The Classical World: An Epic History from Homer to Hadrian

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The classical civilizations of Greece and Rome once dominated the world, and they continue to fascinate and inspire us. Classical art and architecture, drama and epic, philosophy and politics—these are the foundations of Western civilization. In The Classical World, eminent classicist Robin Lane Fox brilliantly chronicles this vast sweep of history from Homer to the reign of Augustus. From the Peloponnesian War through the creation of Athenian democracy, from the turbulent empire of Alexander the Great to the ...

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Overview

The classical civilizations of Greece and Rome once dominated the world, and they continue to fascinate and inspire us. Classical art and architecture, drama and epic, philosophy and politics—these are the foundations of Western civilization. In The Classical World, eminent classicist Robin Lane Fox brilliantly chronicles this vast sweep of history from Homer to the reign of Augustus. From the Peloponnesian War through the creation of Athenian democracy, from the turbulent empire of Alexander the Great to the creation of the Roman Empire and the emergence of Christianity, Robin Lane Fox serves as our witty and trenchant guide. He introduces us to extraordinary heroes and horrific villains, great thinkers and blood-thirsty tyrants. Throughout this vivid tour of two of the greatest civilizations the world has ever known, we remain in the hands of a great master.

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Editorial Reviews

Adrian Goldsworthy
We need to understand the past on its own terms before trying to draw any lessons from it, and for this and other reasons, Robin Lane Fox's splendid The Classical World is to be especially welcomed. Lane Fox, who teaches at Oxford, is that rarest of writers: a distinguished academic who is willing and able to address a general audience…Lane Fox's survey deserves to be widely read. Indeed, I cannot think of a better introduction to the subject for those with no prior knowledge. Whether or not you agree with all his interpretations—and many will not—no one will doubt that these are the considered opinions of someone with a deep knowledge of the subject.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Framing this history of the classical world as he imagines the second-century Emperor Hadrian (who traveled the classical world and had a "classicizing mind") would have done, this scintillating survey seeks to understand Greek and Roman civilizations on their own terms. Oxford historian Fox (Alexander the Great) structures his study around the ancient concepts of freedom, justice and luxury, as they evolved from Homeric literature onward. The story arranges itself around two poles: democratic Athens, of which, for all its flaws, Fox is an unabashed partisan, and Rome, whose fatally unequal republic declined into the grotesque tyranny of the early empire. This intellectual framework provides an interpretive skeleton for a loosely structured, well-paced narrative history. (One disappointment, a major one for an "epic history," is Fox's sketchy, montage-like treatment of military campaigns.) Into the story the author weaves insightful passages on art, religion, technology, marriage and the prominent role of homosexuality in classical culture, along with set-piece profiles of statesmen and thinkers from Pericles to Plato to Pliny. Fox is a fluent, perceptive color commentator on the pageant of ancient history, while giving readers some idea of where the parade was headed. 71 b&w illus.; 10 maps. (Oct.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Known primarily for his work in Hellenistic and biblical history, Fox (ancient history, Oxford Univ.; Alexander the Great) will not disappoint readers with his new book. Its chronological boundaries are set by literature, ranging from Homer in the eighth century B.C.E. to the final era of Roman literature in the second century C.E., before Christianity became a force. Fox examines the opening of the Western mind, to borrow a phrase, placing the era in a framework fascinating for its perspective and reasonableness. While examining such issues as gender and slavery, he ignores neither fifth-century Athens nor Rome's revolution. Topical chapters are situated appropriately and do not seem like add-ons, a common problem in history books; for example, the chapter titled "Taxes and Technology" comes after discussion of the Successor Kings and before Rome's entrance on the scene. Fox examines politics in ways that are not often seen in such texts, drawing parallels between the likes of Sulla, Cleisthenes, and Saint Paul. While its length may frighten off some from using it, either for a survey course or as hobby reading, this engaging work is reasonably priced (compared with textbooks) and includes both good maps and a sound bibliography. Recommended for all academic and large public libraries. Clay Williams, Hunter Coll. Lib., New York Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A sweeping history of the ancient Mediterranean. Fox (Ancient History/Oxford Univ.; The Unauthorized Version, 1992, etc.) traces Greco-Roman history through three themes that have long interested classicists: freedom, justice and luxury. By this measure, the classical world did not fare very well, and Fox's study becomes a somewhat depressing tale, inasmuch as only luxuria did well in the end, at least for those who had the talents and sesterces to enjoy it. As an ideal, the concept of freedom was perhaps the most important of the three; Fox begins with the Homeric poems, which he has no difficulty (unlike many classicists) in attributing to a single person-or perhaps a single person per epic-who lived around 750-730 b.c. "What we now read has probably been tidied up and added to in places," he writes, "but at least there was a monumental poet at work." (Farewell, Millman Parry.) Homeric ideals were translated into education, with all its famed and defamed pederasty, and then into notions of cultural difference that tended to be fairly benign-except, perhaps, in the case of the Jews; those ideals also figured in later concepts of democracy, which Athens, for one, attempted to impose on its neighbors, whence the Peloponnesian War. The Greeks accounted the Romans barbarians, and given the behavior of the Julio-Claudian ruling clan, they had a point: Rome's first emperors made it a point to restrict freedom, with Augustus, of the "conservative revolution," the Jerry Falwell of his time, and Augustus' successors, the kind to give moralists nightmares, with penchants for incest, fratricide, intrigue and conquest. Although ordinary Romans remained sensible-as Fox writes of the warped emperorClaudius, "His death was joyfully received by the common people"-their rulers did not, yielding, in time, a spectacular decline and fall. A lucid survey of a time that invites all kinds of between-the-lines reading in quest for parallels to our own.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465024964
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 10/28/2006
  • Pages: 672
  • Product dimensions: 6.60 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Robin Lane Fox is a Fellow of New College, Oxford, where he has been a University Reader in Ancient History since 1990. His previous books include Alexander the Great, Pagans and Christians, and The Unauthorized Version: Truth and Fiction in the Bible. He writes a regular column in the Financial Times. He lives in Oxford, England.

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