Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Blogcritic Bennet finds Goldworthy's latest, Slow Death of the Roman Superpower, a bit dry

The Fall of the West: The Death of the Roman SuperpowerI see London Reviewer Natalie Bennett didn't find Adrian Goldworthy's "The Fall of the West: The Slow Death of the Roman Superpower" a particularly interesting read.

"It might make a good board game, but it is hard to get interested in this fast-moving, if shortlived, cast of characters, about which we learn little. So while as a reference this is a handy book, it wouldn't be the best thing to take on a long train trip when seeking an engaging read." - Nancy Bennett, Blogcritics

I realize dates and political context are important but even with my passion for ancient history, I find it difficult to plow through such scholarly tomes from front to back.  Perhaps I'm just too used to doing research on the internet and targeting specific aspects of a culture or a historical figure's life to force myself to endure an unappetizing meal of bare facts without the more interesting human elements many scholars unfortunately tend to overlook in their effort to explain The Big Picture.

Still, somebody has to write the reference books so when we read historical fiction page turners by such authors as Conn Iggulden, we have somewhere to look to check which portions of the story are true and which ones benefited from the author's quite formidable imagination.

I recently finished Iggulden's riveting Genghis trilogy and was so intrigued with this multi-faceted conqueror and that period of history (1200s CE - a bit out of my usual ancient realm) that I've spent quite a bit of time researching some of the details in The Mongol's Secret History so I could be clear on which details of the story and the marvelous characterizations were based on fact.  I actually think I learn more and REMEMBER more this way than by simply reviewing a compendium of facts.

Genghis: Birth of an Empire The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Rome and the Barbarians   Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire (Wordsworth Classics of World Literature)   The Fall Of The Roman Empire (Two-Disc Deluxe Edition) (The Miriam Collection)    I, Caesar - The Rise & Fall of the Roman Empire 

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Zeus: King of the Gods

First Second Publishers have released the first in a series of graphic novels depicting the exploits of the Olympian gods, "Zeus, King of the Gods".

"Author George O'Connor is a Greek mythology buff and a classic superhero comics fan, and he's out to remind us how much our pantheon of superheroes (Superman, Batman, the X-Men, etc) owes to mankind's ORIGINAL superheroes: the Greek pantheon.

In OLYMPIANS, O'Connor draws from primary documents to reconstruct and retell classic Greek myths. But these stories aren't sedate, scholarly works. They're action-packed, fast-paced, high-drama adventures, with monsters, romance, and not a few huge explosions. O'Connor's vibrant, kinetic art brings ancient tales to undeniable life, in a perfect fusion of super-hero aesthetics and ancient Greek mythology.

Volume 1 of OLYMPIANS, ZEUS: King OF THE GODS, introduces readers to the ruler of the Olympian Pantheon, telling his story from his boyhood to his ascendance to supreme power."

Zeus: A Journey Through Greece in the Footsteps of a God     Percy Jackson and the Olympians Hardcover Boxed Set: Books 1 - 5 The Percy Jackson and the Olympians: Ultimate Guide

Friday, November 13, 2009

Art as Plunder: The Ancient Origins of Debate about Cultural Property

This book examines the ancient origins of debate about art as cultural property. What happens to art in time of war? Who should own art, and what is its appropriate context? Should the victorious ever allow the defeated to keep their art? These questions were posed by Cicero during his prosecution of a Roman governor of Sicily, Gaius Verres, for extortion. Cicero's published speeches had a very long afterlife, affecting debates about collecting art in the 18th century and reactions to the looting of art by Napoleon. The focus of the book's analysis is theft of art in Greek Sicily, Verres' trial, Roman collectors of art, and the later impact if Cicero's arguments. The book concludes with the British decision after Waterloo to repatriate Napoleon's stolen art to Italy, and an epilogue on the current threats to art looted from archaeological contexts. Margaret M. Miles is an archaeologist and art historian, now Professor of Art History and Classics at the University of California, Irvine. She has held fellowships at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens, the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and the American Academy in Rome. She has excavated at Corinth and Athens, and did architectural fieldwork at Rhamnous in Greece and at Selinunte and Agrigento in Sicily. Her earlier publications include a study of the Temple of Nemesis at Rhamnous (Hesperia, 1989) and a volume in the Agora excavation series on the City Eleusinion, the downtown Athenian branch of the Eleusinian Mysteries (The Athenian Agora, Vol. 31: The City Eleusinion, 1998).

