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Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter (The Hinges of History #4)

3.77  ·  Rating Details ·  2,276 Ratings  ·  225 Reviews
In Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea, his fourth volume to explore “the hinges of history,” Thomas Cahill escorts the reader on another entertaining—and historically unassailable—journey through the landmarks of art and bloodshed that defined Greek culture nearly three millennia ago.

In the city-states of Athens and Sparta and throughout the Greek islands, honors could be won in ma
Paperback, 352 pages
Published July 27th 2004 by Anchor (first published 2003)
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Jul 17, 2008 J rated it did not like it
I rather thought, when I picked this book up, that it would provide a great number of little known facts about the Greeks, that it would draw clearly the often hidden connections modern life has to the earliest democracy, and that Cahill would underline the importance of studying Greek culture for what it can teach us today. Sailing the Wine Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter is not really that book. In fact, Cahill’s book is really a quick dip in the bath of well-known Greek history and art, a cul ...more
May 03, 2013 Kathleen rated it liked it
Shelves: history-quasi
Book #4 in the Hinges of History series. I enjoyed it, but was also disappointed. When I think of all the Greeks were and did, and how much they influenced modern civilization, I grow almost dizzy. So I was giddily anticipating this book, but it fell short of expectation.

However, I was intrigued by the notion of the Greeks as intellectual scavengers, sailing the Mediterranean to various ports, bringing innovative ideas and inventions back to Athens and integrating them into their culture. Event
Mar 22, 2010 Elizabeth rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: no one with a brain
Pure, unadulterated garbage. Cahill is not even an historian or a classicist. He aims these books at those unfamiliar with the subject matter, and then treats his audience like idiots. He has no respect for those reading the book, or the civilization he is writing about. He is arrogant and condescending. To use his own words, he is "bellicose, close-minded, pig-headed and absurd". He actually used these very words to describe either those who may not agree with his interpretation, or the Greeks ...more
Rick Ludwig
I am a big fan of Cahill's Hinges of History Series, having read the first three before reading this one. I found that this was my least favorite. The writing is still engaging and touches on the lasting effects the culture had on Western civilization, as in the first three books, but there was less Cahill here. There was a lot of Homer, a touch of Sappho, a lot of Plato, a bunch of Sophocles and Aeschylus, some Eurypides, and a big chunk of Pericles. Those of us who have read these classical wo ...more
Jun 15, 2008 Jennie rated it did not like it
Shelves: non-fiction, history
To me? This book seemed poorly organized, unnecessarily wordy, slightly arrogant, and frankly, dull. This book really didn't do much to convince the reader how, in fact, the Greeks actually do matter. Even though I know that already. I picked it up expecting to be motivated into more reading about the region and it's history. Guess I'll try again later with a different book as my starting point.
Jan 14, 2011 Ammie rated it really liked it
Most of the negative reviews of this book point out that Cahill never says anything particularly original about why the Greeks matter, but be that as it may, it was a good overview for those of us who don't know much history. Also of note: he occasionally throws in inappropriate slang, like "hard-ass" and "schlong", which amused me more than it should have.
Jul 14, 2009 Liz rated it really liked it
This book examines the civilization of the ancient Greeks and shows how their cultural contributions continue to shape our Western way of life even today. He makes use of seven archetypal figures: The Warrior, The Wanderer, The Poet, The Politician, The Playwright, The Philosopher and The Artist to break down the complexities of ancient Greek life into easily manageable sections, then proceeds to show how each of these aspects is relevant to us.

I really enjoyed this book. I'm not an expert on an
Jan 28, 2010 Rebester rated it really liked it
A very good, short, overview of Greek culture for those of us who haven't been introduced through school, or have only seen a few references to myths that we don't quite understand. And for those of us who _are_ students of Greek (and, by association, Roman) history, it draws some interesting conclusions, and allows us to step back somewhat from the slightly narrower focus of university courses and see certain aspects of Greek (or I should say, rather, Athenian, for the most part) culture in its ...more
A complicated and uneven read. At turns fascinating and then mind-numbingly boring. Certainly the most explicit history book I've ever read. Also quite a bit more opinionated and rooted in modern society than I remember from the first two of the series. It tried very hard to convince me to pick up a true classic - so far to little success. I do expect to read the 3rd book in the series (this is the 4th and I own the 1st and 2nd). Call it 3.5 out of 4. But worth a reread.
Gary Chapin
Feb 27, 2016 Gary Chapin rated it it was amazing
I'm going to come to the defense of this book. What everyone else says is true: no new analysis, lots of quotations ... But all of that makes this a fantastic audio book experience. I have listened to it many times over. Sections of mythology and ancient lit followed by musings on same? Really love it.
Sep 12, 2009 Sharon rated it it was ok
I question some of the scholarship in this book.
Jacob Aitken
This book is vintage Cahill: witty, provocative, and probably over-sexed. I have to give him credit--Cahill is a competent scholar and he does cover the relevant topics. He covers the “Greek” outlook on poetry, war, partying, and philosophy. There is some oversimplification, but that can’t be helped.

