Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollectionsReader

A Guide to the Classics : THE OXFORD COMPANION TO CLASSICAL LITERATURE Second Edition edited by M.C. Howatson (Oxford University Press: $39.95; 605 pp., chronological table, maps; 0-19-866121-5)

June 25, 1989|Nicholas Goodhue | Goodhue is the author of several publications in the field of classical archeology. and

A revised edition of Sir Paul Harvey's "Oxford Companion to Classical Literature," originally published in 1937, has long been overdue. The task of revision has been admirably carried out by Margaret Howatson in this second edition. The object aimed at is unchanged: to provide "a handbook of information for readers of the literatures of Greece and Rome, and of modern works which (touch) upon the classical world" (Howatson's preface). But to attain this object in 1989 requires taking account not only of the many new discoveries and reappraisals that have been made in the last half-century but also of the fact that the reader of today cannot be presumed to have the background of knowledge of the classical world that could be taken for granted in the reader of 1937.

Accordingly, in her revision of Harvey, Howatson not only has incorporated the archeological and other findings that have furthered and in some cases substantially altered our understanding of certain aspects of classical civilization, but also has added new articles and expanded others so as to make the book suitable "for any reader who is curious to find out about the classical world." All Greek and Latin quotations, which the reader of 1937 was expected to be able to read unassisted, are now accompanied by English translations.

Like all the Oxford "Companions," this one is in dictionary format, consisting of alphabetically arranged articles of widely varying length and generality, some of them dealing with particular names and terms in a few lines, others taking up several pages to treat broad subjects such as philosophy, religion, and education. Each of the classical authors is the subject of an article under the name of that author that provides a general account of the author's works and his or her place in the literary and historical scene; important individual works are summarized and discussed in separate entries under the title of the work. Literary forms are covered under such headwords as epic, tragedy, comedy, historiography, oratory, and lyric poetry. The reader curious to know why the term classical often means "ancient Greek and Roman" (as in the title of this book) will find an explanation under "classic (classics, classical)." There are major articles on Athens and Rome, subdivided into sections on topography, history, administration, and economy. Sculpture, architecture, and painting are discussed under those words as well as in many related articles on particular artists, monuments, and genres (extensive cross-referencing helps the reader to find all that is relevant to the subject of interest).

New articles added by Howatson include "astronomy," "Christianity in the Roman world," "gods" (dealing with the canonical 12 gods of the Greek pantheon), "homosexuality," "polis" (in which the meaning of Aristotle's statement that "man is a political animal" is explained), "postal service," and numerous others. Other articles have been substantially enlarged. The entries that summarize individual books, poems, and plays are still Harvey's (in the main), but in general very little has been left unchanged.

The new "Companion" seems thoroughly up to date. Full account is taken of the decipherment in 1952 of the script known as Linear B and of the implications of that decipherment for our knowledge of early Greek civilization: Not only is there a new article "Linear A and B," but references to the decipherment have been added elsewhere as appropriate (in the articles on Crete, Greece, and Mycenae, among others). The "Riace Bronzes," two bronze statues recovered from the sea off Italy in 1972, are mentioned in "sculpture." The discovery of the tomb of Philip of Macedon at Vergina is discussed. Note is taken of the fact that Aeschylus' "The Suppliants," previously believed to be his earliest extant play, has been found to be of later date; the increasingly prevalent view that the "Prometheus Bound" is not by Aeschylus is referred to as well. A new entry is devoted to Menander's comedy "Dyscolus," which was found on papyri published in 1959.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|