BMCR 1997.03.27

1997.3.27, Demand, History of Ancient Greece

, A history of ancient Greece. Overture books. New York: McGraw-Hill Companies, 1996. xviii, 397 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm.. ISBN 9780070162075 $24.75.

Demand’s new book offers at a modest price an attractive, compact introductory ancient Greek history text, useful especially to teachers who emphasize study of original documents, texts, and artifacts. The author imagines her book used in the context of a large university lecture class, but it would be equally suitable for a much smaller, college format. Also well-served would be the serious non-specialist looking for an introduction to scholarship on ancient Greek history.

A listing of chapters gives some idea of the book’s architecture: Greek Environment and Prehistory; Myth and Archaeology: Minoan Crete; Bronze Age Greece; From the Bronze Age to the Iron Age; Archaic Greece: Renaissance and Revolution; Sparta: An Alternative to Tyranny; Archaic Athens: Crisis and Reform; Archaic Ionia: Greeks and Persians; The Persian Wars and the History of Herodotus; Athens: The Development of Empire and Democracy; The Other Greeks: Women, Metics, Slaves; Thucydides and the Peloponnesian War; Greece in the Fourth Century B.C.; Philip of Macedon; Alexander the Great.

While Demand’s approach to history is, in general, traditional, emphasizing political and military events, her pedagogical assumptions are unique and admirable. Demand assumes that history is a narrative but not a seamless narrative, and history is furthermore, a process, in which she explicitly asks the student to participate. She presumes that students will buy translations of Herodotus, Thucydides, and Aristophanes’Wasps, Knights, and Clouds. Numerous Source Analysis sections ask students to consider pointed and specific analytical questions about sections of these works. In addition, the book offers many short texts such as the Troezen Decree and the “Old Oligarch,” and selections from other sources such as Solon and Plutarch. Footnotes refer to secondary sources, especially current journal articles, and each chapter ends with “Suggestions for Further Reading.”

Rivals in the Greek history textbook marketplace offer either a collection of sources with little or no connective rhetorical tissue or else they are utterly self-sufficient, in the Bury-Meiggs mold which most of us initially learned from and taught from. The former category demands extraordinary feats of integration on the part of student and instructor, the latter utterly excludes the student from the historical process. In fact, in these days of coursepacks and Internet or on-campus network access to texts such as Perseus, one wonders how long source collections can survive as a genre. New tools allow each instructor to custom tailor a set of source materials. Even with the excerpts in Demand’s book and with the other texts she recommends, most teachers will indeed still want to supplement with a coursepack or other sources to be read electronically.

The self-sufficient history textbook, on the other hand, thick and with impressively gold-stamped blue binding inspires awe but unfortunately also dread in many students. Such textbooks represent the end product of years of study and reflection on every bit of evidence, about which the student receives the author’s final judgment. Herodotus, for example, has been thoroughly threshed to remove the chaff of anecdote and myth, leaving only the kernel of historical fact and incidentally leaving the student no reason to read the full text of the Histories. Demand’s approach, on the other hand, is to present a book which is the beginning of a voyage of discovery, rather than a final destination.

Hitherto, the only remotely comparable book has been A. R. Burn’s History of Greece, inexpensive and with an attractive text but often frustratingly allusive, by now outdated, and with wretched maps and no illustrations. To be fair, Burn’s book was originally intended for the traveler’s suitcase rather than the student’s back pack. Demand’s book updates Burn but is similarly modest in its claims. The is a history of ancient Greece, with the emphasis clearly on the indefinite article—though Demand is refreshingly free of bias toward any particular “ism” or cant.

It is a pity, however, that Demand did not see fit to include more explicit discussion of theories of the nature of history, precisely because historians currently do not seem able to agree on what it is. All the candidates are nicely applicable to Greek history and students enjoy discussing and applying them: the history of famous men, of common men, of oppressed groups, of great ideas, of great battles, of political systems, of economic systems, and so on.

Demand begins, after a brief consideration of Neolithic, with the Bronze Age and ends with Alexander. A one-page Epilogue covers the Hellenistic world. Almost one quarter of the book deals with the Bronze Age, but this emphasis is understandable when one considers that at this point the students will have no narrative ancient sources to read. During this section of the course, however, students could be reading the Iliad with profit. To keep the book as short as it is, Demand has largely passed over social history. Religion also receives scant attention. The eight pages devoted, according to the Index, to the religion of classical Athens deal in fact with the Periclean building program and the sophists. Greek athletics, among other pots and pans topics, get bare mention. Rather than cavil with such omissions, however, one ought perhaps to rejoice in the absence of intermittent half-hearted and insipid chapters devoted to “Art, Literature, and the Family in the x Age.” Demand’s focus is on the meat and potatoes, leaving instructors free to give whatever emphasis they feel necessary to other synchronic truths and diachronic movements in the story of the Hellenes.

One of the great strengths of this book is its maps, though there are no battlefield maps. Each chapter ends with a useful list of Important Places, providing some guide and review for the student frustrated by the welter of unfamiliar names. Many of the maps are half-tone, showing the land features so important to the course of Hellenic events. Another useful and unique feature is the set of Map Exercises at the back of the book, for use in quizzes or review. These exercises are versions of the maps appearing elsewhere in the book, with all the place names deleted. Experience shows that students often do not truly know where a place is until they can draw it in on a blank map while the instructor locates it on the transparency screen. In order to use the Map Index in the back of the book, however, the reader must first turn back to the List of Maps in the front and only then learn the page on which that particular map is located.

Demand writes a clear and serviceable prose, though she fails to provide a perfect model for students whose teachers have told them to avoid the passive voice wherever possible. The photographs, of which there is unfortunately no list, are mostly well-chosen and of good quality considering that they are printed on non-glossy paper. A few murky tourist photos have crept in, such as the unenlightening shot of the architectural hodgepodge of modern Sparta (p. 119). One wishes there were, instead, more of the excellent archaeological site plans and engravings such as that of the “Rich Athenian Lady” (p. 142). There is also a Glossary, which translates such words as astu and harmost.

A final virtue of the book is that is, of course, new and refers to current scholarship such as Barry Powell’s book, Homer and the Alphabet. References to journal articles in English in both scholarly and popular journals are particularly welcome. Students have little time to read whole books in the course of a semester, but they can often profit from even quite technical articles. New discoveries in Greek history tend to come in articles rather than books in any case, and the citation of periodical literature has the further virtue of impressing students (especially science students) that this is a dynamic field in which new research is being done every day. One hopes that Demand will be able to produce new editions over the years to maintain this sense of currency. One new work that deserves serious attention in any such new edition (and an exception to the rule that important advances appear only in journals) is surely Victor Hanson’s The Other Greeks (Free Press, 1995).

Demand has found a major publisher of school and college textbooks for her volume, but the work before us scarcely belongs to that genre with its snappy charts and sidebars and text carefully manipulated by a team of editors to please this or that educational system. This is an individual scholar’s book and an invitation to students to join with her in a scholarly conversation about Greek history.