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Don’t be a braying ass

Peter Green: Callimachus, 20 December 2012

Callimachus in Context 
by Benjamin Acosta-Hughes and Susan Stephens.
Cambridge, 344 pp., £60, January 2012, 978 1 107 00857 1
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Brill’s Companion to Callimachus 
edited by Benjamin Acosta-Hughes, Luigi Lehnus and Susan Stephens.
Brill, 726 pp., £160, July 2011, 978 90 04 15673 9
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translated and edited by Annette Harder.
Oxford, 362 pp.. and 1061 pp., £225, May 2012, 978 0 19 958101 6
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... Recent comparisons of the Hellenistic Age with our own fragmented culture may have persuaded at least some curious readers to dip into Theocritus, Polybius or Apollonius Rhodius. Yet how many have so much as heard of Callimachus? The books discussed here are by serious scholars; they require, between them, an investment of some £450, and comprise a total of more than two thousand pages – at a generous estimate, one page for every intact surviving line of the author they discuss ...

What Columbus Didn’t Know

Peter Green: The history of cartography, 21 February 2002

The Extraordinary Voyage of Pytheas the Greek, the Man who Discovered Britain 
by Barry Cunliffe.
Allen Lane, 182 pp., £12.99, October 2001, 0 7139 9509 2
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Ptolemy’s Geography: An Annotated Translation of the Theoretical Chapters 
edited by J. Lennart Berggren and Alexander Jones.
Princeton, 232 pp., £17.95, January 2002, 0 691 09259 1
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Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World: Atlas and Map-By-Map Directory 
by Richard J.A. Talbert.
Princeton, three volumes, £300, September 2000, 9780691031699
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... physical maps of folio size, accurate to the last second of each co-ordinate, in the conventional green-to-terracotta shading indicative of altitude, and ranging from the Fortunate Isles, a.k.a. the Canaries, in the West to somewhere east of the Ganges. Well-known and thickly-occupied areas have a 1:500,000 scale, the outer reaches shrink to ...

Great Kings, Strong Kings, Kings of the Four Quarters

Peter Green: The Achaemenids, 7 May 2015

Ancient Persia: A Concise History of the Achaemenid Empire, 550-330 BCE 
by Matt Waters.
Cambridge, 252 pp., £19.99, January 2014, 978 0 521 25369 7
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... In​ the early sixth century bce the Persians occupied a small region known as Parsa (Persis to the Greeks), now Fars, in south-west Iran. They were allies, perhaps subordinate allies, of the Medes, and had no apparent ambition for greater power. Yet under Cyrus II (559-30) they conquered Lydia, Ionia, Media and Babylonia – most of what today is known as the Near and Middle East – and drove northwards to the Russian steppes and eastwards almost as far as India ...

Apollo’s Ethylene

Peter Green: Delphi, 3 July 2014

Delphi: A History of the Centre of the Ancient World 
by Michael Scott.
Princeton, 422 pp., £19.95, February 2014, 978 0 691 15081 9
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... Delphi​ offers one of the most extraordinary, paradoxical and, for many rationalists, embarrassing success stories from ancient Hellas. It was the centre, the omphalos, or navel, of the civilised world and, as tradition had it, enjoyed the special protection of Apollo. It hosted – along with Olympia, Nemea and the Isthmus – one of Greece’s four major athletic festivals ...

Against Hellenocentrism

Peter Green: Persia v. the West, 8 August 2013

Trouble in the West: Egypt and the Persian Empire, 525-332 BC 
by Stephen Ruzicka.
Oxford, 311 pp., £45, April 2012, 978 0 19 976662 8
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King and Court in Ancient Persia 559 to 331 BCE 
by Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones.
Edinburgh, 258 pp., £24.99, January 2013, 978 0 7486 4125 3
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... In 545 BCE – immediately after the conquest of Lydia by Cyrus, the aggressive and imperially expansive young king of Persia – the Greeks of Asia Minor, who had previously lived under the easy-going rule of Croesus the Lydian, and had received a sharp rebuff when they tried to get a similar deal from Cyrus, approached the Spartans for a protective alliance ...

Image Problems

Peter Green: Pericles of Athens, 6 November 2014

Pericles of Athens 
by Vincent Azoulay, translated by Janet Lloyd.
Princeton, 291 pp., £24.95, July 2014, 978 0 691 15459 6
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... The fifth volume​ of the Cambridge Ancient History, covering the fifth century bc, was first published in 1927. The League of Nations still mattered, the exploits of T.E. Lawrence were a welcome antidote to memories of the Somme and Passchendaele, and the British Empire still coloured a sizeable proportion of the world’s maps red. In classics, W ...

What We Know

Peter Green: Sappho, 19 November 2015

Sappho: A New Translation of the Complete Works 
by Diane Rayor.
Cambridge, 173 pp., £40, July 2014, 978 1 107 02359 8
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... For​ various reasons, many of them neither literary nor trustworthy, Sappho has always exerted a magnetic yet frustrating attraction on later generations. The frustration is due in part to the fact that her poetry is predominantly private, only a small amount of it has survived, and very little has ever been known about her. But it’s also safe to say we’re frustrated because a major feature of our limited knowledge has been, right from the start, the undeniable presence in her work of a clear erotic attachment (in whatever sense) to other women ...

