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Review: The Ancient Greeks

Moses I. Finley

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

The Ancient Greeks

A good introduction to the world of the ancient Greeks with some shortcomings. The book entitled “The Ancient Greeks” by Mr. Moses I. Finley (1912 – 1986) is the type of very informative introduction to the subject that rarely appears.

Unfortunately, despite the undeniable advantages, the discussed work also has its disadvantages, which, in my opinion, have their source in the political views of its author – a Frankfurt Marxist.

Mr. Finley tries, wherever he can, to minimize the inefficiency of Athenian democracy, which indirectly defends contemporary parliamentarisms (even more mass democracy) that are extremely inefficient in solving the current problems of the state. In the same way, he tries to minimize the brutality of the system of rule of the Athenian demos towards, for example, Socrates and other prominent Athenians, writing that it happened as it did, but these are only individual cases. According to him, the great freedom and openness of the Athenian power apparatus is evidenced by Aristophanes’ comedies, staged in public, in which the author often referred to current political matters. He forgot, probably with ideological premeditation, that such a controlled discharge of crowd emotions, through this type of art with a message, is also a good method of manipulating people by the “democratic” elites, which thus give the people a false sense of freedom in expressing his own feelings and thoughts. This “democratic” freedom, as the example of Socrates showed, could quickly turn into a cruel tyrant if things did not go her way. Typical of democracy, the envy of the little people who had power at the moment condemned to exile such men of merit to the homeland, such as the smart Kimon. In Mr. Finley’s story, this message somehow gets lost between the lines of the text.

Short but extremely concise chapters on art or Greek literature from the period of antiquity fulfill their function as introductory texts. Only the constant emphasis on the alleged positive “uniqueness” of democratic Athens can irritate the reader a bit.
Nevertheless, I believe that Mr. Finley’s book, if read with the caveats listed above, is an excellent introduction to the world of classical antiquity.

Purchase book in Amazon

Author: Antypater (translated from Polish: Jakub Jasiński)

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