The idea of an entity called Greece is a modern one, which a Thracian of Homer's time or an Athenian of the age of Pericles would not have recognized. Ancient Greek politics was organized along the lines first of family, then of clan, then of neighborhood, and then finally of town or city; the concept of nationhood, the existence of a nation called Greece, scarcely entered the discussion.
But if there was no Greece in ancient times, there is more than one ancient Greece. One, writes the noted classical historian Charles Freeman, can be found symbolized in the Parthenon of Athens, its graceful architecture and statuary bespeaking ideals of freedom, citizenship, truth. But another, Freeman continues, can be found early in the pages of Thucydides, who writes of, among other atrocities, the Athenians' slaughtering the citizens of Melos upon their surrender after a long siege. "Whatever the achievements of the Greeks might have been," he writes, "they developed against the backdrop of a real world, one in which human beings were degraded by disease and where brutality was an everyday part of life."
Freeman traces both the real and the ideal Greek world in this comprehensive survey of ancient history, which opens with an up-to-date assessment of the Greek peninsula's Bronze Age cultures and closes with a view of the survival of classical customs and ways of thought in the Western tradition. Gracefully written, Freeman's fine history will find a welcome place on classicists' bookshelves. --Gregory McNamee [via]