Wednesday, February 15, 2012


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The Story of Civilization II: The Life of Greece, Will Durant, Simon and Schuster, 1939, 671 pp

I took a long break from Will Durant after finishing Volume I: Our Oriental Heritage. When I cracked open The Life of Greece, it wasn't long before the Trojan War and Homer's legends showed up. About 40 pages actually. So I went to read The Iliad. That took me a long time on the 10 page a day plan. I intended to read The Odyssey, but kept putting it off.

Meanwhile I had begun to read novels by Nikos Kazantzakis beginning with Zorba the Greek, then The Greek Passion, followed by Freedom or Death. I must credit Kazantzakis for giving me a glimpse into the hearts and minds of the Greek people (and I suppose I should also give a nod to Eugenides and Middlesex.)

My personal reading odyssey finally led me back to The Life of Greece. I buckled down, reading a small section a day for months with frequent breaks and finally got to the end. It was worth all the work it took to read it. I feel I could not complete my quest to be truly well-read without reading at least some history.

Because of Durant's self-professed goal to approach history by covering the entire expanse of civilization (from government, religion and philosophy to the arts, daily life and commerce as well as the progressions of wars and leaders) these volumes have given me a broad overview that now informs my reading and my understanding of current events. He has unlocked for me the old conundrum: you don't know what you don't know.

At some point in my schooling I was forced to read The Golden Fleece. I did not get it at all. All I remember is some guys called argonauts and "rosy fingered dawn." Now that I have read about the ancient beginnings, the rise, the Golden Age, and the fall of Greece; now that I have learned when and how the great philosophers, the dramatists and even Alexander the Great fit into the history of Greece, I feel oriented in an entirely new way as a reader. Just as a small example, I learned that Aristotle was tutor to Alexander the Great during Alexander's teen years.

I understand why we were made to learn about Greece, Plato, Aristotle, etc in school. The template for modern civilization was formed in Greece, a true crossroads of East and West. Mankind is still playing on that stage. I have begun Volume III: Caesar and Christ and am determined to press on until I get through the series. Wish me luck!

(The Life of Greece is available as an ebook by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

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