BMCR 1992.01.09

3.1.9, D.A. Russell. An Anthology of Greek Prose

This companion volume to Russell’s An Anthology of Latin Prose (Oxford 1990) aims to introduce students to “the development and diversity of ancient Greek prose throughout the millenium of its life” (preface). To achieve this goal, An Anthology of Greek Prose ( AGP) collects and comments on one-hundred Greek passages from Pherecydes of Syros (sixth c. B.C.) to Mark the Deacon (fifth c. A.D.). Russell makes intelligent editorial decisions in his attempt to cover such a vast period in less than three-hundred pages of text and commentary. The brevity of his commentary on individual passages is unfortunate, however, as this limits the volume’s usefulness.

The primary appeal of AGP is its rich selection of purple and not-so-purple passages, of which fully half are from post-Classical authors. The genres most heavily represented are history (Hecataeus, Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Theopompus, Polybius, Posidonius), philosophy (Anaxagoras, Democritus, Plato, Aristotle, Theophrastus, Epicurus, Marcus Aurelius, Plotinus), and oratory (from Gorgias to Libanius). Also represented, however, are geography, biography, satire, romance, the sermon, and biblical texts. Russell generally avoids overly short passages (a four-line fragment from Hecataeus is exceptional) and chooses excerpts that are relatively intelligible standing on their own. Although short introductions to each excerpt fill in basic background on the author and work, student and teacher alike will wish for more help than Russell provides on late writers.

Russell’s brief introduction (sixteen pages) to Greek prose style is adequate, if somewhat sketchy. One finds traditional kernels of wisdom about the development of prose style, emphasizing the pivotal role of Gorgias (though perhaps too much, at the expense of other sophists) and the influence of the oratorical tradition on historical and philosophical prose. The author’s division of post-classical writers into those writing “reproduction” classical Greek and those less constrained by Atticism receives brief discussion with reasonable caveats, but does not suffice as a guide through the rich and varied passages that one encounters in the second half of the volume. Russell’s closing remarks on Hermogenes give the student some categories through which to analyze prose style, but are only marginally helpful.

The commentary on individual passages consists largely of glosses on words, phrases, and sentences, and of references to Greek grammars (Smyth and Goodwin) and Denniston’s Greek Particles. The glosses are quite helpful and one only wishes that more were included on less familiar texts. The references to Smyth, Goodwin, and Denniston are plentiful, but too often with no explanation of the point in question. This is clearly one way to economize on space in the commentary, but at some cost, since few students prepare their assignments surrounded by all these volumes. Russell’s remarks on stylistic features are helpful, but appear too infrequently in the commentary. The detailed analysis he undertakes of Thuc. 7.84-86 (p. xxix) is impressive, and one would like to see more of this kind of treatment elsewhere in the volume.

In an age when fewer and fewer students reach a high level of proficiency in Greek, commentaries must face this reality by providing more guidance than does AGP. It would be preferable, in my mind, to include half as many passages in this volume with twice as much commentary. Even so, I recommend it for use in the classroom, particularly for advanced undergraduates and graduate students.