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For the first time in English, one of the greatest masterpieces of historical writing: 'Every civilized library must have a copy.' CHRISTOPHER STACE, Telegraph 'A wonderfully fat and vivid reminder of the splendour and miseries of Hellenism...enlightened and enlightening, a joy to read, delicious with anecdotes and a manifest labour of love, candour and openmindedness.' FREDERIC RAPHAEL, Sunday Times Jacob Burckhardt (1818-97) was one of the greatest historians of classical and Renaissance art, architecture and culture. Though he died over a hundred years ago, his superb prose is as fresh and readable today as it was at the end of the nineteenth century. The Greeks and Greek Civilization describes, in glorious, elegant detail, the lives of the ancient Greeks and the origins of their culture.The book has never appeared before in English. Oswyn Murray, the book's editor, and his translator, Sheila Stern, have been labouring for many years on the text and now, finally, have ready an authoritative version which, in Oswyn Murray's words, 'remains the best account of Greek civilization.' 'His changes in tone, the sudden plunge from the grandest to the most minor themes, the zooming in and out from the broadest panoramas to a particular carpet on a particular floor, the massiveness of his project and the lightness with which he accomplishes it, not to mention his vast knowledge, his clear style, his precision and his general surefootedness, are what makes Burckhardt great in a way that is not so different from the way Shakespeare is great or Rembrandt or Beethoven. He created vast spaces in history, heights and depths, enormous ranges of pitch and timbre, sunny clearings in the midst of impenetrable gloom...Thanks to the efforts of Oswyn Murray and Sheila Stern, a Great Blue Whale is swimming for the first time in English waters. Tiddlers everywhere should be pleased to accept the invitation to swim in its posthumous wake.' JAMES DAVIDSON, London Review of Books

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780006388821
ISBN-10: 0006388825
Format: Paperback
(216mm x 135mm x mm)
Pages: 448
Imprint: Fontana Press
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publish Date: 19-Apr-1999
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Reviews

UK Kirkus Review » A modern translation of one of the finest works of the great historian Jacob Burckhardt, who looked at history not by way of cold documentation, but through the prism of art and individual psychology - not for nothing was he a colleague of Nietzsche. In its time this was a truly astonishing book, revealing Greece not so much as the beneficent cradle of democracy as a state in which personal freedom was minimal, demagogues misled the public and the people in general were quite literally suicidal with depression. It is still a startling book, and in this new and admirable translation should be read by anyone seriously interested in the contribution Greek civilization made to the Western way of life. (Kirkus UK)

US Kirkus Review » German cultural historian Burckhardt (1818-97) delivered a series of controversial lectures in the 1870s on life in ancient Greece, now first translated into English to provide a fascinating reexamination of Hellenic civilization. Burckhardt presents Greek society from the Heroic Age to the Hellenistic period through historical anecdotes drawn from texts by ancient philosophers, rhetoricians, historians, and comic writers. Vigorously opposed to the Greeks' democratic political culture, Burckhardt portrays the polls as a stifling environment, where the individual was completely subordinated to the common cause. The state exercised tight control over all aspects of life, from religious festivals and athletic competitions to education, freedom of movement, and family life, even sanctioning the murder of malformed children. Burckhardt convincingly demonstrates how Greek democracy eventually degenerated into a tyranny of corrupt officials and sycophants that subjected citizens to constant surveillance and threatened them with excessive taxes, property confiscation, and execution. At the core of the Greek mentality was agon, or competition, and each man aspired to supercede others. Victory in athletic games opened the door to political influence and immortal glory. For the ancient Greeks, a harmonious individual excelled in a wide range of fields but never dedicated himself to a single profession. This accounts for the amazingly low social prestige of artists, especially sculptors, whose work required too much commitment. Burckhardt provides interesting insights into Greek pessimism, rooted both in their lack of belief in an afterlife and the oppressive political climate. This pessimistic worldview moved many Greeks to focus on wealth, fame, and physical pleasure. Burckhardt's investigation concludes in contrast to the traditional idealization of Greece as the cradle of Western humanism: "the blissful golden age of fantasy has never existed." An instructive excursion into Greek life, provided readers are not intimidated by occasional dense scholarly passages and a fair number of untranslated Greek words. (Kirkus Reviews)


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Author Biography - Jacob Burckhardt

Jacob Burckhardt was one of the greatest historians of the nineteenth century. He is best-known for his monumental Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, two editions of which are currently in print (Penguin 1990 and Phaidon 1995). Oswyn Murray is a Fellow and Tutor in Ancient History at Balliol College, Oxford and the editor of the Fontana History of the Ancient World series. Sheila Stern is a translator and critic. She was married to J. P. Stern, author of Hitler: The Fuhrer and the People.

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