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Books of a Nature not Necessarily Academic but Nice*

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Re: Books of a Nature not Necessarily Academic but Nice*

Postby cb » Wed Oct 23, 2013 12:03 pm

hi, if i was going to recommend 3 or so introductory materials for homer and homer's world, i would say:

1. michael wood's documentary "in search of the trojan war", 6 episodes. this covers homer, oral poetry in homer and other modern places (ireland, turkey), the archaeology, the hittite connection, etc. i'm sure people will spurn the idea of learning from documentaries but i have seen a thousand times over that people entering a subject will learn more from a few hours of documentary than from reading for an equivalent time from some introductory book. i see you can stream it online: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=afgicuzCDFc , i watch my own copy at least a few times a year.

2. brill's new companion to homer. this really is worth it. preview here e.g. west's entry on metre: http://books.google.fr/books?id=JuPiXNh ... &q&f=false

3. west's text and transmission of the iliad, first few chapters.

as for the classics (parry etc)., i don't think these would be appropriate for people entering the field - they are only for the obsessed (and i rank as a culprit here, see from the rainbow of tabs how i've classified and tabbed every set of formulae in my own copy of parry by length and position: http://mhninaeide.webs.com/parry.jpg ).

there are also the books that i have noted here in my notes on iliad A (but once again these are more for a close study of the text than for entry into the world of homer): http://mhninaeide.webs.com/IliadANotes.pdf

cheers, chad
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Re: Books of a Nature not Necessarily Academic but Nice*

Postby Paul Derouda » Wed Oct 23, 2013 6:10 pm

mwh wrote:Some of the single-author books mentioned are very dated (well, all except Graziosi-Haubold, really). Page is old-fashioned in all respects, and his rhetoric seems tiresome today. (Not that he wasn't a great scholar.)
[...]
Of the Cambridge Iliad comms Janko's is generally considered the best (a judgment I'd agree with, without putting down any of the others except maybe Kirk's), and is certainly the most engaging. For the Odyssey there's the three-volume set by Heubeck and others, internally differing according to individual commentator in a more pronounced way than the Cambridge Iliad set. I'm assuming you can't count on knowledge of any language other than English, but when it comes to Homer English-speakers are truly blessed.

Why is anything that's written, say, over 30 years ago outdated? Page's analytic scenarios certainly are, and so is his way of passing judgement on the text (calling would-be interpolations "inferior" etc). But is the whole idea of folktales in Homer outdated? Or just not in the height of fashion? And what's wrong with Blameless Aegisthus?

To be frank, narratology looks like a fad to me. I admit I can't be sure, because every time I've tried to read de Jong's commentary on the Odyssey it bored me to death instantaneously and I was unable to continue. To me, narratology looks like stating the obvious ad nauseam in an embellished jargon. I'm not saying there can't be some good insights out there, but at least I don't have the time or the patience to go digging that in the mess of "narratees" and "focalizers" and what not. If you can explain to me what I've misunderstood or give specific examples of what you have learned by studying "narratology", I'd be happy to stand corrected!

Also, to be frank, at least part of me agrees with Martin L. West saying that "oral poetics is a red herring".

It's nice to notice people share my judgment of the Iliad commentaries re: Janko and Kirk... With the Oxford Odyssey commentary, I find S. West's part the best.

Speaking of old literature, at least for the Odyssey the German 100+ year old Ameis-Hentze-Cauer is still unsurpassed. The scholarship is completely outdated, but to help you understand what shade of meaning all those particles etc. bring in each particular context, it's still great. You have to read it combined with a new commentary, but there's so much there you just don't find elsewhere.

cb wrote:as for the classics (parry etc)., i don't think these would be appropriate for people entering the field - they are only for the obsessed (and i rank as a culprit here, see from the rainbow of tabs how i've classified and tabbed every set of formulae in my own copy of parry by length and position: http://mhninaeide.webs.com/parry.jpg ).

I agree. But since Greg asked about classics, I answered him... Nice shelf!
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Re: Books of a Nature not Necessarily Academic but Nice*

Postby mwh » Wed Oct 23, 2013 10:19 pm

I certainly wouldn't say that anything over 30 years old is outdated. Much of my time goes to late 19th- and early 20th-century stuff.

I've nothing much against Page on folktales, but I see little need for it now there's Hansen in both the Brill New Comp. and in the Hom.Enc. On narratology, or at least on de Jong, I largely agree (don't tell anyone). It's here for keeps, though, make no mistake, and focalization is a very valuable concept.

