The Greek Way
by Edith Hamilton

A tribute the classical Greek culture written in a style like Ayn Rand's. In the 5th-century, some Greeks were free to pursue the best that was in them because other men were slaves. The word leisure in Greek means to study. The Greeks were the first westerners, the first scientists, the first theater-goers, the first athletes.

That which distinguishes the modern world from the ancient, and that which divides the West from the East, is the supremacy of mind in the affairs of men, and this came to birth in Greece and lived in Greece alone of all the ancient world. (6)

In Egypt the center of interest was the dead. ... To the Egyptian the enduring world of reality was not the one he walked in along the paths of every-day life but the one he should presently go to by the way of death. (9)

The Greeks were the first people in the world to play (16)

Wretched people, toiling people, do not play. Nothing like the Greek games is conceivable in Egypt or Mesopotamia. (17)

A tomb in Egypt and a theater in Greece. (20)

The absolute monarch-submissive slave theory of life flourishes best where there are no hills to give a rebel refuge and no mountain heights to summon a man to live dangerously. When history begins in Greece there is no trace of the ancient state. (20)

Greek writing depends no more on ornament than the Greek statue does. It is plain writing, direct, matter-of-fact. (56)

That a skylark was like a glowworm golden in a dell of dew or like a poet hidden in a light of thought, would have been straight nonsense to them. (58)

The Greeks were realists, but not as we use the word. They saw the beauty of common things and were content with it (58)

In the aristocratic creed, power was to be held by men who alone were immune to the temptations that beset, on the one hand, those struggling to be powerful and, on the other, those struggling to survive. ( 75)

Thucydides' basic thesis:
Human history, he says, is a cycle which excess of power keeps revolving. Primitive despots start the wheel rolling. The more power they get the more they want, and they go on abusing their authority until inevitably opposition is aroused and a few men, strong enough when they unite, seize the rule for themselves. These, too, can never be satisfied. They encroach upon the rights of others until they are opposed in their turn. The people are aroused against them, and democracy succeeds to oligarchy. But there again the evil in all power is no less operative. It brings corruption and contempt for law, until the state can no longer function and falls easily before a strong man who promises to restore order. The rule of the one, of the few, of the many, each is destroyed in turn because there is in them all an unvarying evil--the greed for power--and no moral quality is necessarily bound up with any of them. (168)

The whole philosophy of human nature is implicit in human speech. (208)

Euripides: He looked at war and he saw through all the sham glory to the awful evil beneath and he wrote the Trojan Women--war as it appears to a handful of captive women waiting for the victors to carry them away to all that slavery means for women. (256)

The very idea of orthodoxy was unknown to them. (267)

Only individuals can suffer and only individuals have a place in tragedy. ... The type belongs to comedy (307)

Some Important Greeks
Aeschylus: the first dramatist
Aristophanes: comic playwright. Gilbert of Pinafore fame came closer to him than anyone.
Euripides: dramatist who criticized conventions and is seen as modern by every generation.
Herodotus: the first sight-seer. Two-thirds of his history are about his journeys and things he learned from them, the last part is about the Persian Wars.
Pindar: poet (odes), the last Greek aristocrat
Sophocles: tragic dramatist, quintessence of the Greek.
Thucydides: historian who drew lessons for all times: power is evil and corrupting. His History of the Peloponnesian War is really a treatise on war, its causes and effects.
Xenophon: a Greek gentleman who wrote about his life and shed light on the life-style of the intellectual elite.

Year Read: 1997


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