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In Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea, his fourth volume to explore “the hinges of history,” Thomas Cahill escorts the reader on another entertaining—and historically unassailable—journey through the landmarks of art and bloodshed that defined Greek culture nearly three millennia ago.

In the city-states of Athens and Sparta and throughout the Greek islands, honors could be won in making love and war, and lives were rife with contradictions. By developing the alphabet, the Greeks empowered the reader, demystified experience, and opened the way for civil discussion and experimentation—yet they kept slaves. The glorious verses of the Iliad recount a conflict in which rage and outrage spur men to action and suggest that their “bellicose society of gleaming metals and rattling weapons” is not so very distant from more recent campaigns of “shock and awe.” And, centuries before Zorba, Greece was a land where music, dance, and freely flowing wine were essential to the high life. Granting equal time to the sacred and the profane, Cahill rivets our attention to the legacies of an ancient and enduring worldview.

Review

“A triumph 0f popularization: extraordinarily knowledgeable, informal in tone, amusing, wide ranging, smartly paced.” —The New York Times Book Review

“The best introduction to classical Greek culture yet written. . . . Learned, stylish and inspiring. . . . Well-informed, insightful and on the whole written in a sparkling style.” —Los Angeles Times

“Astonishing. . . . If anybody can get us reading about Homer, Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Thucydides, Xenophon and more, Cahill will.” —Chicago Tribune

“Fascinating. . . . Commendable. . . . Cahill has an impressive knowledge of the Greek world. . . . His admirable skill at summing up movements
of enormous complexity surface throughout the book.” —The Seattle Times

From the Inside Flap

In Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea, his fourth volume to explore "the hinges of history," Thomas Cahill escorts the reader on another entertaining—and historically unassailable—journey through the landmarks of art and bloodshed that defined Greek culture nearly three millennia ago.

In the city-states of Athens and Sparta and throughout the Greek islands, honors could be won in making love and war, and lives were rife with contradictions. By developing the alphabet, the Greeks empowered the reader, demystified experience, and opened the way for civil discussion and experimentation—yet they kept slaves. The glorious verses of the Iliad recount a conflict in which rage and outrage spur men to action and suggest that their "bellicose society of gleaming metals and rattling weapons" is not so very distant from more recent campaigns of "shock and awe." And, centuries before Zorba, Greece was a land where music, dance, and freely flowing wine were essential to the high life. Granting equal time to the sacred and the profane, Cahill rivets our attention to the legacies of an ancient and enduring worldview.

From the Back Cover

In Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea, his fourth volume to explore "the hinges of history," Thomas Cahill escorts the reader on another entertaining--and historically unassailable--journey through the landmarks of art and bloodshed that defined Greek culture nearly three millennia ago.
In the city-states of Athens and Sparta and throughout the Greek islands, honors could be won in making love and war, and lives were rife with contradictions. By developing the alphabet, the Greeks empowered the reader, demystified experience, and opened the way for civil discussion and experimentation--yet they kept slaves. The glorious verses of the Iliad recount a conflict in which rage and outrage spur men to action and suggest that their "bellicose society of gleaming metals and rattling weapons" is not so very distant from more recent campaigns of "shock and awe." And, centuries before Zorba, Greece was a land where music, dance, and freely flowing wine were essential to the high life. Granting equal time to the sacred and the profane, Cahill rivets our attention to the legacies of an ancient and enduring worldview.

About the Author

THOMAS CAHILL is the author of the best-selling books,  How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval EuropeThe Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and FeelsDesire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After JesusSailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks MatterMysteries of the Middle Ages: And the Beginning of the Modern World, and, most recently,  Heretics and Heroes: How Renaissance Artists and Reformation Priests Created Our World. These six books comprise Volumes I, II, III, IV, V, and VI, respectively, of the Hinges of History, a prospective seven-volume series in which the author recounts formative moments in Western civilization. In "The Hinges of History," Thomas Cahill endeavors to retell the story of the Western World through little-known stories of the great gift-givers, people who contributed immensely to Western, culture and the evolution of Western sensibility, thus revealing how we have become the people we are and why we think and feel the way we do today.

Thomas Cahill is best known, in his books and lectures, for taking on a broad scope of complex history and distilling it into accessible, instructive, and entertaining narrative. His lively, engaging writing animates cultures that existed up to five millennia ago, revealing the lives of his principal characters with refreshing insight and joy. He writes history, not in its usual terms of war and catastrophe, but as "narratives of grace, the recountings of those blessed and inexplicable moments when someone did something for someone else, saved a life, bestowed a gift, gave something beyond what was required by circumstance." Unlike all too many history lessons, a Thomas Cahill history book or speech is impossible to forget.

