Customer Review

225 of 247 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Gives Popular History a Bad Name, 20 Jan 2010
This review is from: A Classical Education: The Stuff You Wish You'd Been Taught At School (Hardcover)
As a lecturer in ancient history I have - contrary, perhaps, to the assumptions of other reviewers of this book - no quibble with the popularisation of the subject: on the contrary I wish there were many more accessible and funny books on the subject, for ancient history is packed with opportunities for good gags. However, a popular style is no excuse for poor scholarship, and Ms Taggart has some real howlers: she claims that Homer lived and composed in the 9th century BC: although precise dating is impossible it is generally agreed that Homer (whoever he was) was a product of the 8th century BC. Any edition of his works, any textbook, any reliable reference book will tell you that. So what? It was a long time ago. But a 100 years is not an inconsiderable period of time. How would you feel about a popular history book that claimed WWII took place between 1839 and 1845? You would think the author was an idiot, and you would be right. What's more Athens did NOT have an empire before the Persian Wars - that came later, and for very good reason - and no, Herodotus does NOT claim there is no evidence for Pheidippides' run to Athens from Marathon: in fact he makes no reference to it at all. Oh, and by the way, modern scholarship now agrees the runner was actually called 'Philippides': up-to-date translations have this version. Has she read one? There's more, but I'm sure you get the drift. Ms Taggart suggests you can show off at dinner parties with the material she provides, but do so with caution - you might find yourself sitting next to one of my first-year undergraduates, all of whom have a better grasp of the subject than the author of this book. And what's more, the jokes, on the whole, are pretty feeble. The word 'shagging' is not, in itself (or per se, if you prefer)witty. It really isn't. Caveat emptor.
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Showing 1-10 of 18 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 5 Apr 2010 11:34:39 BDT
Hi Aspasia. Would love you to recommend what would be worth reading...

Posted on 30 Apr 2010 16:52:08 BDT
I've borrowed an audio edition of this from the library, I have to agree the jokes are very trying indeed... although I would have no idea about the accuracy of the historical information. I am a scientist by trade, who just happens to have an interest in the worlds of Ancient Greece and Rome. Any recommendations to a beginner and non-academic into this world?

In reply to an earlier post on 13 May 2010 13:05:00 BDT
Aspasia says:
I hope you don't mind if I give you both the same answer, and thanks for asking.
I suppose if you want something really, really light you could try Charlotte Higgins' 'It's All Greek To Me' which I think (I haven't read it cover to cover) is rather more reliable than Ms Taggart's efforts, and takes the form of short nuggets of information. I should point out that I am most annoyed that I was beaten to the punch on that one, but still...

But if you're truly interested in Ancient History I recommend you read... the original stuff. Homer, Herodotus, Thucydides, Plato, Aristotle, Tacitus, Suetonius etc etc. Really. It's not difficult (well to be honest Thucydides can be a little too detailed for the casual reader, and Herodotus' 'Histories' is a thumping great tome) but detail is not the same as difficult. Any good version will have a useful introduction to give you some context so you're not completely at sea. Don't be put off by the larger volumes, you can do a little selective reading, and the Latin writers are a breeze - Suetonius and Plutarch in particular - though keep the salt ready for the taking of large pinches. And everyone should read Homer at least once, he is a joy forever. Martin Hammond's translations are very accessible. For Herodotus I would recommend the Robin Waterfield translation in the Oxford World's Classics series. Steven Lattimore's translation of Thucydides is excellent but, well, Thuc. is definitely the chewiest, crunchiest, ancient historian, but often gripping and very rewarding. Moving away from the original sources, there have been so many books written by modern historians it's almost impossible to know where to start, given that this is not supposed to be hard work for you. But for starters, you could try Simon Goldhill's 'Who Needs Greek?', or Peter Jones 'An Intelligent Person's Guide to the Classics.' Or an 'Oxford History of' or 'Cambridge Companion to'... though they might be a tad expensive. More specialised, but fascinating, is James Davidson's 'Courtesans and Fishcakes': who isn't interested in food and sex?

Hope this has helped. In the meantime I suppose I should put my money where my mouth is and write my own book...

In reply to an earlier post on 5 Jun 2010 10:45:13 BDT
Just a short spasm of pedantry. Plutarch wrote in Greek NOT Latin (he originated from Boeotia), although he did write under Roman rule. I'm sure it was just a slip of the typing finger - but nevertheless... glass houses, anyone?

Posted on 6 Nov 2010 18:36:46 GMT
Last edited by the author on 6 Nov 2010 18:39:51 GMT
Kid992 says:
I have no way of knowing whether you are a university lecturer or not. I have my suspicions, I wonder perhaps if you are the author of a rival tome, what I can say is that your two major claims to innaccuracy certainly don't appear to be borne out by Wikipedia who seem to believe that it equally as likely to have been the 8th or 9th century that Homer operated in and that the Marathon runner was Pheidippides. Readers may have their own opinions on Wikipedia but it is at least a collection of opinions on a subject rather than a that of an individual and in any case, in this case it cannot be proved one way of the other.
To compare it to getting the dates of World War II wrong is ludicrous. I think most people would assume it is a typo, rather than drawing the conclusion that the author must be an idiot, heardly a logical conclusion of an (unbiased) scholar.

In reply to an earlier post on 7 Mar 2011 18:31:27 GMT
Sean says:
They are reasons why Homer can not have, at least in literary form, existed prior to the 8th century (and usually the mid 8th at that). Circa 800 BC witnessed the adaptation of the Phoenician script; some people even speculate that the script was imported just to transcribe Homer. Also, the 8th century saw the first great wave of Greek colonization; Homer's geographical awareness, with for example Asia Minor and the Aegean world, indicates that they were written during/following an extensive wave of colonization which wasn't completely under way until c. 750. For the record, the Oxford Classical Dictionary gives c. 750 (Iliad) and c. 725 (Odyssey), Bernard Knox gives c. 725-675 for both while A Brief History of Ancient Greece gives 750-675.

Posted on 17 Aug 2011 12:01:41 BDT
I doubt very much that this work was intended as a reference text for students - just what it is - a lighthearted book. I feel that the comments werea bit picky.

Posted on 17 Aug 2011 12:09:21 BDT
Last edited by the author on 17 Aug 2011 18:07:22 BDT
Further, I abhor the introduction "As a 'whatever'. . ." as it always has the air of pseudosuperiority! Please desist!

Posted on 17 Aug 2011 12:10:44 BDT
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In reply to an earlier post on 13 Jan 2012 12:01:13 GMT
I would advise not using Wikipedia as your reference point. All I know about Classical Studies is from one course through the OU and I can attest to the fact that the poster of this review is correct. Interestingly on the course we managed to find a collection of different opinions on a subject without using Wikipedia!
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