Performance and Cure: Drama and Healing in Ancient Greece and Contemporary America by Karelisa Hartigan

In this fascinating addition to the 'Classical/Interfaces' series, Karelisa Hartigan suggests that drama was regularly performed in the theaters built within or adjacent to the ancient sanctuaries of Asklepios. She argues that a pageant which showed the enactment of the god healing prompted the dream therapy the patient experienced at the sanctuary. Patients who viewed this drama were ready to receive the nightly ministrations of the deity, his attendants and his animals while they slept in the dormitory at the Asklepieion. The book also investigates the importance of the mind-body relationship in the healing process, and concludes by presenting first-hand material based on Hartigan's experience doing Playback Theater for patients at Shands Hospital at the University of Florida.

Karelisa Hartigan is Professor of Classics Emerita, University of Florida. She is the author of 'Muse on Madison Avenue: Classical Myth in Contemporary Advertising' (2002), 'Greek Tragedy on the American Stage' (1995), 'Ambiguity & Self-Deception: The Apollo & Artemis Plays of Euripides' (1991) and 'The Poets and the Cities' (1979).

Epic and History by David Konstan and Kurt A. Raaflaub

With contributions from leading scholars, this is a unique cross-cultural comparison of historical epics across a wide range of cultures and time periods, which presents crucial insights into how history is treated in narrative poetry.
  • The first book to gain new insights into the topic of ‘epic and history’ through in-depth cross-cultural comparisons
  • Covers epic traditions across the globe and across a wide range of time periods
  • Brings together leading specialists in the field, and is edited by two internationally regarded scholars
  • An important reference for scholars and students interested in history and literature across a broad range of disciplines

Heroic epics have existed in many cultures, from antiquity to the modern day, offering an important means by which societies commemorate the past and transmit memories over time. Yet few attempts have been made to compare these epics systematically or to establish a typology of heroic epic. Nor is it always clear to what extent heroic epics reflect history, or what methodologies might be used to retrieve historical information from epics.

Addressing these issues, Epic and History invites comparison across a broad variety of cultures in which traditions of epic – oral and written – existed and continue to exist. It makes a unique and conscious effort to take full advantage of this cross-cultural comparison to enhance our understanding of this important topic, presenting crucial insights into how history is treated in narrative poetry.

Contributors are leading scholars on epic and heroic poetic traditions. They base their analyses on profound knowledge of the wide range of cultures discussed throughout the book, from the ancient Near East and South Asia, the Greco-Roman world, and medieval Europe – from Scandinavia to Spain – to today’s Egypt, Southern Africa, and Central America.

David Konstan is the John Rowe Workman Distinguished Professor of Classics and the Humanistic Tradition at Brown University; he is also a Professor in Comparative Literature, and a member of the Graduate Faculty of Theatre Arts and Performance Studies. He is the author of Roman Comedy (1983); Sexual Symmetry (1994); Greek Comedy and Ideology (1995); Friendship in the Classical World (1997); Pity Transformed (2001); The Emotions of the Ancient Greeks (2006); Terms for Eternity: Aiônios and aïdios in Classical and Christian Texts, (with Ilaria Ramelli, 2007); and A Life Worthy of the Gods: The Materialist Psychology of Epicurus (2008).

Kurt A. Raaflaub is David Herlihy University Professor, and Professor of Classics and History at Brown University. His numerous publications include The Discovery of Freedom in Ancient Greece(2004) and Origins of Democracy in Ancient Greece (2007, co-authored with Josiah Ober and Robert Wallace). He is also the editor of Social Struggles in Archaic Rome (Blackwell, 2005), andWar and Peace in the Ancient World (Blackwell, 2007), and co-editor of Democracy, Empire, and the Arts in Fifth-Century Athens (1998), War and Society in the Ancient and Medieval Worlds(1999), A Companion to Archaic Greece (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), and Geography and Ethnography: Perspectives of the World in Premodern Societies (Wiley-Blackwell, 2010).

