Classics: A Very Short Introduction
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We are all classicists--we come into touch with the classics on a daily basis: in our culture, politics, medicine, architecture, language, and literature. What are the true roots of these influences, however, and how do our interpretations of these aspects of the classics differ from their original reality? This introduction to the classics begins with a visit to the British Museum to view the frieze which once decorated the Apollo Temple a Bassae. Through these sculptures John Henderson and Mary Beard prompt us to consider the significance of the study of Classics as a means of discovery and enquiry, its value in terms of literature, philosophy, and culture, its source of imagery, and the reasons for the continuation of these images into and beyond the twentieth century. Designed for the general reader and student alike, A Very Short Introduction to Classics challenges readers to adopt a fresh approach to the Classics as a major cultural influence, both in the ancient world and twentieth-century--emphasizing the continuing need to understand and investigate this enduring subject.
About the Series: Combining authority with wit, accessibility, and style, Very Short Introductions offer an introduction to some of life's most interesting topics. Written by experts for the newcomer, they demonstrate the finest contemporary thinking about the central problems and issues in hundreds of key topics, from philosophy to Freud, quantum theory to Islam.
more than just the crime of departing from the proper behavior expected of Greek women. In taking on the male role of fighter, the Amazons are to be seen as just as “unnatural,” just as monstrous a perversion of nature, as the monstrous Centaurs—whose behavior strikes at the most basic rules of human society, the rules of marriage. The defeat of the Centaurs and Amazons amounts to the restoration of the “natural” ordering of Greek society. The frieze proposes, in a sense, that the Amazons are the
unloose basic instincts. You can find a modern female version of this in Fiona Pitt-Kethley’s uninhibited travelogue of Greece, where her quest for what she dubs “the Pan Principle” takes her all round Pan’s Arcadia. The “romantic sight” of Bassae lures her, by day and by night, to this “imposing temple [that has] gladdened the heart of generations of lovers.” Classics studies the erotics embodied in ancient texts and art, whether it is parceled up (as in this Ode) in splendid poetry, daubed in
Modern fiction and film have found the birth of Jesus one of the main incentives for exploring the Roman world. The conflict between Roman paganism and Christianity is central in popular, mass-market images of classics. The hugely successful epic film Ben-Hur (best known now from the 1959 Charlton Heston version, with its breakneck chariot race) is a good example of the power, and longevity, of this theme (see page 138). It started life as a novel, published in 1880 and subtitled A Tale of the
Down a Dream That voyage, of course, is more complicated than simple discovery (as any explorer anywhere must always have found). It inevitably involves a tension between expectation and reality; between, in this case, an image of the glories of ancient Greece, as fountainhead of civilization, and the realities of Greece as a country to be visited. We do not know exactly what Cockerell expected when he set off on his journey from England; nor do we know his reaction on landing in Athens. But it
search for novelty, and for new territories of the unknown. In fact, it turned out that Bassae was the site of a very particular object in the history of Roman culture and its origins. The favorite Roman style for decorating the capitals of their columns is known as “Corinthian.” This title goes back to the ancient world itself, and the Roman architect Vitruvius explained it with a story that the style was an inheritance from Greece, invented by a man living in the Greek city of Corinth. It was