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The Sorrows of the Ancient Romans Paperback – November 28, 1995

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Editorial Reviews


"Barton amasses an impressive collection of ancient evidence and treats it to an even more impressive interpretation, reinforced by references to modern psychological and anthropological studies. The thesis is enriched and underscored by countless examples from contemporary films, plays, and literature. . . . This provocative volume deserves a wide audience."--Richard E. Mitchell, American Historical Review

"Surely the most erudite treatment of Latin sadomasochism around and a model of literary-history digging."--Scott L. Malcomson, The Voice Literary Supplement

"The main achievement of the author is a wealth of documentation of some rather odd-looking aspects of Roman culture. . . . [Barton] is especially stimulating on the subject of the gaze in the Roman context, on the dynamics of watching."--James Davidson, Journal of Roman Studies

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (November 28, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691010919
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691010915
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 0.6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,657,767 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By John E. Mack on May 31, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
TV Guide used to rate the moveis which were on television that week, and I once came across an issue which gave the movie "Batman Returns" three stars and the Charleton Heston version of Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar" two stars. Even granting that the production values of the former were far superior to the latter, it is hard to imagine that a great "Batman" was superior to a mediocre "Caesar." "The Sorrows of the Ancient Romans" is a better book than "God is Not Great" and in that spirit, I give it five stars.

Barton is a wonderfully learned, somewhat scatter-shot writer who has a first-rate command of the Latin sources (including very obscure Latin sources). On the one hand, the sheer originality and freshness of Barton's pronouncesments on Roman civilization inspire awe. On the other hand, here inability to let any idea which pops into her head escape the printed page invites chaos. She moves deftly (or randomly) from Latin incriptions, pop music lyrics, World War II analogies, Biblical literature, and French sociological and philosophical tracts. Good as this book is, one suspects Barton is better at article length.

In essence, this book involves a consideration of some of the darker aspects of the pagan Roman psyche (one wonders, after reading this book, whether that psyche had any lighter elements). Focusing on Roman fascination with gladiators and monsters in the late-Republican, early Imperial period, Barton makes a powerful case for the proposition that the Romans had a love of -- even a need for -- debasement, particularly the vicarious debasement of those like themselves. Thus, gladiators were at once the most despised and expendible element of Roman society and among the most admired.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By MichellePK on July 10, 2008
Format: Paperback
I read this book about ten years ago when I was a graduate student completing a PhD in Classics. Although I've since left the field, it's one of the few books I've never been able to part with--or to forget.

As a classicist, your subjects are removed from you in just about every conceivable way (temporally, spatially [at least for us American scholars], culturally, linguistically). Barton's book was the first I ever felt helped me bridge that gap in a meaningful way.

It gave me a whole new perspective on the rest of my academic pursuits and, in some ways, a license to think in an entirely different way about primary sources.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Carl Reddick on December 16, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In my never-ending search for the perfect Roman History historical novel, I was referred to this textbook. Please understand that it truly a TEXTBOOK stuffed with references from ancient Greece to hip-hop 'playing the dozens'. When one of your friends asks why you read 'all that Roman stuff' you might want to inform them that what we moderns do, how we behave, how we enjoy sports, all traces somewhat back to the Classic era. Carlin A. Barton takes a shotgun approach to 'eewww, why would the Romans have people fight to the death in front of 55,000 people'? ... and 'eewww, why would the Romans slaughter giraffes, Christians, prisoners, and the occasional lion on their public holidays'? Good questions, ...but your friends don't want to know the answer because they judge the ancients based on their own mores which rely on their television, sports, and movie-going experiences. This book is very important. It is a psychological assessment of the 'ancients' based on THEIR values, not ours. If you don't understand this review just flip through the 99 channels offered to you on cable TV. Count how many channels offer the scenario of someone facing 'another' (often with a gun), who want to kill the star. There. Think. Imagine. (see all my reviews)
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