He has taught at Queens College, Fordham University and Seton Hall University, served as the North American education correspondent for the Times of London, and was for many years a regular contributor to the Los Angeles Times Book Review. Prior to retiring recently to write full-time, he was director of religious publishing at Doubleday for six years. He and his wife, Susan, also an author, founded the now legendary Cahill & Company, whose reader’s catalogue was much beloved in literary households throughout the country. They divide their time between New York, Rome and Paris.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

I

THE WARRIOR

HOW TO FIGHT


Zeus, who controlled rain and clouds and held in his hand the awful thunderbolt, was Lord of the Sky and greatest of the gods, but not the oldest. He and the eleven other Olympians--the gods and goddesses who dwelt in the heaven at the top of Mount Olympus, Greece''s highest mountain--had been preceded in their reign by the elder gods, the Titans, whom they had overthrown. The Titans had been formed by Father Heaven and Mother Earth, which had existed before any of the gods, having emerged from the primordial Chaos, whose children, Darkness and Death, had given birth to Light and Love (for Night is the mother of Day), which made possible the appearance of Heaven and Earth.

Zeus, son of the deposed Titan Cronus, was perpetually falling in love, wooing and usually raping beautiful women, both immortal and mortal, who would then give birth to gods and demigods, complicating considerably family relations on Olympus. Hera, Zeus''s wife and sister, was perpetually jealous, scheming to best one rival after another with cruel retribution. But all the goddesses, even the virginal ones, were prone to jealousy; and it was this fault that helped bring on the Trojan War--which began, like Eve''s temptation in Eden, with an apple.

There was one goddess, Eris, not an Olympian, whom the gods were inclined to leave out of their wonderful celebrations, for she was the Spirit of Discord. True to her nature, when she found she had not been invited to the wedding of King Peleus with the sea nymph Thetis, she hurled into the Olympic banqueting hall a single golden apple with two words on it, Toei kallistoei (to the fairest). All the goddesses wanted to claim it, but the three most powerful were finally left to fight over it: the cow-eyed goddess Hera, the battle goddess Athena--the child of Zeus who had sprung from his head--and Aphrodite, whom the Romans called Venus, the laughing, irresistible goddess of Love, born from the foam of the sea.

Zeus wisely declined to be judge of this beauty contest but recommended Paris, prince of Troy, who had been exiled as a shepherd to Mount Ida because his father, King Priam, had received an oracle that his son would one day be the ruin of Troy. Paris, Zeus averred, was known as a judge of female beauty (and of little else, he might have added). The three goddesses lost no time appearing to the astounded shepherd-prince and offering their bribes, Hera promising to make him Lord of Eurasia, Athena to make him victorious in battle against the Greeks, Aphrodite to give him the world''s most beautiful woman. He found for Aphrodite, who gave him Helen, daughter of Zeus and the mortal Leda.

There was one small complication: Helen was married to Menelaus, king of Sparta and brother of Agamemnon of Mycenae, Greece''s most powerful king. But with Aphrodite''s help, Paris was able in Menelaus''s absence to spirit Helen away from her home and bring her to Troy. When Menelaus returned and found out what had happened, he called on all the Greek chieftains, who had previously sworn an oath to uphold Menelaus''s rights as husband should just such a thing as this occur. Only two were reluctant--shrewd, realistic Odysseus, king of Ithaca, who so loved his home and family that he had to be tricked into signing up for the adventure; and Greece''s greatest warrior, Achilles, whose mother, the sea nymph Thetis, knew he would die if he went to Troy but who joined the Greek forces in the end because he was fated to prefer glorious victory in battle to a long life shorn of pride. Thus did the many ships of the Greek kings, each vessel bearing more than fifty men, set sail for Troy in pursuit of a human face, Helen''s--in Marlowe''s mighty line, "the face that launched a thousand ships."



How different in feeling the Judgment of Paris from the Sorrows of Demeter. If the earlier story is genuine myth, dramatizing recurrent, inexorable tragedy at the level of cosmic nightmare, the later seems a sort of old-fashioned drawing room melodrama about the characteristic foibles of male and female, in which matters spin monstrously out of control and end in tragic farce. If Demeter takes us back to an agricultural way of life that imagined Earth and its manifestations as aspects of maternal nurturing, the strident gods of Olympus, challenging and overthrowing one another, males always primed for battle and sexual conquest, females seizing control only by wheedling indirection, are projections of a warrior culture that set victory in armed combat above all other goals--or at least seemed to, for there are always, deep within any society, dreams that run in another, even in a contrary, direction from its articulated purposes. But first let''s examine the obvious: the visible surfaces of this bellicose society of gleaming metals and rattling weapons.

The Mycenaean world that Schliemann discovered was the world of Agamemnon and his predecessors, the world sung by Homer in his two great epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey, set, so far as we can judge, in Aegean Greece of the twelfth century b.c., an age I have called "protohistoric" because a cumbersome form of writing, Linear B, was then in existence, though usable only for accountants'' ledgers. The stories of this age, however, were preserved as oral poetry by wandering bards and written down only much later when a far more flexible form of writing came into currency that permitted the recording of epics of massive length and graceful subtlety.

