- Series: Penguin Classics
- Paperback: 480 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Classics; New Ed edition (December 1, 1996)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0140445099
- ISBN-13: 978-0140445091
- Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.9 x 7.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 16 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #219,047 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Civil Wars (Penguin Classics) New Ed Edition
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Text: English (translation)
Original Language: Latin
From the Back Cover
Appian's Civil Wars offers a masterly account of the turbulent epoch from the time of Tiberius Gracchus (133 BC) to the tremendous conflicts which followed the murder of Julius Caesar. For the events between 133 and 70 BC he is the only surviving continuous narrative source. The subsequent books vividly describe Catiline's conspiracy, the rise and fall of the First Triumvirate, and Caesar's crossing of the Rubicon, defeat of Pompey and untimely death. The climax comes with the birth of the Second Triumvirate out of anarchy, the terrible purges of Proscriptions which followed, and the titanic struggle for world mastery which was only to end with Augustus's defeat of Antony and Cleopatra. If Appian's Roman History as a whole reveals how an empire was born of the struggle against a series of external enemies, these five books concentrate on an even greater ordeal. Despite the rhetorical flourishes, John Carter suggests in his Introduction, the impressive 'overall conception of the decline of the Roman state into violence, with its sombre highlights and the leitmotif of fate, is neither trivial nor inaccurate'.
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WHAT DOES "THE CIVIL WARS" COVER?
Appian of Alexandria, a Roman attorney and prominent public official, in about 145-165 A.D. wrote a history of Rome in 24 books. Seven books are lost. We have another seven only in fragments and ten books that are substantially complete.
Five of those ten surviving books cover the Roman civil wars and form the volume reviewed here. Appian provides the only surviving continuous history of Rome in the tumultuous years of 113 to 70 B.C., the end of the Roman republic. He starts with the violence against the Gracchus brothers and then tells the stories of the civil war between Marius and Sulla; the Social War; Cicero's suppression of the Catiline conspiracy; the first triumvirate of Pompey the Great, Marcus Crassus, and Julius Caesar; the civil war between Pompey and Caesar; Caesar's dictatorship and assassination; the constantly-shifting relationships between Cicero, Octavian Caesar, and Mark Antony after the assassination; the formation of the second triumvirate; the pursuit of Julius Caesar's assassins; Antony's encounter with Cleopatra; and, finally, the death of Sextus Pompey.
Appian covers one of the most eventful periods in history in a narrative filled with vivid personalities and dramatic conflicts. He draws from multiple sources, many of them lost to us now. He often gives both sides of an issue, which is rare among ancient historians.
Historian Jona Lendering sums up Appian's importance on the Livius website: "Appian is a far better historian than most twentieth-century classicists have been willing to accept. He identified good sources and used them with due criticism. . . It must be stressed that he is the only ancient author who recognized the social causes of the Roman civil wars, for which Appian remains one of the most important sources. He is also a fine writer, who can vividly describe events, and knows how to evoke the smaller and larger tragedies that are history. He includes nice digressions, has an eye for the better anecdote, and does not ignore the interesting detail. Never has the stylistic device of repetition been used more effectively than by Appian in his shocking account of the persecution of the enemies of the Second Triumvirate, which belongs to the finest [historical writing] that was ever written in Greek."
To sum up, Appian's The Civil Wars is essential for anyone studying the Roman republic, the Social Wars, Pompey the Great, Cicero, Antony, Octavian, or Sextus Pompey. For non-scholars who enjoy reading history and biography, The Civil Wars may seem slow in places, but Appian's portrayals of unforgettable characters in exciting scenes provide an entertaining, enlightening view of clashes in republican Rome that still echo in our times.
WAS THE GREEK TEXT USED AS SOURCE FOR THIS TRANSLATION ACCURATE OR CORRUPT?
Corrupt texts cause major problems for the works of some classical authors, not so much for Appian. For more than 100 years, the definitive Greek source for Appian was the text prepared by Professor Ludwig Mendelssohn of the University of Dorpat, Russia for the 2-volume edition of Appian's Historia Romana published by Teubner 1879-1882. For this translation, John Carter used the Teubner Greek source text as edited by P. Viereck in 1905, revised by A.G. Roos in 1936, with addenda and corrections by E. Gabba in 1962. (The Teubner edition is currently out of print.) Carter was satisfied enough with the quality of the Greek source text in the Teubner edition that he made only 33 changes to it for this translation. (Each change is precisely noted.)
The only other Greek source text for The Civil Wars available on Amazon is found in two Loeb Classical Library volumes: Appian: Roman History, Vol. III, The Civil Wars, Books 1-3.26 (Loeb Classical Library No. 4) and Appian: Roman History, Vol. IV, The Civil Wars, Books 3.27-5 (Loeb Classical Library No. 5). These two Loeb volumes also use Mendelssohn's Teubner text, but instead of using the revisions by Viereck, Roos, and Gabba, their text uses a separate set of revisions made by Iliff Robinson in 1913. The Loeb Greek is good, but not as good as the Greek text used by Carter.
