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In this introduction to the classics from Oxford University Press, authors Mary Beard and John Henderson take the Temple at Bassae as a launching point to discuss the architecture, language, literature, philosophy, politics, and culture of the ancient world. Beard is a professor of classics at the University of Oxford and the classics editor of the Times Literary Supplement, thus she infuses her book with an intimate love for ancient civilization and knowledge of how it influences modern culture.
Audio performer Julia Whelan is not only an actress (Once and Again, The Secret Life of Zoey), but a scholar in her own right, and she brings a young, endearing, and sagacious tone to this illuminating work.
This Very Short Introduction to classics links a haunting temple on a lonely mountainside to the glory of ancient Greece and the grandeur of Rome, and to Classics within modern culture - from Jefferson and Byron to Asterix and Ben-Hur.
We are all Classicists - we come into touch with the Classics daily: 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 reception? This introduction to the Classics begins with a visit to the British Museum to view the frieze which once decorated the Apollo Temple at Bassae. Through these sculptures, John Henderson and Mary Beard prompt us to consider the significance of Classics as a means of discovery and enquiry, its value in terms of literature, philposophy, and culture, and its importance as a source of imagery.
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The Cultural Importance of Classics
This is a beautifully written and well read book that is very attractive in its contents. The title "Classics" is very ambiguous and could be taken in a variety of directions. The authors have chosen not to try to give an introductory survey of classical literature, art, history, archeology, etc., nor to overview classics as an academic field of study. They clearly know the subject matter well but have chosen to give an analysis - almost a meditation - on the importance of ancient Greece (and Rome) in the consciousness of western culture.
The reflections are thoughtful, nuanced, and wide-ranging for such a short book. They start from one focus, the Temple of Apollo at Bassae in the mountains of Arcadia, and from that center connect threads to archeology, museum plundering, philosophy, literature, sculpture, romantic poetry, European painting, ancient Greek religion, social stratification, slavery, politics, sexuality, etc., Roman conquest, tourism ancient and modern, British imperialism, modern nationalist reclamation of artifacts, the construction of the modern psyche, and much more. It is an interesting journey.
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Bassae-frame almost doesn't hold the subject
"The aim of Classics is not only to discover or uncover the ancient world. Its aim is also to define and debate our relationship to that world."
- Mary Beard, Classics
Using the British Museum's Bassae room and the Temple of Bassae as a framework, Mary Beard introduces us to the Classics. There are points when her Bassae-frame almost doesn't hold her subject, but her metaphor/frame largely holds together. It acts like a map, allowing Beard and Henderson an opportunity to walk around and examine the classics from several perspectives. Readers of the Classics become tourists and Beard and Henderson become our tour guides. Like all VSI, I'm always left feeling a bit snubbed and short shrifted. My whistle is barely wetted and I'm asked to leave room and exit the museum.
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