The Iliad begins not with the apple and the goddesses but with a far more earthly contest--between Agamemnon, leader of the Greek forces, and Achilles, the preeminent Greek champion. The Greek fleet has been long since beached on the Trojan shore and the army of the Greek chieftains is wearily besieging the well-fortified city, which has been able to withstand its assaults for nine years. But brilliant, unbeatable Achilles--whom Homer immediately calls dios or "noble," a word whose Indo-European root means "godlike" or "shining like the divine stars"--has left the field of battle in outrage at his treatment by haughty Agamemnon. For Agamemnon has commandeered Achilles''s concubine, a girl Achilles won as war booty. Agamemnon feels justified in taking Achilles''s concubine because he has had to accede to the unthinkable and give up his battle-won concubine. Her father, Chryses, priest at a nearby shrine of Apollo, called down his god''s wrath upon the Greeks--whom Homer calls "Achaeans," "Argives," or "Danaans," depending on the needs of his meter. Homer''s audience would already have known the details of the story, so they would not have been the least disoriented as he begins thus, summarizing the conflict between the two men, a conflict with fatal consequences for Greeks and Trojans alike:



Rage--Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus'' son Achilles,

murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans countless losses,

hurling down to the House of Death so many sturdy souls,

great fighters'' souls, but made their bodies carrion,

feasts for the dogs and birds,

and the will of Zeus was moving toward its end.

Begin, Muse, when the two first broke and clashed,

Agamemnon lord of men and brilliant Achilles.



What god drove them to fight with such a fury?

Apollo the son of Zeus and Leto. Incensed at the king

he swept a fatal plague through the army--men were dying

and all because Agamemnon spurned Apollo''s priest.

Yes, Chryses approached the Achaeans'' fast ships

to win his daughter back, bringing a priceless ransom

and bearing high in hand, wound on a golden staff,

the wreaths of the god, the distant deadly Archer.

He begged the whole Achaean army but most of all

the two supreme commanders, Atreus'' two sons,

"Agamemnon, Menelaus--all Argives geared for war!

May the gods who hold the halls of Olympus give you

Priam''s city to plunder, then safe passage home.

Just set my daughter free, my dear one . . . here,

accept these gifts, this ransom. Honor the god

who strikes from worlds away--the son of Zeus, Apollo!"



And all ranks of Achaeans cried out their assent:

"Respect the priest, accept the shining ransom!"

But it brought no joy to the heart of Agamemnon.

The king dismissed the priest with a brutal order

ringing in his ears: "Never again, old man,

let me catch sight of you by the hollow ships!

Not loitering now, not slinking back tomorrow.

The staff and the wreaths of god will never save you then.

The girl--I won''t give up the girl. Long before that,

old age will overtake her in my house, in Argos,

far from her fatherland, slaving back and forth

at the loom, forced to share my bed!



Now go,

don''t tempt my wrath--and you may depart alive."



The old man was terrified. He obeyed the order,

turning, trailing away in silence down the shore

where the battle lines of breakers crash and drag.

And moving off to a safe distance, over and over

the old priest prayed to the son of sleek-haired Leto,

lord Apollo, "Hear me, Apollo! God of the silver bow

who strides the walls of Chryse and Cilla sacrosanct--

lord in power of Tenedos--Smintheus, god of the plague!

If I ever roofed a shrine to please your heart,

ever burned the long rich bones of bulls and goats

on your holy altar, now, now bring my prayer to pass.

Pay the Danaans back--your arrows for my tears!"



His prayer went up and Phoebus Apollo heard him.

Down he strode from Olympus'' peaks, storming at heart

with his bow and hooded quiver slung across his shoulders.

The arrows clanged at his back as the god quaked with rage,

the god himself on the march and down he came like night.

Over against the ships he dropped to a knee, let fly a shaft

and a terrifying clash rang out from the great silver bow.

First he went for the mules and circling dogs but then,

launching a piercing shaft at the men themselves,

he cut them down in droves--

and the corpse-fires burned on, night and day, no end in sight.



I have set out this generous quotation to remind you of Homer''s splendor. If I could, I would now proceed to quote the whole poem before going further--it is so glorious, the foundation masterpiece of Western literature--in this immaculately forged new translation by Robert Fagles, which gives us much of Homer''s precision, resurrecting the terrible beauty of Greece''s Bronze Age in language as swift as Apollo''s arrows--note the overwhelming inevitability of the half line "and down he came like night"--yet enclosing a gorgeous strength capable of burnishing each detail to brilliance.

The upshot of Apollo''s plague is that all the Greeks come to realize the cause of their misfortune and that the priest''s daughter needs to be returned to her father if the plague is to leave them. Their leader Agamemnon, forced to assent to their consensus, takes as his consolation prize Achilles''s concubine, thus precipitating Achilles''s withdrawal from the war. For most of the poem''s twenty-four books Achilles sits in his tent in a rage, deliberating whether to remain on the sidelines or to abandon the Greeks altogether, raise his sails, and push off for home, along with the fellow countrymen who are under his command.

