Ancient Greece

Guest post by Wesley B.

I’ve always wanted to visit Greece. Something about the combination of its natural beauty – the snow-kissed mountains visible from the sunny beaches – and its immense historical legacy is irresistible to me. Unfortunately, I have not yet had the chance to make my pilgrimage there. Fortunately, few places are easier to experience vicariously through their cultural artifacts – and we have lots of them here at the Library!

A.N. Whitehead once wrote, “the safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.” So, if you’re interested in philosophy – and, as Plato’s teacher Socrates argues, we all should be – what better place to start than with the acclaimed ancient Athenian? We have several volumes of his writing available to check out, and despite the accumulated weight of their age and reputation, I find them to be highly accessible. This is partially due to their dramatic structure – Plato’s works are structured as conversations between Socrates and other notable Greek figures – but also to their subject matter. The dialogues explore issues that are still just as relevant today, such as truth, beauty, justice, and, above all, how to live a good life.

If you’re more literarily inclined, we also have several translations available of Homer’s epic poems, The Iliad and The Odyssey. Though The Iliad is a war story, it’s a war story filled with love – the war itself is launched by Menelaus, the king of Sparta, to reclaim his wife, Helen, who had been abducted by the Trojan prince Paris. Achilles, the greatest of the Greek heroes, withdraws from the war due to a perceived slight, until his lover Patroclus is killed, sending him into a divine rage that turns the tide of the war. The Odyssey takes place after the war has ended, and is a rousing adventure that shows the cunning Odysseus overcoming all sorts of obstacles to return home to his family.

Of course, it’s not all dusty old tomes – we have shiny new tomes as well! In the aforementioned Odyssey, one of the obstacles Odysseus has to overcome is Circe, the witch of Aeaea, who turns his crew into pigs, and attempts to do the same to Odysseus. She does this because… well, actually, Homer doesn’t give her a motive. It’s taken for granted that she does it because she’s a witch, and bewitching men is simply what they do. Unsatisfied with this explanation (or lack thereof), Madeline Miller gives us a different perspective in her aptly titled novel Circe. The first person account of the goddess’s life starts well before her meeting with Odysseus, and continues past that point, covering a broad swath of Greek mythology. More importantly, it allows Miller to flesh out her subject’s inner life, humanizing the divine figure and transforming her from an antagonist to someone we empathize with deeply. Simple yet elegant, Miller’s prose echoes Homer’s poetry while still asserting her (and Circe’s) voice as unique.

And if you want something that’s not a tome at all, we have you covered there too! Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, the latest entry in Ubisoft’s long-running series, tells the story of Kassandra, a Greek mercenary. While trying to find her estranged family, she becomes embroiled in a massive cult conspiracy spanning all of Greece, all set against the backdrop of the Peloponnesian War. As you might expect, there’s a lot of assassinating to be done, but unlike older games in the series, the large (and beautiful!) open world is filled with characters to talk to, do quests for, recruit to your ship’s crew, and even romance! And perhaps most thrillingly (to me at least), you can have your very own dialogues with Socrates.

Online Reading Challenge – May Wrap-Up

Hello Fellow Fans of Reading!

How was your May reading? Did you find something incredible that was set in Ancient times? Or was this month a pass for you?

May was almost a pass for me – I rarely read anything set in this time period. I wasn’t coming across anything that grabbed my attention until I picked up the new book by Madeline Miller and just like that, May turned into another winner for me! (so far I’m five out of five this year!)

Circe is about the Greek goddess of sorcery. She is often depicted as cruel and evil, turning people who displease her into animals or monsters. But Circe is told from her point-of-view and, while she isn’t exactly a kind and gentle spirit, there is a lot more to her story than pure evil.

Born to the sun god Helios, Circe grows up in her father’s vast palace and wants for nothing. However, she is different than the nymphs and naiads of her family and is treated with derision. When she defies the gods once too often (turning a nymph she is jealous of into a monster) her father exiles her to a remote island. Here she must live alone and it is here that she hones her skills as a witch.

Although she is in exile, the world comes to her again and again. We see her encounters with Prometheus, with Daedelus and Icarus, with Odysseus and Penelope and her confrontation with Scylla (the monster she created). Circe grows and changes with her exile, regrets past mistakes and tries to atone for them. She is complicated and multi-layered, neither entirely good or bad, much like us mere mortals.

This book is incredibly well written. There is lots of beautiful imagery, but this does not drag down or slow the flow of the story. The stories of the gods themselves, as it has been for centuries, are compelling. Miller’s twist, to see it from Circe’s point-of-view, creates lots of new insights into these beings – they are selfish, egotistical, dysfunctional, vain and cruel (many of the mortal heroes are no better, especially Odysseus). That Circe has her eyes opened to these faults and tries to rise above them makes her unique and interesting. Highly recommended.

Now it’s your turn – what did you read in May?