Konrad H. Kinzl (ed.), A Companion to the Classical Greek World. Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World. Malden, Oxford, Victoria: Blackwell Publishing, 2006. Pp. xviii + 606. ISBN 978-0-631-23014-4. UK£85.00, US$149.95, AUS$214.00.
Jan P. Stronk,
Oude Geschiedenis, Universiteit van Amsterdam, The Netherlands
This is yet another volume in the splendid series ‘Companions to the Ancient World’ published by Blackwell’s. According to the publisher’s blurb, this particular companion 'provides scholarly yet accessible new interpretations of Greek history of the Classical period, from the aftermath of the Persian Wars in 478 B.C. to the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C. Topics covered range from the political and institutional structures of Greek society, to literature, art, economics, society, warfare, geography and the environment. It discusses the problems of interpreting the various sources for the period and guides the reader towards a broadly-based understanding of the history of the Classical Age'. It does so in twenty-seven chapters, written by twenty- six authors.
Chapter 1 (pp. 1-25), by Uwe Walter, is, as one might say, the theoretical backbone of this book. It discusses many of the issues of what precisely constitutes the ‘Classical Age’ and sets it off as a separate historical period. Originally the word ‘classical’ primarily had a qualitative connotation that gradually also obtained a chronological component, notably connected with literature and art. Though the term ‘Classical Age’ essentially is a modern concept, some of its features were already discerned in the period itself as models suitable for emulation (pp. 7f.). One might therefore maintain that in several respects the ‘Classical Age’ was already recognized as an ‘independent’ era with its own characteristics by its contemporaries, not only in Athens and Sparta, for example, but in most of the more than 1,000 states that constituted Greece. A number of these states clustered in federations, while they continued striving at the same time for freedom (eleuthereia) and hegemony (arche). Moreover, since citizens identified more with their own states than with the federations, the concept of the federation finally failed in the Classical Period.
Chapters 2-4 discuss the sources: ‘The Literary Sources’ (P. J. Rhodes, pp. 26- 44), ‘The Non-Literary Written Sources’ (P. J. Rhodes, pp. 45-63), and ‘The Contribution of the Non-Written Sources’ (Björn Forsén, pp. 64-83). For the literary sources Rhodes primarily focuses on Herodotus, Thucydides, and Xenophon -- not omitting other historians --, next on orators and pamphleteers, and finally on poets (Simonides, Aischylos, Sophokles, Euripides, Aristophanes) and philosophers (Plato and Aristotle). The most notable non-literary written sources are inscriptions, but also include lead letters, coinage, pottery, ostraka, and smaller inscribed objects. All are briefly discussed and commented upon. Forsén stands up for a multidisciplinary approach in the study of the Classical Period, advocating the use by scholars of ancient history of art history, archaeology, numismatics and so on next to the written sources. At the same time he sketches, using some examples, pitfalls and mines that lurk below the surface for those who venture unprepared in these fields. The result of the treatment of various sources he describes is the method of comparative and structural approach and it offers many new perspectives, indeed. An elementary chapter.
Chapters 5-11 more or less deal with the geographical theatres in which the Greeks of the Classical Period figured. Roger Brock (Chapter 5, pp. 84-98) discusses ‘Athens, Sparta and the Wider World’; Kai Brodersen (Chapter 6, pp. 99-114) ‘Aegean Greece’; Zofia Halina Archibald (Chapter 7, pp. 115-36) ‘The Central and Northern Balkan Peninsula’; Stanley M. Burstein (Chapter 8, pp. 137-52) ‘The Greek Cities of the Black Sea’; Peter Funke (Chapter 9, pp. 153-73) ‘Western Greece (Magna Graecia)’; Kathryn Lomas (Chapter 10, pp. 174-96) ‘Beyond Magna Graecia: Greeks in France, Spain and Italy’; and Robert Rollinger (Chapter 11, pp. 197-226) ‘The Eastern Mediterranean and Beyond: The Relations between the Worlds of the ‘Greek’ and ‘Non-Greek’ Civilizations’. Invariably these chapters provide a firm introduction to the areas they discuss. Personally, I liked Rollinger’s contribution best because he -- like Forsén -- breaks relatively new ground in the study of the Classical Period by emphasizing the fact that our views on Greece and its surrounding world generally have been too Hellenocentric. Only from, roughly, the nineties of the 20th century onwards (without detracting from earlier pioneers who already ventured there), an increasing tendency becomes visible to incorporate non-Greek material in the evidence regarding the Classical Period presented to the audience. In this chapter Rollinger discusses the Greeks as they emerge in various Persian documents, adding a new angle to look at Persian-Greek relations.
