A Cabinet of Greek Curiosities

A Cabinet of Greek Curiosities : Strange Tales and Surprising Facts from the Cradle of Western Civilization

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The ancient Greeks were a wonderful people. They gave us democracy, drama, and philosophy, and many forms of art and branches of science would be inconceivable without them. And yet they were capable of the most outlandish behavior, preposterous beliefs, and ludicrous opinions. Nearly everything in this book illustrates the not-quite-so wonderful aspects of Greek life and thought. Like its companion volume, A Cabinet of Roman Curiosities, this is an amusing and serendipitous miscellany of odd stories and facts, culled from a lifetime of teaching. In some ways, the book hopes to show how much the Greeks were like us. Politicians were regarded as shallow and self-serving. Fat people resorted to implausible methods of weight control. Even Socrates and the king of Sparta used to entertain their children by riding around on a stick pretending it was a horse. Of course, their differences from us are abundantly documented, too-and the book may leave readers with a few incredulous questions. To ward off evil, were scapegoats thrown down from cliffs, fitted out with feathers and live birds to give them a chance of survival? Did a werewolf really win the boxing event at the Olympic Games? Were prisoners released on bail so that they could enjoy dramatic festivals? Did Greeks wear an amulet, to promote virility, the penis of a lizard caught while mating? Did anyone really believe that Pythagoras flew about on a magic arrow? Other such mysteries abound in this wonderfully illustrated and charming journey into the "glory that was Greece."

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Product details

  • Hardback | 304 pages
  • 144.78 x 210.82 x 30.48mm | 430.91g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 81 illus.
  • 0199982104
  • 9780199982103
  • 241,809

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Review quote

In a witty miscellany, McKeown acknowledges the idealised status of classical Greece, but brings it down to our brute level by quoting judiciously from its satirical poets, speculative philosophers, brutal princes and self-serving politicians. The Times Wide reading and an enquiring mind have supplied McKeown with a vast store of quirky information. Eastern Daily Press

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About J. C. McKeown

J. C. McKeown is Professor of Classics at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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