The Cambridge Companion to the Hellenistic World

By Halvorsen, Taylor | Comparative Civilizations Review, Fall 2011 | Go to article overview

The Cambridge Companion to the Hellenistic World


Halvorsen, Taylor, Comparative Civilizations Review


Glenn R. Bugh, ed., The Cambridge Companion to the Hellenistic World. Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Introduction

The Cambridge Companion to the Hellenistic World is a valuable recent compendium that provides fifteen up-to-date survey articles on major topics of academic interest in the Hellenistic era.

Among other things, the book seeks to answer three questions.

* First, to what extent were Alexander's conquests responsible for the creation of this new "Hellenistic age"?

* Second, what is the essence of this world and how does it differ from its Classical predecessor?

* And third, what continuities and discontinuities can be identified between the Greek Classical and Hellenistic eras?

After reviewing some of the technical features of the book, this review will explore, to different levels of depth, each chapter, highlighting some key ideas and potential answers to this volume's overarching questions. (Note: I've used the traditional, Latinized naming conventions in this article, though, appropriately, the book itself is more consistent to ancient Greek naming conventions.)

General features and observations

As befitting an academic volume like this, the book provides an introductory page that places this edited work in context of other "Cambridge Companions" projects, a list of illustrations (including a center section with photographs and images of Hellenistic art and architecture), a short academic biography for each contributing author, an abbreviations list for primary and secondary sources, a timeline of major events during the Hellenistic era, several maps, helpful endnotes and bibliographic notes after each chapter, a chronological list of Hellenistic kings, a thorough "works cited" section, and a comprehensive, yet accessible index.

Edited volumes can suffer from unevenness in tone and academic quality. This book does not.

Though each author's voice is clearly detected, there is a general evenness in treatment and style. Given the broad range of topics, this book does very well in presenting a coherent picture of the Hellenistic era. The separate topics discussed must of necessity reference other topics. However, this does not lead to any major overlap of discussion. Rather, topics are complimentary in providing a valuable, contextualized, interlocking overview of the Hellenistic era. Except in rare, inconsequential instances, spelling or grammatical errors do not mar the quality of this book.

In sum, this book has been carefully and professional produced.

Chapter-by-Chapter Review

Introduction (Glenn R. Bugh)

In the introductory chapter, Bugh (who is also the overall editor for the volume) sets the basic foundations for the book describing the key terms and definitions, time periods, and the current state of knowledge. He identifies the Hellenistic age as the time period from the death of Alexander in 323 BC to the death of Cleopatra in 30 BC.

He defines the term "Hellenistic," which means (Greek-like). This is in contrast to the term "Hellenic" which means "of or relating to Greece/Greek."

Bugh suggests several reasons why the Hellenistic period is not as well regarded as the periods of Classical Greece or the Roman Empire.

* First, there is no overarching narrative or key historian for the Hellenistic period as there was for the Classical Greek world and the Roman Empire (we have to deal with more disparate evidence from a variety of texts, inscriptions, archaeological finds, etc.).

* Second, the influential historians, scholars and librarians of the Hellenistic age, especially those at the library of ancient Alexandria, primarily identified as "great works" those that belonged to the era of Classical Greece and not the Hellenistic time period.

However, Bugh notes that scholarship on the Hellenistic period has begun to flourish more fully since the 1980s. …

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