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The Hellenistic World

Michael Grant describes how, after the death of Alexander the Great, the classical world was divided into a system of contending super-states of which our twentieth century world is the heir.

There is classical Greece: and there is classical Rome. But the stirring events in between are still often relegated to a kind of limbo. Certainly, they are studied by specialists. But, outside their ranks, the whole period following the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C. fails to secure the prominence that it should. The proof of this lies in its name, ‘the Hellenistic age’, in distinction (and decline) from the Hellenic, golden age that came before it.

This term ‘Hellenistic’ has never really caught on-and perhaps rightly so, because it is neither beautiful nor self-expressive (and the convention that ‘Hellenism’ can serve as the substantive of ‘Hellenistic’ is hopeless). It is too late to make a change now. But if it were possible to do so, I should like to find some name which declares this epoch to be a ‘Second Great Age’ of Greece. For one thing, it seems hard to regard the age of Zeno and Epicurus, the founders of the Stoics and Epicureans, as anything less.

Moreover, some of the historians, whose works are now lost, may have been almost equally great; Theocritus created pastoral poetry with inimitable charm; occidental portrait sculpture was invented; and, if Bernini deserves a place not too far below Michelangelo, then the sculptor of the Dying Gaul can be ranked not all that distance beneath Pheidias.

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