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Books about the classical era
There are a seemingly infinite number of books on this intently studied era. I can only give you some idea of a few of them that I have read and found interesting. I recommend all the books I review - if I don't like it, I don't write a review of it.

A Dictionary of the Ancient Greek World
David Sacks
Oxford, 1995, 300 pages, line drawings

As the name implies, gives short essays on various people, topics, places and incidents from the range of ancient history, Minoan to Roman eras.

Greece and the Hellenistic World
John BoardMan, Jasper Griffin, Oswyn Murray
Oxford U. Press, 1988, 430 pages, illustrations, larger format

There are various versions of this out and about. This covers both political history and topical discussion (art, philosophy, etc.).

The Beginnings of Rhetorical Theory in Classical Greece
Edward Schiappa
Yale U. Press, 1999, 230 pages.

(Full disclosure: Ed and I are high school classmates and have stayed friends ever since.)

Schiappa reconsiders the standard model of how Greeks came to construct a self-conscious theory of rhetoric. He argues that the concept was created later than the consensus theory. Closely-reasoned, well written and clearly laid out.

The Greek Experience
C. M. Bowra
Barns & Noble books, 1957, 200 pages, some illustrations

Frankly admiring, Bowra presents a masterful survey of what it meant to be alive in this period. Chapters describe what was heroic in that era, how the gods were viewed and other matters. Well written.

Democracy and Classical Greece
J. K. Davies
Harvard University Press, 1993, 300 pages, a few maps

This is intended as a "second" book for the student on this era. Read a general survey first, then go to something like this book. His focus is on the evolution and development of democracy in this period. His discussion continues on down after the fall of Athens in 404 BC.

Greek as a Treat: An Introduction to the Classics
Peter France
Penguin Books, 1993, 170 pages, some illustrations

A readable survey of the standard topics of the classical period. There are chapters on art, historians, plays, philosophy, science and so on. No subject is covered in great depth, but it serves as a useful survey. A wisely selected bibliography allows the curious to continue reading.

Courtesans and Fishcakes: The Consuming Passions of Classical Athens
James Davidson
St. Martin's Press, 1998, 340 pages.

Looking at the male Athenian's appetites, for fish (seen by them as the ultimate food delicacy) and for women. What Davidson does so carefully is permit the complexity of social life to be represented rather than push everything into one theory. He shows us a society concerned about excess.

Pericles of Athens and the Birth of Democracy
Donald Kagan
Macmillan, 1991, 280 pages

A biography of this crucial figure. Kagan frankly admires Pericles, but is not uncritical of him.


Eros: The Myth of Ancient Greek Sexuality
Bruce S. Thornton
Westview Press, 1997, 280 pages.

Myth in the sense of "controlling story" is what Thornton is after and it is the modern myth of Athens he examines. This common story has the Athenians as being all homosexual women-haters. Thornton develops the more complex picture that one would expect a real society to have. The story Thornon develops that that the ancients viewed sexuality, Eros, as wild, destructive, and something that needed to be managed and regulated. Good annotated bibliography.




Law, sexuality, and society: The enforcement of morals in classical Athens.
David Cohen
Cambridge University Press, 1991, 240 pages.

From the fly leaf: "Centering on the examination of the social and legal context of adultery, homosexuality, impiety, and the public-private dichotomy in Athenian society, this book attempts to examine the problems of social control and the regulation of sexuality in a way that will be of interest to a broad readership."

He succeeds in this aim. This is an insightful examination that takes us far beyond the various clichés about the ancients (either that they were uniformly wonderful, or were horrible sexists pigs). He gives a very nuanced account of the role of women and of how people use, defend and manipulate social norms to get what they want.


Thermopylae: The Battle for the West
Ernle Bradford
Da Capo Press, 1993, 244 pages, maps

This book covers both Persian invasions of Greece, not simply the actual battle of Thermopylae. He presents a detailed account of the strategy and tactics of the various players in this drama. I find him a bit more reliable than the Green work below..


The Greco-Persian Wars
Peter Green
U. of California Press, 1996, 287 pages, maps, some illustrations, bibliography

This is an earlier book with a revised introduction that is a sort of extended essay on how well the opinions of the earlier book have held up over time. Green offers a lively and critical account of how Greece repulsed the Persians twice. He describes tactics as well as politics: discussing how the navel and land parties at Athens interacted. With a novelists touch, he can rise to poetry at the significance of this period, yet, he is unromantic about the squabbling, bribing and general carrying on that also describe this period. He uses the ancient sources extensively and also critiques their biases. See here for a quote from the book.

Mass and Elite in Democratic Athens
Josiah Ober
Princeton U. Press, 1989, 390 pages

An examination of how popular orators appealed to the masses, especially how members of the elite attempted to appeal to the masses. Uses mostly sources from late classical period (404 to 322 BCE).

Last modified 1/17/03; posted 4/14/00; © 2003 John P. Nordin