I'm up to 14 completed books this year now, although only 10 of them are filling bingo squares. However, I've just filled the 'number or colour in the title' square, which means I am one square away from a straight line bingo, so if I'm being at all competitive, my next book ought to be for the biography/autobiography square.
But for now, I have two more book reviews, which I appreciate are probably a niche market because they're about homosexuality in ancient Greece, and bronze age archaeology. You know how I said in my last review that a book about early medieval English history was out of my comfort zone? These two subject are very definitely right in my area of interest.
1177 BC - The Year Civilisation Collapsed, by Eric H. Cline. Fills the 'number or colour in the title' square.
In the early 12th century BC, several civilisations in and around the eastern Mediterranean all came to a rather abrupt end in what appears to have been a very short (relatively speaking) space of time. The Minoans in Crete, the Mycenaeans in mainland Greece, the Eyptians, the Hittites in Anatolia, the Babylonians, and others in the near east, all seem to have suffered a similar fate at around the same time, but what caused it, and why?
This book has been described by one of the reviewers as a who-dun-it for ancient archaeology. Cline starts by spending the first few chapters describing the civilisations and their contacts and trade networks and relationships with other in the preceding 15th, 14th and 13th centuries BC. And boy was there a lot of contact. Marriage alliances, wars, trade networks, gift-giving between the kings, it was all going on over a large geographical area, and Cline goes so far as to compare it to the 'globalisation' that we see in the world today.
With the scene thus set, he then goes on to outline the archaeological and written documentary evidence for the collapse that occurred in practically all these places. Many cities were actually physically destroyed, and it is clear that the trade networks collapsed entirely in the aftermath. For many years the blame has been laid firmly at the feet of 'the Sea Peoples', who are mentioned in a few letters and documents of the time, but Cline shows just how little actual evidence we have for 'the Sea Peoples', and instead suggests that it may been a 'perfect storm of calamities' that all occurred from the late 13th to mid 12th centuries BC. Each catastrophe by itself - earthquake, famine, possible invasion, possible internal revolt - would not normally have caused the end of a civilisation by itself, but a combination of many within such a short space of time may have been enough to tip them over the edge, and due to the level of interconnectedness between these ancient societies, when one fell, it may caused a domino effect.
I was surprised by how much of a page-turner this book turned out to be, and I really enjoyed reading it. It's a period that I know a fair bit about already, especially the ancient Minoan and Mycenaean archaeology, but I did learn a lot about the near east societies like the Hittites, that I hadn't really studied before. It's written in a very readable, and in places surprisingly *funny*, style, and in such a way that it can be understood by anyone with an interest and some basic knowledge about the Bronze Age in the area.
The Greeks and Greek Love, by James Davidson. Fills the 'free square'.
This was the huge fat academic tome that I was reading in the early part of the year, which took me several months to actually complete. The tagline to the title is 'a radical reappraisal of homosexuality in ancient Greece', and it's clearly a subject that Davidson is very passionate about. He goes into great detail about homosexuality in ancient Greece, particularly Athens and Sparta and Crete, largely because those are the places for which we have the most evidence. But along the way he also detours around homosexuality in Greek myths, from Achilles and Patroclus through Heracles and Iolaus, Zeus and Ganymede, and a whole host of other examples.
I have to admit, despite the subject matter being right up my street, I struggled on occasion with this book, largely because it really is written in a very heavy academic style. I can imagine this being the kind of book that appears on university reading lists for very specialist courses (and quite possibly *not* on the first year undergraduate list, either!). I could also have lived without the entire chapter that he spent taking apart the works of previous scholars, those which had been considered the 'definitive' works on the subject for some years, and also the major digression about anthropology in the same section of the book.
Nevertheless, I did eventually make it to the end, and there was a lot of interesting stuff that I didn't know before, or was only vaguely aware of and had perhaps got the wrong idea about. I'm glad I read it, but I have to say I wouldn't necessarily recommend this book to anyone unless they a) already have a very solid grounding in ancient Greek studies, and b) are very, very interested in the subject matter. It's certainly not a book for the vaguely interested layman, which is a shame, because the only other book I have read by the same author - 'Courtesans and Fishcakes - the consuming passions of classical Athens' - is very much a book that can be read and enjoyed by the interested layman.
lj book bingo card 2018