From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Framing this history of the classical world as he imagines the second-century Emperor Hadrian (who traveled the classical world and had a "classicizing mind") would have done, this scintillating survey seeks to understand Greek and Roman civilizations on their own terms. Oxford historian Fox (Alexander the Great) structures his study around the ancient concepts of freedom, justice and luxury, as they evolved from Homeric literature onward. The story arranges itself around two poles: democratic Athens, of which, for all its flaws, Fox is an unabashed partisan, and Rome, whose fatally unequal republic declined into the grotesque tyranny of the early empire. This intellectual framework provides an interpretive skeleton for a loosely structured, well-paced narrative history. (One disappointment, a major one for an "epic history," is Fox's sketchy, montage-like treatment of military campaigns.) Into the story the author weaves insightful passages on art, religion, technology, marriage and the prominent role of homosexuality in classical culture, along with set-piece profiles of statesmen and thinkers from Pericles to Plato to Pliny. Fox is a fluent, perceptive color commentator on the pageant of ancient history, while giving readers some idea of where the parade was headed. 71 b&w illus.; 10 maps. (Oct.)
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Fox, the author of numerous works on classical civilization, is a masterful writer whose elegant but highly readable prose offers an evolving portrait of Greek and Roman culture over a period of roughly 900 years. Although he utilizes a broadly chronological approach, Fox goes well beyond the usual, dreary narrative of battles, dynastic changes, and political conflicts that often characterize surveys of the period. Instead, Fox focuses on the gradual development and transformation of various cultural aspects of Greek and Roman societies, and he discusses in often fascinating detail topics that are normally given short shrift in general histories. For example, he provides an excellent analysis of the social and political conditions influencing the "overseas" Greek polities, in Sicily, southern Italy, and Ionia. He examines puzzling historical problems such as Hannibal's failure to win the support of Italian client peoples who unexpectedly remained loyal to Rome during the Second Punic War. This is an excellent work of scholarship and literature and will be a valuable addition to ancient-history collections. Jay Freeman
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