BMCR 2015.09.21

The Oxford Companion to Classical Civilization. Second edition (first published 1998)

, , , The Oxford Companion to Classical Civilization. Second edition (first published 1998). Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2014. xxviii, 878. ISBN 9780198706779. $65.00.


Print encyclopedias have become an antiquated endeavor in the internet age. The knowledge possessed within an encyclopedia is still necessary, and indeed, sought after. As the popularity and usability of such a work has diminished, however, publishing companies have begun to rapidly transition to a digital-only model for academic books, and the impending doom of print books in general has been foretold since the advent of e-readers. Into this fraught environment comes the second edition of the Oxford Companion to Classical Civilization ( OCCC 2). 1

The Oxford Companion to Classical Civilization aims to make the most current Oxford Classical Dictionary ( OCD) more accessible to a broader audience. Previous reviewers of the first edition of the Oxford Companion to Classical Civilization ( OCCC 1) have struggled with this question of audience. 2 Few of the previous OCCC reviewers seem to think it is worthwhile for universities who already own the OCD or the well-prepared classics major at the undergraduate level. The editors of the OCCC 1 and the OCCC 2 target a “wider, less expert” audience by providing a handily sized option that is equally authoritative in scope but less costly than the OCD. To that end, they have included many entries from the OCD in their original form, while pruning the OCD ’s overall bibliography to save space. Images have also been added for visual interest and additional explanation of certain topics. The OCCC 2, an update based on the OCD 4, feels more expansive in scope than the OCCC 1 due to the inclusion of new and updated entries on mostly cultural themes. In addition to the print option, the OCCC 2 can also be purchased as an online resource.3

With the OCCC 2, Hornblower, Spawforth, and Eidinow have achieved some of their goals. The OCCC 2 is physically smaller than the OCD 4. At 9.7 x 7.4 inches and 912 pages compared with 10.6 x 7.9 inches and 1792 pages for the OCD 4, it is certainly “handily-sized.” By its very nature, though, it is not, and cannot be, a pocket-sized reference. The OCCC 2 is cheaper than the OCD 4. At $65 versus $175, the OCCC 2 is a bargain. Even online pricing cannot reduce a new OCD 4 enough to reach the cost of a new OCCC 2. Libraries and fiscally conservative departments will likely find this an attractive, cost-effective buy. Finally, the OCCC 2 is relatively easy to use. All entries are alphabetized and significant entries are highlighted by scroll banding along the edges. A student wishing to look up the “Twelve Tables” or “Hadrian,” can do so without difficulty. A student also can choose to use this book as a basic primer on the Classical world by reading entries at random. The lack of an index and the condensed bibliography, however, is a serious impediment. Without knowing how an entry is listed, it would be challenging for a student to locate certain entries quickly or at all. The inclusion of some cross-references provides guidance, but at times, the user will have to create their own mental index to find entries that include what they are seeking.4

The OCCC 2 has new and updated topics that acknowledge changing interests in the field of classics and in modern society. Rather than attempt to compare many entries from both editions, I approached the texts as might a college student and selected two entries: “Julius Caesar” and “secular prostitution”. The OCCC 2 entry on Gaius Julius Caesar originally written and updated by Ernst Badian (cross-referenced with both Julius and Caesar) is a more thorough historical account than that found in the OCD 3 and the OCCC 1. While it is a near copy of the OCD 4 entry on Julius Caesar, there are several omissions from the OCCC 2.5 Nevertheless, the edits and additions generally make for a more coherent, smoother narrative than that found in OCCC 1. What was lacking in the entry in the OCCC 1, namely the history of Caesar’s family before his father, is included in the OCCC 2 as a new entry on the “Julii Caesares.”6 The entry includes a select history of both family branches, including the first member to conjoin the two lines. Ascanius (Alba Longa), Apollo, and Venus are also included. Finally Caesar’s nobiles ancestors are included, helping to explain his political position more fully. A student wishing to understand Caesar’s importance in the Republic would be well served by these two entries.

