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Ptah & Co

Dominic Rathbone

8 February 1990
Memphis under the Ptolemies 
by Dorothy Thompson.
Princeton, 342 pp., $37.50, February 1989, 0 691 03593 8
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... Egypt. In the Empire’s subsequent dismemberment by his Macedonian generals, one of them, called Ptolemy, established himself as master of Egypt, founding a dynasty which lasted for three centuries until the defeat of Cleopatra (VII) and the Roman annexation of Egypt in 30 BC. The early Ptolemies encouraged a major influx of Greek and Macedonian soldiers and ...
4 June 1981
The Search for Alexander 
by Robin Lane Fox.
Allen Lane, 439 pp., £12.95, February 1981, 0 7139 1395 9
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Alexander the Great 
by N.G.L. Hammond.
Chatto, 358 pp., £14.95, April 1981, 0 7011 2565 9
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... a military leader will be made. His consideration of the sources includes a startling theory about Ptolemy: that along with Alexander’s body, whose funeral car he diverted to Alexandria on its way to Macedon, he received the Royal Journals, which had been despatched in the cortège with Alexander’s other possessions. If this were so, ...
13 April 2000
The Library of Alexandria: Centre of Learning in the Ancient World 
edited by Roy MacLeod.
Tauris, 196 pp., £39.50, February 2000, 1 86064 428 7
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... held in the ‘royal treasuries’, going on to tell him of the great collections amassed by Ptolemy Philadelphus and his successors. ‘Amr replied that he could not decide the fate of the books without consulting the Caliph, Omar. The Caliph’s answer, quoted here from Alfred Butler’s Arab Conquest of Egypt (1902), is infamous: ‘Touching the books ...

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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... was equally ready to dismiss Megasthenes’ first-hand descriptions of India on the same basis. Ptolemy of Alexandria (c.90-168 AD), the theoretical chapters of whose Geography we now have in a superlative new translation, was the first systematic cartographer to introduce the mapping of geographical points by precise co-ordination of parallel and ...

Bonkers about Boys

James Davidson: Alexander the Great

1 November 2001
Alexander the Great in Fact and Fiction 
edited by A.B. Bosworth and E.J. Baynham.
Oxford, 370 pp., £35, September 2000, 0 19 815287 6
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... too well. Clear, factual and plain, his virtues have been read back into his originals, primarily Ptolemy and Aristobulus, as if Arrian alone had been able to see the solid gold in the gilded corpus of Alexander histories which the glittery taste of the Hellenistic age had allowed to be neglected. Not likely. Ptolemy, the ...

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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... it is clear at least that he ‘lived the majority of his adulthood during the reign of the second Ptolemy (282-46), the period when the Ptolemaic empire was at its height’. He was born in Cyrene, a coastal city more than five hundred miles west of the Ptolemaic capital of Alexandria; it was the capital of Cyrenaica, a wealthy independent kingdom ruled until ...

Hellenic Tours

Jonathan Barnes

1 August 1985
The Cambridge History of Classical Literature. Vol. I: Greek Literature 
edited by P.E. Easterling and B.M.W. Knox.
Cambridge, 936 pp., £47.50, May 1985, 0 521 21042 9
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A History of Greek Literature 
by Peter Levi.
Viking, 511 pp., £14.95, February 1985, 0 670 80100 3
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... will properly lament the fact that Greek scientific prose – Hippocrates, Euclid, Archimedes, Ptolemy, Galen – is ignored. But Mr Levi does not pretend to be comprehensive, and a reader who wants detailed accounts of Ptolemy’s Syntaxis or Epictetus’s Manual may find them elsewhere. Not, however, in the Cambridge ...

Mark Antony’s Last Throw

Michael Kulikowski: Hellenistic Navies

25 October 2012
The Age of Titans: The Rise and Fall of the Great Hellenistic Navies 
by William Murray.
Oxford, 356 pp., £30, January 2012, 978 0 19 538864 0
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... him for building a ‘thirty’ and then a ‘forty’. Pyrgoteles’ predecessors, working for Ptolemy II Philadelphus, had turned out ‘twelves’ and ‘twenties’ in great numbers, creating the largest fleet the Greek world had known. Egypt was safe, more or less, from invasion by land, but this also meant it was not well situated to launch land-based ...

