Rome’s Revolution by Richard Alston (OUP) £20
Robert Graves and the Classical Tradition (OUP) £75
Fame and Infamy (OUP) £85
Over recent decades, the debate about how individuals are portrayed in prose-texts of Greek and Roman historiography and biography has evolved in increasingly nuanced ways. The sorts of questions which now tend to be raised concerning such prose-texts brings them closely into line with the more subtle analysis usually reserved for poetry. Moreover, the engagement with literary strategies at work in historiography and biography has a fundamental impact both on the relationship of these texts with poetry and on the status of these genres as historical evidence. In twenty-four chapters written by leading experts in their fields, Fame and Infamy considers the central question of characterization within Greek and Roman historiography and biography from a fresh perspective, combining close readings of texts of individual authors and overarching exploration into questions of how and why characterization in the ancient world evolves in the ways that it does. Spanning a wide period of time, and focusing on writers from both the Greek and Roman worlds – from Herodotus to Cassius Dio, and from Cicero to Suetonius and beyond – this volume is essential reading for anyone interested in the evolution of the genres of historiography and biography in the ancient world.
The Pseudo-Platonic Seventh Letter (OUP) £30
The Seventh Platonic Letter describes Plato’s attempts to turn the ruler of Sicily, Dionysius II, into a philosopher ruler along the lines of the Republic. It explains why Plato turned from politics to philosophy in his youth and how he then tried to apply his ideas to actual politics later on. It also sets out his views about language, writing and philosophy. As such, it represents a potentially crucial source of information about Plato, who tells us almost nothing about himself in his dialogues. But is it genuine? Scholars have debated the issue for centuries, although recent opinion has moved in its favour. The origin of this book was a seminar given in Oxford in 2001 by Myles Burnyeat and Michael Frede, two of the most eminent scholars of ancient philosophy in recent decades. Michael Frede begins by casting doubt on the Letter by looking at it from the general perspective of letter writing in antiquity, when it was quite normal to fabricate letters by famous figures from the past. Both then attack the authenticity of the letter head-on by showing how its philosophical content conflicts with what we find in the Platonic dialogues. They also reflect on the question of why the Letter was written, whether as an attempt to exculpate Plato from the charge of meddling in politics (Frede), or as an attempt to portray, through literary means, the ways in which human weakness and emotions can lead to disasters in political life (Burnyeat).
The Rise and Fall of Classical Greece by Josiah Ober (Princeton UP) £24.95
Lord Byron described Greece as great, fallen, and immortal, a characterization more apt than he knew. Through most of its long history, Greece was poor. But in the classical era, Greece was densely populated and highly urbanized. Many surprisingly healthy Greeks lived in remarkably big houses and worked for high wages at specialized occupations. Middle-class spending drove sustained economic growth and classical wealth produced a stunning cultural efflorescence lasting hundreds of years. Why did Greece reach such heights in the classical period-and why only then? And how, after “the Greek miracle” had endured for centuries, did the Macedonians defeat the Greeks, seemingly bringing an end to their glory? Drawing on a massive body of newly available data and employing novel approaches to evidence, Josiah Ober offers a major new history of classical Greece and an unprecedented account of its rise and fall. Ober argues that Greece’s rise was no miracle but rather the result of political breakthroughs and economic development. The extraordinary emergence of citizen-centered city-states transformed Greece into a society that defeated the mighty Persian Empire. Yet Philip and Alexander of Macedon were able to beat the Greeks in the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BCE, a victory made possible by the Macedonians’ appropriation of Greek innovations. After Alexander’s death, battle-hardened warlords fought ruthlessly over the remnants of his empire. But Greek cities remained populous and wealthy, their economy and culture surviving to be passed on to the Romans-and to us. A compelling narrative filled with uncanny modern parallels, this is a book for anyone interested in how great civilizations are born and die. This book is based on evidence available on a new interactive website. To learn more, please visit: http://polis.stanford.edu/.
The Greeks in Asia by John Boardman £27 (£5 off RRP £32)
Laughing Awry. Plautus and Tragicomedy (OUP) £60