This course makes some attempt to give a comparative perspective on several of the religions of the ancient Mediterranean. The religions covered are mentioned in the publisher's summary, and if you know very little about the religions covered, you will no doubt learn something about each, as I did. However, some major mediterranean religions are left out, most notably Phoenician/Carthaginian religion; also absent is any treatment of Celtic or Iberian peoples' beliefs. Only the briefest mention of the Etruscans as well.
This is especially grievous in light of the large amount of time spent on Judaism and Christianity; these are no doubt Ancient Mediterranean religions, and thus worthy of some coverage, but they -- Christianity especially -- are covered in more detail than for instance the beliefs of classical Greece; this is unfortunate given that Christianity and Judaism are covered in-depth by so many other Great courses lectures, and are bound to be more familiar to most listeners besides.
There is also very little time devoted to the rituals and actual practice involved in each religion, and too much spent on discussing stories told in the context of ancient religion that are not actually religious documents, such as the various ancient epics. As much as I love the Epic of Gilgamesh, this doesn't seem like the place for a close reading of it; more information about each of the ancient Mesopotamian gods would have filled that time better.
However, if you know very little about ancient Mediterranean, this wouldn't be a bad place to start. And if you are primarily interested Christianity, this course would be a great place to learn about the context that gave rise to it. I definitely learned many things from this course, but I can't help feeling that I could have learned a lot more.
What a great experience this version of the epic is! What a pleasure to listen to. Normally I would bemoan the unscholarly treatment Mitchell has given the story; I'd never condone such loose treatment of, say, the Homeric epics. But given the fragmentary nature of the epic as it has come down to us, such a treatment is the only way to enable us modern readers to really dig in to the story, to experience it as a literary work rather than an archeological artifact. And what a wonderful story, and a titanic literary achievement it is!
George Guidall is fantastic as always; one could not ask for a better reading.
Listeners should note that the epic itself is only about half of the audiobook. The second half is an essay about the epic as literature, its discovery, and the editor's process. Not a bad essay, though a little lightweight.
Garland gives a very succinct and digestible, and yet impressively extensive and deep, account of the kind of details that "capital H" History, if you will, leaves out. This angle on history has garnered more and more interest in the past few decades, and yet it's still fairly difficult to find information on it that's this good. Garland gets into the details that let you really picture life in the ancient world.
This will be an excellent resource to anyone who is interested in ancient history and wants to be able to visualize what it was like to live back then. I'd also recommend it to anyone who wants to write fiction set in the ancient world, as it'll give you some idea of what your characters should be going through on a day-to-day basis: very important for realism!
Garland's diction is not smooth the way one might want the reader of a story to be, but his highly annunciated and somewhat halting speech patterns are actually great for a lecture; it's how one might read a history book aloud to oneself for maximum comprehension and retention of facts. Also, he's got a bit of a lisp, but don't let that put you off; it's really not unpleasant once you get used to it.
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