What a strange world this is, so far from our own. The theme of the poem, as Homer tells us in his very first word, is a hero''s rage--"wrath" in the older translations--but rage and wrath seem to be everywhere: in Achilles, Agamemnon, Chryses, and Apollo, in every character to whom we are introduced in the course of the first fifty lines. Homer begins with a prayer of invocation--to the Muse of epic poetry--but within a few lines we hear a second prayer: from the priest to his many-named god, the consummately graceful but "deadly Archer" Apollo. And a third god is invoked: Zeus, to whom Achilles and Apollo are both "dear" and who, it is implied, is the hidden force behind the story, somehow pulling the strings of the action, for, as Homer tells us in an arresting phrase, "the will of Zeus was moving toward its end."

Homer has little time for comment on his characters. They reveal themselves in word and action, not in the poet''s commentary. But we feel from the outset that the human characters are caught like strong swimmers in an undertow that is much stronger than their most strenuous strivings, an undertow that will take them where it will, despite their efforts. At the same time, this undertow is not entirely a substance apart: it is rather the sum of all the characters, both gods and men, for both gods and men are driven by their need for honor. Hera and Athena''s dishonor at the hands of Aphrodite and Menelaus''s subsequent dishonor at the hands of Paris have made the war inevitable; Apollo is dishonored by the dishonor shown his suppliant, Chryses; Agamemnon''s need to appear as supreme commander clashes with Achilles''s need to be honored as supreme warrior.

Somehow, we feel, these motivations--and others'' yet to be revealed--are propelling the action of the poem toward its inevitable conclusion. As the seer Calchas says in his fear of Agamemnon''s rage:



A mighty king,

raging against an inferior, is too strong.

Even if he can swallow down his wrath today,

still he will nurse the burning in his chest

until, sooner or later, he sends it bursting forth.



That''s just the way of mighty kings; there''s nothing to be done about it. But it''s not as if Agamemnon can in his rage own the field. His rage must contend with the rage and will of others. When he taunts Achilles that he will come personally to take away Achilles''s concubine--"so you can learn just how much greater I am than you"--Homer shows us Achilles''s heart pounding "in his rugged chest," torn between alternatives:



Should he draw the long sharp sword slung at his hip,

thrust through the ranks and kill Agamemnon now?--

or check his rage and beat his fury down?



Only the intervention of Hera "of the white arms," who "loved both men and cared for both alike," prevents Achilles''s wrath from finding its target. She speeds down to earth the battle goddess Athena, who, unseen by all but Achilles, constrains him, seizing his "fiery hair"; and Achilles submits, though, as he says, "his heart breaks with fury," so dearly would he love to see Agamemnon''s "black blood gush and spurt around my spear!" But "if a man obeys the gods, they''re quick to hear his prayer."

These conflicting forces--all the rages and outrages of gods and men--seemingly balanced in an endless seesaw, will in the end produce a result, the fall of Troy. In the view of the ancients, however, to which Homer is here giving expression, this result is but another swing of the seesaw, which will eventually be balanced in its turn by an opposite result. This view of the ancients, then, is a true worldview, that is, an attempt to see the reality of human experience as a totality, both psychological (in its assessment of human motivations) and theological (in its assumption that heaven intervenes in human affairs). The results of human motivations and heavenly interventions make for preordained results, but preordained only in a way so complicated and with so many conflicting strands that no one but a seer or prophet could sort it all out beforehand and identify in the present the seeds of future results. This means that human beings--and even to some extent the gods themselves--are caught, like figures in a tapestry who cannot undo their thread, playing out their assigned roles of hero or king, loving mother or sexual prize, divine patron of this or that person or city, with only flickering insight into what result their character and needs will have upon the whole of the human enterprise.

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Accessible Popular Cultural History of the Ancient Greeks
Reviewed in the United States on November 23, 2020
In the Irish American Roman Catholic Thomas Cahill’s “Introduction” to his 2003 book Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter (New York and London: Talese/ Doubleday, pages 1-14), he recounts a few autobiographical highlights of his childhood and adolescent years... See more
In the Irish American Roman Catholic Thomas Cahill’s “Introduction” to his 2003 book Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter (New York and London: Talese/ Doubleday, pages 1-14), he recounts a few autobiographical highlights of his childhood and adolescent years growing up in New York City (pages 6-7). He says, “When I attended a Jesuit high school in New York City and was taught to read Latin and ancient Greek, I had my first scholarly taste of the strangeness of other ages” (page 6).

To understand why Cahill records certain autobiographical information about himself, we must turn to his quotation of a passage from the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), who had been formally trained as a classicist. In Cahill’s chapter “The Philosopher: How to Think” (pages 137-192), he says, “‘Every great philosophy has been . . . the personal confession of its author and a kind of involuntary and unconscious memoir,’ exclaims Nietzsche in Beyond Good and Evil” (page 141; Cahill’s ellipsis).

