Select one of the keywords
Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter    by Thomas Cahill order for
Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea
by Thomas Cahill
Order:  USA  Can
Nan A. Talese, 2004 (2003)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio, CD

Read an Excerpt

* *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Thomas Cahill continues his Hinges of History series with Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea - a literary presentation of Greek contributions through poetry, plays, mythology, mathematics, governance, and the alphabet. The book also includes a generous set of black and white photos of Grecian sculpture.

Cahill opens with Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, connecting the epic poems to the history of Greece and its glorification of the warrior. He expands on Greek playwrights (Sophocles, Aeschylus, and Euripides), poetess Sappho, philosophers Plato and Aristotle, and artist Praxiteles, often with whimsical characterizations. He tells us that Plato was one of the first Greeks to write in prose rather than verse. Cahill's quotations from original writings expand our insight into the legacy of ancient Greece. Here's one by William Butler Yeats: 'Once out of nature I shall never take / My bodily form from any natural thing, / But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make / Of hammered gold and gold enameling / To keep a drowsy Emperor awake; / Or set upon a gold bough to sing / To lords and ladies of Byzantium / Of what is past, or passing, or to come.'

Cahill calls Greece 'a land of dance and music'. Sappho's poems speak of 'bridal songs'. Other noted female lyric (to sing with a lyre) poets include Alceus and Anacreon. The Muses were nine gods of song and poetry ('sung poetry' - the Greeks did not distinguish one from the other). Each Muse had a specialty, e.g. Calliope's epic poetry and Clio's historical narrative. Cahill provides a progression of ancient Greek words into present-day Western use. He describes ruling systems, e.g. 'consensus of citizens', a trial period of democracy in early-sixth-century Athens. In Greek theater, plays initially starred solo performers, and the number on stage later increased to three. Performers wore 'buskins' - thick-soled shoes to increase stature, and a large mask containing a megaphone for voice projection to the back rows of the audience. Seating for the theater was built into a hillside, a practice adopted by other countries such as Italy.

Cahill compares ancient Greeks with modern leaders, such as George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and General Colin Powell (comparisons I found somewhat irrelevant to the content of the book), and tells us that Greece's 6th century chief magistrate Solon was 'a sort of Athenian Franklin Delano Roosevelt'. I recommend Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea as an impressive intellectual presentation of history, culture, and writers from another age, one that greatly influenced our own.

Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.

Find more NonFiction books on our Shelves or in our book Reviews