In Chapter 1, the author assesses the unique and eternal achievements of 5th century BCE Athenian culture. She introduces several basic dichotomies that define her understanding of the writers and events of the period in the later chapters.
One of the basic themes of the book is that the thought and the art of classical Athens is full of meaning for people of later generations. It is the full of meaning for nations, cultures and societies beset by broad-scale and profound social and political change and the accompanying confusion and fear produced in the minds and souls of human beings.
The first question Hamilton addresses is “What gave rise to such an unprecedented and unique achievement?” To answer this question, she says, the reader must understand prevailing thought of the ancient world. Only then can the uniqueness of Athenian thought be appreciated. You must recognize the dichotomy between East and West in the thought and lifestyle of the ancient world.
In a society that offers no hope of happiness or release from struggle and suffering, people quite naturally begin to place their hopes elsewhere. They respond to their condition by hoping for something that lies outside the conditions and constraints they cannot control or influence. Religion becomes some kind of hope for rescue from life. Religion responds by offering either internalization to a spiritual realm or an external hope of a better world and a better life beyond the pale of death.
In the East, people feared what they did not understand. People suffered from different forces, because they didn’t understand them and were told to make the forces more personable and to pay homage to them. The appropriate responses were to make sacrifices and/or rituals.
Chapter 2 – Mind and Spirit
In Chapter 2, Hamilton emphasizes to explain the uniqueness of Athenian cultural achievement in the ancient world. The particular achievement of Athenian life and thought was, for Hamilton, the ability to achieve perfect balance and integration of mind and spirit in human life.
The Athenians examined, analyzed and questioned everything in the world. In their society, people had the right to decide on their own and act in their own appropriate way. When individuals are free, they have the right to think for themselves.
These Greeks were delighted by the life of the mind - by observation, investigation, reflection, and above all by discussion. Greeks were very truthful and could speak honestly and openly at any time. When people gathered together, they spoke about everything they have seen and everything they know, which supports Socrates wanting everyone to converse and discuss.
The art of the ancient Greeks was phenomenal. Their statues portrayed the perfect human or the perfect animal. They could be characterized as the first true realists. This realism recognized the profound beauty of the natural world and of the human form.
Towards the end of this chapter, Hamilton explained her analysis of mind and spirit, and how it came into the religion of the Athenians. These people did not accept Homer’s stories of the gods, because they could see past his writings. They could use reason and intellect to penetrate the surface of these readings and discern the essential truth beneath them. Hamilton believed the Athenians controlled their emotion by reason and the achievement of balance between mind and spirit.
Chapter 3 – The Way of the East and the Way of the West in Art The art of the Greeks is characterized by realism, by proportion; the art of the East, on the other hand, moves away from realistic portrayal and correct proportion in order to represent symbolically ideas or realities not of this world.
The purpose of Greek art was to represent beauty of the real world for the sake of beauty. Hamilton believed Greek art was simple and realistic, and that the beauty is perceived in the perfection of the...