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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 GreeceThe 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 under appreciated 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 presentGreek 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 beuest 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 conseuences 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


10 thoughts on “Sailing the Wine Dark Sea Why the Greeks Matter

  1. says:

    I rather thought when I picked this book up that it would provide a great number of little known facts about the Greeks that it would draw clearly the often hidden connections modern life has to the earliest democracy and that Cahill would underline the importance of studying Greek culture for what it can teach us today Sailing the Wine Dark Sea Why the Greeks Matter is not really that book In fact Cahill’s book is really a uick dip in the bath of well known Greek history and art a cultural CliffNotesCahill who became pop famous for his book How the Irish Saved Civilization detailing how Irish monasteries kept up writing and copying manuscripts throughout the Dark Ages has parlayed that success into a series of pop histories he names Hinges of History These hinges are points in which the whole world could have gone one way or the other and why they fell the way they did Hinges hold up doors; they should slam this one shut At no point does Cahill demonstrate that this moment constitutes a hinge nor does he actually go about proving that the Greeks matterDoes he show us how we can use Greek thought in the current world? No Does he dig up forgotten Greek wisdom of some staggering utility for now? No What he does is jog through the history and culture of a time and occasionally mention how that notion sure came in handy once upon a timeSailing the Wine Dark Sea spends a great great deal of its length uoting liberally using Homer’s epic poems replete with deus ex machina out the wazoo and anachronisms up the ying yang as though they were historical documents on par with Thucydidies — who he also ladles out with heavy hand For this mythical leaning one can thank his Jesuit upbringingeducation which does the same thing substituting the Bible for The Iliad As the book progresses Cahill lifts from Joyce Auden Tennyson and every third Greek writer of note padding out the thinness of his own ideas with poignant bits of poetryWhen Cahill discusses the origins of the alphabet first a Semitic Phoenician accounting tool then with vowels added by the Greeks there are rather interesting tidbits and I smacked my lips in pleasure This was all I got however tidbits The book lacks anything like scope of ideology just sampling here and there from the Greek culture platterFor tidbits we are treated to this fact the earliest Greek inscription currently known is on the side of a cup and notes that the finest dancer will receive the cup as a prize Cahill comments that this differs from the furrowed brow of the believer the Jews and the green eye shade hardness of the accountant the Phoenicians the two previous possessors of language Irreverence makes its first recorded appearance at 700BCE on a cup inscription recommending drinking and fucking The you learn of Greek history the it seems that had the Greeks remained dominant Western society would sure be a lot funCahill takes a moment here to laud Greece’s phonetic alphabet innovations as being the seed germ of enlightenment His observation that if we wrote in cuneiform today we’d still have slavery is hard to argue against as it is so filled with supposition that there is no point in even making the observation It’s like suggesting that if we drank wine we’d have fewer reality TV shows You can not prove such an argument nor can you prove it’s faulty It’s a Jesuitical fallacy one wishes Cahill’s editor had sliced from his reasoning or at least his teachers had drummed out of him lo those many years agoAs a natural result of discussing alphabets Sailing sails on to literature where Cahill skims the surface a good deal and never dives deep into this wine dark sea Instead he suggests that we shouldn’t take the comedy of a society as a good representation of the morality of a society yet he makes no end of other kinds of literature such as epics and epithalamia This is simply the intellectual abuse of comedy that I’ve grown increasingly tired of the older I’ve gotten the kind of commentary exposes an author’s narrow thinking If comedy is of no use in determining morality — after all what is funnier than pricking pompous moralists and shocking delicate sensibilities? — then neither are epics or any other form of literature One just might as well have said that abstract painting is no way to understand the psyche of an era and out goes Picasso’s Guernica as any kind of commentary on war in general and war in specificThe discussion of literature leads to drama which does allow Cahill to waste time regaling us with an excruciatingly detailed account of the story of Oedipus including giving away that hoary old chestnut the riddle of the Sphinx in the bargain He dwells on non textual issues like how the black blood gushes from Oedipus’ sockets after he gouges out his eyes demonstrating that Cahill was at least uite struck by one stage production he saw But why does he go into such complete and total detail? Has anyone over the age of seventeen not heard this story yet? I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that Oedipus Rex is taught in the grand majority of English speaking high schools I’d even go so far as to say that having to read Oedipus Rex is as much an adolescent rite of passage as getting over wanting to fuck your parents I suspect if you were to read his other books like the one on the importance of the Jews you’d be treated to such things as lengthy Biblical uotes and a summary of the story of the crucifixionDrama of course leads to philosophy’s most dramatic writer Plato Cahill’s chapter on philosophy doesn’t provide any cohesive arrangement that moves along demonstrating refinement and the various arguments still at the heart of philosophical debate today Rather he gives us one little anecdote and character after another This guy says water’s at the heart of the universe this guy says fire this guy says seeds Whew thanks for clearing that up The remainder of the chapter consists of several page long Socratic dialogues lifted directly and lengthy summaries of same Let me save you the trouble of reading this chapter and simply direct you to read the introduction to any volume of Plato dialogues which will almost certainly include snippets of the pre Socratic schools of thought then read the dialogues themselvesThe book’s sixth chapter is almost entirely without any recognizable merit Cahill instead of using this space to educate the reader or to uote the half of The Republic he left out of the philosophy chapter lends his lyre to straining metaphors letting us know that ancient Hebrew is a tense terse language as efficient and stubborn as a Jewish desert nomad while Latin is the language of precise farmers who’ve gone into real estate as empire and Greek is the language of ebullient self lovers This is followed up with airy speculation on kouros Greek statuary as a projection of the ideal And a thumbnail sketch of a variety of sculpture next to worthless in audio form as we only have Cahill’s maudlin descriptions to go on Cahill proves a strident mind reader filling us in on what the various characters in sculpture and pottery paintings are thinking as they go about their drinking gaming lusting And apparently according to Cahill the only way we can know that females were at some point well considered or publicly considered was if any nude sculptures ever were made of them Internet porn and beer advertisements have shown how well that turned out yeah?Moving on to politics Cahill uotes the full text of Pericles’ Funeral Oration a 3000 word speech about how great democracy is and how noble those who die to support it truly are This is followed by Cahill’s lengthy love letter to John F Kennedy as a man who really knew his Pericles Politics leads to the destruction of Greek culture and Cahill slanders various factions none in Greece than the Epicureans who he paints as no than debauched gluttons the usual ignorant depiction And none outside Greece come in for spanking than the Romans who he falsely declares as having no spirituality or sense of religion save what they stole from Greece As though they had no beliefs prior to usurping the Greek model This is so obviously false I won’t go into schooling readers of Cahill save to recommend any other book on Mediterranean history than this oneHaving barely introduced us to “the plodding Romans” Cahill rushes them off the stage to suggest that it was only the meeting of Greek culture and Judeo Christianity that was of any value in the development of Western culture I won’t deny how influential Greek ideas were in the development of Christianity but the shabby treatment of the Romans is unbecoming of a historian It is the expansion of the Roman Empire the absorption of the local mythologies of those they conuered that shaped the hierarchies and ceremonies of the Catholic Church and through them the Protestants What happened to Greek influenced Christianity? It became the hodgepodge of Byzantium iconography enslaved by the Ottoman Empire a poor companion to the lusty life that Western Christianity experienced as the mistress of Roman Imperialism Almost the whole of the Church calendar is of Roman derivation not GreekOnce you subtract Cahill’s lengthy uotations and lengthier plot summaries of Greek literature you’re left with not much than a pamphlet on why the Greeks matter And they do matter they gave us democracy and types of warfare and literature about people They matter like any other sterile old manuscript dusty with age Ho hum Cahill fails to prove his primary thesis that the Greeks do matter


