Classics: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)

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The authors talk about architecture, geographic regions, and people who studied classics in the 19th century. The authors swing from one thing to the next without tying it al This book is more about the study of the classics, rather than the classics as a field of study. The authors swing from one thing to the next without tying it all together.

A disappointing first book for the Very Short Introductions series. Still going to try more of these! May 29, Jon rated it really liked it. I got this one solely because it was co-written by Mary Beard, one of the foremost classicists today, and often wryly funny. Not much time for humor here, but an interesting way of organizing things--describing a temple in Greece and then coming at it from a number of different directions in order to illuminate the history and development of classical studies itself, mythology, ancient religion, ancient travel and geography, philosophy, and literature.

Apart from a quibble about what I think was I got this one solely because it was co-written by Mary Beard, one of the foremost classicists today, and often wryly funny. Apart from a quibble about what I think was a bizarre over-reading of one of Horace's Odes, I found the whole thing fascinating. I especially appreciated her dwelling on the well-known phrase "Et In Arcadia Ego. I always wondered where it came from, since it sounds like Virgil but isn't. She says it was inspired by his Eclogue 5; but it was coined by Pope Clement IX in the early 17th century.

I was gratified to learn that Dr. Johnson supposedly thought it was meaningless, which it is unless it is put in some context that identifies who "I" might be. Usually it accompanies a picture of a skull or skeleton representing Death. The phrase then means something like, even in the most perfect place you can imagine, death is there too. But Goethe, after he'd visited Italy for two years, used it to rejoice that now even he had been in Arcadia. It was also used as the title for the first half of Brideshead Revisited , where the young lovers try to have a perfect place in an imperfect world--they mock the phrase, but in the end it mocks them.

A good Short Introduction to a very large topic. Dec 01, Laurent rated it it was ok Shelves: non-fiction. In all its shortness, this Very Short Introduction takes a long time to introduce its premise. Although I admire the way that Mary Beard has approached the vast expanse that is Classics, the opening chapters of this book are extremely slow-paced. This said, the book picks up speed as it moves along. In fact, it is almost distributed like the invers In all its shortness, this Very Short Introduction takes a long time to introduce its premise.

In fact, it is almost distributed like the inverse of a normalised capacitor discharge of course, you totally know what I'm talking about , with interest on the y-axis and page number on the x-axis.

Very Short Introductions

Its apex — in the book's last chapters — is a section addressing some of what I consider the most interesting aspects of Classics: the exploration of cultural and psychological realities through classical literature. In fact: Just skip straight To chapter eight! Oct 06, Susan rated it it was ok Shelves: non-fiction. This book was not what I was looking for when I chose it. I guess I didn't read carefully -- I wanted a short introduction to the classics, but there's no "the" in this title. Instead, it intends to be an introduction to [the study of] classics. Even for what it intends to be, I didn't like it much.

It seemed very strident and polemical, as though the authors were trying to press their points against those who disagreed with them, rather than trying to inform someone new to the subject. The ent This book was not what I was looking for when I chose it. The entire work was built around a discussion of a ruined temple at Bassae Greece.

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Classic authors like Sophocles, Aeschylus, and others were mentioned only briefly. And I really don't think it added at all to my understanding of what the study of classics is. The best I can say for it is that it mentioned a few other books that I think might in fact be worth my reading. Oct 19, Guy rated it really liked it Shelves: culture. When your daughter tells you that she is going to study Classics at Oxbridge, it suddenly seems like a good time to try to better understand what the field of Classics is today and what studying it might be good for.

If this is your goal, then "Classics, A Very Short Introduction" is your book: I found it stimulating of thought and interest. There are of course many things that such a short book is not and cannot be Nov 07, Daniel Wright rated it liked it Shelves: history , vsi , literary-studies , female-author , ancient-history , classical-history.

Ancient Greece and Rome: mysterious, romantic, distant, and exercising an almost disproportionate fascination on many centuries of intellectuals. The authors' choice of Arcadia as the underlying theme of their book is highly appropriate; the attitude of the writers of the cradle of European civilisation to that lost rustic wilderness is comparable to our modern impression of that lost opulence mixed with technological simplicity, however inaccurate that impression may be.