Rome and China: Comparative Perspectives on Ancient World Empires by Walter Scheidel

Two thousand years ago, up to one-half of the human species was contained within two political systems, the Roman empire in western Eurasia (centered on the Mediterranean Sea) and the Han empire in eastern Eurasia (centered on the great North China Plain). Both empires were broadly comparable in terms of size and population, and even largely coextensive in chronological terms (221 BCE to 220 CE for the Qin/Han empire, c. 200 BCE to 395 CE for the unified Roman empire). At the most basic level of resolution, the circumstances of their creation are not very different. In the East, the Shang and Western Zhou periods created a shared cultural framework for the Warring States, with the gradual consolidation of numerous small polities into a handful of large kingdoms which were finally united by the westernmost marcher state of Qin. In the Mediterranean, we can observe comparable political fragmentation and gradual expansion of a unifying civilization, Greek in this case, followed by the gradual formation of a handful of major warring states (the Hellenistic kingdoms in the east, Rome-Italy, Syracuse and Carthage in the west), and likewise eventual unification by the westernmost marcher state, the Roman-led Italian confederation. Subsequent destabilization occurred again in strikingly similar ways: both empires came to be divided into two halves, one that contained the original core but was more exposed to the main barbarian periphery (the west in the Roman case, the north in China), and a traditionalist half in the east (Rome) and south (China).
These processes of initial convergence and subsequent divergence in Eurasian state formation have never been the object of systematic comparative analysis. This volume, which brings together experts in the history of the ancient Mediterranean and early China, makes a first step in this direction, by presenting a series of comparative case studies on clearly defined aspects of state formation in early eastern and western Eurasia, focusing on the process of initial developmental convergence. It includes a general introduction that makes the case for a comparative approach; a broad sketch of the character of state formation in western and eastern Eurasia during the final millennium of antiquity; and six thematically connected case studies of particularly salient aspects of this process.

Colour and Meaning in Ancient Rome by Mark Bradley

The study of colour has become familiar territory in recent anthropology, linguistics, art history and archaeology. Classicists, however, have traditionally subordinated the study of colour to form. By drawing together evidence from contemporary philosophers, elegists, epic writers, historians and satirists, Mark Bradley reinstates colour as an essential informative unit for the classification and evaluation of the Roman world. He also demonstrates that the questions of what colour was and how it functioned - as well as how it could be misused and misunderstood - were topics of intellectual debate in early imperial Rome. Suggesting strategies for interpreting Roman expressions of colour in Latin texts, Dr Bradley offers new approaches to understanding the relationship between perception and knowledge in Roman elite thought. In doing so, he highlights the fundamental role that colour performed in the realms of communication and information, and its intellectual contribution to contemporary discussions of society, politics and morality.

Explores how ancient Romans categorised, organised and described colours, and outlines the principal differences and similarities between ancient and modern concepts of colour. By drawing together evidence from contemporary philosophers, elegists, epic writers, historians and satirists, Bradley explores the definition and function of colour in Rome during the early Empire.

Ethnicity and Foreigners in Ancient Greece and China by Hyun Kim

Why did the Greeks claim to be superior to their neighbors and yet record, rightly or wrongly, that the founders of some of their most important cities were foreigners from the Near East? Can we find similar ethnocentric representations of outsiders in the literature of the other great literate civilization of the Ancient World, Early China? How do the Greek and Chinese representations of the foreigner differ?

These questions are examined in a comparative analysis of Archaic/Classical Greek and Early Chinese historical and ethnographic sources, in particular the 'Histories' of Herodotus and the 'Shiji' of Sima Qian. The author argues that Greece was an integral part of the wider Eastern Mediterranean and Near Eastern civilization and that this had a major impact on the ways in which the Greeks chose to represent foreigners in their literature. He also shows that the Ancient Chinese of the Han dynasty were as assertive as the Greeks in claiming their ethnic superiority over non-Chinese, but concludes that, although the two cultures shared the same breadth and variety of prejudices towards outsiders, they chose to emphasize different categories of differentiation.

