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The Classical World: An Epic History from Homer to Hadrian Paperback – April 8, 2008

3.9 out of 5 stars 34 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

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
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; 3.9.2008 edition (April 8, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465024971
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465024971
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.5 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #515,509 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Those who study classical history know how rare it is that a scholar can take us in a consistent line from the development of classical and Hellenistic Greece to the conquering might of Rome, and illuminate both worlds.

Robin Lane Fox has pulled off this unusual achievement in his The Classical World. Taking three very ancient-world concepts - Liberty, Justice and Luxury (in its sense of extravagance, decadence) - Fox manages to walk confidently from Archaic Athens to the mid-point in the Roman Empire (the Emperor Hadrian, perhaps the most Greek-influenced of Roman Emperors, second century A.D.) and brilliantly evoke both the changes within the Greek and Roman cultures as they rose to empire and then fell from that high point, and to `compare and contrast' the two great cultures in a way that makes sense to the reader. Perhaps more importantly, this is a deeply satisfying book both for the expert scholar and the interested reader who doesn't have his M.A. in classical studies. It's amazing to see how these three `civilized' needs or qualities are dealt with in differing ways by the various cultures of Greece and Rome, and how complaints of decadence always seem to follow the cultural richness of a developing civilization.

At heart, the question is - what constitutes a civilization? How do you reconcile the needs of Liberty and Justice, and what happens to both when the rich become richer and the poor become poorer? Is wealth in and of itself a clue that a civilization that has lost its earlier energy? How did the Greeks and Romans deal with wealth and poverty, and how did they view them as influencing both liberty and justice? How did the great warrior ideals Homer exemplified influence the cultures after them, for good - or ill?
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Format: Hardcover
Seeking to cogently summarise an incredible period of development & change - from the emergence of Greek city-states to the peaking of the Roman Empire - in just 600 pages is some challenge, but it's one that Robin Lane Fox rises to through his mastery of the subject and his ability to distil his knowledge into a manageable and highly readable format. And, as an example of making the "key facts" of complex history understandable and sufficiently succinct to capture and hold the attention of non-academic readers, it's an excellent book.

But, is it "good" history? Well that, of course, depends on how you view the subject. If it's a summary of major political & military events then you won't be disappointed for it's a fascinating period and, by the end of it all, you'll know what happened: who, where & when. But good history should be more than a mere distillation of "facts": it should explore why things happened. And, given the period being addressed - one in which the exploration of philosophy, science, politics and history itself was paramount in making it so important - Lane Fox's failure to do this is a major weakness.

For example, the reasons for the massive social & political differences in the parallel development of Athens and Sparta - two key city states only 100 miles apart - one of which pioneered philosophy & democracy, and the other of which pioneered the exact opposite, is virtually ignored other than in terms of their regular military conflicts. Or, why Athens made the most incredible intellectual advances during a period in which it was under constant military threat and in which half of its citizens were killed in wars... were they related issues?
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Robin Lane Fox has authored a sweeping history of what he calls "The Classical World," from Homer's Greece to Hadrian's Roman Empire. While a work of such scope means that there cannot be great depth in discussing any point in that era; on the other hand, it provides a bird's eye view of issues, themes, and change over time. The author himself notes that (page xv): "It is a challenge to be asked to write a history of some none hundred years, especially when the evidence is so scattered and diverse, but it is a challenge which I have enjoyed."

Some definitional issues. Lane defines "The Classical World" as (page 1) ". . .the world of the ancient Greeks and Romans, some forty lifetimes before our own but still able to challenge us by a humanity shared with ours." Fox ceases his narrative with the reign of the Roman Emperor Hadrian. Why? Lane says (page 2): ". . .'classical literature' ends in his reign. . . ." Even more important Page 2), ". . .is that Hadrian himself was the emperor with the most evident classicizing tastes."

First, Fox focuses on three themes across this span of history--freedom, justice, and luxury. He believes that each of these--and the changes that occurred with time--can help explain the sweep of events.

Second, he divides the time span into several eras, and treats each separately, although noting how the themes of freedom, justice, and luxury play out in each. "The Archaic Greek World" begins with Homer's Greece and concludes with the great Persian Wars. The next time period is what Fox refers to As "The Classical Greek World." This period runs from the rise of democratic Athens, the Peloponnesian War, Socrates, the rise of Philip of Macedon.
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