His first few sections retell the Homeric stories. Some parts are interesting but if you have already read Homer, there isn’t much to add. (Sidenote: Reading this chapter along with the relevant sec
May 10, 2009 Susan rated it liked it
I really enjoyed Cahill's _How the Irish Saved Civilization_ and so passed that on to Scott. He enjoyed it so much that he dug up this book about the Greeks, really enjoyed *it*, and passed it back to me.

I think this one is just as well done, and would be a wonderful read if you either (a) don't know much about the ancient Greeks (Scott's situation) or (b) know some and really want to know more. I, however, was a philosophy major in college, and so read a lot of Greek philosophers. I took an hon
Bish Denham
Aug 07, 2014 Bish Denham rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, history
I am not, by any means, a Greek scholar. Neither am I ignorant of Greece's history, literature, and what it gave to world. What this book did for me was put things into a broad perspective that helped to clarify just how indebted we - Western civilization - are to the remarkable city-state of Athens. So much of our language and our concepts come directly from them. Who knows what the world would be like had they not evolved as they did? But I can possibly make the assumption we would be poorer h ...more
Neil Novesky
Jun 05, 2012 Neil Novesky rated it it was ok
I guess you could say this is a Time Life version of Greek history, not great, not terrible. One strong positive though is Cahill's style of offering on page tidbits in the form of inserts, sort of a magazine style factoid. Some of those actually add to the narrative somewhat. For whatever reason, it seems like he is writing 'down' to the reader. I don't think it is necessarily intentional. But it is a little annoying. For example, he writes 'A legendary figure called Thespis (whence thespian) i ...more
Apr 03, 2015 Jonathan rated it really liked it
This was a fun fast read - a bit vulgar at some points - the point of which I couldn't determine, but the author does justice to the topics he tackles in this survey of Greek Culture. I would especially single out his discussion of Plato and the values in the Dialogues compared to some of the values of Homeric characters. He does a very good job of highlighting Plato's inadequacies (as far as I am concerned).
Jul 19, 2007 Jrobertus rated it liked it
i liked this better than his book on the irish -- it is clear he had more to work with. he covers greek contributions to science art, philosophy and systematic knowledge. it gives a deep sense of the magnitude of their contribution to western culture.
Jan 21, 2016 Laura rated it liked it
Shelves: library, non-fiction, 2016
A look at Greek literature, poetry, political experiments, art and philosophy and how their attitudes and approaches to life...especially their insatiable curiosity....helped develop Western Civilization.
Paul Peterson
Nov 13, 2015 Paul Peterson rated it really liked it
Piqued and renewed my interest in the Classics and I will read at least one selection by Thomas Cahill each year from now on. Promise to self!
Sep 04, 2015 Mary rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Greece from the very beginning to the rise of Christianity. Insightful, many illustrations.
Tito Quiling, Jr.
Jan 15, 2017 Tito Quiling, Jr. rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
Having picked this up at the last minute due to a string of historical books, I put this one at the top of my list after reading that Thomas Cahill's First Volume on the importance of the Irish was lauded well. However, perhaps the author was not able to sustain that interesting take on history as his thesis on reading about the "hinges" of History seems to have been misplaced. Particularly for this volume on the Greeks, what do we not know about the Greeks and their contributions?