Ameis-Hentze is in process of being updated by Latacz, Nünlist et al., is already a fair way in. It has narratology, which is ok by me, and is aware that Myceneans spoke Greek, which is better. I was sticking to works in english.

Wood's documentary a good idea.
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Re: Books of a Nature not Necessarily Academic but Nice*

Postby cb » Thu Oct 24, 2013 7:04 am

hi, i also agree on old-fashioned books! perhaps they lack the latest theories and latest data but often they are much more readable and don't feel the need to say simple things in painful modern academic language, and they are usually free online and so accessible to everyone. an e.g. which comes to mind, which for me fits in well with the original theme of this thread, is fowler's social life at rome in the age of cicero. i've read this online cover to cover many times, in fact just linking to it now kind of makes me want to read it again: https://archive.org/stream/sociallifeat ... 1/mode/2up

cheers, chad
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Re: Books of a Nature not Necessarily Academic but Nice*

Postby mwh » Thu Oct 24, 2013 11:18 pm

A new unacademic book I liked: Alice Oswald's "Memorial: a version of Homer's Iliad." It's a war poem of our time. Basically a catalogue of the killed (giving it strong affinity with the Vietnam Memorial Wall, and much contemporary resonance), in order of occurrence in the poem, intermingled with the Iliadic similes variously transmogrified. Sounds dreadful, I know (Homer without the narrative?!), but it's intensely powerful. She turns the loss of narrative connectivity and sequenced cumulation (the Sarpedon - Patroklos - Hector - [Achilles] chain, for example) to advantage with the sheer density of inexplicit pathos and poetry and the relentless repetitions which are not repetitions but each one an individual life-ending death, each standing on its own (just another person) but coming one after the other sometimes so fast it's just a name sometimes with just enough time for the death circumstances or even a mini-bio, on and on, will it ever end? Its overall ethos struck me as very much in tune with Homer (and of course the vignettes and the other-world war-free similes are directly Homer-derived). It's best if you don't recall the original context of the similes or their exact details (which can run interference), but then how many of us do? That's my take on it, I don't know how it's been received in the literary community. I read it quite quickly (probably too quickly), just the once (so far), a month or two ago, and I can't get it out of my head.

While I'm entering it here for its own sake, it could well be used in an Iliad seminar it seems to me.
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Re: Books of a Nature not Necessarily Academic but Nice*

Postby Scribo » Wed Oct 30, 2013 1:49 pm

I'm very tempted, but for the fact I deliberately try to avoid modern versions, retellings and reception as much as I can. I'm going to go down to Blackwells later and have a look I guess.

In other news, I don't get why people were ragging on the new companion to Homer so much, I went back to my copy and there are some bloody great articles in here on e.g transmission of the text and metrics. These are now what I'm going to be recommending for these topics. Better than some Brill comps I've seen e.g Hesiod's where there were some interesting papers but the topics and organisation was bloody bewildering and too much overlap. Anyway I suspect I should have to spend time with the old version to form a proper opinion but I can't be bothered.

I recently was forced to go to a talk on the Georgics, my god it was one of the most boring things I've went to in a while. Now I'm wondering if there isn't a half decent book out there given that every lecture I've attended on them (or the Eclogues tbf) have been...oh...so...boring.
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Re: Books of a Nature not Necessarily Academic but Nice*

Postby Paul Derouda » Thu Nov 14, 2013 8:40 pm

A few words about Dué & Ebbott's Iliad 10 and the Poetics of Ambush. I've had a lot of prejudicies about this book, but I've finally decided to give it a fair chance and by now I've read little more than the half. It's driving me mad. I can't resist commenting it a bit now, and this will sound a bit too petulant: I'm just too much in love with the Homeric question to take this kind of thing lightly... I'd love it if someone came to this book's defence, because it might well be that I've missed something... Note that I haven't read quite the whole book yet.

The authors are making a good point in showing how the Doloneia (=book 10 of the Iliad) is the fruit of traditional oral poetry and the longest extant piece of "poetics of ambush". They're saying that many linguistic and other features that seem strange in the Doloneia compared to other Epic are so only because its substance matter (ambushing and night raids etc.) is different. But beside that, the joy of reading is ruined because a big part of the book is spent to prove a false syllogism: "The Iliad is traditional. The Doloneia is traditional. Thus, the Doloneia is a traditional part of the Iliad". As if the very fact that it's so different from the rest and the fact that it's the only book in the Iliad that can be excised without a trace didn't mean anything. Because although it is traditional, the fact remains that it's a very inorganic part of the whole.