Short Cuts

Mary Wellesley: Making Parchment

30 August 2018
... library to rival that of Alexandria; at its peak it contained 200,000 volumes. According to Pliny, Ptolemy of Egypt was so enraged by his neighbour’s acquisitive habits that he banned the sale of papyrus. Eumenes instructed his subjects to find an alternative writing material, and parchment was born. Where plant-based papyrus was fibrous, brittle and liable ...


Mary Beard: What’s left of John Soane

17 February 2000
John Soane: An Accidental Romantic 
by Gillian Darley.
Yale, 358 pp., £25, September 1999, 0 300 08165 0
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John Soane, Architect: Master of Space and Light 
by Margaret Richardson and Mary-Anne Stevens.
Royal Academy, 302 pp., £45, September 1999, 0 300 08195 2
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Sir John Soane and the Country Estate 
by Ptolemy Dean.
Ashgate, 204 pp., £37.50, October 1999, 1 84014 293 6
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... or even planned – of a skeleton hurling a spear. It would also fit with the impression left by Ptolemy Dean’s attractively gentle watercolours, which he includes as illustrations to Sir John Soane and the Country Estate (a careful study of ten of Soane’s best-preserved country house schemes). These prove, as clearly as anyone could wish, that a ...


J.E. McGuire

1 June 1989
The Genesis of the Copernican World 
by Hans Blumenberg, translated by Robert Wallace.
MIT, 772 pp., £35.95, November 1987, 0 262 02267 2
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... however, and if Copemicus’s astronomy relies on devices used by earlier astronomers, such as Ptolemy, how is the acceptance of Copernicus to be explained historically and culturally? Blumenberg argues that the cosmological authority of Aristotle had in fact been weakened over the centuries. But how is this to be explained? ...
7 April 1994
Joseph Scaliger: A Study in the History of Classical Scholarship. Vol II: Historical Chronology 
by Anthony Grafton.
Oxford, 766 pp., £65, December 1993, 0 19 920601 5
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... many outstanding problems. How were they to synchronise Nabonassar’s era with eras not found in Ptolemy? Was the Olympiad year 776 or 775? Was Funck right in his use of Ptolemy to criticise Copernicus? Was the Attic year lunar or not? Did the Jews borrow their calendar from the Babylonians, so that a whole tradition would ...

Play the game

Michael Kulikowski: Cleopatra

31 March 2011
Zenobia of Palmyra: History, Myth and the Neo-Classical Imagination 
by Rex Winsbury.
Duckworth, 198 pp., £16.99, September 2010, 978 0 7156 3853 8
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Cleopatra: A Life 
by Stacy Schiff.
Virgin, 368 pp., £20, November 2010, 978 0 7535 3955 2
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... To sustain this happy state of affairs meant cultivating the native Egyptian populace like no Ptolemy had ever done before and also ensuring that no one in Italy could forget how valuable she was as an ally. She was in or near Rome at the time of Caesar’s assassination, but got herself out of the way before she became collateral damage. Then, in the ...

Like Fabergé Eggs

Serafina Cuomo: The Antikythera Mechanism

25 April 2018
A Portable Cosmos: Revealing the Antikythera Mechanism, Scientific Wonder of the Ancient World 
by Alexander Jones.
Oxford, 288 pp., £22.99, March 2017, 978 0 19 973934 9
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... act of hubris. Celestial models didn’t only provide opportunities for philosophical discourse. Ptolemy wrote a treatise on Planetary Hypotheses, which addressed the problem of how to create models of the heavens that would reflect current astronomical knowledge. He seemed to regard them as scientific instruments and teaching aids. While not common ...


Ann Geneva: Celestial Lunacy

26 November 1987
... had been determined by tradition and empirical evidence dating back at least to Posidonius and Ptolemy. Another figure would later have been calculated, when the information became available as to the exact time the ships had left port. Perhaps even more enviable would have been Ashmole’s certainty that his position was fully integrated within the chain ...

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