Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2007.01.11

Edward Bispham, Thomas Harrison, Brian A. Sparkes, The Edinburgh Companion to Ancient Greece and Rome.   Edinburgh:  Edinburgh University Press, 2006.  Pp. xii, 604; numerous figs.  ISBN 0-7486-1629-2.  £120.00.  



Reviewed by Duncan B. Campbell, Glasgow (duncanbcampbell@hotmail.com)
Word count: 1073 words

Table of Contents

The three editors of The Edinburgh Companion to Greece and Rome have commissioned 53 specialists to contribute 70 chapters, which they present under four broad headings: Classics and the Classical World; Material Culture; Texts and Genres; and Essential Information and Systems of Reference. The first of these four parts is further subdivided into Classics in the Twenty-First Century (comprising eleven chapters on the main subject areas and topics, such as history, archaeology, philology, art history, religion, economy); Regions of the Ancient World (three chapters specifically covering the peripheral regions of the Near East and Europe); and Periods (six chapters providing an historical narrative from Dark Age Greece through to Late Antiquity). The fourteen chapters of Part Two discuss different aspects of material culture, from architecture and sculpture to gems and jewellery. Running to 150 pages, this section is a welcome admission that classical studies rely on much more than the written texts. The twenty-five chapters of Part Three cover, in 170 pages, a range of literature, from Greek and Roman epic, tragedy, and comedy to scientific, legal and technical texts. And the final section brings together various broad topics such as personal naming conventions, weights and measures, and the calendar, as well as seven basic maps giving coverage of the Mediterranean world, and town plans of Athens and Rome. A useful chronological chart, running from c. 3500 B.C. (Early Bronze Age) to A.D. 490 (Ostrogothic kingdom of Italy), is supplemented by a listing of Kings and Emperors, from 559 B.C. (accession of Cyrus) to A.D. 565 (death of Justinian), but only the Julio-Claudians are given a family tree. Some useful reference material is provided in the final three chapters: Chapter 68 comprises a glossary of ancient terms and modern terminology; Chapter 69, entitled Resources, presents fundamental information on selected libraries, museums, and classical societies, followed by a basic bibliography that includes web-based resources; and Chapter 70 is an exhaustive listing of classics-related abbreviations, chiefly journals and ancient authors. The chapters are fully cross-referenced.1

It is sometimes difficult to divine the editors' target readership. They have justified their selection of material by arguing that the study of ancient Greece and Rome is proving popular amongst students who lack a grounding in the original languages. Consequently, they have aimed to provide 'a reliable, accessible and up-to-date source of practical reference for students of classics and ancient history' (ix). This is no doubt why they deem it necessary to explain that 'primary texts (i.e. the works of ancient writers) are standardly [sic] referred to in the format: Author Work 1-999' (559). And their list of spelling conventions (ix-x), which includes such items as the equivalence of the Greek -ion with the Latin -ium ending, is clearly pitched at the absolute beginner. In addition, each chapter ends with a 'Further reading' section, listing the standard works required for a grounding in that chapter's subject matter. That is only sensible in a volume intended to 'bridge the gap between students and scholars' (ix).

However, the individual contributors often assume a familiarity with the basic concepts of classical scholarship, and many chapters have been written with the informed generalist in mind, rather than the novice. For example, the chapter on coinage, by Jonathan Williams and Andrew Meadows (ch. 25, 173-182), gives a valuable overview of numismatics, touching on such topics as the ancient economy, coin-issuing authorities, and the role of coins in archaeology, but the reader must already have some familiarity with the general design of ancient coins in order to follow the discussion; in particular, the terms 'obverse' and 'reverse' are never explained (and are not listed in the glossary).2 By contrast, Helen Dixon's chapter on manuscripts (ch. 33, 251-261) is an excellent summary of the subject. Beginning with broad definitions, the author moves on to discuss various issues raised by the transmission of texts, under such headings as 'Are the oldest manuscripts the best?' and 'Editing: which is the right reading?', explaining technical terms as they arise. Likewise, the chapter on inscriptions, by Alison Cooley and Graham Oliver (ch. 34, 262-274), is a model of clarity, defining the different types of inscriptions, explaining the ancients' desire to inscribe, discussing the likely process of creating an inscription, and clarifying the uses of inscriptions for the modern researcher; the chapter ends with advice on finding out about inscriptions, and lists the modern sources for epigraphical enquiry.

Of course, it is useful for the generalist ancient historian to have access to the latest specialist researches. It is becoming increasingly difficult for individual scholars to maintain familiarity with the ancient world in its myriad facets. For example, in chapter 15 on the 'Dark Age' of Greece (87-91), Irene Lemos draws upon recent and unpublished material to demonstrate how much is now known about Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age Greece. Only those who are working in this field would be aware of the developments of the last few years. So the individual bibliographies are a most welcome feature, generally concentrating on works from the last decade alongside any older standards. Equally, the many chapters addressing specific subject areas are interspersed with more wide-ranging discussions of, for example, the transmission of classical culture (ch. 11, 57-63), the range of site types in the ancient world (ch. 23, 146-159), and politics in general (ch. 60, 447-464).

I noted two main weaknesses. First, there is an occasional assumption that readers will have ready access, not only to the internet, but to JSTOR; the former assumption quite rightly acknowledges that much scholarship is now digital, but the latter, while virtually certain for students and academic staff, may not be true of all institutions and is quite unlikely for the interested general public. Also, bibliographic referencing is occasionally haphazard, relying upon the individual contributors' use of in-text short-title references to works more fully cited in their own 'Further reading' section. Some references are less helpful than others. There is no elucidation, for example, of the reference to 'LACTOR 1, 4th edn, pp. 86-97' (271); the item is absent from that chapter's bibliography and can be found, only with difficulty, in the consolidated Resources chapter (ch. 69; 545-558).3

This is undoubtedly a very interesting collection of essays and a useful compendium of references. At £120, the hardback edition is surely destined for academic and municipal libraries, but a paperback edition can be obtained at a cost that will better suit the undergraduate pocket.


Notes:


1.   Misprints are few and inconsequential: for example, 'palimpest' for palimpsest (256). Somewhat embarrassingly, Brian McGing's name is misspelled on the contents page (vi).
2.   The bibliography to chapter 25 (Coinage) also includes a most unhelpful colloquialism, which will be entirely unintelligible to any readers unfamiliar with 1990s UK commercial television: C.J. Howgego's Ancient History from Coins is recommended because 'it does exactly what it says on the tin'. Bizarre.
3.   It is listed, under Sourcebooks in translation (section B, Greece), as R. Osborne, The Athenian Empire (London, 2000), and only parenthetically as LACTOR 1.

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