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on 6 July 2017
The 'very short introduction' books can vary in quality quite drastically so it would be a sweeping statement to recommend or discount the series by just judging one or two books from its range. I have a number of books in the series and can say that this one is 'average'.

The writers need no introduction but I feel that Classics is such a large subject area that it is impossible to even introduce it properly with such a brief word count they have in this book. I think that is the reason why the authors don't even try to attempt this and come at this problem from a different angle. They use a case study approach; they choose a temple frieze in the British Museum and examine how it relates to each field of study that comprises 'Classics'. The writing is accessible without compromising erudition and a good bibliography will help you find plenty of further reading. Where this falls short is it just feels too brief, like going to a wonderful restaurant and having to leave after the starter. There are also far too many illustrations which take up a lot of space and being in black and white to save on the cost price feels one sacrifice too many.

Seems to be relying on the 'name' of the author to sell what is a sub standard book.

Overall, not bad, not great.
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on 14 June 2017
This is an interesting and quite a clever little book. I initially wanted (and expected) a potted overview of the Classics texts: Homer, Plato, Virgil etc, how they fitted together, what their development was etc.

What I actually got was a book about relationships: our relationship to the Classical Period, the relationship of the 19th Century to the same period and our relationship to the 19th Century etc. Through this, it shows the Classical Period has formed the backbone to Western civilisation and to understand our history, art and way of thinking requires a grounding in the Classical Period.

The central device is the temple at Bassae, the remains of which you can see at the British Museum today. Through this questions about Empire, cultural appropriation, art and the ancient world are explored. Several times the authors surprise the reader and use this effect to show that the Classical Period challenges our pre-conceptions, can be used as a mirror to reflect on our own pre-occupations and that the interaction between us and the Classics is a vital part of what makes Classics.

In keeping with this, our modern obsession with gender and sexuality are given their full allotment. I wonder if future generations will one day find this as quaint as we find the Victorians.

In summary, I'm more motivated to explore the Classics having read this book than if the authors had given me my expectation, which ironically, is their point about Classics.

Well worth reading.
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on 7 August 2017
A little all over the place for my taste, but apparently she is good
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VINE VOICEon 15 February 2008
A novel take on 'the Classics' in a volume that avoids the usual emphasis on history and the arts. Instead, it focuses on such intangibles as identity in the ancient world. The authors take the Greek writer Pausanias as a starting point. Although he was was writing his 'Guidebook to Greece' more than two centuries after Greece had become a Roman colony, he chooses to write about Greek civilisation, architecture and history as though it were still independent of Roman influence. His silence on matters Roman speaks volumes and reminds us that reading between the lines is sometimes more revealing than reading the lines themselves.

Beard and Henderson suggest that Classics is not the study of a dead culture but a live, interactive process informed by the 'vast community of readers across the millennia'. Their book dwells on the friezes from the Temple of Apollo at Bassae - initially, at what seems too great a length, but actually for very good reason. The temple friezes, now on exhibit at the British Museum, are independent blocks of marble that can be reassembled in many different ways. Bassae is therefore a metaphor for discovery and re-evaluation. Furthermore, the temple is set in Arcadia - a region of huge importance for literature, religion and philosophy, giving it yet more symbolic significance. As the authors suggest, the notion of Arcadia - sometimes paradise, sometimes brutish wilderness - is itself capable of multiple interpretation, like so many aspects of the ancient world. Each new generation's interpretations and insights shed extra light on, and themselves become part of, the classical heritage.

The book's unexpected emphasis on the historic reception of classics constitutes, perhaps, its major strength. It is an emphasis reflected in the concluding Timeline, two pages of which record events from 800 BCE to the Renaissance and the other two and a half pages to events such as the election of Dr Johnson to a Professorship at the RA (1770) and the publication of Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose (1980).

Probably not everyone's idea of a classical initiation, but this is a fresh and stimulating introduction to what can still seem a dauntingly élitist and exclusive area of study.
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on 3 March 2013
A short review of the classics.
Not quite what I expected. Had hoped for something a bit more in depth.

