Spanning thirty years of intensive research, this book proves what many scholars could not explain: that today’s Western world must be considered the product of both Greek and Indian thought—Western and Eastern philosophies.
Thomas McEvilley explores how trade, imperialism, and migration currents allowed cultural philosophies to intermingle freely throughout India, Egypt, Greece, and the ancient Near East. This groundbreaking reference will stir relentless debate among philosophers, art historians, and students.
“. . . one of the great works of scholarship of our time. McEvilley has brought together complex and diverse data to weave a tightly organized, panoramic account. (. . . ) I should think that [the book] will become indispensable for any and all specialists on antiquity.”
(Professor Katherine Harper, Indologist and art historian, author of The Roots of Tantra )
From the Publisher
Two Worlds, One Philosophical Cradle: Scholar Explores Hidden Kinship Between Eastern and Western Culture in Revolutionary Study
In the Early Days, Ideas Traveled Freely Between India and Greece
A revolutionary study by the classical philologist and art historian Thomas McEvilley is about to challenge much of academia. In THE SHAPE OF ANCIENT THOUGHT, an empirical study of the roots of Western culture, the author argues that Eastern and Western civilizations have not always had separate, autonomous metaphysical schemes, but have mutually influenced each other over a long period of time. Examining ancient trade routes, imperialist movements, and migration currents, he shows how some of today’s key philosophical ideas circulated and intermingled freely in the triangle between Greece, India, and Persia, leading to an intense metaphysical interchange between Greek and Indian cultures.
As the author explains it, “The records of caravan routes are like the philosophical stemmata of history, the trails of oral discourses moving through communities, of texts copied from texts. . . .What they reveal is not a structure of parallel straight lines—one labeled ‘Greece,’ another ‘Persia,’ another ‘India’—but a tangled web in which an element in one culture often leads to elements in others.”
While scholars have sensed a philosophical kinship between Eastern and Western cultures for many decades, THE SHAPE OF ANCIENT THOUGHT is the first study to provide the empirical evidence. Covering a period ranging from 600 B.C. until the era of Neoplatonism and a geographical expanse reaching across the ancient world, McEvilley explores the key philosophical paradigms of these cultures, such as Monism, the doctrine of reincarnation in India and Egypt, and early Pluralism in Greece and India, to reveal striking similarities between the two metaphysical systems. Based on 30 years of intense intellectual inquiry and research and on hundreds of early historical, philosophical, spiritual, and Buddhist texts, the study offers a scope and an interdisciplinary perspective that has no equal in the scholarly world.
With a study like THE SHAPE OF ANCIENT THOUGHT, students and scholars of history, philosophy, cultural studies, and classics will find that their field has been put on entirely new footing. Yet as editor Bill Beckley points out, the merits of this work reach into a broader social context: “More recently, events have leant an unexpected urgency to the [book] by focusing the world’s attention on Afghanistan (ancient Bactria), where much of the story unfolds in this volume, and where the difficult karma of cross-cultural contacts is still alive.”
From the Inside Flap
“. . . one of the great works of scholarship of our time. McEvilley has brought together complex and diverse data to weave a tightly organized, panoramic account. (. . . ) I should think that [the book] will become indispensable for any and all specialists on antiquity.” — Professor Katherine Harper, Indologist and art historian, author of The Roots of Tantra
“This is a wonderful book. The author has assembled material from the ancient Greek world and the world of ancient India and systematically demonstrated the interchange of ideas and mutual influence. . .”— Professor Christopher Chapple, Indologist, author of Karma and Creativity
“Reading it is like reading a novel. Thomas McEvilley has given us the novelistic anthropology of our time.” —David Shapiro, Poet
About the Author
Thomas Mcevilley is Distinguished Lecturer in Art History at Rice University, where he has been on the faculty since 1969. The author holds a Ph.D. in classical philology. In addition to Greek and Latin, he has studied Sanskrit and has taught numerous courses in Greek and Indian culture, history of religion and philosophy, and art. He has published countless scholarly monographs and articles in various journals on early Greek poetry, philosophy, and religion as well as on contemporary art and culture. He has been a visiting professor at Yale University and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, among others. He was the recipient of a Fulbright Grant in 1993 and has been awarded an NEA critic s grant and the Frank Jewett Mather Award for Distinction in Art Criticism by the College Art Association. His other books include Sculpture in the Age of Doubt (Allworth Press). He lives in New York City.
Also of interest:
Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization
(3 vol. set)
“A monumental and pathbreaking work.” —Edward Said
What is classical about Classical civilization? In one of the most audacious works of scholarship ever written, Martin Bernal challenges the foundation of our thinking about this question. Classical civilization, he argues, has deep roots in Afroasiatic cultures. But these Afroasiatic influences have been systematically ignored, denied or suppressed since the eighteenth century—chiefly for racist reasons.
The First Volume (below)
The popular view is that Greek civilization was the result of the conquest of a sophisticated but weak native population by vigorous Indo-European speakers—Aryans—from the North. But the Classical Greeks, Bernal argues, knew nothing of this “Aryan model.” They did not see their institutions as original, but as derived from the East and from Egypt in particular.
In an unprecedented tour de force, Bernal links a wide range of areas and disciplines—drama, poetry, myth, theological controversy, esoteric religion, philosophy, biography, language, historical narrative, and the emergence of “modern scholarship.”