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  • Wandering Greeks. The Ancient Greek Diaspora from the Age of Homer to Alexander the Great by Robert Garland
  • Silvia Montiglio
Robert Garland. Wandering Greeks. The Ancient Greek Diaspora from the Age of Homer to Alexander the Great. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2014. Pp. 344. $35.00. ISBN 978-0-691-16105-1.

Garland’s engaging book is organized into nine main chapters, each devoted to a specific category of wanderers (“The Settler,” “The Deportee,” “The Evacuee,” “The Asylum Seeker,” “The Fugitive,” “The Economic Migrant,” “The Itinerant”) or to a concept related to wandering (“The Portable Polis,” “Repatriation”). These focused chapters are preceded by an introduction (“Prolegomena”) and by a more general chapter (“The Wanderer”). The book includes suggestions for further reading, five appendices dealing with vocabulary and catalogues of displaced persons, a chronology of Greek historical facts relevant to the study, a glossary, a bibliography, and four indexes.

As this overview shows, the book is not meant for the specialist but for the generally educated reader (though specialists will also learn from it). With this kind of reader in mind, Garland intersperses his treatment of Greek realities with appropriate and thought-provoking modern parallels (especially in the “Prolegomena”). This back-and-forth between ancient and modern is one of the book’s strongest assets. Let me just quote the beginning: “To put things in perspective: there are 42.5 million displaced persons in the world today” (xv). A sentence like this brings the relevance of the subject matter vividly before the reader’s mind. Garland is also keen on inviting us to see differences, in addition to similarities, in the experiences and treatments of displaced persons in ancient Greece and in modern societies. Again to stay close to the book’s beginning, he correctly argues that “concepts such as multiculturalism . . . cannot usefully be applied to the ancient world” (xvi–xvii), and that “migration . . . often represented a far more radical upheaval in people’s lives than it does today.” Another attractive feature of the study is its passionate, often indignant, tone, and the empathy with which Garland comes to grips with the imagined hardships faced by Greek wanderers. We are made to feel for them. Take, for instance, the way Garland sympathizes with a hungry pioneer who sold his allotment of land for the price of a honey cake (53), or with the weakest deportees, who were certainly left behind for lack of adequate transportation (82).

The book is a historical study. It seeks to unearth facts about migrations, exiles, deportations, and the like, rather than to conceptualize how those experiences were represented in fictional or philosophical texts. Accordingly, the main sources Garland uses are the ancient historians, though both poetry (especially Homer and tragedy) and philosophy (Plato and Aristotle) make occasional, and well-placed, appearances. The first chapter, however, which purports to offer an “overview of their [the wanderers’] state of being” (16) in literary texts, hangs alone and is superficial and derivative (Garland should have acknowledged more fully his numerous debts to other scholars, as he dutifully does in the other chapters). The book would read just as well without it. Another criticism I have concerns the [End Page 569] placement of discussions of terminology, scattered as they are among the introduction, various chapters, and one appendix (“The Terminology of Diaspora”). As Garland recognizes, a major stumbling block for his study is the vagueness with which Greek denotes the conditions of the wanderer, the exile, or the fugitive, often with overlapping terms (such as φυγή). A fuller treatment of such terms from the outset would have been more helpful and economical. On occasion I would also have liked the discussion to be more condensed, rather than to proceed case by case (as in chapters 4 and 5, which read a bit like lists of relocation or deportation episodes). The bibliography is extensive, though there should be a reference to L. Casson, Travel in the Ancient World (London 1974) and to I. Malkin, The Returns of Odysseus: Colonization and Ethnicity (Berkeley and Los Angeles 1998).

These criticisms, however, do not significantly detract from the quality of this important book, written in a crystal-clear and refreshingly jargon...


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