When Things Got Tough

Peter Green: The Sacking of Athens, 7 September 2017

Athens Burning: The Persian Invasion of Greece and the Evacuation of Attica 
by Robert Garland.
Johns Hopkins, 170 pp., £15, February 2017, 978 1 4214 2196 4
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... In 413​  bce, outside Syracuse, the Athenian general Nicias, old and mortally ill, tried to rally the spirits of his defeated troops before their final retreat. A city, he told them, consists of its men, not of its walls or its empty ships. He had in mind their own city of Athens. In 480-79 bce, about a decade before Nicias was born, Athens had been systematically sacked and burned, not once but twice, by Xerxes’ invading Persian army; yet its citizens survived, against apparently insurmountable odds, to inflict crushing defeats on the invaders, first by sea off Salamis, and the following year by land at Plataea in Boeotia ...

Questions of Class

Peter Green: Alcibiades the Vandal, 25 April 2013

The Mutilation of the Herms: Unpacking an Ancient Mystery 
by Debra Hamel.
CreateSpace, 54 pp., £5, March 2012, 978 1 4750 5193 3
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... On a summer morning in late May or early June of 415 BCE, the inhabitants of Athens woke to the discovery that the city’s numerous Herms – images of Hermes consisting of a square-cut stone pillar topped by a bearded head, and displaying an erect phallus, but otherwise aniconic – had been vandalised during the night: their faces had been cut about, and their phalluses may also have been damaged ...

Class War

Peter Green: Class War in Ancient Athens, 20 April 2017

Democracy’s Slaves: A Political History of Ancient Greece 
by Paulin Ismard, translated by Jane Marie Todd.
Harvard, 188 pp., £25.95, January 2017, 978 0 674 66007 6
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... At first sight​ – and indeed after careful investigation – ancient Athens looks anything but an ideal spot for the incubation and development of democracy, whether direct, representative, or the uneasy compromise that eventually emerged. Athens prided itself on having been the sole city not to fall to invaders during the general collapse of Mycenaean dynasties in Greece c ...


Peter Green: Love in Ancient Greece, 8 May 2008

The Greeks and Greek Love: A Radical Reappraisal of Homosexuality in Ancient Greece 
by James Davidson.
Weidenfeld, 634 pp., £30, November 2007, 978 0 297 81997 4
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... No one reading James Davidson’s enormous and impassioned book, which barely acknowledges the existence, much less the vast numerical superiority, of Greek heterosexual society, would get the impression that Greek homoeroticism was anything less than the central principle determining the varied cultural patterns of all those obstinately independent and idiosyncratic city-states ...

I want to be a star

Peter Green: Bedazzling Alcibiades, 24 January 2019

Nemesis: Alcibiades and the Fall of Athens 
by David Stuttard.
Harvard, 380 pp., £21.95, April 2018, 978 0 674 66044 1
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... Of​ the many enigmas bequeathed by the ancient world to its modern students, few are more tantalising than the seemingly indestructible charisma of Alcibiades (born c.453 bce). After a lifetime of personal scandal, political failure and multiple public betrayals, including that of his country to the Spartans, this enfant terrible still remained, even as a penniless exile, the subject (as Aristophanes makes clear in The Frogs) of intense discussion in Athens ...

On Liking Herodotus

Peter Green, 3 April 2014

The Histories 
by Herodotus, translated by Tom Holland.
Penguin, 834 pp., £25, September 2013, 978 0 7139 9977 8
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Herodotus: Vol. I, Herodotus and the Narrative of the Past 
edited by Rosaria Vignolo Munson.
Oxford, 495 pp., £40, August 2013, 978 0 19 958757 5
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Herodotus: Vol. II, Herodotus and the World 
edited by Rosaria Vignolo Munson.
Oxford, 473 pp., £40, August 2013, 978 0 19 958759 9
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Textual Rivals: Self-Presentation in Herodotus’ ‘Histories’ 
by David Branscome.
Michigan, 272 pp., £60.50, November 2013, 978 0 472 11894 6
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The Invention of Greek Ethnography: From Homer to Herodotus 
by Joseph Skinner.
Oxford, 343 pp., £55, September 2012, 978 0 19 979360 0
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... When, as a vaguely anti-authoritarian ex-service undergraduate, I first studied Herodotus seriously in the years immediately following the Second World War, my overriding impression was of a man both broad-minded and cosmopolitan; fascinated by the infinite varieties of human nature; surprisingly alert to the influence of women in history, which I’ve always thought of as the subtext, by no means always sexual, of so much public action; appreciative of thaumata, marvels, wherever they might be found (parallels with the New World suggested themselves); and open-minded about religion ...

The Empty Bath

Colin Burrow: ‘The Iliad’, 18 June 2015

Homer: ‘The Iliad’ 
translated by Peter Green.
California, 560 pp., £19.95, May 2015, 978 0 520 28141 7
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... bathtub figures towards the end of the poem, when the Trojan hero Hector (as I will call him: Peter Green believes we should eradicate the familiar Roman equivalents for Homer’s names, so he calls him Hektōr) has been killed by Achilles (and, phew, Green calls him Achilles rather than Akhilleus: two cheers for ...


James Davidson: Apollonios Rhodios, 5 March 1998

Apollonios Rhodios: The Argonautika 
translated by Peter Green.
California, 480 pp., £45, November 1997, 0 520 07686 9
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... the poem, as well as the Argo, is delayed by a long digresson on the origin of the Etesian winds. Peter Green, meanwhile, a historian of the Hellenistic world, has spent the best part of a decade producing his annotated translation and uses his excellent Introduction to zoom in on Apollonius’ use of the fantastic. All of them challenge the notion of ...

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