The classical civilizations of Greece and Rome dominated the world for centuries and continue to intrigue and enlighten us with their inventions, whether philosophy, politics, theatre, athletics, celebrity, science or the pleasures of horse racing. Robin Lane Fox's spellbinding history spans almost a thousand years of change, from the foundation of the world's first democracy in Athens to the Roman Republic and the Empire under Hadrian. Bringing great figures such as Homer, Socrates, Alexander, Julius Caesar, Augustus and the first Christian martyrs to life, exploring freedom, justice and luxury, this wonderfully exciting tour brings the turbulent histories of Greece and Rome together in a masterly study.
Framing this history of the classical world as he imagines the second-century Emperor Hadrian (who traveled the classical world and had a "classicizing mind") would have done, this scintillating survey seeks to understand Greek and Roman civilizations on their own terms. Oxford historian Fox (Alexander the Great) structures his study around the ancient concepts of freedom, justice and luxury, as they evolved from Homeric literature onward. The story arranges itself around two poles: democratic Athens, of which, for all its flaws, Fox is an unabashed partisan, and Rome, whose fatally unequal republic declined into the grotesque tyranny of the early empire. This intellectual framework provides an interpretive skeleton for a loosely structured, well-paced narrative history. (One disappointment, a major one for an "epic history," is Fox's sketchy, montage-like treatment of military campaigns.) Into the story the author weaves insightful passages on art, religion, technology, marriage and the prominent role of homosexuality in classical culture, along with set-piece profiles of statesmen and thinkers from Pericles to Plato to Pliny. Fox is a fluent, perceptive color commentator on the pageant of ancient history, while giving readers some idea of where the parade was headed. 71 b&w illus.; 10 maps.