- A Companion to the Classical Greek World
Treating, as it does, a very large topic, this is a large book, containing twenty-seven essays by leading international scholars. Uwe Walter opens with discussion of the idea of the “classical” and of a “classical period” in Greek history. This is followed by three essays that survey the written and non-written sources, describing them but also considering the possibilities and problems they present to interpretation. Seven essays then provide an overview of conditions and developments across the classical world, region by region, progressively moving out from Athens and Sparta to Aegean Greece and then to the Balkans and Black Sea, Western Mediterranean, and Near East. The essays treat (with rather different emphasis from essay to essay) the narrative of geopolitical events in the context of interstate relations, cultural interaction, ethnic identity, economics, social organization, and physical and human geography. Two essays follow on landscape and the physical environment, before four on social topics [End Page 78] (economies; religion; citizens, foreigners, and slaves; women and ethnicity), and three on government: Lynette Mitchell’s survey of Greek constitutions explores commonality and difference between Greek states, while the next two essays, on democracy and on law and rhetoric, focus on Athens. Essays follow on intellectual and art history and on warfare. Finally, four essays relate the historical narrative from 478 to 323.
Among scholars, there is some suspicion of the burgeoning field of companions, as being money-spinners for presses. In a time of proliferating publication and attendant academic specialization, however, such volumes can be very useful, allowing scholars and students readily to orientate themselves with respect to current approaches, debates, opinions, and knowledge in an area of study. Fulfilling this mandate, however, is no easy task for editors and contributors. Topics treated and their treatment cannot but be selective, yet the volume must aim to be as comprehensive as possible. On many topics there is no consensus, and even when there is, to whatever extent, an opinio communis, it is a service to the reader also to represent controversies and debates. Contributors are responsible for presenting an overview of the state of opinion and knowledge, but will inevitably and not inappropriately, be presenting their own perspective. The book must serve a broad audience with very different levels of knowledge and expertise. Given this balancing act, no companion will be perfect.
Thus although this volume by and large succeeds remarkably well in maintaining a high scholarly level while remaining accessible to a range of readers, there are lapses and some essays require more prior knowledge than others. Walter, for example, is generally careful to explain terms, but refers to “the concept of paideia” (8) without explaining it and refers to “bodies like” the phylai, the phratriai, and the demoi (17) without saying what sort of bodies these were. He asks, “Was Athenian fourth-century democracy qualitatively different from that of the fifth century, as a consequence of ... the changes in its laws and constitution ...?” (14), without any indication of what these changes consisted in. In cases such as this, where an author raises a point treated more fully elsewhere in the collection, cross-referencing would have helped. The problem of having to depend on the reader’s knowledge of major events and developments might also effectively have been addressed by placing the narrative essays at the beginning of the volume (although the editor does explain the considerations that led to their being placed at the end: xiv). To take another example, Steven Lattimore does not explain anastylosis (471) and assumes that “the kouros format,” “the pronounced articulation of late Archaic art,” and the contrast between “Archaic explicit action” and “Classical latent action and inaction” (458) will be clear to his reader without elaboration. His task would have been made easier by the provision of more illustrations. G.J. Oliver, by way of introduction to his essay, makes a valiant effort to [End Page 79] outline...