Sailing from Byzantium

  • by Colin Wells
  • Narrated by Lloyd James
  • 9 hrs and 10 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

A gripping intellectual adventure story, Sailing from Byzantium sweeps you from the deserts of Arabia to the dark forests of northern Russia, from the colorful towns of Renaissance Italy to the final moments of a millennial city under siege.Byzantium, the successor of Greece and Rome, was a magnificent empire that bridged the ancient and modern worlds for more than 1,000 years. Without Byzantium, the works of Homer and Herodotus, Plato and Aristotle, Sophocles and Aeschylus, would never have survived.The story of Byzantium is a real-life adventure of electrifying ideas, high drama, colorful characters, and inspiring feats of daring. In Sailing from Byzantium, Colin Wells tells of the missionaries, mystics, philosophers, and artists who, against great odds and often at peril of their own lives, spread Greek ideas to the Italians, the Arabs, and the Slavs.Their heroic efforts inspired the Renaissance, the golden age of Islamic learning, and Russian Orthodox Christianity, which led to a new alphabet, new forms of architecture, and one of the world's great artistic traditions.The story's central reference point is an arcane squabble called the Hesychast controversy. It pitted humanist scholars, led by the brilliant, acerbic intellectual Barlaam, against the powerful monks of Mount Athos, led by the stern Gregory Palamas, who denounced pagan rationalism in favor of Christian mysticism.Within a few decades, the light of Byzantium would be extinguished by the invading Turks, but not before the humanists found a safe haven for Greek literature. And the debate between rationalism and faith would continue to be engaged by some of history's greatest minds.Fast-paced, compulsively readable, and filled with fascinating insights, Sailing from Byzantium is one of the great historical dramas, the absorbing story of how civilization's flame was saved and passed on.

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What the Critics Say

"A superb survey of Byzantium's many cultural bequests." ()
"Wells brings vividly to life this history of a long-lost era and its opulent heritage." (Booklist)
"This history is a needed reminder of the debt that three of our major civilizations owe to Byzantium. Highly recommended." (Library Journal)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

The Missing Years

Accounts of European History end with the sack of Rome in 410, then have a black hole called the Dark Ages, and then pick up the story with Charlemagne. This account of history is very incomplete and inaccurate.

While Western Europe was in decline, the Byzantine Empire was in existence from the year 330 to 1453 during which time it was the wellspring of science, art, literature, and history. This Empire was in existence longer that Britain’s government, if one dates it from the Battle of Hastings in the 1066. The works of the ancient Greeks and Romans were preserved, copied and transmitted. Byzantium and its enemies referred to it as the uninterrupted Roman Empire until its fall.

The author shows that three empires in turn benefitted from Byzantium’s contributions: Western Europe; the Slavic Countries most notably Russia (the self styled “Third Rome”); and Moslems. Significantly, Byzantine monks invented the Cyrillic alphabet for use by the Slavs and translated the bible into a vernacular in the 9th century. The British did not have a vernacular bible till the 17 century.

The term “Byzantine” has acquired the pejorative meaning similar to the term "Kafkaesque" because of complication in messy dynastic changes, the similarity of names of offspring, and theological disputes in which the Orthodox beliefs of the Byzantines were more in keeping with the Christian canon than Rome’s view on the same topics.

Edward Gibbon, a skeptic, weighed in with his acidic and exaggerated descriptions of the worst that Byzantium had to offer. This is hardly a reason to dismiss the innumerable positive achievements of Byzantium and its effect in enlightening Europe and making the Renaissance possible.

See also Justinian’s Flea and the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, both available on Audible.
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- Nikoli Gogol

Dull, Dry, and Learned

I am an avid listener of non-fiction. I had previously listened to Thomas Cahill's How the Irish Saved Civilization and had found it fascinating and of course informative. I have also recently finished The Rise and Fall of Alexandria by Justin Pollard and Howard Reid that similarly entertained and educated me. However, I have to admit that after two determined attempts of academically disciplined listening I have yet to finish this book. It is simply too dull. This book drones on and on, listlessly and lazily listing names of persons until one can hardly remember the point of it all. I don’t doubt for a moment the accuracy of the names, dates, places, and actions cited. I just wish it all could have come together with some compelling prose that could at least propel the read to the final period.
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- Henry

Book Details

  • Release Date: 09-15-2006
  • Publisher: Tantor Audio