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Controversy abating and credulity curbed?

Ronald Syme, 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 ...

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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... collected in these volumes, there has been a revolution in the study of Roman history in which Ronald Syme 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 Mommsen, who was born in 1817 and died in 1903, the ...

Give her a snake

Mary Beard, 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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... by ponderous appeals to the work of an ill-assorted range of academic luminaries: from Lacan to Ronald Syme; 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 page-long summary by Hughes-Hallett, they are an ...

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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... model of our own. I believe the only two others who have won this double are Henry Moore and Sir Ronald Syme. 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 Holy Orders, but Todd had no intention of writing any ...


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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... the propaganda of the victor of Actium and see the Roman Revolution as it looked to the loser, Ronald Syme 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 civilisation: he perished a victim of violence and ...

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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... generic) mode of the first-person pronoun. It is hard to read almost anything written by Ronald Syme, 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 democracy, of Geoffrey de Ste Croix on The Class Struggle ...

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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... frequent addresses to Augustus pleading for permission to return, and it took the acuity of Ronald Syme 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 a hermeneutics of suspicion, but cumulatively over ...

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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... that were underway, it was the time that Roman history was being rethought (and repoliticised) by Ronald Syme, 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 convincingly answered. First, how important is The ...

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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... an unknown author (or authors, with false names), compiled in the fourth century, perhaps. In 1980 Ronald Syme 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 lino, from 1956 or 1968, say, with time-serving ...

Sheets of Fire and Leaping Flames

Thomas Jones, 24 September 2020

In the Shadow of Vesuvius: A Life of Pliny 
by Daisy Dunn.
Collins, 338 pp., £9.99, August, 978 0 00 821112 7
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... letters with a degree of suspicion. Radice and Dunn tend towards a more generous interpretation; Ronald Syme was more sceptical, as was the late Rex Winsbury in his 2013 biography. As a schoolboy I was determined to read between the lines, distrusting everything Pliny said, congratulating myself on being able to see through him. But now I wonder if he ...

I just let him have his beer

Christopher Tayler: John Williams Made it Work, 19 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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... 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 in the number of books read.’ When not absorbed in Look ...

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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... with a work written in the heyday of European appropriation of the symbolism of Roman power, Ronald Syme’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 name, the use of ...

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