Out of One, Many: Ancient Greek Ways of Thought and Culture

Princeton Univ. May 2024. 440p. ISBN 9780691181479. $35. HIST
Many people may view the myths and stories of ancient Greece as a united cultural worldview. In reality, a monolithic ancient Greek history (and its associated cultural aspects) does not exist, as Roberts (classical languages and history, CUNY City College and CUNY Graduate Ctr.; The Plague of War: Athens, Sparta, and the Struggle for Ancient Greece) demonstrates in this book. She asserts that there were certain cultural factors that were more generally true such as patriarchy, but that had exceptions too. Her wide-ranging history book covers well-trodden ground: myth and religion, themes of heroism in Homer, the classical period city-states, drama, and philosophy, but Roberts’s clever close readings and personality shine through. For example, there are engaging asides and examinations of ancient Greek thought that may seem particularly new or distinctive to modern readers. As a book for general audiences, this volume relies on many standard sources and maintains a central narrative focus on classical Athens. But what makes this title different is its admirable spotlight on women’s lives. Most notably, the last chapter examines historical and recent uses of ancient Greek thought in right-wing politics and extremism, which demonstrates why understanding the actual legacy of Greek history remains critical.
VERDICT An entertaining and witty exploration of Greek history that will introduce readers to a variety of beliefs from ancient Greece.
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