Monday, January 5, 2009

From Alexander to Cleopatra

This book was a good example of why I don't read more scholarly-type historical texts. Despite my curiosity, it was deadly boring and it made a lot of assumptions that I wanted to argue with.
I have a reasonable knowledge of ancient Greece and I thought that since this one started where a lot of the others left off, I could learn something. I guess I did. I learned that much of Greek culture actually happened during this time, so there wasn't as much new materiel as I thought there would be. I learned that if you have 80 lines of an ancient author you can make grand sweeping generalizations about his/her life's work, importance when alive and history and motives in writing. Bring me 5 or 6 Shakespeare sonnets and let me do the same thing.
The beginning of the book was very confusing. It felt like reading a series of picture and map captions, without the description needed to connect things more clearly. When I got to the second part of the book I realized why the author had raced through the political and military history. Since this was Ancient Greece, he didn't really care about those details, he wanted to talk about the culture of this age. Which is understandable and all, I just wish he had skipped those first few chapters and wrote the book on what he was really interested in.
That being said, I must admit that I am not really interested in the philosophy and culture of ancient Greece. Sorry, sometimes I'm a bit of a philistine. When you make grand pronouncements about culture, and then say things like we only have a few of this person's epigrams and then talk about their work for several pages or admit that when a certain style was being written only a few read it, then talk about its cultural significance, I get a bit impatient. It seems that Greek history is important because we have been told it is important, and it is a self-perpetuating cycle.
Maybe I need to look for a better book on the subject.

From Alexander to Cleopatra: The Hellenistic World. Michael Grant. Scribner. 1982

1 comment:

jendoop said...

In your last paragraphs you make some wonderful observations about those who promote culture of any age.
You're good to keep reading and give the author a chance. I'd have stopped in those first few pitiful chapters.