Hyun Jin Kim took his DPhil at Oxford and is now University of Sydney Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Classics and Ancient History.

Roman Iberia: Economy, Society and Culture by Benedict Lowe

This is the first book to examine the economic impact of external cultures - the Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans - upon the Iberian peninsula throughout the first millennium BC. Benedict Lowe provides a synthesis of recent archaeological work to place Spain in the broader context of debates about Romanisation during the Republic and Early Imperial period. He adopts a chronological approach, focusing on the processes of integration and regionalism in the economy of the Iberian peninsula.

The book begins with an introduction to the kingdom of Tartessos and the impact of the Phoenician and Greek colonists upon the economy of the peninsula, setting the scene for Rome's conquest. Succeeding chapters explore the growing Roman presence, culminating in the 1st century AD.

Combining literary and archaeological evidence, Roman Iberia provides an in-depth analysis of the Romanisation of Iberia in economic terms: villas, urbanism, pottery and trade and the interaction of Roman and native populations.

Benedict Lowe is Associate Professor of History, Western Oregon University.

The Essentials of Greek and Roman Law by Russ VerSteeg

Countless books detail the development of Roman law and explain the laws of the ancient Romans. Similarly, many scholars have traced the law of ancient Athens. Written for both students and educated lay readers, the chapters dealing with ancient Greece focus primarily on the law of ancient Athens in the 5th and 4th centuries B.C.E.

But material relating to other Greek colonies and city states also plays a significant role in the development of ancient Greek law. The Roman law chapters explore both law and legal institutions and emphasize the growth and expansion of legal principles. Roman law still serves as the foundation for the civil laws of many nations today. And given the importance of globalization, Roman law is likely to continue to influence the modern word for the foreseeable future.

Russ VerSteeg is a professor of law at the New England School of Law and a former teacher of classics.

A Companion to Roman Rhetoric by William Dominik and Jon hall

In this authoritative Companion of specially commissioned studies, 31 scholars from nine countries have combined to produce a survey of Roman rhetoric that explores its wide-ranging cultural importance. The contributors include not only internationally recognized figures with established reputations in the field of Roman rhetoric but also emerging scholars with fresh perspectives on the discipline. Among the topics covered by A Companion to Roman Rhetoric are the evolution of Roman rhetoric from its origins to the Renaissance; rhetoricrsquo;s role in the education and acculturation of the elite; the seminal importance of rhetoric in statesmanship and politics; the relationship between rhetoric and social identity; the philosophical and theoretical underpinnings of rhetoric; the dynamics of oratorical performance; and rhetoricrsquo;s interaction with the major genres and figures of Roman literature. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
This authoritative Companion of specially commissioned studies, 31 scholars from nine countries have combined to produce a survey of Roman rhetoric that explores its wide-ranging cultural importance. The contributors include not only internationally recognized figures with established reputations in the field of Roman rhetoric but also emerging scholars with fresh perspectives on the discipline.

Among the topics covered by A Companion to Roman Rhetoric are the evolution of Roman rhetoric from its origins to the Renaissance; rhetoric’s role in education and acculturation; the seminal importance of rhetoric in statesmanship and politics; the relationship between rhetoric and social identity; the philosophical and theoretical underpinnings of rhetoric; the dynamics of rhetoric performance; and rhetoric’s interaction with the major genres and figures of Roman literature.

This Companion will be valuable to a wide readership including undergraduates, graduate students, and scholars in Roman culture, as well as scholars in adjacent disciplines seeking an accessible introduction to Roman rhetoric. All Greek and Latin passages are translated. The volume complements A Companion to Greek Rhetoric published in the Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World series.
William Dominik is Professor of Classics at the University of Otago. He is a contributor to A Companion to Ancient Epic (2005) and A Companion to the Classical Tradition (2006). He has also published numerous books, chapters, and articles on Roman literature and other topics.