The entry on secular prostitution is more problematic. Someone wishing to know more about general prostitution in the ancient world first needs to know the difference between secular and sacred prostitution, as there is an entry for each in the OCCC 2. The entry is also limited in scope to mostly classical Athens and an undefined Roman period despite the fact the volume covers the period between the middle of the second millennium BCE to the sixth century CE. The first known remarks on Greek prostitution provided by Hesiod remain the same between both versions. Greek and Latin etymologies for words relating to prostitution are included in both as well. The entry, which retains the OCCC 1 title “secular prostitution,” is now split into two categories: male and female. The original entry was much shorter and focused almost entirely on female prostitution.

The new section on male prostitution written by David M. Halperin is a good, brief, overview of the benefits and dangers for boys in the profession. Attractive young boys were highly sought after and could profit greatly due to gifts from lovers. Halperin discusses the potential social suicide of choosing prostitution for young citizen boys in Athens, and asserts that male prostitutes often were slaves or foreign-born instead of citizens, to prevent any degradation of character that could prevent a public life when the boy was older. There is no mention of non-Athenian mores. Pricing for boys is included, as well as the prime hubs for male prostitution. Halperin also briefly describes the layout of a typical male brothel.

The original section on female prostitution, written by Madeleine Henry, has been edited and clarified. Solon’s role in creating state prostitution remains in the text. Henry provides information about low-born, “slavelike” women in “coercive” environments, but fails to incorporate the various hierarchies of female prostitution, including that of the elite prostitutes (companions) of many Greek aristocrats, the hetairai.7 Although information about brothel location is included, this entry would have benefitted from the same level of detail for female prostitutes as was included in the male entry.8 In the Selected Bibliography at the end of the book, the main resource listed for further study on women’s issues is Gillian Clark’s Women in the Ancient World from 1993.9

What, then, would a student in today’s tech-saturated world do if they had further questions? They would go to the internet.10 This reviewer decided to check the “Ancient Greek prostitution” and “Ancient Roman prostitution” entries on Wikipedia, the knowledge base most students consult before they even consider setting foot into a library. A common expectation is that internet resources are not vetted and that the information contained on an open-source webpage cannot be trusted. This reviewer found, however, that the entries were more thorough, clearer, and better cited than the prostitution entry in both print editions of the OCCC s. The online version of the OCCC 2 did not offer more updated information either. It is possible the editable nature of Wikipedia provides a better platform for more frequent updates, although it should not be considered a replacement for proper reference works for scholars. This reviewer believes that both the general student and the classics student, the target audience of these editors, would be just as well served by the Internet as by this work — that is, until the OCCC becomes 100% digital and can update and edit their text in real time with an eye toward the newest scholarship.


1. The ( OCCC 2) exists in print and online. The online platform, however, is a separate purchase from the Oxford Classical Dictionary from which its entries are drawn, and therefore has many of the same limitations as a competitor to the Oxford Classical Dictionary.

2. The publication of another companion, The Oxford Dictionary of the Classical World, in 2007 complicates the question of audience further. See Mary Ellen Quinn’s 1999 review in The Booklist and Roger Rees’ 2000 review in The Classical Review for questions of audience.

3. Unfortunately, the online platform does not allow the display of illustrations. It does allow for easier cross-referencing at the end of each entry, though.

4. The process of mental index creation employed by a user of this reference would be quite similar to the process one undergoes when searching for information on the internet.

5. On the one hand, when discussing Caesar’s appointment to military tribune, the OCD 4 cross-references “Tribuni Militum.” The entry is absent in the OCCC 2. “Allobroges,” “Calpurnia,” “Helvetii,” and “Jugurtha” also do not have entries in the OCCC 2. On the other hand, entries such as “Sulla,” “Crassus”, “imperium,” “dictator”, and “tribune of the plebs” are present in both works.

6. It should be mentioned that there is a passing mention of Caesar’s familial link to Aeneas and Venus. Additionally, the OCD 4 has a complete entry on Caesar father, which is omitted from the OCCC 2.

7. Hetairai are mentioned in passing in the entry on sacred prostitution, but they do not have a separate entry in the work and are not given a full definition. Hetairai also does not have its own entry in the OCCC 2.

8. Henry herself acknowledges that more research needs to be done on this topic.

9. I would recommend the more recent Blackwell Companion to Women in the Ancient World (2012), as it has more detail on the full range of female prostitution and why prostitution was regulated by the state.

10. See Campbell (BMCR 2012.08.34) for a review of the OCD 4 in the face of internet culture.