cover image Ecstasy and Terror: From the Greeks to Game of Thrones

Ecstasy and Terror: From the Greeks to Game of Thrones

Daniel Mendelsohn. New York Review Books, $18.95 (384p) ISBN 978-1-68137-405-5

Displaying an erudite but accessible prose style, this essay collection is at its best when literary critic Mendelsohn (An Odyssey), who holds a Ph.D. in classics, invokes the writings of the ancient Greeks and Romans “as models for thinking about contemporary culture.” In the first section, he explores the classical world’s modern relevance, looking at the continuing fascination exerted by Sappho, the Aeneid’s political significance, and, in the title essay, how the ancient Greeks’ concern with providing proper burial even for enemies relates to the controversy over burying Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev. The middle section is not as consistently strong, though a feminist reading of the Game of Thrones book series and a reconsideration of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited stand out. In the final section, Mendelsohn tells his own story. Of particular note is his essay about grappling with his sexuality in adolescence while carrying on a correspondence with English writer Mary Renault, whose Alexander the Great novels meshed his two great interests of the time, “ancient Greece and other boys.” Summing up his philosophy of criticism by asserting, in the final essay, that the best practitioners “educate and edify in an engaging and, preferably, entertaining way,” Mendelsohn bears out this contention by his own example throughout this fine volume. (Sept.)