Later in the same chapter, Cahill also says, “If, as Nietzsche claimed one can read a person’s life in his philosophy, one can also read almost any book that way, including this one” (page 184).

Now, the Canadian Jesuit biblical scholar and translator David M. Stanley makes a similar point in his 1986 book “I Encountered God”: The Spiritual Exercises [of St. Ignatius Loyola] with the Gospel of Saint John (St. Louis: Institute of Jesuit Sources). In it, Stanley says, “If as we have been implying throughout this study, one is to read John’s Gospel as a dialogue between himself and his reader, not so much as a biography of Jesus as an autobiography of the evangelist, not as history but as good news, we shall gain new insights into the mystery of Jesus’ raising by God to a new, unprecedented existence – ‘a life lived unto God’ (Rom. 6:10)” (page 273).

For the record, Cahill’s autobiography includes researching and writing the 1995 book How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe (New York and London: Talese/ Doubleday). The subtitle promises that Cahill is going to tell us an untold story.

For the record, Cahill’s autobiography also includes researching and writing the 1998 book The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels (New York and London: Talese/ Doubleday). The subtitle promises that he will tell the readers how the ancient Israelites changed the way everyone thinks and feels – a promise he fulfils admirably on pages 240-241 in the book’s concluding paragraph. However, I would point out here that the word covenant does not appear in the general index of his book (pages 281-291).

For an accessible discussion of the ancient Israelites’ covenant with their monotheistic God, see the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks’ 2020 book Judaism’ Life-Changing Ideas: A Weekly Reading in the Jewish Bible (Jerusalem and New Milford, CT: Maggid Books/ Koren Publishing).

Now, for the record, Cahill’s autobiography also includes researching and writing the 1999 book Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus (New York and London: Talese/ Doubleday). Once again, the subtitle clearly tells the prospective reader in advance what to expect the book to cover.

Now, in Cahill’s 2003 book Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter in the same book series, the subtitle seems to promise prospective readers that he will explain to them why the Greeks matter. But does he deliver on this promise?

In Cahill’s “Introduction,” he also says that “you will find in this [accessible] book no breakthrough discoveries, no cutting-edge scholarship, just, if I have succeeded, the feelings and perceptions of another age and, insofar as possible, real and rounded men and women. For me, the historian’s principle task should be to raise the dead to life” (pages 7-8).

Ah, but will raising dead Greeks to life as real and rounded men and women help us understand why Greeks matter (as his subtitle seems to promise)? Well, Cahill does not explicitly promise even that much! However, in fairness, I should note here that he explicitly takes up this issue in the concluding chapter “The Way They Went: Greco-Roman Meets Judeo-Christian” (pages 229-264).

In any event, Cahill’s goal in his accessible 2003 book seems to be to give those of us who read it a “scholarly taste of the strangeness of other ages.” By and large, he succeeds in doing that.

Now, in the general index in Cahill’s 2003 book (pages 293-304), we find the words democracy (at 295) and utopia (at 303).

Thanks to my mother’s emphasis on giving credit where credit is due, I surely believe in giving credit where credit is due. No doubt the ancient Athenians deserve a measure of credit for their experiment in limited participatory democratic governance. But we in the United States of America live in a representative republic – that is, a res publica, for the collective common good (just as the ancient Israelite suzerainty treaty with their monotheistic God was designed for the collective common good.

On the theme of the common good, I would recommend Rabbi Sacks’ other 2020 book Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times (New York: Basic Books).

The common good is also emphasized in Roman Catholic social teaching.

Now, in Cahill’s chapter “The Wanderer: How to Feel” (pages 51-75), he says, “It has long been understood that a fully articulated alphabet served as the medium for the gradual democratizing of ancient societies in which it was introduced and took hold. The desert amphictyony of the Israelites – memorialized in the Torah’s scenes of Moses in earnest conversation with his people – is the earliest indication in mankind’s [sic] historical record of a tribal assembly that welcomed debate. If it seems far from modern democracy, it possessed nonetheless many democratic features we might still long to emulate: spontaneity, face-to-face questioning and counter-questioning, the possibility that even the least participant might have a contribution to make, even to the point of taking seriously what might emerge from ‘the mouths of infants and sucklings’” (pages 58-59).

In Cahill’s chapter “The Poet: How to Party” (pages 77-100), he says, “Troy in the Iliad functions as a kind of utopia – doomed, it must be pointed out, by Odysseus’ preternatural stealth, for otherwise its wall had proven impregnable. Troy is a place of greater justice and harmony than Greek society, the place that Romans would rather think of themselves as hailing from [as the Roman poet Virgil imagines Romans as hailing from in his uncompleted epic poem the Aeneid]” (page 82).

On the next page, Cahill says parenthetically, “Odysseus and Penelope’s Ithaca was, by the time the Odyssey was known, a second lost ideal, a utopia of aristocratic virtue” (page 83).