We're told almost any variant in the transmission is a "performance variant". I think it's quite plausible that the performance tradition had an effect on the textual transmission for many centuries - probably many of the copyists were performers themselves and this had an effect on the variants that are attested, as they would have introduced rhapsodic interpolations etc., because they conciously or unconsciously modified the transmitted text, since they were so intimate with the formulaic system themselves. I suppose these variants are worth studying for themselves. But this book seems to imply that every variant there is must go back to time immemorial - the idea that some of these might be older than another is taboo, because then someone might think that all performance variants are not created equal, because "older" must mean "authentic" which must mean "better" and we wouldn't want to say that, would we.

So basically, I think the purpose of this book is legitimate, but in the end it a big deception, because the subject matter would call, in my opinion, for a much more serious investigation of the problems of textual transmission. There a long bibliography in the end, but it doesn't include works I think are would be essential like M. J. Apthorp's Manuscript Evindence for Interpolation in Homer.

The word performance is starting to give me a rash, which is a pity, because I think the word has many legitimate uses, even in Homeric studies...
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Re: Books of a Nature not Necessarily Academic but Nice*

Postby Qimmik » Fri Nov 15, 2013 3:52 am

I read Iliad 10 and the Poetics of Ambush just before I read Iliad 10 during my rereading of the Iliad and the Odyssey earlier this year. It's a very vigorous statement of the "hard Parryist" position--that everything in the Iliad, at all levels, is traditional and formulaic. I think their arguments are worth pondering, even if, like me, you ultimately aren't convinced.

I think your syllogism somewhat overstates the authors' position on Iliad 10. They see the "Iliad" as a broad tradition of lore about the Trojan war, that Iliad 10, like the rest of the Iliad as we have it, emerged out of that tradition, and there's no reason to accord any part of the tradition a higher status than any other parts. But I think you're right that the big weakness of their argument is that the texts of both the Iliad and the Odyssey are remarkably uniform, even taking into account the wild versions of the early papyri, and there don't seem to have been any alternative versions in circulation as far back as we can trace.

I also think much of their discussion of the "poetics" of ambush is very illuminating--explaining a number of puzzling features of Book 10. This aspect of their discussion stands on its own and doesn't depend on swallowing "hard Parryism" whole.

But after reading the Iliad and the Odyssey again earlier this year, I'm more inclined to think that, although the Iliad and the Odyssey are the end-products of an oral tradition, both works are somehow not oral poems--that writing was somehow involved in their composition, that they were either dictated or written by someone who intentionally set out to fashion huge poems out of traditional materials.

I feel this more strongly about the Odyssey, maybe because I deliberately read it through as quickly as possible over a few weeks in order to try to get a picture of the whole. Reading it rapidly allowed me to experience the great arc of the narrative, crafted with such consummate skill. So is the Iliad, but they're so utterly and completely different from one another, and I can't see how the same individual could have possibly composed both poems, if indeed each was composed by a single individual. Next time I read the Iliad I'm going to try to read it through as rapidly as possible and not dwell on the notes, the secondary literature, the details of linguistic explanation, etc.

However, I really have no idea how the Iliad and the Odyssey actually came into being, and I'm skeptical of all the attempted explanations that have been offered, intriguing as they may be. I think the genesis of the Homeric poems is simply irrecoverable.
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Re: Books of a Nature not Necessarily Academic but Nice*

Postby Paul Derouda » Fri Nov 15, 2013 8:14 am

We seem to have very similar views then. Like I said, I might have said my point a little too strongly.

Qimmik wrote:I think your syllogism somewhat overstates the authors' position on Iliad 10. They see the "Iliad" as a broad tradition of lore about the Trojan war, that Iliad 10, like the rest of the Iliad as we have it, emerged out of that tradition, and there's no reason to accord any part of the tradition a higher status than any other parts. But I think you're right that the big weakness of their argument is that the texts of both the Iliad and the Odyssey are remarkably uniform, even taking into account the wild versions of the early papyri, and there don't seem to have been any alternative versions in circulation as far back as we can trace.

I think one problem is that hard core oralists are too much in love with comparative material from other oral traditions, and they're trying to force whatever they find in Homer into a preconcieved framework they call "oral poetry", when they should rather try to assess what is the exact nature of what has been preserved and what could be its relationship with the oral tradition. A written text is not the same thing as a performance, because something happens before an oral poem is commited to writing.

