Friday, December 15, 2006


Powells Review-a-day djöd tidigare i veckan på en recension av Classical World: An Epic History from Homer to Hadrian av Robin Lane Fox:

"Greek and Latin may long since have lost their central place in Western education, but the influence of the classical world on our own culture remains very strong. It's there in language and law, and far more vividly present in ideas and ways of thinking about the world. Both the name and concept of democracy came from the Greeks (even if in practice ancient democracies varied massively from each other and their modern counterparts). A century ago, people were fond of comparing the British Empire to that of Rome, and nowadays it is common to look at America in the same way. The great Greek historian Thucydides would have been delighted but not surprised by such analogies; when he chronicled the struggle between Athens and Sparta in the 5th century B.C., he claimed that the events he described would be "repeated in much the same way in the future."
We need to understand the past on its own terms before trying to draw any lessons from it, and for this and other reasons, Robin Lane Fox's splendid The Classical World is to be especially welcomed. Lane Fox, who teaches at Oxford, is that rarest of writers: a distinguished academic who is willing and able to address a general audience. This latest book presents a survey of Greek and Roman culture over some 900 years, beginning with the era of Homer and ending with the rule of the Roman Emperor Hadrian. It is not a narrative history -- events such as the Peloponnesian War or Alexander the Great's campaigns are skimmed over -- but the discussion has a chronological framework, ensuring that we are not presented with a simplistic view of unchanging attitudes and beliefs.
Three main themes of The Classical World -- justice, liberty and luxury -- are each shaped by the perspective of the upper class. For instance, Roman justice was never supposed to be blind but to take full and favorable account of a person's wealth and status. Or consider another recurring topic, the importance of horses and hunting. Few academics mention such things other than in passing, but Lane Fox -- himself an experienced equestrian and hunter -- justifiably stresses these quintessentially aristocratic concerns."

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