It was obvious from the beginning of the book that it was written quite a while ago by the author’s use and spelling of certain words and on occasion this made it somewhat challenging to read. The author’s writing seemed somewhat pretentious and haughty. Due to this fact, the author’s style of writing was not entirely appealing to me. Although, what I did find interesting about her writing was her depth of knowledge and her passion for Greek culture. Her many quotations, historical counts and abundance of insights more than made up for the author’s pretentious style of writing.
In the beginning, I felt this book was difficult to follow. This was mainly due to the fact that in the first chapter, the author seemed to cover a very broad and detailed expanse of time very succinctly. The author touches on everything from before Athens was founded, to Rome and the Orient, to Egypt and finally mathematics and religion. These and many more topics were all broached in a mere eleven pages. As the chapters went on, the author narrowed her thoughts to one or two main ideas and or people, making it much easier to grasp.
This book was mostly organized topically, but also had elements of chronology. The first chapter basically gave a summary of the many points that were to be covered throughout the book and then the remaining chapters elaborated on those points along with others. In the beginning, the author speaks about Pindar, Plato, Aristophanes, Herodotus, Thucydides and Xenophon. These poets and philosophers were not presented in chronological order, but more how they were connected to one another. In chapters twelve through fourteen, the author speaks about Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides which are presented in chronological order.
Personally, I feel that organizing a book chronologically helps the reader to better understand the information. If the information flows in a logical order it is easier to follow. The way the author presented Pindar, Plato, Aristophanes, Herodotus, Thucydides and Xenophon was somewhat confusing. Even the presentation of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides seemed out of place. At times, I could see the chronology of these writers, but for the most part the author seemed to weave them into a complicated patchwork of history.
One of the main themes of “The Greek Way” is the superiority that the Greek culture has had throughout civilization. The author uses Greek architecture, art and literature to emphasize this point. Another theme of “The Greek Way” is that the style of Greek writing is very simplistic and unadorned. They saw the beauty in simple things and found no reason to embellish it. They found it perfect in its simplicity.
The author uses the following phrases to illustrate her points on Greek art and architecture. “Greek art is intellectual art, the art of men who were clear and lucid thinkers, and it is therefore plain art. Artists than whom the world has never seen greater, men endowed with the spirit’s best gift, found their natural method of expression in the simplicity and clarity which are the endowment of the unclouded reason.” (Hamilton 49) And also, “Greek architecture of the great age is the expression of men who were, first of all, intellectual artists, kept firmly within the visible world by their mind, but, only second to that, lovers of the human world. The Greek temple is the perfect expression of the pure intellect illuminated by the spirit. No other great buildings anywhere approach its simplicity.” (Hamilton 50)
The following two phrases illustrate the author’s opinion about Greek’s simplistic style of writing. “Our imagery would have left the Greeks as cold. Clarity and simplicity of statement, the watchwords of the thinker, were the Greek poet’s watchwords too” (Hamilton 55) “The Greeks were realists, but not as we use the word. They saw the beauty of common things and were content with it.” (Hamilton 55)
Another important idea discussed in “The Greek Way” is the lack of an “orthodox” religion in Greek culture. Hamilton believes this is due to the fact that people confuse Greek religion with Greek mythology. She believed that the basis of the Greek religion was actually man’s struggle to become the best that he could be spiritually. The artists expressed their beliefs through their art, just as the poets expressed their beliefs through their writings.
Hamilton illustrates this in the following paragraph. “Greek religion was developed not by priests nor by prophets nor by saints nor by any set of men who were held to be removed from the ordinary run of life because of a superior degree of holiness; it was developed by poets and artists and philosophers, all of them people who instinctively leave thought and imagination free, and all of them, in Greece, men of practical affairs. The Greeks had no authoritative Sacred Book, no creed, no ten commandments, no dogmas. The very idea of orthodoxy was unknown to them.” (Hamilton 216)
Hamilton was also of the opinion that there were only four great tragic artists of the world and of those four, three of them were Greek. She believed that the Greeks originated the tragic plays and that they continue to be the most profound. She felt this was due to the fact that Greeks had an innate way of seeing the world more clearly. They had a sense of calm and reason that was uniquely Greek.
Hamilton illustrates her opinion in the following passage. “It is in tragedy that the pre-eminence of the Greeks can be seen most clearly. Except for Shakespeare, the great three, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, stand alone. Tragedy is an achievement peculiarly Greek. They were the first to perceive it and they lifted it to its supreme height.” (Hamilton 171) And also in the sentence “They produced art distinguished from all other art by an absence of struggle, marked by a calm and serenity which is theirs alone.” (Hamilton 171)
I felt that one of the good points of this book was the depth that the author gives in her writing in regards to the poets and philosophers. She gave the reader a deeper look inside their minds and thoughts which gave a better understanding of them. The many examples she gave of their writings helped illustrate her thoughts and opinions. For example, Hamilton describes Pindar as being completely honest in his writing. He did not embellish or exaggerate to make his point. She uses the following quote from Pindar to express this. “Forge thy tongue on an anvil of truth and what flies up, though it be but a spark, shall have weight.” (Hamilton 74)
In my opinion, the one bad point of “The Greek Way” is the superior attitude Hamilton had of the Greeks. Yes, undoubtedly they were pioneers in many fields and created masterpieces that are timeless, but to say that the world has never created anything better since their time is insulting. She described their ultimate dominance as follows, “No sculpture comparable to theirs; no buildings ever more beautiful; no writings superior. History has yet to find a greater exponent than Thucydides; outside of the Bible there is no poetical prose that can touch Plato. In poetry they are all but supreme; no epic is to mentioned with Homer; no odes to be set beside Pindar; of the four masters of the tragic stage three are Greek.” (Hamilton 14)
One of the things I learned from “The Greek Way” was the true nature of the Greek culture. I learned that they were very intelligent people and very motivated by the search for knowledge. They at times lived very simplistic lives and thrived upon it. Their powerful emotions came through in all of their cultural works. They saw beauty in everyday things and then expressed it through their art and literature. They were constantly in the pursuit of truth in all matters and the opportunity to share their knowledge with others.
I believe that parts of “The Greek Way” were very pertinent to our history class, whereas others were more literary in nature. The first three chapters as well as the last three chapters help us understand the mind-set of the people of that era and region. It also contained certain historical facts that also help us understand how their culture developed. Chapters four through fourteen were based more on the literature and the writing style of some of the great Greek poets and philosophers. Although the information in those chapters gave insight into the atmosphere of the Greek culture, I felt that it was more speculative and narrative than historic.