For the first time in English, one of the greatest masterpieces of historical writing: Jacob Burckhardt’s The Greeks and Greek Civilization.
Born in Germany, Jacob Burckhardt (1818–97) was one of the greatest historians of classical and Renaissance art, architecture and culture. Though he died more than one hundred years ago, his superb prose is as fresh and readable today as it was at the end of the nineteenth century.
The Greeks and Greek Civilization describes, in glorious, elegant detail, the lives of the ancient Greeks and the origins of their culture.
The book has never appeared before in English. Oswyn Murray, the book’s editor, and his translator, Sheila Stern, have been labouring for many years on the text and now, finally, have ready an authoritative version.
In Oswyn Murray’s words, ‘it remains the best account of Greek civilization.’
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From the Back Cover:
Jacob Burckhardt was one of the greatest historians of classical and Renaissance art, architecture and culture. He is best known for his book 'The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy,' and for his work in the history of art. But he was also the inventor of a new approach to history. Influenced by his young colleague, Friedrich Nietzsche, he developed the idea of 'cultural history', which he describes in his famous 'Reflections on History' and set out further in a great series of lectures on Greek cultural history, given originally at the University of Basle in 1872. Now, for the first time, the core of these lectures is available to the English reader, translated by Sheila Stern and introduced by a long essay by Oswyn Murray which places Burckhardt's ideas in their historical context.
In 'The Greeks and Greek Civilization,' Burckhardt rejects idealized descriptions of Greek culture to reveal instead a tyrannous state with minimal personal freedom. For Burckhardt, Athenian democracy provided a forum where dangerous demagogues could bend the masses to their will, and where the individual could do little to resist the decisions of the 'demos'. The book also gives a brilliant account of Greek pessimism: the burden of being Greek, their terrible despair of life and their fascination with suicide. Burckhardt concludes that the real problem and real achievement of the Greeks lay in their inability to accept the existence of an afterlife of any significance, which made the pleasures and pains of life itself so powerfully and so intolerably sweet, even in suffering. Burckhardt's Greeks were the first to understand what it is to be human in the modern sense, and to live in the present without hope for the future.
His book is still, in Murray's words, 'the greatest work of nineteenth-century cultural history and the most convincing portrait of the Greeks in the modern age.'
Sheila Stern is a translator and critic.
'This kind of history aims at the inner core of bygone humanity, and at describing what manner of people these were, what they wished for, thought, perceived and were capable of'
JACOB BURCKHARDT (1818-97) was one of the greatest historians of the nineteenth century. He stood outside the main trend towards political and documentary history, believing that customs and manners were more important than institutions and the imaginative world of art and literature – with its ideas, dreams, fantasies and artistic inventions – contained a deeper truth than the history of events. He was Professor of History and the History of Art at the University of Basle from 1858 to 1893, refusing to leave his native city for more famous posts. He was a friend of many great figures of the second half of the century, notably the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, the anthropologist J.J. Bachofen, the sociologist Wilhelm Dilthey and the art historian Heinrich Wölfflin. He is best known as author of the landmark study 'The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy' and of 'Reflections on History'. His other works translated into English include 'The Age of Constantine the Great' and a selection of letters.
"It was in Switzerland that the shaking of the world was foreseen most clearly… from two rooms above a baker's shop in Basel, by Nietzsche's university colleague, Jacob Burckhardt, once regarded only as a historian of art, now recognised, thanks to his posthumously published lecture-notes and correspondence, as one of the profoundest of historians."
"Burckhardt was a necromancer, with his eyes open. Thus he conjured up spectres which quite seriously threatened him. He evaded them by erecting his observation tower. He is a seer such as Lynkeus (in Goethe's 'Faust'); he sits in his tower and speaks… He was and remained a champion of enlightenment but one who never desired to be anything but a simple teacher."
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Book Description St. Martin's Press, 1998. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # 2558556