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Syme’s Revolution

Hugh Lloyd-Jones

24 January 1980
Roman Papers 
by Ronald Syme, edited by E. Badian.
Oxford, 878 pp., £35, November 1980, 0 19 814367 2
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... During the fifty years that have elapsed since the publication of the earliest of the essays collected in these volumes, there has been a revolution in the study of Roman history in which RonaldSyme has played a part comparable with that of Augustus in the revolution which his most famous book describes. When his career began, that study was still dominated by the gigantic figure of Theodor ...
4 September 1980
... Erudite controversies serve a variety of purposes. On the lowest count they afford nutriment, unfailing even if meagre, to tired and traditional topics. Industry reaps easy reward since bibliographies abound. There is a further benefit if the evidence never offered prospects of a solution. A number of problems, ostensibly historical, are devoid of substance. For example, the Date of the Nativity. When ...
22 March 1990
Cleopatra: Histories, Dreams and Distortions 
by Lucy Hughes-Hallett.
Bloomsbury, 338 pp., £16.95, February 1990, 0 7475 0093 2
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... justify its often quite sensible, though hardly difficult insights into Cleopatra’s myth and history by ponderous appeals to the work of an ill-assorted range of academic luminaries: from Lacan to RonaldSyme; from Mary Douglas to Nietzsche. It is not that Douglas’s views on the Abominations of Leviticus and on the symbolic role of ‘the anomalous’ are no longer interesting. But, at least in the ...

Todd Almighty

Peter Medawar

16 February 1984
A Time to Remember: The Autobiography of a Chemist 
by Alexander Todd.
Cambridge, 257 pp., £15, November 1983, 0 521 25593 7
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... of all doubles – membership of our own Order of Merit and of the Order Pour le Mérite, the German model of our own. I believe the only two others who have won this double are Henry Moore and Sir RonaldSyme. Nothing could be more interesting than to learn such a man’s views on unilateral nuclear disarmament, the Greenham Common women, the exhaustion of fossil fuels and the fitness of women for ...


Miriam Griffin

13 February 1992
Cicero the Senior Statesman 
by Thomas Mitchell.
Yale, 345 pp., £22.50, May 1991, 0 300 04779 7
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Cicero the Politician 
by Christian Habicht.
Johns Hopkins, 148 pp., £17.50, April 1990, 9780801838729
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... Republic. Not because he had any illusions about Caesar or Augustus, but because he wanted to discount the propaganda of the victor of Actium and see the Roman Revolution as it looked to the loser, RonaldSyme wrote about Cicero in the ironic and hostile tone of Antony’s partisan Asinius Pollio: ‘Cicero was a humane and cultivated man, an enduring influence on the course of all European ...

Not You

Mary Beard

23 January 1997
Compromising Traditions: The Personal Voice in Classical Scholarship 
edited by J.P. Hallett and T. van Nortwick.
Routledge, 196 pp., £42.50, November 1996, 0 415 14284 9
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... voice, but that it can offer different frames for ‘getting personal’ outside the single (and ultimately generic) mode of the first-person pronoun. It is hard to read almost anything written by RonaldSyme, for example, from The Roman Revolution to History in Ovid, without recognising its intensely personal and sometimes political charge; the same could also be said of Finley on slavery or ...

I shall be read

Denis Feeney: Ovid’s Revenge

17 August 2006
Ovid: The Poems of Exile: ‘Tristia’ and the ‘Black Sea Letters’ 
translated by Peter Green.
California, 451 pp., £12.95, March 2005, 0 520 24260 2
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Ovid: Epistulae ex Ponto, Book I 
translated and edited by Jan Felix Gaertner.
Oxford, 606 pp., £90, October 2005, 0 19 927721 4
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... over this, Caesar could have no rights. Earlier generations could detect only abasement in Ovid’s frequent addresses to Augustus pleading for permission to return, and it took the acuity of RonaldSyme in History in Ovid (1978) to perceive the self-assertion and protest behind the screen. Ovid knew that in Augustus he was dealing with a reader paranoid enough to beat any postmodern advocate of ...

No More Scissors and Paste

Mary Beard: R.G. Collingwood

25 March 2010
History Man: The Life of R.G. Collingwood 
by Fred Inglis.
Princeton, 385 pp., £23.95, 0 691 13014 0
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... 1920s and 1930s Oxford than Inglis is prepared to concede. As well as the revolutions in philosophy that were underway, it was the time that Roman history was being rethought (and repoliticised) by RonaldSyme, whose famous Roman Revolution appeared in 1939. For all the engaging enthusiasm of the book, two important questions about Collingwood’s achievements and his academic profile remain only half ...

I just let him have his beer

Christopher Tayler: John Williams Made it Work

9 December 2019
The Man who Wrote the Perfect Novel: John Williams, ‘Stoner’ and the Writing Life 
by Charles Shields.
Texas, 305 pp., £23.99, October 2018, 978 1 4773 1736 5
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Nothing but the Night 
by John Williams.
NYRB, 144 pp., $14.95, February 2019, 978 1 68137 307 2
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... and the family weathered the Great Depression on his earnings as a janitor at the post office, a job that was made secure by New Deal investment in their hometown, Wichita Falls. Greatly impressed by Ronald Colman as Sydney Carton in Selznick’s Tale of Two Cities, on whom he began to model himself, Williams at 15 was the subject of a feature in the local paper: ‘No other student even approaches him ...

Grande Dame

D.A.N. Jones

18 July 1985
With Open Eyes: Conversations with Matthieu Galey 
by Marguerite Yourcenar, translated by Arthur Goldhammer.
Beacon, 271 pp., £19.95, October 1984, 0 8070 6354 1
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The Dark Brain of Piranesi, and Other Essays 
by Marguerite Yourcenar, translated with the author Richard Howard.
Aidan Ellis, 232 pp., £9.50, June 1985, 0 85628 140 9
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by Marguerite Yourcenar, translated with the author Walter Kaiser.
Aidan Ellis, 105 pp., £8.95, January 1984, 0 85628 138 7
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Coup de Grâce 
by Marguerite Yourcenar, translated with the author Grace Frick .
Black Swan, 112 pp., £2.50, October 1984, 9780552991216
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... book, partly because it is so bad. It is a history of Roman emperors, from Hadrian to Diocletian, by an unknown author (or authors, with false names), compiled in the fourth century, perhaps. In 1980 RonaldSyme in the London Review denounced it as a hoax. There is a Penguin translation by Anthony Birley, called Lives of the Later Caesars. To dip into it is rather like finding old newspapers under the ...

When Rome Conquered Italy

Emma Dench: Rome’s Cultural Revolution

25 February 2010
Rome’s Cultural Revolution 
by Andrew Wallace-Hadrill.
Cambridge, 502 pp., £29.99, November 2008, 978 0 521 72160 8
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... of Actium in 31 BCE. The ‘revolution’ of his title signals that he is engaging in a conversation with a work written in the heyday of European appropriation of the symbolism of Roman power, RonaldSyme’s The Roman Revolution, a classic since its first publication in 1939. In Syme’s gripping and seductive treatment of Augustus’ establishment of a hereditary monarchy in Rome in all but ...

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