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The closing of Ammianus' Roman History (circa 378 AD), announces the end of an epoch, not in Roman history of course, but in the approach literary men espoused to celebrate the glories of the Eternal City. History would no longer be written according to the model set first by Herodotus and perfected in Thucydides; for their students Livy, Tacitus and Sallust--that golden-penned progeny of writers in whom historiography became distinctly Latin--passed the last laurel branch to Ammianus, who would be the final Roman historian to don the crown. In lieu of the artful traditional models, colorless chronicles immerged that were centered principally on ecclesiastical affairs, while paying minimal lip-service to the secular dimension of Roman life. The epistle and panegyric also became standard, not for the sake of history per se, but to celebrate the deeds of emperors, consuls and generals, or to discuss theological issues; the interest here was in current events, not in history. Authors like Gregory of Tours and the Venerable Bede in the West and Evagrius Scholasticus and Procopius in the East, would set the tone for histories for many centuries to come. With that said, this volume covers the years 365-378 AD, during the reigns of Valentinian, Valens, Gratian and Valentinian II. Volume three is particularly fascinating; in it Ammianus, as one might expect, delivers the regular detailed sketches of Romans engaged in warfare with Persians, Moors and Germanic hordes (as a general himself and eyewitness of the events he describes, Ammianus captures the scene of the battles and vividly memorializes them in his writings). But what makes this volume unique is the attention Ammianus pays to corruption and vice in the upper-stratum of the imperial administration.Read more ›
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Since there are so many of these darn things the review shall be divided into three sections. First, a brief description of the Loeb series of books and their advantages/disadvantages. Second shall be my thoughts on the author himself, his accuracy, as well as his style and the style of his translator. This is of course only my opinion and should be treated as such. The final part shall review what this particular book actually covers.
The Loeb series date back to the turn of the last century. They are designed for people with at least some knowledge of Greek or Latin. They are a sort of compromise between a straight English translation and an annotated copy of the original text. On the left page is printed the text in Greek or Latin depending on the language of the writer and on the right side is the text in English. For somebody who knows even a little Greek or Latin these texts are invaluable. You can try to read the text in the original language knowing that you can correct yourself by looking on the next page or you can read the text in translation and check the translation with the original for more detail. While some of the translations are excellent mostly they are merely serviceable since they are designed more as an aid to translation rather than a translation in themselves. Most of them follow the Greek or Latin very closely. These books are also very small, maybe just over a quarter the size of your average hardcover book. This means that you'll need to buy more than just one book to read a complete work. They are also somewhat pricey considering their size. The Loeb Collection is very large but most of the more famous works can be found in better (and cheaper) translations elsewhere.Read more ›
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