by Philip Hooker
Once again, we have studied The Bookseller’s Buyers’ Guide and picked out some of the new books on classical themes which publishers believe will be of interest to the general reader. We have called in a few more from elsewhere.
The one highlighted work is Daisy Dunn’s Pliny: Life, Letters and Natural History in the Shadows of Vesuvius, a literary biography based on the letters of the younger and the natural history of the elder. Armand D’Angour’s Socrates in Love: The Making of a Philosopher may be more notable; it focuses on his little-known early life as a heroic warrior, an athletic wrestler and dancer, and a passionate lover – and it identifies ‘Diotima’ in the Symposium as Aspasia of Miletus, the consort of Pericles.
Among works of fiction, Natalie Haynes is back with A Thousand Ships, an all-female retelling of the Trojan War, the latest in a long line of recent feminist fiction - “This is the Women’s War”. In contrast, Harry Sidebottom’s The Lost Ten is very much a boy’s book. “A Crack Squad. An Impenetrable Fortress. A Desperate Mission” behind enemy lines in Mesopotamia, with a traitor in the group. “Bravo Two Zero in Ancient Rome” the publisher shouts. There are also numerous additional volumes of historical fiction set in classical times by other established authors, too many to mention.
A new one, which promises to be entertaining, is J M Alvey with Shadows of Athens, about a comic playwright who finds a murdered man outside his front door. “A new detective in the Agora – move over Falco”. Lindsey Davis, meanwhile, has A Capitol Death, the seventh tale featuring Falco’s adopted daughter in the time of Domitian. More intriguing is David Barbaree, a Toronto lawyer, with his second work, The Exiled. It is AD79, ten years after the fall of Nero, there is trouble in Parthia with someone claiming to be Nero, Pliny the admiral is sent out – and then Vesuvius erupts.
Among books for children, we note Andy Stanton’s The Paninis of Pompeii, the first in a new series by the author of Mr Gum, and Gary Northfield’s Grapple with the Greeks! (which follows Rumble with the Romans!) – both for the 7-9s. For the 9-12s, we have Maz Evans with Against All Gods, number four in the Who Let the Gods Out series, and Nicholas Bowling with In the Shadow of Heroes, about a 14-year old slave who travels the Roman world at the time of Nero in search of the Golden Fleece.
Jonathan Bate has a major work: How the Classics Made Shakespeare, which shows how steeped Shakespeare was in the classics, notwithstanding Ben Jonson’s gibe that he had “small Latin and less Greek”. Violet Moller’s The Map of Knowledge describes how the works of Euclid, Ptolemy and Galen survived, focusing on seven cities in the Mediterranean, centres of scholarship in the post-Roman world. Simon Critchley, moderator of the New York Times philosophy blog, has Tragedy, the Greeks and Us, arguing that ancient Greek tragedy holds a mirror up to us. David B Small’s Ancient Greece: Social Structure and Evolution applies social scientific theories from Minoan and Mycenean times all the way to the middle years of the Roman Empire. Vassiliki Panoussi has Brides, Mourners, Bacchae: Women’s Rituals in Roman Literature, and Soultana Marie Valamoti presents Cooking with Plants in Prehistoric Greece: An Archaeobotanical Exploration of Ancient Cuisine, complete with recipes.
Chris Carey has written Thermopylae for an OUP series on Great Battles, Barbara Graziosi has provided Homer: A Very Short Introduction, and Catherine Wilson tells us How to be an Epicurean. Books for a classicist’s next Christmas stocking include Alexander Tulloch’s It’s All Greek: Borrowed Words and Their Histories, Peter Parker’s A Little Book of Latin for Gardeners and Philip Matyszak’s 24 Hours in Ancient Athens, describing the life of 24 ordinary Athenians over the course of one day, which follows a previous work on Ancient Rome.
Among more substantial works, we note The Cambridge Grammar of Classical Greece by Evert van Emde Boas and others, The Cambridge Companion to Roman Comedy, edited by Martin T Dinter, Army of the Roman Emperors by Thomas Fischer and M C Bishop (lavishly illustrated), and two from the Metropolitan Museum, New York: Art of the Hellenistic Kingdoms from Pergamon to Rome, edited by Sean Hemingway and Kiki Karoglou, comprising 20 essays following its 2016 exhibition, and The World Between Empires: Art and Identity in the Ancient Middle East by Blair Fowlkes-Childs and Michael Seymour.
There are also several new translations and texts. How to Think About War: An Ancient Guide to Foreign Policy is a selection from Thucydides translated by Johanna Hanink. How to Keep Your Cool: An Ancient Guide to Anger Management is a selection from Seneca translated by James Romm. The War for Gaul is a new translation of Caesar by James O’Donnell. Ancient Peoples in Their Own Words is a highly-illustrated guide by Michael Kerrigan, based on ancient writing from tomb hieroglyphics to Roman graffiti. Ancient Philosophy: A Companion to the Core Readings by Andrew Stumpf is a complementary undergraduate guide to the texts. There are three new Cambridge Green and Yellows: Plato/Xenophon’s Apology of Socrates, edited by Nicholas Denyer, Lucan’s Civil War Book 7 edited by Paul Roche, and Seneca’s Selected Letters edited by Catharine Edwards. Aris & Phillips have Minor Greek Tragedians, Volume 1: The Fifth Century, a collection of fragments edited by Martin J Cropp. The latest Loebs are Fragmentary Republican Latin Oratory (three volumes) edited by Gesine Manuwald and Menander Rhetor. Dionysus of Halicarnassus, Ars Rhetorica edited by William H Race.
Philip Hooker is the Hon. Treasurer of the Classical Association, and writes regularly for the CA Blog on Classics in the Media.