More than anyt
Sharon Sideris
Nov 22, 2016 Sharon Sideris rated it it was ok
What a strange book! It seemed rambling, without a proper focus, but when I think back on it, I did learn some new information, so it wasn't totally pointless. What a strange style it was written in as well, lurching from scholarly language to slangy sexual terms all of a sudden. Not really sure what to think of it in general. I will say it was different from your average history book.
Jan 18, 2017 Chikuwa34 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
Jul 11, 2014 A. rated it liked it
Shelves: essays
Review: Cahill, Thomas. How the Irish Saved Civilization, The Gifts of the Jews, Sailing the Wine Dark Sea, Desire of the Everlasting Hills, Heretics and Heroes

The Hinges of History is a series including the above books plus Mysteries of the Middle Ages and a volume yet to be published. I am treating them together because, as one might expect, they share many strengths and weaknesses of the author, Thomas Cahill.
Heretics and Heroes was the first book I read, it being a gift, and, therefore, re
Jun 22, 2008 Kirsten rated it liked it
Recommends it for: readers in the mood for history lite
Recommended to Kirsten by: Maggie
Less a historical overview of ancient Greece than a gloss on the great works of Greek literature and philosophy (as well as the great men/woman (Sappho!)) who produced these works, I found Cahill's style breezy and accessible. Having read most of the works discussed at some point in my undergraduate career, the earlier chapters retrod fairly familiar ground regarding The Iliad and The Odyssey, as well as Plato's Symposium. Later in the book, when the author switches to a discussion of private vs ...more
Sep 01, 2016 Patrick rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
This was my second attempt to read this book. I've given it a four-star rating as I found it (both times I set out to read it) rather plodding. The initial chapters of the book were largely filled with quotations from other books (primarily Homer's The Odyssey) which—because I have become accustomed to Cahill's very fluid, easy-to-read style in his previous Hinges Of History volumes—disrupted the flow a bit for me. Perhaps it is my unfamiliarity with the ancient texts that threw me off? That sai ...more
Eric Hopkins
Jan 19, 2013 Eric Hopkins rated it it was ok
I read Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea several years back for an Ancient World class. My review of it then, and now is that it's decidedly mediocre. Cahill isn't an academic historian, and the book is very much popular history. That's not to say that it's entirely wrong, or even mostly wrong. The best way I can think to put it is that the book could stand to be a lot more right. Some of the basic facts are right, others are iffy. Cahill also frequently comes off as a fan boy, rather than a historian o ...more
V. L. Craven
Feb 12, 2015 V. L. Craven rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own
The ancient Greeks looked at the world as it was and thought, ‘We can improve upon all of this. Just…all of it.’

Well, not really. But that’s what they ended up doing. Whether it was in ways of warfare, poetry, politics or philosophy–even how we thought about being alive and our place in the world–they had their hands in it and minds on it. They wound up creating Western civilization.

Sailing the Wine Dark Sea follows the Greeks from the time when they were separate, warring tribes with very diffe
Evan Hays
Mar 12, 2013 Evan Hays rated it liked it
Shelves: general-history
The weakest one I have read in this series, but I still enjoyed it. The other two I have read were How the Irish Saved Civilization and Mysteries of the Middle Ages, and every time you get at least decent history written in well-crafted language, so that always keeps you interested.

I must say I did feel like I was awash in the sea of Greek history and culture, which at times made me cringe. Don't read this book if you are overly punctilious about sexual practices. Sometimes it is easy to see why
Jan 27, 2015 Richp rated it did not like it
This is not a history per se, but a commentary on an interpretation of history. If one is not that familiar with ancient Greek history, this contains enough to be an overview. The author's title thesis is hardly new, as it has been part of the basis of a classic Western education for hundreds of years. I consider that thesis to be an overstatement (as I also consider How the Irish Saved Civilization).

The opening chapters contain great praise for warriors, even when they choose not to defend the
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Born in New York City to Irish-American parents and raised in Queens and the Bronx, Cahill was educated by Jesuits and studied ancient Greek and Latin. He continued his study of Greek and Latin literature, as well as medieval philosophy, scripture and theology, at Fordham University, where he completed a B.A. in classical literature and philosophy in 1964, and a pontifical degree in philosophy in ...more
More about Thomas Cahill...

Other Books in the Series

The Hinges of History (6 books)
  • How the Irish Saved Civilization
  • The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels
  • Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus
  • Mysteries of the Middle Ages: The Rise of Feminism, Science and Art from the Cults of Catholic Europe
  • Heretics and Heroes: How Renaissance Artists and Reformation Priests Created Our World

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