THE OXFORD HISTORY OF THE CLASSICAL WORLD, edited by John Boardman, Jasper Griffin, and Oswyn Murray (Oxford University: $39.95; 882 pp., illustrated). This book covers the Greco-Roman world from Homer to the fall of the Roman Empire in the West, a period of more than 1,000 years. The division of the book into three main sections--Greece, Greece and Rome, and Rome--emphasizes a fact of crucial importance for understanding the continuity of classical civilization: Rome rose to political power and cultural prominence within the context of the Greek world.
Cultural history--literature, philosophy and the arts--receives more attention than political and social history, and literature receives more than any other subject. Two poets, Homer and Virgil, have chapters to themselves, an honor not granted to anyone else, neither Plato nor Alexander nor Augustus Caesar. One disappointment is the cursory treatment of Roman religion, which was just as important to the Romans as Greek religion, the subject of a chapter, was to the Greeks.
The editors, three eminent classicists, a historian, an art historian, and a literary critic, have held their 30 distinguished contributors to a very high standard. With its 16 color plates, more than 250 black-and-white illustrations, 10 maps, chronological tables, concise bibliographies, and readable and reliable narratives, this lavishly produced volume is a bargain.