In addition, Cahill interprets such lost ideals/utopias as expressing “a longing of being beyond anything one has ever known (and, beyond the longing, an ability to imagine what such a [political?] state might be like) – fostered the germination of the first non-traditional, non-conservative society in world history, the first culture that did not give as its knee-jerk response to every challenge ‘This is the way we’ve always done things’” (page 83).

Arguably the most famous account of tradition-directed societies and people can be found in David Riesman’s 1950 book The Lonely Crowd: A Study of the Changing American Character (New Haven: Yale University Press).
In the spirit of 2 + 2 = 4, I would point out here that if “Romans would rather think of themselves” as hailing from Troy, as Cahill says they would (page 82), then the Romans were thereby expressing their preference for a tradition-directed society – over against a non-traditional, non-conservative society that Cahill describes on page 83.

In Cahill’s chapter “The Philosopher: How to Think” (pages 137-192), he says, “The lost utopias of cloud-bound Ithaca and lofty Troy had been replaced by a real-life ideal, a polis of visionary perfection, democratic Athens and its many imitators, a system in which all the inevitable political tensions were kept in balance by ‘agreements that profit no one to violate’” (pages 142-143).

Now, the most famous Athenian politician was Pericles. In Cahill’s concluding chapter “The Way They Went: Greco-Roman Meets Judeo-Christian (pages 229-264), he discusses Pericles’ Funeral Oration and the Athenian esprit of the fifth century (pages 239-250). On an autobiographical note, Cahill says, “For me at least, the most obvious later parallel is the 1961 presidential inauguration address of John F. Kennedy” (page 247).
In terms of Cahill’s autobiography, he turned twenty-one in 1961. In terms of my autobiography, I turned seventeen in 1961. However, before I had turned seventeen, I wrote my first op-ed commentary in my high school newspaper about President Kennedy’s inaugural address.

Subsequently, Cahill says, “One cannot fail to note how secular are the language and the overall approach of Pericles. The gods are hardly mentioned; Athenians must rely on themselves. No more does Kennedy take refuge in invocation of divinity; and only at the very end of his speech does he mention God: ‘Here on earth God’s work must truly be our own’” (page 249).

But the last sentence here strikes me as the equivalent of saying that we Americans should make God’s work for justice our own – as co-creators, as it were, of justice – an implication that Cahill seems not to have noted.

Now, toward the end of Cahill’s concluding chapter, he says, “The worldview that underlay the New Testament [with its Greek-educated writers Paul and the evangelist known as Luke] was so different from that of the Greeks and the Romans as to be almost its opposite. It was a worldview that stressed not excellence in public achievement [as in tradition-directed societies?] but adventure of a personal journey with God, a lifetime journey in which a human being was invited to unite himself [or herself] to God by imitating God’s justice and mercy. It was far more individualized [and inner-directed, in Riesman’s terminology] than anything the Greeks had ever come up with and stressed the experience of a call, a vocation, a unique destiny for each human being” (pages 258-259).

But wasn’t the covenant, the suzerainty treaty between the ancient Israelites and their monotheistic God, oriented more strongly toward a collective calling, as it were, a collective vocation, as it were, toward the common good, rather than just a personal call, a personal vocation to work to the best of one’s personal ability to advance God’s justice and mercy in this life?

More generally, weren’t tradition-directed societies strongly oriented toward the common good, the res publica, as the ancient Romans put it?

Now, in Cahill’s subsection titled “Notes and Sources” (pages 275-284), he says, “In the controversy over orality versus literacy in Homer, the benchmark study is Milman Parry’s L’Epithete traditionelle dans Homer (Paris, 1928), translated into English as The Making of Homeric Verse (Oxford, 1971). Parry’s groundbreaking work was continued after his untimely death by Albert B. Lord in The Singer of Tales (Cambridge, MA, 1960), by Eric A. Havelock in Origins of Western Literacy (Toronto, 1976) and other works, as well as by Parry’s son, Adam. The Singer of Tales has recently been reissued in a second edition (Cambridge, MA, 2000) with an accompanying CD that supplements the text with audio and video recordings of Balkan folksingers of the 1930s in whose prodigious memories and battery of techniques Parry found keys for appreciating the performance strategies of Homer and of his predecessors. Thanks to Parry et al., it is no longer in doubt that Homer availed himself of the traditional methods of the performers of oral poetry. None of their findings, however, can settle once and for all the question of whether or not Homer was literate” (page 278).

Havelock’s “other works” include his landmark 1963 book Preface to Plato (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press/ Harvard University Press) and his 1978 book The Greek Concept of Justice: From Its Shadow in Homer to Its Substance in Plato (Cambridge, MA; and London: Harvard University Press).

However, in my estimate, the most judicious assessment of the Parry-Lord approach as applied to the Homeric epics can be found in John Miles Foley’s book Homer’s Traditional Art (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999).

