Greek civilization in an illustrated, compact format

Richly illustrated and photographed guidebooks to Greece’s past are legion, especially in this year of riveted attention on the country due to next month’s Olympics in which presumed demand has swelled the normal supply even further. «The Way to Greece» is an unusually titled contribution to this popular genre. It’s written by Maria Belivani, a native Greek who, in between practicing medicine and acting, found time to write, in English, a concept-based «guide to Greece’s remarkable contribution to world civilization.» This is an undisguised celebration of all things Greek, or at least the people, legends, schools of thought and great institutions that together form the Greek experience. Insofar as it begins with the Bronze Age and ends with a section on contemporary Greek writers, it is roughly chronological, but the impression is more thematic. It intersperses sections on Homer, Hesiod and the birth of literature, Greek mythology, the ancient Olympics, philosophy, the birth of democracy, the Macedonians, Hellenistic Greece, and Byzantium and Modern Greece. Each section is divided into approximately two-page summary-descriptions of legends as diverse as Odysseus’ tale, the nine muses, and Hercules’ 12 Labors along with figures from history. Accompanied by maps showing ancient migration routes, quotations from the famous, digressionary sidebars and the like, it gives basic but useful depictions of the various strands of Greek history and myth. Such segmentation and variety in under 200 pages is handy for readers looking for thumbnail sketches on half-forgotten Sapphos or Solons, though this approach proscribes much of a sense of flow or interconnectedness between eras. Readers can nonetheless enjoy the imaginative artwork and layout while learning a bit about or revisiting many of the figures and movements of Greek history. It has also been carefully edited. («The Way to Greece,» Elliniki Grammata, May 2004.)