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I confess, I have myself Ancient Greece and Rome: mysterious, romantic, distant, and exercising an almost disproportionate fascination on many centuries of intellectuals. I confess, I have myself indulged in that fascination. I studied Latin and Greek at school, all the while subconsciously wondering what were the unifying features behind the diversity of the texts I studied. But I have to say that, for me personally, this book completely failed to capture that fascination.

It was interesting, certainly, and I learnt things, but it begin to strike me that the whole discipline of Classics was somewhat parochial. True, Greece and Rome were important, and the study of them is not to be neglected. But so what? What about the rest of the world? What about the rest of history? And no classicist has ever really been able to make that argument convincingly, and these two are no exception. Our ancestors, the medievals, through the Renaissance as far as the Enlightenment, were intrigued by the distant past in general, so they learnt all they could about Greece and Rome because that was what they has access to, and nothing else.

I do not see any excuse for continuing to confine ourselves when so much else has become available in the last fifty years, not to say the last two hundred. Feb 10, Mared Owen rated it liked it Shelves: non-fiction. Although I can see, on one hand, that the temple at Bassae was used as a sort of prompt for introducing readers to the classics, I felt at times that I wasn't really learning anything about the classics at all, but rather just learning about a temple; despite being quite interesting, it wasn't what I wanted from this very short book.

However, the later chapters I found much more intriguing and useful. Surprisingly, I greatly enjoyed chapter 7, 'The Art of Reconstruction' as, at first glance, i Although I can see, on one hand, that the temple at Bassae was used as a sort of prompt for introducing readers to the classics, I felt at times that I wasn't really learning anything about the classics at all, but rather just learning about a temple; despite being quite interesting, it wasn't what I wanted from this very short book.

Surprisingly, I greatly enjoyed chapter 7, 'The Art of Reconstruction' as, at first glance, it concerns archaeology. Which I'm not the biggest fan of. However I found that this chapter in particular helped explain things, or at least made things clearer. Chapter 8 I also found incredibly interesting, although that was expected of me, seeing as it concerned literature.

However the the things that were, I assume, intended to make things clearer really just got in the way of the actual points being made. Jun 07, Kuba Zajicek rated it did not like it. Thanks Mary Beard, I yawned myself to shit. I always thought that the classical world is a storehouse of good ideas for people to raid. And yet, Beard's dull narrative gives the impression that the classical world is essentially as mundane as her own use of the English language, which it certainly isn't.

This book is so boring presumably because the scope of it is unfortunate; instead of focusing on the interesting literary side of Classics or its contemporary relevance, she offers long and unin Thanks Mary Beard, I yawned myself to shit. This book is so boring presumably because the scope of it is unfortunate; instead of focusing on the interesting literary side of Classics or its contemporary relevance, she offers long and uninteresting descriptions of Roman and Greek antique buildings, which were admittedly important for their culture, yet should have recieved less focus by an author that claims to have written a "comprehensive introduction" to Classics.

What a waste of time. Dec 13, Emmett rated it it was ok Shelves: classics. I opened this book with a few expectations that I found were not adequately met. Most importantly, there isn't a definition of classics, as the term is used and the field studied. While I appreciate the intention of using the Bassae as a focal point and a thread for discussion, I feel a comprehensive introductory text ought to grant views of elsewhere, too.

It is less what classics is all about, i. Jun 01, Ahmad Sharabiani added it Shelves: 21th-century , non-fiction , historical , literature , mythology. Classics: A Very Short Introduction Very Short Introductions 1 , Mary Beard, John Henderson We are all classicists--we come into touch with the classics on a daily basis: in our culture, politics, medicine, architecture, language, and literature.

Aug 22, Jayaprakash Satyamurthy rated it it was amazing. Well written and thought provoking. Looks at a few specific elements: mainly the temple to Apollo at Bassae, and explores different perspectives thereof to give us a holistic picture of an academic discipline and its relevance. A bit I liked: when they point out that, when it comes to explaining how the ancients built all that stuff, the answer is usually 'slaves'. Another bit I liked: when they get snarky about an early poem by Poe! This is an excellent little book.

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This particular book was published in , but stills feels sharp and fresh. I now have a better understanding about the study of classics, and how those ancient Gr This is an excellent little book. I now have a better understanding about the study of classics, and how those ancient Greeks and Romans still walk and talk with us today. Jan 29, Jerome rated it really liked it Shelves: january I was at first put off by some of the negative reviews. But I felt pulled in by the gentle tour guide introduction to a somewhat obscure to lay people temple in the heart of the Peloponnese peninsula, the Bassae , far removed from Athens, as an entry point to discuss elements of Classical culture.

