rule, how to party, how to think and how to see. For example, Cahill contends that Odysseus reveals longing and desire for love, domestic peace and his homeland, while the rage of Achilles offers us lessons in the way to fight for one's homeland. The book is full of whimsical characterizations, such as the depiction of Socrates as a "squat, ugly, barefoot man who did not bathe too often." The author includes generous portions of the original writings in order to provide the flavor of the Greek way. Once again, Cahill gracefully opens up a world that has provided so much of Western culture's characteristic way of thinking.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School--Cahill has set himself a daunting task in Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea, in which he seeks to make the ancient Greeks accessible to a modern audience. Yet he succeeds. The author examines ancient Greek civilization through a number of specific roles that underpinned that society, such as the warrior, the politician, and the philosopher. He delves into their development and shows how they exemplified and perpetuated the different aspects of behavior and thought that defined their times. The use of specific types with whom readers can relate makes for an effective means of bridging the gap between their civilization and ours. With this common ground established, Cahill can show exactly how ancient Greece has influenced western civilization today, such as in the approach to the military and in the creation of the system by which we organize our knowledge and methods of learning. Scholars of the subject might quibble with certain of the author's pronouncements, and he seems to have an overly dismissive attitude toward the civilization of ancient Rome. Yet there can be no gainsaying the fact that Cahill has succeeded in his goal; by the end of the book, readers can thoroughly understand why the ancient Greeks matter to us today.--Ted Westervelt, Library of Congress, Washington, DC
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Hinges of History (Book 4)
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor (July 27, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385495544
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385495547
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (121 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #35,773 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Thomas Cahill, former director of religious publishing at Doubleday, is the bestselling author of the Hinges of History series.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

127 of 135 people found the following review helpful By Timothy Haugh VINE VOICE on January 4, 2004
Format: Hardcover
How the Irish Saved Civilization is a marvelous book. Though none of the subsequent books in what has become "The Hinges of History" series have equaled the first one, Cahill continues to write very readable accounts of the development of Western civilization. This book, subtitled "Why the Greeks Matter," is, as you might suspect, a sketch of the contributions of the ancient Greeks to our culture from Homer through the influence of Greek though on early Christianity.
I have a soft spot for Greek culture so I was easily won over by this book. Though there is some value to the trend of multiculturalism that has permeated American schools in recent decades, I believe strongly that no culture has had more impact on modern Western civilization than the Greeks and we ignore them at our peril. In examining the strengths and weaknesses of the Greeks, we can see an image of our own strengths and weaknesses.
I was a little disappointed to find very little discussion of the Greek development of mathematics (beyond a brief discussion of Pythagoras, focusing mainly on his philosophy). Greek formalization of mathematics may be their most important legacy to us, ultimately leading to modern science. Instead, Cahill focuses mainly on literature, art, philosophy and politics and, in these areas, offers a nice history.
Clearly, Cahill is knowledgeable and his prose is very readable despite his tendency to quote extensively in this book. He doesn't offer us many unique or challenging insights but he does remind us of the great contributions of Greek culture. It is a valuable thing to do.
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129 of 141 people found the following review helpful By G M. Stathis on January 22, 2004
Format: Hardcover
As a Greek-American, a college professor who has taught a course on the ancient Greeks (Hellenes), and something of a fan of Thomas Cahill, I was very excited to see his latest book on the rise of the Western Liberal Tradition, "Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter." Perhaps because my expectations were so high, I was a little disappointed. It is a worthy volume in his "Hinges of History" series, but it is not without some problems. But let us be honest, Cahill is a humanist and speaks of ancient Hellas from the perspective of the humanities in general rather than history or political science and that may be the problem here. Much of his historical narrative is episodic and misses some vital points. For instance, despite his title, "Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea," he fails to emphasize the importance of the sea to Greek life or mention the battle of Salamis, "Holy Salamis," which according to many historians, including Victor Davis Hanson, saved Western culture from the Iranian (Achaemenid Persian) onslaught. Cahill devotes a chapter to "The Warrior: How to Fight," but makes no mention of this vital battle or the importance of Hellenic warfare by use of the trireme. The battle is not even included in his brief Chronology (later battles, Plataea and Mycale, are mentioned). True, some have questioned the overall impact of Salamis, but to the Hellenes it was a victory sent by the gods. It is interesting that this subject is missing but other, rather obscure cultural elements such as a somewhat odd emphasis on Greek sexual preferences, are included. Still, this is a valuable volume that will be embraced by the general public. In this context, his discussion of Christianity's debt to the Greeks is quite accurate and illuminating.Read more ›
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92 of 103 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 15, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Cahill prior to his publication of the first "hinges of history" book, "How the Irish Saved Civilization." I found his premise for this series of books fascinating, and have read every book in the series. I was particularly looking foward to his book on the Greeks because: (1) it was somewhat of a departure for him in that it is a "pagan" civilization, unlike the books on the Hebrews, Jesus, and Saint Patrick he wrote from his theological background; and (2) having read most of the noted Greek works from Plato, Homer, Thuycidides, Herodotus, Aeschylus, Euripides, Sophocles, etc., I was interested to get Mr. Cahill's "take" on the importance of this civilization. Well, if you've read the Greeks, don't bother reading Cahill. He quotes liberally from these authors, without much new enlightment for those readers that have read the original works. This would be an okay introductory text for people that have not read the original works. But, even then, it's not all that illuminating. There was a fascination with Greek erotica that did not elevate the tone of the discussion. Nor was his footnote comparing the Peloponnesian War with the Iraq War of Bush & Rumsfeld appropriate in a book that does not wish to date itself for future readers outside our era. Guess Mr. Cahill suspected this book will have a short shelf-life. If you wish to read a more penetrating, poignant, and insightful study of the Greek civilzation, I recommend the hard-to-find Edith Hamilton books, "The Greek Way," and, especially, "Echo of Greece."
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50 of 59 people found the following review helpful By S. Bowyer on December 29, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This is a disappointing book. Its title suggests an intellectual adventure of the new, and its subtitle promises that it will be about why the Greeks are important to us -- in other words, what the ancient Greeks offered that is distinct to them and that made western civilization possible. This book does not deliver on the promises of its title.
It is a rehash of standard scholarship delivered in language of the common man (common according to Cahill). As such it presents what amounts to a laundry-list of non-essentials that does not clearly differentiate the Greeks from other cultures, nor account for western civilization. For example, this list includes the following Greek "contributions" to the West: blood-lusting militarism, vowels, the subconscious yearning for community, unfettered discourse and inquiry, homosexuality, pornography, orgiastic debauchery, slavery, democracy, political theatre, the idea of innate guilt, xenophobia, sexism, racism, imperialism, "help" inventing things like philosophy, science and history, the Socratic Method, the syllogism, transcendentalism and the divine, improvements in architecture and sculpture, pathos and yearning for an impossible ideal, pedophilia, reckless conceit, the idea of self-sacrifice for the common good. How can the reader determine what out of this hash made western civilization possible? In the spirit of cultural relativism, Cahill offers no guidance.
Cahill's list of non-essentials ignores the most fundamental Greek contribution that made western civilization possible: the discovery and use of reason.
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