  2. says:

    Onvan Sailing the Wine Dark Sea Why the Greeks Matter Nevisande Thomas Cahill ISBN 385495544 ISBN13 9780385495547 Dar 352 Safhe Saal e Chap 2003


  3. says:

    Book #4 in the Hinges of History series I enjoyed it but was also disappointed When I think of all the Greeks were and did and how much they influenced modern civilization I grow almost dizzy So I was giddily anticipating this book but it fell short of expectation However I was intrigued by the notion of the Greeks as intellectual scavengers sailing the Mediterranean to various ports bringing innovative ideas and inventions back to Athens and integrating them into their culture Eventually these ideas trickled or gushed into other cultures and remain part of civilization today InterestingI read the first four books in the Hinges of History series starting book 1 almost 20 years ago They stuck with me fairly well Since then Cahill wrote two books but I have not read them This is not fiction but rather uasi history told in an accessible narrative style Each book examines how a particular European people changed the world sorry Asians and Africans The four cultures one per book Irish Jews Christians Greeks I enjoyed them all They are easy to read Not a historian so cannot adeuately argue Cahill's points He probably stretched the story to make a strong case for the particular gifts he suggests the culture brought to the worldI cannot recall whether Cahill included the contributions women made I think notThe most memorable book in the Hinges of History series is #1 How the Irish Saved Civilization It's set in the Dark Ages after Rome fell when Visigoths Goths and Vandals plundered burning books libraries monasteries etc I found it riveting but doubtless there are some holes in his argument that Irish monks saved civilization by saving classic writings from extinction by burning They did so by copying ancient Greek and Latin texts Ptolmy Euclid Cicero Plato etc as well as ancient Biblical scriptures creating illuminated manuscripts The author is Irish and probably biased His argument is not fully convincing yet interesting He embellished on history but admits itAccording to The Gift of the Jews book #2 the Hebrew people introduced various key concepts to Western Civ hygiene kosher the written word along with Phonecians Greeks Sumarians etc a code of law and monotheism including caring for widows and orphans via a tithing system much like paying taxes That's all I remember Book 3 is Desire of the Everlasting Hills about the contributions the message of Christ brought to modern society principles of mercy forgiveness eleventh hour second chances and unconditional love opposed to the eye for an eye system of retribution Cahill also attributes the eventual advance of literacy and the decrease in human sacrifices to Christian doctrine I felt Cahill was a little scattered but I still enjoyed it


