The Oxford Companion to Classical Literature

The Oxford Companion to Classical Literature

The Oxford Companion to Classical Literature

The Oxford Companion to Classical Literature

Synopsis

From Achilles's heel to the sword of Damocles, Western culture teems with allusions from the rich heritage of classical literature, and this new edition of The Oxford Companion to Classical Literature, the first updating since Sir Paul Harvey's original edition of 1937, provides the key to these works and the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations that produced them. Substantially revising the first edition, this volume condenses the findings of the most recent scholarship into highly readable prose and supplies a wealth of background information not found in Harvey's Companion. Indispensable to those studying classical literature in depth, the book will be equally accessible to the non-specialist. All Greek is transliterated, with translations given for all quotations from Greek and Latin. The main focus of the Companion remains the lives and works of the principal authors. Biographical entries offer the essential facts and sift the conjectural evidence, while entries on the major works include discussions of the philosophical dialogues and political speeches and plot summaries of the epic poems and plays. The various literary forms--epic, comedy, tragedy, rhetorical writing--are covered in depth, supplemented by articles on the origins of the Greek and Latin alphabets and languages. The Companion also puts this literature into its societal and historical contexts, including many articles on political, social, and artistic achievements. We learn, for example, about the political climate that produced the great speeches of Demosthenes and Cicero. Orators, statesmen, and generals stalk the pages, and major battles and conquests from the time of Alexander to the fall of Rome are summarized. Articles on contemporary social mores and religious beliefs help explain literary references, while the glories of philosophy, science, and art are celebrated from Cynics to Stoics, astronomy to water-clocks, and flute competitions to vase painting. Helpful maps supplement geographical entries, a chronological table provides an overview of the main historical and literary events, and a systematic set of cross-references links the entries. The breadth and accuracy of this volume will surely make it the standard reference book of its kind for years to come.

Excerpt

Sir Paul Harvey wished the original Oxford Companion to Classical Literature to be a handbook of information for readers of the literatures of Greece and Rome, and of modern works which touched upon the classical world. Harvey by no means limited himself to books and authors. He included entries outlining the history of Greece and Rome, the most important myths, science, geography, religion and thought, as well as many features of ancient life and society. But since his day new discoveries and reappraisals have been made. the decipherment of Linear B and archaeological excavations have greatly increased our knowledge of the earliest civilization that can be called Greek, while advances in scholarship have brought better understanding of, for example, the period we call Hellenistic and, we like to think, the subject we define as myth. However, not only has our knowledge increased but, more significantly, the perspective has changed. Harvey wrote for readers who had acquired some knowledge of the classical world in their schooldays, along with Greek and Latin. Nowadays those who seek information about that world approach it from a wide variety of backgrounds and assumptions. Readers of today are in some respects more ignorant than those of fifty years ago, but in others more sophisticated and demanding. Though fewer people know the ancient languages, many more have visited the countries in which they were once spoken, and have read the guide-books, toured the museums, or watched television programmes. Moreover we nowadays perceive our classical heritage differently. We are more aware than we used to be that literature must be set against its society and institutions, and that it cannot be separated from the history and thought of its times.

This new Companion takes account of these changed circumstances in a revised and enlarged edition. the indispensable book summaries are still Harvey's, and the pattern and proportions of the whole work are closely based on his: anyone who attempts to revise one of his Companions can feel nothing but admiration for the original conception and execution. But in detail, assumptions, and emphasis it is very different -- more attention is paid to (for example) the philosophy and political institutions of the ancient world -- and the extent is very much greater. a few entries on technical subjects such as metre are naturally written with classical specialists in mind, but in general the book requires no knowledge of Greek or Latin: it is for any reader who is curious to find out about the classical world.

Given the nature of the book I have tried to present the generally accepted view (or indicate the range of possibilities) in every case rather than be overlavish in the use of 'possibly' and 'perhaps'. I may therefore on occasions sound more dogmatic than I feel, or achieve more consistency and coherence, especially in the matter of dates, than the evidence would . . .

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