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Greek Way, The

by Edith Hamilton

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“Our word for school,” writes Edith Hamilton in The Greek Way, “comes from the Greek word for leisure. Of course, reasoned the Greek, given leisure a man will employ it in thinking and finding out about things. Leisure and the pursuit of knowledge, the connection was inevitable—to a Greek. In our ears Philosophy has an austere if not a dreary sound. The word is Greek but it had not that sound in the original. The Greeks meant by it the endeavor to understand everything there is, and they called it what they felt it to be, the love of knowledge.”

Hurray for the ancient Greeks! Half the work of a teacher, as far as I can see, involves helping your students understand that leisure involves much more than video games and walking around the mall. The American tendency to fill up our free time with distraction after distraction robs us of something crucial: the time to sit still and reflect. We need to sit still and read our Bibles and pray, certainly—but we also need to sit still and read Descartes, or think about our own moral condition, or consider what someone who is hurting might need.

You won’t agree with everything you read in The Greek Way, but it does accomplish its central purpose: the modern reader finishes the work feeling much closer to the Greek mindset. Passages like the one above help us to see how the ancient Greeks viewed reality, and to realize that in some cases their views differed very little from our own. Although the worldview of the ancient Greeks was bankrupt, our shared humanity allows for flashes of recognition: I’ve felt like that! I know why they thought that!

Hamilton emphasizes our shared humanity, and the ways in which ancient Greece has influenced the modern Western mind. Her survey establishes a useful foundation for students preparing to wrestle with Homer and Hesiod.

by Jeff Baldwin