But then Cahill goes on to say the following in the next paragraph: “Chief among theorists of the cultural consequences of orality versus literacy are Marshall McLuhan (The Gutenberg Galaxy [1962] and Understanding Media [1964]) and his disciple Walter J. Ong (Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word [1982]). Though I am broadly sympathetic to their approaches, I find them at their best as interpreters of the change from medieval commonalty to the print culture of the Reformation, rather than as assessors of the cultural impact made by divergent writing systems in antiquity.”

First, the American Jesuit Renaissance specialist and cultural historian Walter J. Ong (1912-2003; Ph.D. in English, Harvard University, 1955) dud graduate studies in English at Saint Louis University, the Jesuit university in St. Louis, Missouri, as part of his lengthy Jesuit formation. Ong took at least one graduate course in English from the young Canadian Catholic convert Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980; Ph.D. in English, Cambridge University, 1943), and McLuhan served as the director of Ong’s 1941 Master’s thesis on sprung rhythms in the poetry of the Victorian Jesuit classicist and poet Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889).

Now, in terms of my autobiography, I have studied and written about Ong’s life and work extensively, and I can assure you that Cahill is mistaken in characterizing Ong as McLuhan’s “disciple.” I have been characterized as Ong’s disciple – a characterization that I do not take exception to.

But this brings me to Cahill’s more troubling statement: “I find them [McLuhan and Ong] at their best as interpreters of the change from medieval commonalty to the print culture of the Reformation, rather than as assessors of the cultural impact made by divergent writing systems in antiquity.”

Cahill does not happen to advert to Ong’s massively researched 1958 book about the impact of the Gutenberg printing press after it emerged in the mid-1450s: Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue: From the Art of Discourse to the Art of Reason (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press).

Instead, Cahill refers to Ong’s most widely translated 1982 book Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word (London and New York: Methuen), in which he discusses “divergent writing systems in antiquity” (in Cahill’s words) in greater detail than he does in any of his other 400 or so publications (not counting reprintings and translations as separate publications). So what exactly does Cahill not like about Ong’s 1982 book? Beats me.

As I read Cahill’s 2003 book Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter, I paid close attention to his various remarks about oral tradition and writing (and more broadly literacy). I did not find any relevant statement he made to be a direct contradiction to anything specific that Ong says in his 1982 book. So I really do not understand what Cahill’s beef with Ong is. Nevertheless, I would say that Cahill has accessibly articulated the various dimensions of the orality/literacy cultural history in antiquity.

In conclusion, I wholeheartedly agree with Cahill when he says that “you will find in this [accessible] book no breakthrough discoveries, no cutting-edge scholarship” (pages 7-8).
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Missie
2.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Not worth reading
Reviewed in the United States on May 28, 2016
I really don''t care that this was a National Best seller. I found the level of writing in the book really oriented to a 5th grader. Additionally, the book felt very formulaic. I did not enjoy the casual language in a book that was supposed to be instructive on the... See more
I really don''t care that this was a National Best seller. I found the level of writing in the book really oriented to a 5th grader. Additionally, the book felt very formulaic. I did not enjoy the casual language in a book that was supposed to be instructive on the significance of the Greek culture. I found the author''s approach definitely aimed toward tween and teenaged boys--lots of references to orgies and (my personal favorite) the use of the word "schlong." There have to be better written and more entertaining books on why Greek culture matters. Not worth the time to read or the money spent to purchase.
24 people found this helpful
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elisabeth h callahan
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Thomas Cahill - Superb Historian
Reviewed in the United States on September 2, 2019
Thomas Cahill is both a keenly accurate historian and protean storyteller. He makes history come alive through the personal portraits of the people who significantly helped to shape Western history and the modern world while simultaneously taking us ''inside'' the... See more
Thomas Cahill is both a keenly accurate historian and protean storyteller. He makes history come alive through the personal portraits of the people who significantly helped to shape Western history and the modern world while simultaneously taking us ''inside'' the Judeo-Greek-Roman and European civilizations. The reader cannot help but emerge with a broader and more comprehensive framework and appreciative understanding of Western history after a thorough reading of his remarkable series of history books.
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M. Anderson
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The Greeks: one of Cahill''s "hinges of history" series
Reviewed in the United States on July 20, 2014
This is one of the volumes in Cahill''s "hinges of history" series, about periods in Western history upon which our culture hinges. I read it along with the Iliad and the Odyssey, the plays of Euripedes, and a survey course about the Hittites and Myceneans. I think... See more
This is one of the volumes in Cahill''s "hinges of history" series, about periods in Western history upon which our culture hinges. I read it along with the Iliad and the Odyssey, the plays of Euripedes, and a survey course about the Hittites and Myceneans. I think professional writers and teachers of Greek history might consider it a bit quick or facile, but as an accompaniment to the kind of non-professional immersion I have been doing, it is most useful. He brings in the relationship of the Myceneans and later Greeks to the influences surrounding the area, which were many and powerful. The Greeks and Athenian democracy did not occur in a vacuum.

