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Debra Hamel is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.


Books by Debra Hamel:

THE BATTLE OF ARGINUSAE :
VICTORY AT SEA AND ITS TRAGIC AFTERMATH IN THE FINAL YEARS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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KILLING ERATOSTHENES:
A TRUE CRIME STORY
FROM ANCIENT ATHENS
By Debra Hamel


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READING HERODOTUS:
A GUIDED TOUR THROUGH THE WILD BOARS, DANCING SUITORS, AND CRAZY TYRANTS OF THE HISTORY
By Debra Hamel


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paperback | hardcover (UK)

THE MUTILATION OF THE HERMS:
UNPACKING AN ANCIENT MYSTERY
By Debra Hamel


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TRYING NEAIRA:
THE TRUE STORY OF A COURTESAN'S SCANDALOUS LIFE IN ANCIENT GREECE
By Debra Hamel


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paperback | hardcover (UK)

SOCRATES AT WAR:
THE MILITARY HEROICS OF AN ICONIC INTELLECTUAL
By Debra Hamel


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ANCIENT GREEKS IN DRAG:
THE LIBERATION OF THEBES AND OTHER ACTS OF HEROIC TRANSVESTISM
By Debra Hamel


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IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY TWEET:
FIVE HUNDRED 1ST LINES IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
By Debra Hamel


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PRISONERS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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Grene, David: Of Farming & Classics

  Amazon  

4 stars

The title of David Grene's autobiography reflects the twin passions of his life. He was (I betray the source of my own familiarity with him by giving this half of his life pride of place) a classicist who spent nearly all of his career at the University of Chicago. He is perhaps best known as the co-editor of Chicago series of complete Greek tragedies, but he is widely published otherwise. I will always think of him primarily for his translation of Herodotus, published in 1988: I'm wearing out the second copy of the book that I've owned. Grene divided his time between teaching and farming. He grew up in Ireland but bought his first farm in Lemont, Illinois, in 1940. In later decades he divided his year between Chicago and a farm he owned in Ireland.

Grene wrote his memoirs between 1993 and 2002. He died on September 10th of the latter year. The resulting book is brief, but rich in subject matter. Grene writes about his family's origins and the influence on his life and the peculiarities of his Aunt Mary; he discusses the architecture and ambience of the Dublin of his youth and the theater--for which he felt a great affection--and various stages of his professional career (including his thoughts about classical pedagogy).

On the farming side of things, Grene writes about his experiences working as a boy on his cousins' farm in Tiperary.

"That spring there were twenty men employed in Grenepark; the farm was and is over four hundred acres, and very little mechanization was then to be had and almost no system of contracting. Today I doubt if it needs more than five or six men to run it. The laborers in 1929 had, for years, earned twenty-five shillings a week--one pound five. ...Nicholas decided that, at the rate he was paying, the place would go bankrupt. So he did a most unusual thing then; he called the men together, explained the situation, and told them that if they could all take ten shillings he'd be very glad to keep them. The alternative was to reduce the total staff to ten men at a pound a week. They were to decide. They unanimously decided to take the cut and stay."

And he reminisces about farming in the Midwest in the 1940s, a discussion which leads to his discussing some of the characters he knew during the period. Among these was a certain Louis Jacobs, a Lithuanian Jew who'd emigrated to America in 1910:

"He had a little house in town and was himself funny and appealing in a very special sort of way. There was a convent in Lemont with a farm run by nuns with some male help, and they used Louis to do their trucking. He told me one day that Mother Superior had spoken to him and said, 'Mr. Jacobs, I saw you last week trucking stock on a Sunday and that isn't right.' 'No,' said Louis, 'but you know, Sister, that isn't my Sabbath.' 'Ah, but Mr. Jacobs, I saw you trucking livestock on the day before.'"

Grene returns repeatedly in the book to twin themes, the joy to be had from--the rightness of--working a small farm, and the inherent benefit of the bond that develops between man and animal when working a farm.

Grene comes across in these pages as an extraordinary man whose great intellect was coupled with humility and wide-ranging curiosity. His writing is dense, but precise and thoughtful, as if each sentence was polished until it carried its burden of meaning as perfectly as possible. It is an old-fashioned sort of writing, perhaps, but then Mr. Grene lived an old-fashioned sort of life.

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