When Carter made his translation in 1995 (published in 1996), he used the best Greek text available in his time. Since then, parts of a newer Greek text have appeared. The first two volumes were published by Les Belles Lettres in 2008 and 2010: Guerres Civiles, Livre I (ISBN 9782251005508) with source text restoration, translation into French, and introduction by Paul Goukowsky and notes by François Hinard; and Guerres Civiles, Livre III (ISBN 9782251005584), with source text restoration, translation into French, and introduction by Paul Goukowsky, notes by Philippe Torrens.
These new texts have been praised by classical scholars. For example, Richard Westall, in his review of Guerres Civiles, Livre III in the Bryn Mawr Classical Review, wrote: "As a result of lavish attention to detail and the exercise of critical acumen, there is no doubt that this will henceforth be the standard edition of reference for anyone working on Appian and the convoluted history of the period extending from mid-March 44 to mid-September 43 BCE. . . . The Greek text established afresh by Goukowsky represents a marked improvement upon the past."
In addition, in a separate project Kai Brodersen of the University of Erfurt is working on a new edition of the Greek text of The Civil Wars for the Oxford Classical Texts series.
I will sum up by saying the Greek text that forms the basis of John Carter's translation is a good Greek text, but not the best. This matters to serious scholars, but not to other readers of The Civil Wars.
HOW ACCURATE AND READABLE IS THIS ENGLISH TRANSLATION? IS IT THE BEST ONE?
Surprisingly, in spite of the importance and enjoyableness of Appian's work, if you read only English, you have just two choices: this translation by John Carter, and the Loeb Classical Library translation by Horace White. These are the only two English translations I can find.
White's translation was originally written in 1889 for the Bohn's Classical Library series. The Loeb version of White was revised by Iliff Robinson in 1913, almost a century ago. The vocabulary and sentence structure is a bit stiff, but White's translation is clear and surprisingly readable. The Loeb volumes offer an additional attraction: They feature Greek source text on the left pages and the English translation on facing right pages, making it easy to compare any point of the translation with its original source.
Carter's English translation is a bit more fluid and modern, and he is careful to present Appian's sometimes tangled sentences as clearly as possible.
To allow you to contrast White's style with Carter's, here is a short excerpt of each from near the beginning of Book IV.
First, White: "Octavian and Antony composed their differences on a small, depressed islet in the river Lavinius, near the city of Mutina. Each had five legions of soldiers whom they stationed opposite each other, after which each proceeded with 300 men to the bridges over the river. Lepidus by himself went before them, searched the island, and waved his military cloak as a signal to them to come. Then each left his three hundred in charge of friends on the bridges and advanced to the middle of the island in plain sight, and there the three sat together in council, Octavian in the centre because he was consul."
Second, Carter's translation of the same text: "Octavian and Antonius met near Mutina, on a small low-lying island in the river Lavinius, to exchange enmity for friendship. Each had five legions, which they left drawn up facing each other while they each advanced with 300 men to the bridges over the river. Lepidus went ahead in person to search the island, and signaled with his cloak to each of them to come across. They then left their 300 men with their advisers at the bridges and went forward in full view into the space between, where the three of them sat down together, with Octavian in the centre presiding because of his office."
Where Carter really shines is in the extra information he provides to increase the usefulness of his edition. He starts with a 25-page introduction, and provides a 5-page "Table of Dates" that is really a list of events from 133 B.C. to 35 B.C., and which matches each event up to a book and paragraph number. I have found his list extremely useful. Carter buttresses his translation with 735 footnotes, useful for general public and scholars alike. He includes seven appendices: "The Roman Assemblies in the Late Republic;" "Senate and Equestrian Order (`Knights');" "The Roman Proletariat;" "The Latins and the Roman Citizenship;" "The Armies of the Late Republic;" "The Terminal Date of Caesar's Command in Gaul;" and "`The Italians' in Book I." Most of these appendices make Appian's text more clear for general readers. The book concludes with four maps and an index.
John Carter's translation of Appian's The Civil Wars is enjoyable for those of us who read history for pleasure and at the same time provides enough information to be valuable for scholars. This is as good a version of The Civil Wars as you will find, unless you read ancient Greek (or the as-yet-incomplete French translation published by Les Belles Lettres). I recommend it.
While the speeches are probably apocryphal, the book is filled with a great deal of information about the decline of Rome. Despite the title, the book focuses more on politics than on war. The stories are frequently of political intrigue, capture, murder, escape, etc.
Appian's sympathies are clearly autocratic and authoritarian. He praises Caesar and seems to be unsympathetic with the the more republican figures. He defends the political purges of the Second Triumvirate.
However even for those of us who do not share Appain's political leanings, the book is a very fascinating look into Roman thought and history. The book is extensively footnoted, and the introduction is also quite helpful.
On the whole this is a very important work, and the translation is very good. Highly recommended.