Gory glory of Greece

A History of Ancient Greece. First Edition
February 25, 2000

This textbook - a translation of the 1995 Histoire Grecque - claims to provide all the "pedagogic features" expected of an introduction to ancient Greece. All the standard paraphernalia of a modern textbook can be found: boxed, translated excerpts of central sources, summaries of major issues, lists of dates and events, a glossary and a chronological table, a rich selection of figures and plans (although the absence of any general map of the Greek world is surprising) and suggestions for further reading.

All this is well executed, but it is by no means the book's most innovative aspect. A deliberate attempt has been made to broaden the scope of the conventional history of Greece. While the traditional "glories" of Greek history - the classical period, the history of Athens - are excellently handled, this is not at the expense of less frequently covered terrain.

Pauline Schmitt Pantel starts from the earliest, palaeolithic, evidence and continues to the more familiar territory of the archaic and classical periods. Claude Orrieux's two chapters carry the story to 146 BC (not, in spite of the jacket's entirely misleading claim, to the 4th century AD). Only then, for Orrieux, did Rome's sack of Corinth bring Greek history to a full stop.

The partiality of the proposed explanations are emphasised. The authors reject the once-popular suggestion that the Greeks should be seen as sharing the concerns of the modern world, yet they make clear the ways in which modern preoccupations can influence the study of the ancient world: the connection between Nazi ideology and theories of Spartan racial purity is the most familiar of many examples.

The authors are not immune to such tendencies and something of the pessimism of the late 20th century can be seen in their concluding statement: the history of ancient Greece "from start to finish is a tragedy of violence and bloodshed in the name of liberty". It is a provocative claim with which to end a textbook that is happy to raise as many questions as it answers.

Polly Low is a fellow, Trinity Hall, Cambridge.

A History of Ancient Greece. First Edition

Author - Claude Orrieux and Pauline Schmitt Pantel
ISBN - 0 631 20308 7 and 20309 5
Publisher - Blackwell
Price - £60.00 and £16.99
Pages - 528
Translator - Janet Lloyd

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