Included in this "Very Short" introduction is a discussion of the "discovery" of the temple at Bassae by a multinational group, and the taking of some friezes to the British Museum.

Classics: A Very Short Introduction

There follows exa I was at first put off by some of the negative reviews. There follows examples of fortunate discoveries and expansion of our knowledge, while ruing what has not survived; the role of those at the margins of Greek and Roman society; reconstruction of the archaeology of Greek and Roman culture; and a discussion of its effect on literature and thought; as well as other topics.


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The notes at the end contain good suggestions for those whose interest has been piqued. May 06, Evan Crane rated it it was amazing Shelves: female-author , history. Best book in this series that I've read. The only one so far that truly is an introduction rather than an attempt at comprehensive summary. The authors ground their wide-ranging discussion in a specific example, a remote temple dedicated to Apollo near the town of Bassae in the remote Grecian district of Arcadia. Using the device of an anchor such as the Bassae Temple probably makes sense given the purpose of the book — it makes the huge subject Classics more manageable and provides a focal point for the many aspects of classical civilization that intersect at that point.

However, it felt a bit forced to me, like trying to center a discussion of American history on the White House. Tellingly, the most engaging and to me successful chapters were the concluding three, which ranged further afield and left the Bassae temple in the background. Overall, a good book, just a little contrived. Dec 23, Karen rated it really liked it Shelves: travel-the-world. This book was quite readable, and a good intro to the study of Greece and Rome, and their influence in today's world.

Sep 22, Sheri rated it it was ok. I don't know what I was expecting from this book, but it wasn't what I got. I found this to be a slow read that talked mostly about the fact that we look at "classic" things through our modern eyes and are skewed by this even as we try to get back to original meanings.

It had a few interesting points, but I think the author could have provided as much information in far fewer than pages. Having recently read a New Yorker article about how much random stuff you can learn from this collection, I decided to start it from the beginning. I have read some of them, and always found them to be both entertaining and informative but those readings were targeted, mainly during my undergraduate degree. So I picked up the first in the series and it was great!


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  7. Mary Beard I already knew, as she's quite a public personality, but the way in which the book is structured is surprising. The author Having recently read a New Yorker article about how much random stuff you can learn from this collection, I decided to start it from the beginning.

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    The authors take one single temple in Greece, the Bassae temple in Arcadia and study it from all different kinds of angles. They make what could be seen as a dry subject into a vibrant, exciting and relevant one. This is exactly the point of this series, and this is a great start, pages are enough to give you an idea of the subject's vastness and relevance. Jun 06, Pat B rated it liked it. Positives: Great concept for a book, legit master thesis, and some nice anecdotes.

    I learned a few things about Greece which I might actually remember. Negatives: - The overly stylized writing by the popular professors trying to be cool does not age well twenty years later. I felt vaguely like I was in freshman seminar. At times I felt the hammer circling, looking for a nail, etc. Maybe this was a function of editing a much longer work down to pages.

    It felt like a branding exercise from a PR firm. Strunk and White would have gone nuts. Dec 21, Jack rated it liked it Shelves: charmed-im-sure. Beard uses a small temple in rural Arcadia to ask and answer questions that are integral to the study of the classics. Perhaps what I took most from this book was that objects already studied for millennia, can continually be reinterpreted as the biases of the times change, and lead the eyes of students toward different aspects of the works; seeing significance in light of new theories.

    This cumulative study, interpretation, prejudice and expression becomes like string woven through the fabric o Beard uses a small temple in rural Arcadia to ask and answer questions that are integral to the study of the classics. This cumulative study, interpretation, prejudice and expression becomes like string woven through the fabric of Western Civilization. There was some memorable analysis of the scant evidence left to us from the Temple of Bassae, that illustrate in microcosm the entire field, and precisely how more can be learnt from simply looking again.

    This book was not what I expected. It was a simple and quick read, at times I felt it lacked substance. Kristin Romey is the archaeology editor and writer for National Geographic. Her work has focused extensively on the archaeology of the Near East, most recently with Geographic's December cover article on the archaeology of Jewish Galilee and Jesus of Nazareth.

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