This Week in Ancient Greece

October 29, 2009 @ 1:27 pm | Filed under: Art, Books, Fun Learning Stuff

800px-Parthenon-2008The Parthenon. Photo by Kallistos (Creative Commons license).

“It was built about 2,500 years ago and stands on a white marble hill in Greece. Because it too is made of white marble, it seems to grow out of that hill as though it were a group of great trees standing in a small forest.”

—from Round Buildings, Square Buildings, Buildings that Wiggle Like a Fish by Philip M. Isaacson, a book I wrote about in this post long ago

800px-Acropolis3The Acropolis. Photo by Adam Carr, released to the public domain at Wikimedia Commons.

We’re still reading Plutarch’s Life of Pericles.

That which gave most pleasure and ornament to the city of Athens, and the greatest admiration and even astonishment to all strangers, and that which now is Greece’s only evidence that the power she boasts of and her ancient wealth are no romance or idle story, was [Pericles’s] construction of the public and sacred buildings.

The materials were stone, brass, ivory, gold, ebony, and cypress-wood; the artisans that wrought and fashioned them were smiths and carpenters, moulders, founders and braziers, stone-cutters, dyers, goldsmiths, ivory-workers, painters, embroiderers, turners; those again that conveyed them to the town for use, merchants and mariners and ship-masters by sea; and by land, cartwrights, cattle-breeders, wagoners, rope-makers, flax-workers, shoe-makers and leather-dressers, road-makers, miners. And every trade in the same nature, as a captain in an army has his particular company of soldiers under him, had its own hired company of journeymen and laborers belonging to it banded together as in array, to be as it were the instrument and body for the performance of the service of these public works distributed plenty through every age and condition.

“I’m confused,” said Rose, upon hearing (in an earlier passage) how Pericles manipulated to his own advantage a situation involving a political rival and some invading Spartans. “Is he a good guy or not?” This is a question we might ask about many, many leaders of nations throughout history, and one reason I think Plutarch is worth our time is because of the complex and relevant issues he takes on. Understanding Pericles helps us scrutinize our own leaders with sharper eyes.

This week’s Plutarch-ing took place over homemade french bread pizzas, courtesy of Rose. Afterward (yum), we took a look at the different types of Greek columns, and the kids designed their own temples at this interactive British Museum site.

Meanwhile, Athena has outfitted some swift ships and Telemachus is ready to set off in search of Odysseus—or in search of news about him, at least. That is, we finished Book II of The Odyssey. Good stuff in book two. Snarling suitors, Penelope and her loom, and for young Telemachus, a hopeful omen from Zeus:

Then from a mountain peak
far-seeing Zeus replied by sending out two eagles,
flying high up in the sky.  For some time they soared
like gusts of wind, with their wings spread out, side by side.
But when they reached the middle of the crowded meeting,
with quick beats of their wings they wheeled around,
swooping down on everyone, destruction in their eyes.
Then with their talons they attacked each other,
clawing head and neck, and flew off on the right,
past people’s homes, across the city. They were amazed
to see these birds with their own eyes.  In their hearts
they were stirred to think how everything would end.

The Achaians’ hearts weren’t the only ones stirred. Exciting stuff, that.


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Comments

3 Responses | | Comments Feed

  1. Wonderful! My dd is playing that design game right now, thank you for the link.

  2. Anything special about the particular editions you are reading? Illustrations? Want to dive in…

  3. The Odyssey version I’m reading aloud is my old copy from college, Albert Cook’s translation. The girls like its heavy hand with alliteration.

    Sometimes one of them will follow along on the iPod, reading the prose (and more contemporary in style) translation on the Classics app.

    For Plutarch, we’re using the super-rich John Dryden translation. It’s slow going but we kind of like the puzzling-out it involves: what the heck is he saying? I find that the effort of “translating” facilitates discussion—gets us diving in and talking about the text, practically sentence by sentence.