Jon Hall is Senior Lecturer in Classics at the University of Otago. He is the author of numerous articles and chapters on Cicero’s oratory and rhetorical treatises. He has also completed a book on Cicero’s correspondence.

The Deaths of Seneca by James Ker

The forced suicide of Seneca, former adviser to Nero, is one of the most tortured -- and most revisited -- death scenes from classical antiquity. After fruitlessly opening his veins and drinking hemlock, Seneca finally succumbed to death in a stifling steam bath, while his wife Paulina, who had attempted suicide as well, was bandaged up and revived by Nero's men. From the first century to the present day, writers and artists have retold this scene in order to rehearse and revise Seneca's image and writings, and to scrutinize the event of human death.

In The Deaths of Seneca, James Ker offers the first comprehensive cultural history of Seneca's death scene, situating it in the Roman imagination and tracing its many subsequent interpretations. Ker shows first how the earliest accounts of the death scene by Tacitus and others were shaped by conventions of Greco-Roman exitus-description and Julio-Claudian dynastic history. At the book's center is an exploration of Seneca's own prolific writings about death -- whether anticipating death in his letters, dramatizing it in the tragedies, or offering therapy for loss in the form of consolations -- which offered the primary lens through which Seneca's contemporaries would view the author's death. These ancient approaches set the stage for prolific receptions, and Ker traces how the death scene was retold in both literary and visual versions, from St. Jerome to Heiner Muller and from medieval illuminations to Peter Paul Rubens and Jacques-Louis David. Dozens of interpreters, engaging with prior versions and with Seneca's writings, forged new and sometimes controversial views on Seneca's legacy and, more broadly, on mortality and suicide. The Deaths of Seneca presents a new, historically inclusive, approach to reading this major Roman author.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Thucydides: The Reinvention of History

The grandeur and power of Thucydides' The Peloponnesian War have enthralled readers, historians, and statesmen alike for two and a half millennia, and the work and its author have had an enduring influence on those who think about international relations and war, especially in our own time. In Thucydides, Donald Kagan, one of our foremost classics scholars, illuminates the great historian and his work both by examining him in the context of his time and by considering him as a revisionist historian.

Thucydides took a spectacular leap into modernity by refusing to seek explanations for human behavior in the will of the gods, or even in the will of individuals, looking instead at the behavior of men in society. In this context, Kagan explains how The Peloponnesian War differs significantly from other accounts offered by Thucydides' contemporaries and stands as the first modern work of political history, dramatically influencing the manner in which history has been conceptualized ever since.

About the Author

Donald Kagan, Sterling Professor of Classics and History at Yale University, is an authority on ancient Greek history and culture and a scholar of diplomatic history. He is the author of many books on ancient and military history and the coeditor of two bestselling textbooks on world history and Western civilization.

The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome's Deadliest Enemy

Machiavelli praised his military genius. European royalty sought out his secret elixir against poison. His life inspired Mozart's first opera, while for centuries poets and playwrights recited bloody, romantic tales of his victories, defeats, intrigues, concubines, and mysterious death. But until now no modern historian has recounted the full story of Mithradates, the ruthless king and visionary rebel who challenged the power of Rome in the first century BC. In this richly illustrated book--the first biography of Mithradates in fifty years--Adrienne Mayor combines a storyteller's gifts with the most recent archaeological and scientific discoveries to tell the tale of Mithradates as it has never been told before.

The Poison King describes a life brimming with spectacle and excitement. Claiming Alexander the Great and Darius of Persia as ancestors, Mithradates inherited a wealthy Black Sea kingdom at age fourteen after his mother poisoned his father. He fled into exile and returned in triumph to become a ruler of superb intelligence and fierce ambition. Hailed as a savior by his followers and feared as a second Hannibal by his enemies, he envisioned a grand Eastern empire to rival Rome. After massacring eighty thousand Roman citizens in 88 BC, he seized Greece and modern-day Turkey. Fighting some of the most spectacular battles in ancient history, he dragged Rome into a long round of wars and threatened to invade Italy itself. His uncanny ability to elude capture and surge back after devastating losses unnerved the Romans, while his mastery of poisons allowed him to foil assassination attempts and eliminate rivals.