  4. says:

    Most of the negative reviews of this book point out that Cahill never says anything particularly original about why the Greeks matter but be that as it may it was a good overview for those of us who don't know much history Also of note he occasionally throws in inappropriate slang like hard ass and schlong which amused me than it should have


  5. says:

    To me? This book seemed poorly organized unnecessarily wordy slightly arrogant and frankly dull This book really didn't do much to convince the reader how in fact the Greeks actually do matter Even though I know that already I picked it up expecting to be motivated into reading about the region and it's history Guess I'll try again later with a different book as my starting point


  6. says:

    Pure unadulterated garbage Cahill is not even an historian or a classicist He aims these books at those unfamiliar with the subject matter and then treats his audience like idiots He has no respect for those reading the book or the civilization he is writing about He is arrogant and condescending To use his own words he is bellicose close minded pig headed and absurd He actually used these very words to describe either those who may not agree with his interpretation or the Greeks that he so lovingly wants everyone to know about This book is a vile misuse of the trust his readers have put in himHe displays a disturbing lack of respect for religion in general but especially the religous practices of the Greeks He chooses selections from Greek poets not for their historic value but for shock value and tittilation To me this was very using another one of his terms distasteful He seems to try to appeal to our basest natures to celebrate all that's crude instead of noble about the Greek civilization Cahill tries to help the reader understand the situations he presents by comparing them to situations we as modern readers may be familiar However he is so flippant about the way he does this that they are not helpful comparisons but distortions of the past see pg 98 on how he presents the symposia You may if you like label this prayer but it was from our perspecive a lot closer to a conga lineThe worst part about the whole book is that those to whom this book is targeted will not know that what they are reading is so very skewed that they are not getting an accurate version of history I still can't figure out what he was actually trying to do in the book because he is missing a thesis unless you count the title and his concluding paragraph is in opposition to what he wrote in the rest of the book


  7. says:

    This book examines the civilization of the ancient Greeks and shows how their cultural contributions continue to shape our Western way of life even today He makes use of seven archetypal figures The Warrior The Wanderer The Poet The Politician The Playwright The Philosopher and The Artist to break down the complexities of ancient Greek life into easily manageable sections then proceeds to show how each of these aspects is relevant to usI really enjoyed this book I'm not an expert on ancient Greek history though I am familiar with most of the major events and players This book helped me to expand my knowledge on the subject while keeping me entertained which is usually all I ask from a book on history The author manages to present the subject in a fairly concise manner without getting bogged down in excessive detail and this kept the pages turning at a good clip I also liked the overall tone of the writing which was casual and conversationalit felt like the author was sitting down and speaking with me personally It kept me involved and didn't make me feel as though I was being put at a distance So while this is definitely not the most exhaustive or detailed work on the subject it's a very accessible and not at all intimidating good for people like me who don't know a whole lot about the subject and would like to know but without being overwhelmed This is actually the fourth volume in the Hinges of History series which shows how various ancient civilizations shaped our current culture I'm definitely going to be reading the others when I can get my hands on them


  8. says:

    I am a big fan of Cahill's Hinges of History Series having read the first three before reading this one I found that this was my least favorite The writing is still engaging and touches on the lasting effects the culture had on Western civilization as in the first three books but there was less Cahill here There was a lot of Homer a touch of Sappho a lot of Plato a bunch of Sophocles and Aeschylus some Eurypides and a big chunk of Pericles Those of us who have read these classical works many times before wished he could have told us about what they meant to him and his opinions of their impact There was a lot earthy terminology here which probably reflected the nature of Greek society His earlier works avoided overdoing this to their credit Maybe he was tired of having his texts used so often by church groupsI will continue to enjoy the series and am moving on to the next installment with high hopes for something a bit like the first three books


  9. says:

    A complicated and uneven read At turns fascinating and then mind numbingly boring Certainly the most explicit history book I've ever read Also uite a bit opinionated and rooted in modern society than I remember from the first two of the series It tried very hard to convince me to pick up a true classic so far to little success I do expect to read the 3rd book in the series this is the 4th and I own the 1st and 2nd Call it 35 out of 4 But worth a reread


  10. says:

    I didn't finish this The author makes so many assumptions about the ancient Greeks; apparently he sees no need for scholarship or research just whatever he thinks must be so I got seriously annoyed at all the speculating without any basis and gave up