Charles Segal, professor of Greek and Latin at Harvard University; author of Euripides and the Poetics of Sorrow: Art, Gender, and Commemoration in Alcesis, Hyppolytus and Hecuba (Duke University Press, 1993). Segal praises The Sorrows of the Ancient Romans: The Gladiator and the Monster (Princeton University Press, 1992) by Carlin A. Barton , as a "lively, epigrammatic" look at how the gladiator, because of his constant nearness to violent death, became a symbol to the Romans of "monstrous excess, of the unlimited desire for sex, food, drink, and brutality." Pornography and Representation in Greece and Rome (Oxford University Press, 1992), a collection of essays edited by Amy Richlin, Segal says, provides an historical context for the literature of the period that "shows the seamier sides of the classical world. A chapter called 'Reading Ovid's Rapes,' for instance, looks at the Metamorphoses's version of the rape of Philomela and the cutting out of her tongue, and points up Ovid's evident pleasure in the contemplation of violence done to a female body."
Suzanne Said, chair of the classics department at Columbia University; author of the forthcoming Introduction to Greek Mythology. According to Said, Bernard Williams's Shame and Necessity (University of California Press, 1993), offers a new take on the idea that Greek morality was based on shame or public mores, whereas ours is based on guilt. "Williams argues that that approach looks too much at the vocabulary of the texts and not enough at the bigger cultural picture," she says. "He concludes that perhaps the Greeks were not so different from us after all." She also recommends Perceptions of the Ancient Greeks (Blackwell, 1992), edited by Kenneth Dover, a collection of essays about how different cultures--ancient Romans, Muslems, Jews, Germans of the second half of the nineteenth century--perceived the Greeks. "Seventeenth-century French liberals, for instance," Said says, "had a very strange way of translating Greek texts, one that reflected their own preference for an ornate, flowery style. It was that version of the Greeks that so influenced Racine."
Gregory Nagy, professor of classical Greek literature and comparative literature at Harvard University; author of Pindar's Homer: The Lyric Possession of an Epic Past (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990) and Greek Mythology and Poetics (Cornell University Press, 1990). Nagy has recently been drawn to histories of the Athenian democracy, including Nicole Loraux's The Invention of Athens: The Funeral Oration in the Classical City (Harvard University Press, 1986), on the role of the funeral oration in Athenian politics. "The most famous example, of course," says Nagy, "is Pericles's oration as it appears in Thucydides, but Loraux also looks at the oration parody--supposedly a speech by Pericles's mistress Aspasia--in Plato's Menexenus. Plato makes Aspasia hold forth on the Athenian concept of autochthony, or the mythical descent of all citizens from the single uterus of the Earth Mother, which became entwined with the notion of democracy." Mogens H. Hansen's The Athenian Democracy in the Age of Demosthenes: Structure, Principles, and Ideology (Blackwell, 1991), is notable for analyzing the Athenian political system of the troubled fourth century B.C. rather than that of the fifth century B.C.'s golden age. Nagy calls Hansen "a meticulous historian who draws on the later period's much more abundant records to fine-tune our picture of early democracy."
Daniel L. Selden, professor of literature at the University of California at Santa Cruz; co-editor, with Ralph J. Hexter, of Innovations of Antiquity (Routledge, 1992). Selden recommends two books, each with a Foucauldian take on classical sexuality, in the same series in which his own book appears, Routledge's The New Ancient World. David M. Halperin's One Hundred Years of Homosexuality and Other Essays on Greek Love (Routledge, 1990) examines sexual identity and power in the ancient Greek world. "Greek city-states were hierarchical, with male citizens at the top, then female citizens, then resident aliens, then slaves at the bottom--and your sexual role was supposed to conform to your station," says Selden. "Citizens who engaged in prostitution, and thus took on a submissive sexual role, forfeited their citizenship." In The Constraints of Desire: The Anthropology of Sex and Gender in Ancient Greece (Routledge, 1990), John J. Winkler reconstructs a picture of female sexuality from surviving texts, almost all of which were written by men. "For instance, he looks at a play by Aristophanes called Women of Thesmophoria, which features men dressing up in drag to spy on a yearly, women-only festival in honor of the goddess Demeter," says Selden. "Winkler argues that the historical women's festivals may have represented a counterexpression to male hegemony through ritual jokes and obscenity and a kind of parody of dominant sexuality."
--Sue Young Wilson
Are there any great books you think we missed? Let us know.