Michael Macrone

Hardcovers in Brief
(Washington Post, September 8, 1991)

It's Greek to Me: Brush Up Your Classics, by Michael Macrone (HarperCollins, $17). When George Washington observed that “To be prepared for war is one of the most effective ways of preserving peace,” he was paraphrasing Thucydides. The expression “nature abhors a vacuum” comes from Empedocles by way of Plutarch. These are among dozens of common expressions and mixims that the author traces to sources in ancient Greece and Rome. Some of the originals are lengthier and more colorful than our modern counterparts. To “leave no stone unturned” comes from Euripides, whose character King Eurystheus of Tiryns says, “Though I was rid of Hercules, I knew I was hated by his children, and the feud would continue, so I left no stone unturned to find the scorpions underneath.” The book’s title is itself a commonplace, with a source not in antiquity but Shakespeare, specifically Julius Caesar.

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