The Classical World (book review)

From The Movie Snob

The Classical World: An Epic History from Homer to Hadrian, by Robin Lane Fox (Basic Books 2006). For some reason I have really been into books about the ancient world the past couple of years. The biography Caesar: Life of a Colossus, set the bar extremely high, and this book in no way surpasses it. Maybe Fox just tries to cover too much ground–after all, the period from Homer to Hadrian is about 900 years or so. Anyway, the book is moderately interesting but no more. He adopts “freedom, justice, and luxury” as his guiding themes, but they are not compelling. Once or twice he applies modern moral standards to the ancient Greeks and Romans, to absurd effect. After describing severe Roman and Greek laws against adultery, he is aghast: “To modern liberal eyes, these laws are abominable. . . . We now execrate the Augustan laws, but we put the Athenians’ laws down to civic cohesion or fears about illegitimate citizens.” Um, actually nobody I know really worries about these laws, or even knows about them, but I’m glad to know Professor Fox is shocked by anti-adultery laws over 2000 years old. That said, if he’s out there picketing Arab embassies to protest honor killings too, I will have more respect for his outrage.


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