Tour of the Mediterranean with a persuasive host

The First Eden PBS, four Mondays, Nov. 2, 9, 16, 23, 8-9 p.m., check local listings. Writer/narrator: Sir David Attenborough, based on his own book ``The First Eden.'' Producer: Andrew Neal for BBC-TV, in association with Australian Broadcasting Corp and WQED, Pittsburgh. ``The Great Persuader'' is back on public broadcasting with another indelible series. Sir David Attenborough, the Cambridge zoologist, writer, and narrator of ``The Tribal Eye,'' ``Life on Earth,'' and ``The Living Planet,'' is returning to the New World with a memorable four-part series about the Old World. ``The First Eden'' is Sir David's term for the Mediterranean Sea and the lands that surround it.

Attenborough is PBS's quintessential television performer. As in all his series, he is not merely host and narrator, lecturer and teacher, he is also a gloriously articulate performer - prancing, preening, and captivating in his role as TV tour leader, guiding viewers through the universe according to Attenborough.

``The First Eden'' recounts the wide-ranging history of the relationship between humans and the whole Mediterranean environment, starting 5 million years ago, when the Atlantic Ocean flooded across the isthmus joining Morocco and Spain into a vast basin that became known as the Mediterranean Sea.

In the royal BBC tradition of Sir Kenneth Clark's ``Civilisation'' and Jacob Bronowski's ``Ascent of Man,'' this master teacher uses every histrionic trick in the book as he cajoles, fascinates, amazes, entertains ... and, in the long run, teaches. Attenborough's natural history is all-encompassing, including captivating capsules of zoology, geology, botany, biology, sociology, anthropology, and archaeology.

If any science receives preference, it is zoology, which is, after all, the first love of zoologist Attenborough. He is at his best when he describes the changing influences of bulls, ibises, ibexes, salamanders, and horses on succeeding Mediterranean civilizations.

The series is a glorious electronic feast for hungry eyes and ears. It is sumptuously illustrated by cinematographers Martin Saunders, Jeremy Humphries, and Huw Davies, and lushly accented with original music composed by Carl Davis. So gorgeous are these trappings that often they threaten to steal some of the spotlight from Attenborough, which is quite an achievement, if a bit distracting.

In the initial segment, Attenborough goes back 40 million years to a time when the Mediterranean basin was formed and brings the area up through various primitive species to the arrival of man.

In the second segment, he examines the early Mediterranean civilizations, including the Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians, and visits locations in Egypt, Crete, Libya, and Turkey.

Then, in segment three, he traces the fall of the Roman Empire and the succeeding civilizations with their impact on the environment.

By the time he gets to the final segment, Attenborough has followed the Mediterranean up to the present, focusing on the pollution and other environmental damages to the sea. He concludes on an optimistic note as he points out the international ecological efforts now underway to reverse the damage done to ``the first Eden.''

I confess that henceforth the Mediterranean Sea and the territories on its shores will be indelibly imprinted in my mind as ``Attenborough's First Eden,'' so vividly has he presented this character study of a region of the world. By making the world more aware of its Mediterranean heritage, he has made us all natives of the Mediterranean Sea.

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