by Philip Hooker
Once again, we have picked out the classical books featured in the latest Bookseller Buyer’s Guide (and some others noted elsewhere): these are the books which publishers think will interest the general reader.
The highlighted work is Daniel Mendelsohn’s An Odyssey: A Father, A Son and an Epic; the cultural critic teaches classics at Bard College and this is the story of how his father, age 81, came to his Odyssey course and later joined him in the Mediterranean to follow Odysseus’ footsteps. It is in the same genre as Ann Patty’s Living with a Dead Language and Peter Stothard’s The Senecans (both now in paperback): how study of the classics can enrich contemporary lives. We also note Bijam Omrani’s Caesar’s Footprints: Journeys to Roman Gaul, and the latest Frederic Raphael: Antiquity Matters. An earlier generation is explored by Yopie Prins in Ladies’ Greek, which describes how young college women in the UK and US translated and produced versions of Greek Tragedy from the 1880s; a remarkable feat of reception. And Edith Hamilton, author of by far the most influential introductions to the ancient world: The Greek Way (1930) and The Roman Way (1932), is re-printed again, though these must by now be seen as period pieces.
In the category of erudite light entertainment, we have the latest works from Philip Matyszak: 24 Hours in Ancient Rome: A day in the Life of the People Who Lived There, featuring 24 characters, and Paul Chrystal: How to be a Roman: A day in the Life of a Roman Family, as well as Eleanor Dickey’s Stories of Daily Life from the Roman World: Extracts from the Ancient Colloquia, a more serious textbook. The latest Peter Jones is Quid pro Quo, all about the Latin roots of the English language. In fiction, there are new historical novels from Douglas Jackson, Ben Kane and Anthony Riches, and new historical crime writer Annelise Friesenbruch with Rivals of the Republic, in which Hortensia, daughter of Rome’s leading orator, investigates the murder of a Vestal Virgin in 70BC. More literary is Khamla Shamsie with Home Fire, long-listed for the Booker prize, a contemporary re-imagining of Antigone.
Scholarly works include Kathryn Tempest’s Brutus the Noble Conspirator, Jennifer Roberts with The Plague of War: Athens, Sparta and the Struggle for Ancient Greece, Vincent Azoulay with The Tyrant Slayers of Ancient Athens: A Tale of Two Statues, The Oxford Handbook of Ancient Greek Religion, edited by Esther Eidinow and Julia Kindt, and two new Cambridge Companions on the writings of Julius Caesar and on the Age of Nero. There are two new accounts of the Fall of the Roman Empire: The Darkening Age by Catherine Nixey, who cites the destructive effects of a radical new religion – Christianity - and The Fall of Rome: Climate, Disease and the End of Empire by Kyle Harper. And there are three accounts of other groups: In Search of the Phoenicians by Josephine Crawley Quinn, who questions whether they were really a coherent nation; Scythians: Warriors of Ancient Siberia by St. John Simpson, which ties in with the British Museum exhibition commencing in September; and Amazons: The Real Warrior Women of the Ancient World, by John Man, which ties in with Wonder Woman.
There are several new texts in translation. Penguin has an anthology of ancient historiography – Dionysius, Plutarch, Lucian and more - translated by John Marincola, and another of ancient rhetoric from Aristotle to Philostratus, translated by Thomas Habinek, as well as Alicia Stallings’ version of Hesiod’s Works and Days. OUP World Classics recently added Josephus’ The Jewish War in a version by Martin Hammond. The latest Loebs are Apuleius’ Apologia and other works and Aelius Aristides’ Orations. Peter Rhodes has updated his version of The Athenian Constitution: Written in the School of Aristotle. The latest Cambridge Green and Yellow is Stephen Harrison’s edition of Horace: Odes Book 2. More literary works include David Perry’s version of the Aeneid, C P Vlieland’s Juvenal Revisited, and Bad Kid Catullus, a set of modern crowd-sourced versions edited by Jon Stone. Meanwhile there is Emily Wilson’s version of The Odyssey, which follows Caroline Alexander’s version of The Iliad, both said to be the first done by women.
Among works for children, the runaway best seller is the latest Rick Riordan: The Dark Prophecy, the second volume of The Trials of Apollo. We also have the latest Caroline Lawrence: Death in the Arena, and the latest Saviour Pirotta: Secret of the Oracle, as well as Courtney Carbone’s OMG Classics: Greek Gods, a tale told in texts. For younger readers, there are Hugh Lupton’s Greek Myths: Three Heroic Tales and The Adventures of Odysseus, Terry Deary’s four sets of Roman Tales and Marcia Williams’ Greek Myths.