tom thinks

Cold moonlight pure
Spilt milk across the snow
The night is long
Out into it I go
date 2001-001-11:20:17
Reading I've finished Grant's The Ancient Mediterranean and all I'll say for the moment is: I like it a lot. Although he has a tendency to lapse into almost Randian strings of superlatives when describing the lands he clearly loves, the book is as clear and objective as one could ask for. He covers the history of the region from the end of the ice age to the fall of the Western Empire, giving more prominence to the lesser-known peoples than is usually found in the more conventionally organized histories.

I sometimes find it hard to remember that what I think of as "classical civilization" is really a fantastically narrow view, as if, two millia from now someone thought of me as being a member of "enlightenment civilization" and lumped my cultural millieu in with Newton's, who surely must stand across the centuries as the sole marker of our age. This view of the classical world is justified--or at least excused--by the fact that so much of the literature we have focusses on a very narrow time window in Athens. Plato, Aristotle, Herodotus and Thucydides were all roughly contemporaneous, and all touched base at Athens at some point in their lives.

Grant is careful to emphasize the role of the silent people's of the region, who haven't left us much in the way of chronicals of their own, but who were instrumental in the development of technology, art and culture that lead to the Greek exfluoresence that dominated even the Roman world. He provides a much-needed background and context to the Greek experiment, and touchs on important issues of economics and technology as well as culture. Because artifacts are silent, literate cultures loom far larger in naive eyes than nonliterate ones, and Grant's eyes are far from naive, so he is a wonderful guide to the Etruscans and Phoenicians and others who shaped the Mediterranean world but who have left us no literature of their own.

I'll write more about this book later--there are some interesting facts he brings up that I want to record here, and I don't have the book in front of me at the moment. It's worth reading, especially if you have an interest in ancient philosophy, as books like this one (and James Davidson's Courtesans and Fishcakes for a more specifically Athenian context) provide for a much deeper understanding of the cultural outlook and context of the Greek philosophers, including the pre-Socratics.

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