Introducing the Ancient Greeks

Written by Edith Hall
Review by Ruth Downie

Plato described his fellow-Greeks as living “like frogs or ants around the pond.” To the newcomer, they can seem bafflingly hard to grasp, but the structure of this book is reassuringly clear from the outset. There are ten characteristics of the Ancient Greeks to look for as we move through what is really many histories intertwined. With the aid of maps and a timeline we meet the seafaring Mycenaeans, long gone by the time they appeared in Homer’s writings. The Ionians are naturally inquiring, and Athens offers an open society while the Spartans are inscrutable and the Macedonians rivalrous. Ancient Greek minds teemed with the ideas that underpin much of Western thinking. We see the Earth created from Chaos, democracy born and fought over, and the invention of money as an unexpected aid to abstract thought. It’s all marvelous stuff, and even Greece’s Roman conquerors aspired to their culture. Yet finally, Christianity silenced the Oracle at Delphi, and the Pagan Greeks were consigned to antiquity.

Edith Hall recently wrote an article in the Guardian arguing that more schools should offer Classical Civilisation courses. For those of us who missed out, this excellent book is an approachable and engaging way to make up some of the loss.