Wednesday, 24 March 1999

M.I. Finley: The Legacy of Greece (1981)

Edition: Oxford University Press, 1982

This collection of essays from scholars is intended to re-examine the role that ancient Greece has played in shaping our modern culture. It consists of fourteen articles by leading classical scholars covering various fields which are generally considered to be strongly influenced by Greek culture, including philosophy, science, figurative art, religion and so on, or covering the interaction between Greece and other cultures that have shaped our own (specifically Jewish and Christian). The book is completed with an article examining how Greek ideas have been passed down through the last two thousand years, and how those who lived during that period thought of Greek culture.

Being classicists, each writer tends to dwell on that part of their essay which summarises what makes up that particular aspect of Greek culture, which is not really what they were intended to do (at least as far as I see it). Most of them say less about modern culture, and some of them have quite old-fashioned and personal ideas about the modern side of the field about which they are writing - I disagreed with just about everything the writer on drama has to say about twentieth century theatre, for example. Still, each essay is of interest.

It is the last article - the history of attitudes to ancient Greece - which is perhaps the best, though I always like Finley's writing (he wrote the introduction and the first piece, on politics, as well as editing the book as a whole).

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