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In The Classical World, eminent classicist Robin Lane Fox brilliantly chronicles The Classical World: An Epic History of Greece and Rome by Robin Lane Fox.
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The Classical World

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Skickas inom vardagar. Laddas ned direkt. 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.

The change from archaic to classical came, according to him, when Pericles and other upper-class intellectuals rejected traditional religious views, especially the common belief that angered gods were the cause of the community's troubles and defeats. Aristophanes' raunchy, biting parodies of almost everyone were "the true symptom of a classical age.

Plato was "the greatest prose writer in all world literature.

The classical world

It is mostly downhill from Athens to Rome. To be sure, Lane Fox recognizes the many accomplishments of the Roman republic's leaders and thinkers; he is especially insightful in explaining why Cicero deserves our admiration. Nonetheless, by fighting each other for primacy in the 1st century B. Lane Fox never calls this arrangement by its customary, if inaccurate, modern designation, the First Triumvirate.

Caesar, victor in the civil war, failed utterly to solve the political crisis that had destroyed peace and order in republican Rome. Astoundingly, however, his grand-nephew Octavian—"the most dangerous eighteen-year-old in the world," Lane Fox calls him—found a solution by creating the system we call the Roman Empire and taking the title of Augustus "the Venerable One" in the process. If Mark Antony had won the struggle instead of Octavian, the author speculates, the world might have been different especially, in my opinion, because Cleopatra had an innovative political vision.

As things turned out, however, peace returned at an unconscionably high price: Augustus controlled freedom, justice, and luxury, despite his claim to have restored the Republic. Lane Fox thus agrees with Tacitus, another one of his heroes, and with the iconoclastic Roman historian Ronald Syme who, if ever there has been transmigration of souls, was the modern incarnation of Tacitus , in regarding Augustus as a despot who created a family dynasty that bought off the masses and the army, while securing everyone's loss of freedom.

The architectural monuments that beautified the capital city were in truth "marks of subservience. By the time of Augustus, the Roman world had reached a nadir of violence and disorder, to which the emperor provided a more potent antidote than freedom. The situation did not improve under the emperors who followed, and Hadrian's rule proved no exception. It is not a compliment when Lane Fox wryly identifies Hadrian's deification of his dead lover, the beautiful youth Antinous, as the "most positive religious policy of any Roman emperor.

Lane Fox is never reluctant to use an over-the-top expression in place of a less striking, if perhaps more historically justified, one. He has clearly absorbed more scholarship on ancient Greece and Rome than most ordinary mortals could hope even to skim. Yet the reasons he adduces for the decline are not always easy to discern amid the wealth of information. A clue to his interpretation lies in his decision to make Hadrian his "assumed reader.

From Polis to Imperium

This seems to mean that Hadrian lacked the knowledge and insight to grasp the classical; he could not rise above "classicizing. Classicizing, according to the author, is what characterizes the ancient Western world after Athens in its Golden Age; the term means ignorance and misunderstanding of the classical. Throughout the book, when Lane Fox imagines Hadrian's opinions about certain events or individuals, he makes it clear that he believes the emperor would not have been well-informed, or could not have analyzed the situation correctly, at least by contrast to a scholar today.


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