Picks and Pans Review: Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea:Why the Greeks Matter

updated 12/15/2003 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/15/2003 01:00AM

By Thomas Cahill

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Mixing erudite passages with earthy humor, historian Cahill outlines a sweeping, engrossing view of the world's first democrats. Cahill, who has written books about the medieval Irish, the ancient Jews and the birth of Christianity, this time guides us through the greatness of Greek plays, military tactics and political thinking, arguing that Greek democracy was superior in some respects to ours. But the book is also fun. Cahill points out nouns that have become warped over the centuries—"tyrant" once meant "leader of excellence"—and finds Greek roots for today's stories: The Minotaur, kept in a labyrinth and satiated with human sacrifices, was a precursor of Jack Nicholson's mad caretaker in The Shining.

HISTORY

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