The Classical World: The Foundations of the West and the Enduring Legacy of Antiquity

Nigel Spivey. Pegasus, $27.95 (368p) ISBN 978-1-68177-151-9
In this quirky, confusing, and pedantic introduction to classical history, Spivey (The Ancient Olympics) focuses on various cities of antiquity. For Spivey, classical civilization’s defining unit is the city and its guiding principle is “love of humankind,” or philanthropia. He examines cities such as Troy, Athens, Sparta, Rome, and Constantinople. Troy, for example, embodies the “renewable strength of civilization.” Athens, often exalted for its democratic constitution, operated on a slave economy and was more oligarchy than democracy. Spivey inexplicably pauses in the middle of his survey to examine Greek and Roman philosophy, marking the teachings of certain philosophers (including Heraclitus, Plato, Aristotle, Diogenes, Marcus Aurelius, and Lucretius) as the high point of classical civilization, but he mistakenly calls Plato a “proto-feminist” while failing to recognize that women played a very secondary role in Plato’s ideal republic. In the end, Spivey refuses to examine the role of what he calls the “rubbish” of everyday life—including documents such as wills and contracts—in favor of his own highly idealized view of civilization, which apparently doesn’t include such “rubbish.” There are numerous excellent introductory surveys of the classical world that are broad and rewarding; regrettably, this is not one of them. Agency: Head of Zeus (U.K.). (July)
Reviewed on: 05/30/2016
Release date: 07/01/2016
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 368 pages - 978-1-68177-449-7
Open Ebook - 288 pages - 978-1-68177-191-5
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