The Greek Achievement

Charles Freeman’s overview of Greek civilization is a refreshingly realistic counterweight to many traditional histories which describe only the glory of Greece without the faults. While acknowledging Greek dependence upon slave labor and the suppression of women, Freeman argues that their intellectual and cultural accomplishments were significant milestones in the human experience . Where the fifth century Athenian historian Thucydides called his city the school of Greece, Freeman illustrates how and why Greece has continued to be a source of learning for thousands of years. In addition to Greek achievements in art, architecture, science, athletics and drama, Freeman celebrates enduring Greek contributions to intellectual history, especially their emphasis on logic and reasoning, an ordered universe or cosmos, the centrality of civic life, and human action rather than divine will as causation.

In The Greek Achievement: The Foundation of the Western World Freeman spans more than two thousand years, beginning with the Mycenaean world and following the Greek experience until the reign of the emperor Constantine and the founding of Constantinople. The general organization is chronological, with individual chapters on major historical periods, including the Mycenaean and Homeric worlds, the archaic age, the Persian Wars, the fifth century, the fourth century, the Hellenistic Age, and Greece in the Roman period. These are supplemented with an introductory chapter on the history of Hellenism in eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth century Europe and America, as well as chapters on land and slavery, social relationships (especially between men and women), spiritual life, Athenian democracy, drama, philosophy, and Greek accomplishments in mathematics, science and medicine. Freeman appends a detailed chronology of significant events and a useful annotated bibliography organized according to chapter topics. Interspersed in the text are extensive quotations from Greek authors in translation, ten maps and illustrations, and thirty-two pages of plates, some in color, illustrating Greek art, architecture, and sites.