Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea


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Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter by Thomas Cahill

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Book Description

In the fourth volume of the acclaimed Hinges of History series, Thomas Cahill brings his characteristic wit and style to a fascinating tour of ancient Greece.
The Greeks invented everything from Western warfare to mystical prayer, from logic to statecraft. Many of their achievements, particularly in art and philosophy, are widely celebrated; other important innovations and accomplishments, however, are unknown or underappreciated. In Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea, Thomas Cahill explores the legacy, good and bad, of the ancient Greeks. From the origins of Greek culture in the migrations of armed Indo-European tribes into Attica and the Peloponnesian peninsula, to the formation of the city-states, to the birth of Western literature, poetry, drama, philosophy, art, and architecture, Cahill makes the distant past relevant to the present.
Greek society is one of the two primeval influences on the Western world: While Jews gave us our value system, the Greeks set the foundation and framework for our intellectual lives. They are responsible for our vocabulary, our logic, and our entire system of categorization. They provided the intellectual tools we bring to bear on problems in philosophy, mathematics, medicine, physics, and the other sciences. Their modes of thinking, considered in classical times to be the pinnacle of human achievement, are largely responsible for the shape that the Christian religion took. But, as Cahill points out, the Greeks left a less appealing bequest as well. They created Western militarism and, in making the warrior the ultimate ideal, perpetrated the assumption that only males could be entrusted with the duties of citizenship. The consequences of their exclusion of women from the political sphere and the social segregation of the sexes continue to reverberate today. Full of surprising, often controversial, insights, Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea is a remarkable intellectual adventure—conducted by the most companionable guide imaginable. Cahill’s knowledge of his sources is so intimate that he has made his own fresh translations of the Greek lyric poets for this volume.

About the Author

THOMAS CAHILL is the author of the three previous volumes in the Hinges of History series: How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland's Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe.

The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels, and

Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus.

They have been bestsellers, not only in the United States but also in countries ranging from Italy to Brazil. Cahill was recently invited to address the U.S. Congress on the Judeo-Christian roots of moral responsibility in American politics. He and his wife, Susan, also a writer, divide their time between New York and Rome.

Editorial Reviews

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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.

From Booklist
This is Cahill's fourth volume in his Hinges of History series, and three more are planned. He begins with a discussion of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey and how these two epic poems relate to the history of Greece. He then focuses on such themes as the Greek alphabet, literature, and political system, and its playwrights, philosophers, and artists. A final chapter examines the effects that Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian traditions had on each other. "Despite its exceedingly Jewish roots, Christianity became a player in the Greco-Roman world, a world shaped by Greek culture and Roman power," he says. He points out that Greek, not Hebrew, became the language of Christianity, that its sacred writings--which came to be known as the New Testament--were written in Greek, and that the gospel was preached throughout the ancient world inthe Greek tongue. Like his other books, this one is a moving history of an ancient culture. George Cohen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Back Cover

Praise for Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus

“Each of [Thomas Cahill’s] books offers moments of genuine insight into the workings of culture, literature, and the human heart.” —Commonweal

“A popularization, but in the best sense of the word. With grace, skill and erudition, he summarizes obtuse semantic and historical arguments, highlights the findings most relevant to lay readers and draws disparate material together in his portraits of Jesus, his mother, Mary, and the apostle Paul.” —Washington Post Book World

“A deft march through time and through theology in the making . . . [Cahill’s] own gift-giving is his ability to climb inside the scholarship and enliven it.”
—Philadelphia Inquirer

Praise for The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels

“Captivating . . . persuasive as well as entertaining . . . Mr. Cahill’s book is a gift.”
—New York Times

“Cahill’s clearly voiced, jubilant song of praise to the gifts of the Jews is itself a gift—a splendid story, well told.” —Boston Globe

“Cahill exalts his ancient subjects, their hearts, minds and experiences resonate in his compelling contemporary narrative.” —Chicago Tribune

Praise for How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland's Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe

“Charming and poetic . . . an entirely engaging, delectable voyage into the distant past, a small treasure.” —New York Times

“A shamelessly engaging, effortlessly scholarly, utterly refreshing history of the origins
of the Irish soul and its huge contribution to Western culture.” —Thomas Keneally

“Cahill’s lively prose breathes life into a 1,600-year-old history.” —Boston Globe

“When Cahill shows the splendid results of St. Patrick’s mission in Ireland—among them, the preservation and transmission of classical literature and the evangelization of Europe—he isn’t exaggerating. He’s rejoicing.” —The New Yorker

Excerpt from Chapter 1 - copyrighted material

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.

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