Thomas Cahill | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Thomas Cahill


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It's tough to review Thomas Cahill's Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday) in a few hundred words: the depth and breadth of the work don't allow for blithe summary. The fourth in Cahill's popular "Hinges of History" series, following How the Irish Saved Civilization, The Gifts of the Jews, and Desire of the Everlasting Hills (with three volumes in the series yet to come), Sailing is written in Cahill's typically avuncular style (though his examinations of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, a vital early part of the book, are quite scholarly) and gives equal credit to the Greeks for their innovative (language, literature, architecture, democracy) and perhaps not-so-welcome (militarism, patriarchy) contributions to Western civilization. Cahill presents his study through a series of six archetypes: the warrior ("How to Fight"), the poet ("How to Party"), the philosopher ("How to Think"), the politician and playwright ("How to Rule"), the wanderer ("How to Feel"), and the artist ("How to See"), all drawn from source writings and Greek mythology. But Sailing's neither dry nor pedantic: the Greek lyric poets are termed "primeval Paul Simons and Judy Collinses, Tom Waitses and Ani DiFrancos," and Cahill's translations of bawdy Greek poetry ("She flipped and she flopped round his cock / As a kingfisher flaps on a rock. / She stooped, slurped him up--oh my dear!-- / like a Phrygian drinking his beer / through a straw, then presented her rear") are more than enough to keep the casual reader entertained. The sum total reads like a lecture by a beloved college professor who's passionate about his subject and who also has a great sense of humor. Cahill will discuss Sailing on Monday, December 1, at 7 PM at the Winnetka Congregational Church, 725 Pine, Winnetka, 847-441-3400, and on Tuesday, December 2, at 6 PM at the Harold Washington Library Center, 400 S. State, 312-747-4080.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Deborah Feingold.

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