by Philip Hooker
Once again, we have studied the Bookseller’s Buyers Guide and picked out the books on classical themes which publishers believe will be of interest to the general reader (plus a number sourced elsewhere).
Pride of place goes to two big, wide-ranging, books by two of our most notable scholars. Greg Woolf has The Life and Death of Ancient Cities: A Natural History, due in May. This covers Athens and Sparta, Persepolis and Carthage, Rome and Alexandria, a vivid panorama of the ancient world. Meanwhile Paul Cartledge offers Thebes: The Forgotten City of Ancient Greece, also due in May. Thebes was once the most powerful city in Greece, the birthplace of Hercules, the home of the Sphinx and Oedipus, which sided with Xerxes and the Persians and later with Sparta to quash democracy in Athens, only to be utterly destroyed by Alexander the Great. It’s a big story.
In different vein, we call attention to Helen Morales with Antigone Rising: The Subversive Power of Ancient Myths – and its modern legacies, from MeToo to the imagery of Beyoncé. It is seriously feminist, as might be expected from the author of Pilgrimage to Dollywood. The most notable work of fiction is probably from Lindsey Davis with The Grove of the Caesars, the eighth instalment of the Flavia Albia series. There is still a possibility of a television series featuring Falco; in November, Mammoth Screen announced that they were in “advanced development” talks with ITV; this probably means that the BBC turned the project down (again), but that ITV are now looking at it. In the meantime, we must rest content with occasional repeats of the Anton Lesser radio serials on Radio 4 Extra.
Many of the works featured in previous notes are about to appear in paperback – those of Daisy Dunn, Armand D’Angour, Jerry Toner, Mary Norris, Natalie Haynes, Simon Turney, Adrienne Mayor, for example, who were all favourably reviewed and sold well in hardback.
Among scholarly works, we single out The Cambridge Companion to Ancient Greek and Roman Science, edited by Liba Taub and How Dead Languages Work by Coulter H. George (Greek, Latin, Old English, Sanskrit, Old Irish, Biblical Hebrew). Philip Matyszak with Forgotten Peoples of the Ancient World covers 40 ancient civilisations – from the Hyksos to the Hephthalites and everyone in between – and certainly has range. Andrew Bayliss offers The Spartans, a useful paperback guide. Denise Allan and Mike Bryan have compiled Roman Britain … And Where to Find It. Piero Boitani’s A New Sublime: Ten Timeless Lessons on the Classics is based on a popular series for Swiss radio.
For lighter entertainment, we commend Sarah Rowley with Latin Rocks On, based on a renowned Twitter account, with Latin versions of popular song lyrics from Martin Gaye to Madonna, Take That to Taylor Swift. Simon Walters with The Borisaurus: The Dictionary of Boris Johnson explores the great man’s extensive vocabulary and explains most of his classical references. We also note the growing number of audio books, ideal for long journeys – Naxos are about to publish Xenophon’s The Persian Expedition read by David Timson; he has previously done Herodotus, Apollonius, Apuleius and Gibbon’s Decline and Fall; Anton Lesser has voiced the Iliad and the Odyssey; others have done Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Thucydides and Plutarch’s Greek Lives. The great recent bestseller is Stephen Fry with Mythos.
New translations include After Callimachus by Stephanie Burt, Josiah Osgood’s translated selections from Suetonius (How to be A Bad Emperor - An Ancient Guide to Truly Terrible Leaders), Sophocles' Oedipus the King (in verse) by David Kovacs and Aristotle's The Nicomachean Ethics by Adam Beresford (from Penguin). New texts include Loebs of Appian (another volume from Brian McGing) and Livy (another volume from J. C. Yardley), Oxford Classical Texts of Aulus Gellius (by Leofranc Holford-Strevens) and Apuleius' Philosophical Works (by Giuseppina Magnaldi), as well as Cambridge Green and Yellows of Virgil's Aeneid Book XI (Scott McGill), Plautus' Pseudolus (David Christenson), Achilles Tatius' Leucippe and Clitophon (Tim Whitmarsh) and Euripides' Cyclops (Richard Hunter and Rebecca Laemmle). There is also is a new Collins Latin Essential Dictionary “for all the words you need every day”, which is presumably rather basic and inexpensive.
Philip Hooker is the Hon. Treasurer of the Classical Association, and writes regularly for the CA Blog on Classics in the Media