In the last chapter he makes some observations about our intellectual inheritance in modern forms which are certainly provocative and worth considering. I highly recommend this book and the rest in the series.
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HMS Warspite
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Why The Greeks Matter
Reviewed in the United States on July 10, 2005
"Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea" is the latest installment (2003) of Thomas Cahill''s hinges of history series, which began with the delightful and insightful "How the Irish Saved Civilization." In this volume, Cahill conducts a brief if highly readable survey of classical Greek... See more
"Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea" is the latest installment (2003) of Thomas Cahill''s hinges of history series, which began with the delightful and insightful "How the Irish Saved Civilization." In this volume, Cahill conducts a brief if highly readable survey of classical Greek civilization to highlight its subsequent impact on the culture of the West. As Cahill lays it out, classical Greek civilization had an enormous influence on how the West approaches art, philosophy, drama, and government. The Greek willingness to think, discuss, experiment, and investigate was the basis for remarkable innovation in heroic sculpture, democratic self-government, a framework for natural and individual philosophy, and the dramatic and comedic schools of theater. Along the way, Cahill provides some insightful vignettes into the Greek psyche.

Inevitably, a single volume treatment on such a complex subject as classical Greek civilization must simplify a great deal. Also perhaps inevitably, this volume lacks some of the almost intimate emotional empathy that drove "How the Irish Saved Civilization" and to a lesser extent, the "Desire of the Everlasting Hills." Finally, Cahill could not resist making a few sour remarks attempting to link the Global War on Terrorism to the Peloponnesian War that caused the downfall of the great city-state of Athens.

This volume is recommended to the reader already hooked on Cahill''s hinges of history series, and those looking for a very readable survey on Greek civilization.
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canoeguy
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
how has the Age of Greece played a role in who we are today? ALOT
Reviewed in the United States on November 3, 2019
the author explores the Age of Greece and how it has effected us to this day from the military, to literature and language, to theatre religion and philosophy. It is a book well worth reading more than once! A lot to take in. I love the authors passion and insights
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R. BULL
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Another "Hinge of HIstory"
Reviewed in the United States on March 16, 2004
I suspect I would have liked this book better if I had not had Cahill''s other "Hinges of History" books to compare it to. Of the four- How the Irish Saved Civilization, The Gifts of the Jews, and Desire of the Everlasting Hills are the others- this was the least engaging... See more
I suspect I would have liked this book better if I had not had Cahill''s other "Hinges of History" books to compare it to. Of the four- How the Irish Saved Civilization, The Gifts of the Jews, and Desire of the Everlasting Hills are the others- this was the least engaging to me. Taken by itself, I enjoyed Cahill''s insight and irreverent humor as he traced the rise and fall of the Greeks from the Minoans through Alexander the Great. Using historical people or literary figures he shows us the development of the civilization in How to Fight, Feel, Party, Rule, Think and See from the perspectives of the Greeks. He acknowledges their limitations and their massive and amazing contributions. It was also interesting to read the first few pages about his approach to history and the last pages linking Greeks to other groups he has described. I look forward to the other books he has planned and this is well worth reading. Unfortunately for the author, (in my opinion) he is competing with his own earlier books and, as good as this is, it is not as good as the earlier three.
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History buff
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Another fine contribution to the hinges of history series
Reviewed in the United States on January 24, 2021
My first introduction to Cahill was "How the Irish Saved Western Civilization," which was superb, and this tome gave me flashbacks to how much I enjoyed Cahill''s handling of our links to the classical world. Have also enjoyed "Desire of the Everlasting Hills" and "Gift of... See more
My first introduction to Cahill was "How the Irish Saved Western Civilization," which was superb, and this tome gave me flashbacks to how much I enjoyed Cahill''s handling of our links to the classical world. Have also enjoyed "Desire of the Everlasting Hills" and "Gift of the Jews." Looking forward to the rest.
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John Giles
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
This is A history book not a sailing book
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on May 14, 2021
This is a history book not a sailing book a misleading title although a good read and well written
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chris brown
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
good
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on December 12, 2019
A good read and excellent service.
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the smile man
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Brilliant
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on July 26, 2019
I have now read all four books in this collection. Brilliant books to read. I really like the fact that he tells you his sources.
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KPMJO
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Cahill''s writing style is remarkable - he has a unique ...
Reviewed in Canada on November 6, 2015
Cahill''s writing style is remarkable - he has a unique way of writing a chapter that contains 90% apparently unrelated information to the topic, and in the final 10% pulls it all together and it "clicks". Understanding western civilization is complicated. Cahill...See more
Cahill''s writing style is remarkable - he has a unique way of writing a chapter that contains 90% apparently unrelated information to the topic, and in the final 10% pulls it all together and it "clicks". Understanding western civilization is complicated. Cahill unravels the mystery.
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Edmund
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
historical
Reviewed in Canada on December 21, 2020
part of a fascinating series
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