The Mediterranean Sea
Een persoonlijke geschiedenis
A personal history
‘I’m deeply ashamed.’ Those are the remarkable closing words of the latest book by Fik Meijer, respected academic and famous populariser of classical antiquity in the Low Countries. The Mediterranean Sea is subtitled A personal history, and the personal dimension is a particular strength of the book. While innovatively connecting together the civilizations of classical antiquity through the common theme of the sea, Meijer displays even greater originality in connecting the sea with his own life.
Meijer writes for a broad audience and his many readers already appreciate his passionate take on history. Now they can learn about the roots of that passion. He opens the book with his illegal salvaging of ancient amphorae from the Ibizan sea floor in his youth; this is his shame. But what starts as a boy’s adventure story becomes a fascinating account of continuity in space and time on the shores of the Mediterranean.
Meijer shines as an autobiographical storyteller, taking his readers on a modern Odyssey. There seems to be no shipwreck, no nautical reconstruction, no pile of amphorae that Meijer has not been involved with in one way or another, whether by chance or persistence. He switches effortlessly between the modern history he has lived through and the ancient history he describes, interspersing his narrative with quotations from ancient and sometimes obscure texts.
Taking his lead from Braudel, Meijer elegantly construes the sea as the element linking ancient cultures. Drawing on his vast socio- economic knowledge, he traces the trade in wine, artworks and fish sauce, discusses forced migrations in antiquity and the tourism of the time, explains the rise and fall of Athens and of Rome, and pays close attention to Christianity, especially Paul’s sea journey. Meijer may be right to be ashamed of his relatively innocent youthful transgression, stealing an amphora, but his penance, in the form of this book, is more than ample compensation.
- Meijer has an impressive ability to link archaeology, literary sources and historical reconstruction.
- The connection made here between subjective experience and objective history brings the larger picture to life.
- Personal history is not easy to write, but Meijer succeeds superbly.