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standard 'history' of Greece and Rome
on 13 May 2007
This is undeniably a good, light read, but in some ways it is almost out of touch with the actual research occupying classicists working academically in the field. Yes, I do know that Lane Fox is a hugely respected Oxford academic, but all the same there is something very traditional and almost wistful about this simple reading of the history of Greece and Rome. As a previous reviwer has mentioned (accurately) this concentrates on 'events' rather than analysis, and given the huge scope of the book, treats them fairly simply and reductively (the entire Julio-Claudian dynasty, for example, is covered in one short chapter).
I suppose the major problem for me is the dismissal of classical literary culture to the margins: Athenian tragedy for example has a paragraph, and even there Lane Fox regards it as being 'timeless' and completely divorced from the institutions of democracy. Not just does this assume a huge coincidence that tragedy appears and disappears precisely in the years coinciding with 5th century democracy in Athens (and nowhere else), it also evades the political discussions and negotiations that take place in the plays about the very ideology of democracy which make the plays so important.
Similarly there is little discussion of Roman, especially Augustan literature, that engages so closely with the political transformation from Roman republic to principate.
That aside, the end point was slightly odd, in that Lane Fox chooses to end with Hadrian, rather than continuing to the collapse of Rome, thus ending on a high note rather than following through to the , perhaps, more appropriate conclusion.
If you know nothing about the classical world, then this is an excellent starting point but it's just the beginning...