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Editorial Reviews

In this introduction to the classics from Oxford University Press, authors Mary Beard and John Henderson take the Temple at Bassae as a launching point to discuss the architecture, language, literature, philosophy, politics, and culture of the ancient world. Beard is a professor of classics at the University of Oxford and the classics editor of the Times Literary Supplement, thus she infuses her book with an intimate love for ancient civilization and knowledge of how it influences modern culture.

Audio performer Julia Whelan is not only an actress (Once and Again, The Secret Life of Zoey), but a scholar in her own right, and she brings a young, endearing, and sagacious tone to this illuminating work.

Publisher's Summary

This Very Short Introduction to classics links a haunting temple on a lonely mountainside to the glory of ancient Greece and the grandeur of Rome, and to Classics within modern culture - from Jefferson and Byron to Asterix and Ben-Hur.

We are all Classicists - we come into touch with the Classics daily: in our culture, politics, medicine, architecture, language, and literature. What are the true roots of these influences, however, and how do our interpretations of these aspects of the Classics differ from their original reception?

This introduction to the Classics begins with a visit to the British Museum to view the frieze which once decorated the Apollo Temple at Bassae. Through these sculptures, John Henderson and Mary Beard prompt us to consider the significance of Classics as a means of discovery and enquiry, its value in terms of literature, philposophy, and culture, and its importance as a source of imagery.

In a hurry? Listen to more Very Short Introductions.
©1995 Mary Beard and John Henderson (P)2013 Audible, Inc.

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The Cultural Importance of Classics

This is a beautifully written and well read book that is very attractive in its contents. The title "Classics" is very ambiguous and could be taken in a variety of directions. The authors have chosen not to try to give an introductory survey of classical literature, art, history, archeology, etc., nor to overview classics as an academic field of study. They clearly know the subject matter well but have chosen to give an analysis - almost a meditation - on the importance of ancient Greece (and Rome) in the consciousness of western culture.
The reflections are thoughtful, nuanced, and wide-ranging for such a short book. They start from one focus, the Temple of Apollo at Bassae in the mountains of Arcadia, and from that center connect threads to archeology, museum plundering, philosophy, literature, sculpture, romantic poetry, European painting, ancient Greek religion, social stratification, slavery, politics, sexuality, etc., Roman conquest, tourism ancient and modern, British imperialism, modern nationalist reclamation of artifacts, the construction of the modern psyche, and much more. It is an interesting journey.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Sausage112
  • 05-04-17

Good guide, terrible reading

Is there anything you would change about this book?

Wonderful book, cleverly and concisely structured to include a broad range of classical studies and disciplines. Sadly, for me personally, a book written by two British professors from British universities was marred by the jarring American accent it was read in! She read the book clinically and cleanly, with very little emotion or understanding of the nuances of the language. Really ruined what for me was a good read. I know we can't expect Mary Beard to fit recording a reading of this into her busy schedule but surely someone with a base knowledge or appreciation of Classics, or simply the same accent I was expecting to hear from the mouths of the authors would have been preferable.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • A. Gray
  • 01-20-18

Why this narrator?

It was like listening to Siri. So weird. Several names mispronounced.

Book itself felt a bit all over the place with no driving theme. Maybe better read than listened to. Loved M.Beard's SPQR, but this was nowhere near as good.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Mary Carnegie
  • 06-30-18

Can I bear the narration?

This would be a great listen with an appropriate reader! I have to grit my teeth, or laugh. Why an American accent for a book by European authors about a subject that is largely European. I accept that 🇺🇸 citizens have a right to pronounce proper names idiosyncratically when they use a loan word from Europe for things in their own country (e.g. Notre-Dame university like in “There’s nothing like a dame.”) but not for respectable European places or people, (spectacularly, the Scottish Earl of Elgin - a decent Scots town itself, as if there was any connection with the drink often combined with tonic!)
She can’t even pronounce Classical Latin when quoting (she uses an approximation of the Italianised Ecclesiastical Latin, utterly anachronistic, and hardly in harmony with the pagan world she’s describing.)
Americans are often uncomfortable to British ears when reading books about Greece or Rome, because they tend to pronounce names with have a traditional anglicised form quite differently - the characters of “I, Claudius” are unrecognisable in an American rendition of the Histories of Tacitus. Still, I’ll be charitable about that, as the poor souls never had the education in the classics considered indispensable to the schooling of middle-class UK children until fairly recently. But Elgin - that’s arrogant and lazy!
I see Mary Beard has narrated her last book personally... now I know why!

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • markj328
  • 07-01-14

Very difficult for the novice.

What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

Rewriting

Any additional comments?

The information was very cluttered and fragmented. I thought I was getting an introduction to classical Greek/Roman studies. What I got was confused & slightly intimidated.

3 of 10 people found this review helpful