Review of Perseus: Starting Points Section

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Perseus: Starting Points Section

It is important for the reader to understand that the reviewer of this site is not a formally educated scholar of ancient history and culture. Although the reviewer does have a master's degree, it is in another academic discipline (urban planning). The reviewer is an informal student of ancient history and culture (principally Late antiquity), relying on primary and secondary texts, syllabi, and sources available on the Internet.

The Perseus Project was established in 1987 to provide a "collection of materials, textual and visual, on the Archaic and Classical Greek world" (Crane, Gregory R.,ed., The Perseus Project,, September, 1997). Yale University Press published two of the Project's CDs (Perseus 1.0 and 2.0) in 1992 and 1996 respectively. The information contained on the CDs includes materials on art, history, archaeology, and other related topics.

Since 1995, the Perseus Project has maintained the Perseus Digital Library. The library consists of documents, texts, and pictures included in the Perseus CDs as well as additional material. The subject matter of the Digital Library has also expanded from solely Greek material to include works on Roman and medieval culture and history and English literary classics, such as Shakespeare's Julius Caesar and Christopher Marlowe's Tamburlaine the Great.

The Perseus Digital Library is quite large. This review will look at one specific section, entitled "Starting Points," which provides a sampling of the data available on Perseus. Specifically, Starting Points offers links in three different categories: Overview of Greek Culture and History, Introduction to the Primary Texts, and Introduction to the Art & Archaeology Catalogs.

The Overview of Greek Culture and History is provided through Thomas R. Martin's "Overview of Archaic and Classical Greek History." The Overview is a more compact version of Martin's Ancient Greece: From Prehistoric to Hellenistic Times (Yale University Press 1996) covering Greek History from 1200 BC to 323 BC The Overview is broken up into 16 chapters each accessible from links on a table of contents. The Overview will be of greatest use to students with little or nor background in ancient Greek history. At the end of most sections, readers will find links to relevant texts, images, or other materials on Perseus. The overview is enhanced by links on terms or key concepts within the text, such as Mycenaean Culture, the Greek Dark Ages, or Miltiades. Each link takes the reader to a page providing more information (and, often, other links to related resources within Perseus). For example, when the reader hits the link for Hoplite, she can find images on coins and vases, a Perseus Encyclopedia entry, sculptures, and a citation for Hanson's Hoplites: The Classical Greek Battle Experience (Routledge 1991). These links are wonderful tools that rapidly aid readers in gaining a firm, vivid grasp of the concepts being discussed within the text. The links are especially helpful to students engaged in distance or self-directed learning or who may have limited access to academic libraries or high-quality museum collections.

The one key disadvantage of the Overview is that the reader can only access one section of a chapter at a time, which is usually about two to three paragraphs long. As a result, readers will have to do a lot of mouse work. Printing the document for off-line reading is also difficult.

The Introduction to the Primary Texts provides links to major works by Greek writers. The texts cover a range of subjects and areas including history, poetry, and oratory. The collection is not limited to Greek writers on Greek culture, it also includes a few chroniclers of the Romans, such as Josephus and Plutarch. The collection is divided into the original Greek and translations of each in English. The pages in Greek have two noteworthy features which will aid users. First, all of the Greek words are linked for translation into English. The reader clicks on the word in question and a window pops up with the definition in English. Second, readers can use a pull-down menu to toggle between the Greek document and an English translation of each section. The pages in English are easy to navigate, and the language of the translations sampled will be accessible to most students. Overall, the collection of primary texts is quite large and is an excellent resource for students looking for primary works, especially for those learning Greek.

The Introduction to the Art & Archaeology Catalogs includes some samples of the catalogs of architecture, art, and other artifacts found on the Perseus site. Four categories are provided: Eagle Coins, the Site at Delphi, Fortification Architecture, and Dog Vases.

The Eagle Coins section provides descriptions and images of Greek coins featuring eagle images. The descriptions are concise and include the minting region, year and period of minting, die axis, weight, obverse and reverse descriptions and legends, and metal type. The images of the coins are sharp, making them useful for study.

The Site at Delphi section offers a composite site plan of the Sanctuary of Apollo. On the image of the site plan there are over 100 links to recent photos of the site. The result is that viewers can relate the surviving remains to the original plan. This is an excellent tool, not only for understanding Greek architecture, but for archeology students to gain a better understanding of how remaining structures may have fit in the plan of an original edifice.

In the Fortification Architecture section viewers will find descriptions of eleven Greek fortifications. Most of the descriptions include the history, dimensions, and layout of the fortifications. Unfortunately, the amount of information on each sites is not consistent; that is, one site may only have a brief description, while another may have detailed descriptions including floor plans, dimensions, and wall thickness. As a result, it is hard to use the information provided to compare the fortifications to each other.

The section on Dog Vases offers descriptions and photographs of Greek Vases featuring images of canines. The narrative for each vase includes the collection to which it belongs, a description of the artifact, and the period and location of the piece. Most interesting are the high quality images of the vases. The images include different perspectives and close ups. Additionally, since the compilation of images spans multiple museum collections, there is nice variety in featured vases.

The one disappointment readers may have in Starting Points is that it appears to concentrate on the Greek resources offered by Perseus. Although Perseus' roots are in ancient Greek history and culture, it has grown to include resources on the Romans and the Renaissance. The editors of Perseus may want to consider showcasing some of these other resources for readers to draw them into the site.

Despite this shortcoming, Perseus is still a great resource. Instructors will find a wonderful tool for education. Students, both formal and informal, can access multiple resources in one location; it is well worth a visit.

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