The Poison King is a gripping account of one of Rome's most relentless but least understood foes.

The Gothic War

A period of stability in the early sixth century AD gave the Eastern Roman emperor Justinian an opportunity to recapture parts of the Western Empire that had been lost to invading barbarians in the preceding centuries. It was an ambitious plan to attack such a vast territory with relatively few soldiers and resources. Yet Justinian's army succeeded in checking the Persians in the East and in retaking North Africa from the Vandals and Italy from the Ostrogoths, the strongest and most organized Barbarian tribe in the West. The climactic conflict over Italy between 535 and 554--the Gothic War--decided the political future of Europe, holding in its balance the possibility that the Roman Empire might rise again. While large portions of the original territory of the ancient Roman Empire were recaptured, the Eastern Empire was both unwilling and incapable of retaining much of its hard-won advances, and soon the empire once again retracted. As a result of the Gothic War, Italy was invaded by the Lombards, who began their important kingdom, the Franks began transforming Gaul into France, and without any major force remaining in North Africa, that territory was quickly overrun by the first wave of Muslim expansion in the ensuing century.

Written as a general overview of this critical period, The Gothic War opens with a history of the conflict with Persia and the great Roman general Belisarius's successful conquest of the Vandals in North Africa. After an account of the Ostrogothic tribe and their history, the campaigns of the long war for Italy are described in detail, including the three sieges of Rome, which turned the great city from a bustling metropolis into a desolate ruin. In addition to Belisarius, the Gothic War featured many of history's most colorful antagonists, including Rome's Narses the Eunuch, and the Goths' ruthless and brilliant tactician, Totila. Two appendices provide information about the armies of the Romans and Ostrogoths, including their organization, weapons, and tactics, all of which changed over the course of the war.

The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages, 400-1000

Prizewinning historian Chris Wickham defies the conventional view of the Dark Ages in European history with a work of remarkable scope and rigorous yet accessible scholarship. Drawing on a wealth of new material and featuring a thoughtful synthesis of historical and archaeological approaches, Wickham argues that these centuries were critical in the formulation of European identity. Far from being a middle period between more significant epochs, this age has much to tell us in its own right about the progress of culture and the development of political thought.

Sweeping in its breadth, Wickham's incisive history focuses on a world still profoundly shaped by Rome, which encompassed the remarkable Byzantine, Carolingian, and Ottonian empires, and peoples ranging from Goths, Franks, and Vandals to Arabs, Anglo- Saxons, and Vikings. Digging deep into each culture, Wickham constructs a vivid portrait of a vast and varied world stretching from Ireland to Constantinople, the Baltic to the Mediterranean. The Inheritance of Rome brilliantly presents a fresh understanding of the crucible in which Europe would ultimately be created.

About the Author

Chris Wickham is Chichele Professor of Medieval History at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of All Souls College. His book Framing the Middle Ages won the Wolfson Prize, the Deutscher Memorial Prize, and the James Henry Breasted Prize of the American Historical Association.

The End of Empire: Attila the Hun and the Fall of Rome

A bold new account of Attila the Hun as empire builder and political threat to Rome.
Conjuring up images of savagery and ferocity, Attila the Hun has become a byword for barbarianism. But, as the Romans of the fifth century knew, Attila did more than just terrorize villages on the edge of an empire.

Drawing on original texts, this riveting narrative follows Attila and the Huns from the steppes of Kazakhstan to the opulent city of Constantinople and the Great Hungarian Plain, uncovering an unlikely marriage proposal, a long-standing relationship with a treacherously ambitious Roman general, and a thwarted Roman assassination plot. Attila the Hun and the Fall of Rome reframes the warrior king as a political strategist, capturing the story of how a small, but dedicated, opponent dealt a seemingly invincible empire defeats from which it would never recover.

3 maps; 40 illustrations.