Rrelated to the previous cluster to quite a substantial extent are Chapters 12 and 13, devoted to environmental issues. Chapter 12 (pp. 227-44) by J. Donald Hughes is on ‘The Natural Environment’, Chapter 13 (pp. 245- 80) by Lin Foxhall on ‘Environments and Landscapes of Greek Culture’. The reason not to include these two chapters into the previous cluster is the connexion they form with the following one, in which feature social-economic developments. Especially the chapter by Foxhall is again an example of the fortuitous effects of a multidisciplinary approach of, in this case, a quite underexposed aspect of the Classical Period.
As already indicated, the following cluster is on social-economic issues. It comprises Chapter 14 (pp. 281-310, Graham J. Oliver) ‘The Economic Realities’; Chapter 15 (pp. 311-26, Emily Kearns) ‘Religious Practice and Belief’; Chapter 16 (pp. 327-49, Nick Fisher) ‘Citizens, Foreigners and Slaves in Greek Society’; and Chapter 17 (pp. 350-66, Sarah B. Pomeroy) ‘Women and Ethnicity in Classical Greece: Changing the Paradigms’. I found the chapter by Fisher on the fundamental contradiction of the slave society, namely the dual nature of the slave ('how to treat slaves and how to justify the institution', p. 328) very attractive reading -- also because of the parallels he occasionally draws with the relatively well-documented situation in the U.S.A. in the nineteenth century. Nevertheless, much of the evidence he adduces is based on written sources and, therefore almost by consequence, largely Athenocentric. To a large extent that also goes for the material brought forward by Pomeroy in her chapter.
Chapters 18-20 are on institutions. In Chapter 18 (pp. 367-86) Lynette G. Mitchell writes on ‘Greek Government’; Kurt A. Raaflaub in Chapter 19 (pp. 387-414) on ‘Democracy’; and Robert W. Wallace in chapter 20 (pp. 415-31) on ‘Law and Rhetoric: Community Justice in Athenian Courts’. Developed out of an isonomic system, democracy became the most conspicuous feature of the Classical Period, notably at Athens. As for the 4th century there are essentially three categories of evidence illuminating Athenian democracy (see pp. 390f.): perhaps less detailed, the 5th century material offers a different perspective of Athens -- democracy at work. Raaflaub succinctly describes the developments and their underlying ideologies as well as the criticism of democracy. Especially its compactness can make this chapter an excellent companion for further study for a wider audience. Equally good reading is the chapter by Wallace, especially by opposing modern (U.S.) and classical (Athenian) everyday practices, the individual’s interest vs. the community’s safety. In spite of a theoretical base of isonomia such different starting points yield different results in apparently similar cases.
The textual part of the book ends with seven surveying chapters: Chapter 21 (pp. 432-55) by Susan Prince on ‘The Organization of Knowledge’; Chapter 22 (pp. 456-79) by Steven Lattimore, ‘From Classical to Hellenistic Art’; Chapter 23 (pp. 480-508) by John W.I. Lee on ‘Warfare in the Classical Age’; Chapter 24 (pp. 509- 25) by Thomas Harrison on ‘The Greek World, 478-432’; Chapter 25 (pp. 526-43) by Karl- Wilhelm Welwei on ‘The Peloponnesian War and its Aftermath’; Chapter 26 (pp. 544-59) by Bruce LaForse on ‘The Greek World, 371- 336’; and Chapter 27 (pp. 560-88) by Waldemar Heckel on ‘The Conquests of Alexander the Great’. Prince’s chapter covers the intellectual landscapes during the Classical Period. She focuses subsequently on the Pre-Socratics at the beginning of the Classical Period, the Sophistic developments of Periklean Athens, the response to Sokrates’ execution, and 'the basic approaches of the major schools that emerged from the Sophistic and Socratic movements through the first three- quarters of the fourth century' (p. 433). It is a very condensed yet comprehensive review of the most important philosophical (in its wider sense) developments during the Classical Period, touching upon the most important persons and topics. The book ends with an elaborate index (pp. 589-606), useful by its various cross-references.
The limited space of a review does not allow a reviewer to enter upon all contributions of such a massive enterprise as also this ‘Companion’ is. The selection I made does not imply any disrespect of those contributions only mentioned in passing, on the contrary; the selection merely reflects my main interests. All contributions are of a very high level and extremely valuable, both by the guides for 'Further Reading' and the elaborate bibliographies that close every chapter. Normally I favour a common bibliography, but under the circumstances the method chosen (either by Kinzl or the publisher) seems to me to be the best option. Summarizing, I think this ‘Companion’ is an invaluable tool for anyone working in this field by its theoretical framework, its scope, its scholarship, and the excellent basis it offers for further research, to name only some of its merits. By this combination of qualities it is an asset for both students and professionals. Kinzl deserves, therefore, a well-earned compliment for the way he managed this project. The volume is, moreover, well produced though even here some typos have eluded the attention.