Good delivery.
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A fellow Amazon reviewer recommended this book, which he has recently read, with the catalyst being his son’s graduation from college, with a now rather unusual degree, in The Classics. Prior to his recommendation, I was totally unaware of the “A Very Short Introduction” series, with, to me, the rather off-putting title, akin to the “Idiot’s Guide to…” The series’ title seems to imply a book without much meat, with information that a reasonably informed reader might already know. Far from it. Also, I assumed that I’d be receiving a brief overview of classic works, much of which I have not read, from Homer through Plato and Thucydides on to Pliny the Elder and Ovid. Wrong again. But what I did receive was of much value, and my informal “index” of a successful work – the number of passages underlined – was high.

The authors, Mary Beard and John Henderson, teach the classics at Cambridge University (UK). They have written an engaging work, for someone like me, who (desperately!) needed some major lacunae in his education filled in. One of the central aspects of the work is how this “ancient history” still directly impacts us today, even though none of it was originally produced on electronic devices.

A focal point of their work is the temple to Apollo at Bassae, in a remote and bleak region of Greece, called Arcadia. I, like many people, had heard of the Parthenon in Athens. But I was totally unfamiliar with the temple at Bassae, which the authors indicate is the second most significant structure from ancient Greece. They describe how it was rediscovered by those outside the immediate area, which was under Turkish rule, in the 19th Century. It was a dangerous place to visit, with malaria and bandits prevalent. It would be a young architect, Charles R. Cockerell, who would have a leading role in the excavation, and the removal of many of the friezes to the British museum, where they remain today. Like the more famous Elgin marbles, the removal is still controversial today, but the authors point out that it was also controversial when it occurred, and quote Lord Bryon as one of the most vociferous critics.

Beard and Henderson emphasize that much of what we know about the Bassae temple would not be known save for the work of the Roman author Pausanias. The most famous painting of the temple was done by Edward Lear, which is one of the many illustrations in this work. The authors point out that the landscape surrounding the temple is actually the landscape of England, and not remote Arcadia. The authors also trace how this bleak and inhospitable region became a symbol in Western literature for an idyllic pastoral setting, almost a Garden of Eden. But to disabuse the reader of such romanticism, the authors emphasize that the work at the impressive temples of ancient Greece was performed by slave labor, and even include a drawing of slave collar. There is much, much else, from Karl Marx’s doctoral dissertation on Democritus and Epicurus, and the atomic theory of matter, to the outbreak of the plague during the Peloponnesian War to James Frazer’s work The Golden Bough A Study in Magic and Religion (Oxford World's Classics), and the novels of Mary Renault.

Seemingly in contradiction to the “very short” title, this is a very “meaty” introduction, which provides more “jumping off” points for further reading than likely time available. I also note more than a hundred other titles in this series, ranging from the Druids and Game Theory to the Meaning of Life. Overall, for this work, 5-stars.
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on 20 May 2017
This is brilliant and just what I expected. Very useful to use in conjunction with course books for revision on OU degree module
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This book is really well written, entertaining and extremely thought provoking. It provides a whistlestop tour through the classical world in terms of how we study it, not the classical world itself. If you want lists and dates and what is taught at school as 'history', this is not the book for you.

The premise of the OUP Very Short Introduction To books is to take an expert who has something really interesting to say on a particular subject, whether it be bananas or the classical world and then get them to talk about their interest in the subject in an easy to digest 150 short pages. This is not clearly explained, and these books are often picked up by total novices expecting something like 'a dummies guide to'. Well, there are already 'dummies guides to' which do their job very well. These, in my opinion can be much more rewarding and thought provoking.

In this book, Beard and Henderson use the example of a classical temple site in Greek Arcadia and what we know about it to explore how we approach the study of classics. It roams through archaeology, sociology, religion, politics, study of language, poetry and literature and makes a compelling case for why classics are still relevant today and what they mean to us in modern times.
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on 18 May 2002
This is no quick synopsis for last minute swotting for exams. This small book gives a sense of how classics works-how people think about the ancient past, more than how ancient communities thought about themselves.
Relax, go with it and it is a wondrfully thought-provoking journey-assembling fragments and impressions to re-create the magic of antiquity.
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on 29 December 2012
I loved Mary Beard's work after seeing her on TV. Got this out of curiosity and thoroughly enjoyed reading it...and, will enjoy revisiting it as well. She takes a simple idea...going to a museum....and within a couple of paragraphs has enmeshed you in an exciting mix of current, past and ancient views. Soon you're in ancient Greece, London, past and present.

Although a short book, it is a rich read.
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