Thinking of alternative versions - for the Odyssey, there are some disturbing mentions in the scholia. There's a mention (by Aristarchus? I'm not looking this up from anywhere.) that book 24 and the end of 23 weren't origally part of the Odyssey. Then there's a mention (in Zenodotus?) that in the Telemachy there was a variant line where it's suggested Telemakhos should go to Idomeneus in Crete instead of Menelaus. Then there are some interesting speculations that behind the lying stories of Odysseus there might be older versions of the Odyssey. All these are very intriguing, but there little evidence to build upon.

I also think much of their discussion of the "poetics" of ambush is very illuminating--explaining a number of puzzling features of Book 10. This aspect of their discussion stands on its own and doesn't depend on swallowing "hard Parryism" whole.

On this too I agree, but the writers themselves can't keep these two apart...

However, I really have no idea how the Iliad and the Odyssey actually came into being, and I'm skeptical of all the attempted explanations that have been offered, intriguing as they may be. I think the genesis of the Homeric poems is simply irrecoverable.

We can only speculate on what sort of thing will have happened. Some speculations will be more credible than others.
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Re: Books of a Nature not Necessarily Academic but Nice*

Postby Scribo » Fri Nov 15, 2013 10:47 am

Honestly the whole idea of the book is the sort of odd mental masturbation we went through for under-graduate essays, I'm really not a fan. Mainly for the reasons suggested but with a few slight addenda.

I don't think hardline oralist approaches are very comparative anyway. They simply over-privilege one data set (Serbo-Croatian) in order to explain another (Greek). I mean it is truly remarkable that one never sees the kind of texts on oral poetics produced by actual anthropologists investigating the same kinds of question. Smith has done excellent work on the Pabuji tradition, Finnegan on the idea of oral poetics (and how we don't need a specific oral poetics) and Africa and so on. This isn't good critical thinking...

I also hate the way that people conflate the Iliad (or Odyssey) with the wider tradition, again fallacious. The tradition has many, many, variants. A singular poem within that does not. It by necessity serves as a single slice. Variants happen in transition and performance, people need to get over it and stop over democratising everything...

Don't give up on performance. It's a very useful heuristic device! Check out, e.g, Scodel's "Listening to Homer" for an example done very well indeed. Also as far as the Serbo-Croat stuff is concerned Zlatan Čolaković is a much better guide and many find his formulation of the "post traditional poet" useful for Homer.
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Re: Books of a Nature not Necessarily Academic but Nice*

Postby Paul Derouda » Fri Nov 15, 2013 12:38 pm

Thanks guys. You have restored my faith in humanity (and perhaps in performance, too...)

Have you actually read Skafte Jensen's book? What do you think about it? I didn't get very far reading it when other things came up. I wondering whether I should start reading that again.
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Re: Books of a Nature not Necessarily Academic but Nice*

Postby Qimmik » Fri Nov 15, 2013 1:17 pm

Which Skafte Jensen book, the earlier one or the new one? I read the earlier one some time ago but getting a hold of the newer one is difficult or impossible outside of Scandinavia. She's a hard-core "oralist" (as West would call them) and did field work in Albania, but I thought the earlier book was well-argued when I read it, probably 20 years ago. She puts "Homer" in the 6th (!) century.

I too am uncomfortable with the "privileging" of the Serbo-Croatian tradition, as if the Homeric poems must have arisen out of an oral tradition that in every respect was identical to the South Slavic tradition studied by Parry. I don't think that Parry or even Lord went that far, but some of the current crop seem to think that they can prove a point about "Homer" by simply citing the evidence of the Serbo-Croatian tradition--which most contemporary Homeric scholars who embrace a more or less hard-core oral view haven't studied in depth anyway.

One book I found really illuminating is Homer's Trojan Theater, by Jenny Strauss Clay. She tries to map out the topography of the battle books, suggesting (without embracing any particular theory about the origin of the poem) that the composer of the Iliad had a very concrete map in his (or her) mind and used it to keep everything straight throughout the narrative--and, more broadly, that this was a technique that an oral poet/singer might have used to manage the task of committing a long narrative to memory. But the book is valuable for explicating the action of the battle books, quite apart from her ideas about compositional technique.

One other thought: ultimately, I think speculation about the origin of the Homeric poems has run its course. It doesn't really contribute to our understanding and appreciation and enjoyment of the poems. That's not to say that much of the scholarship of the past 200 years--much of it focused on the search for origins--has made no contribution to our understanding of the poems. But the specific focus on how the poems came into being has hit a dead end. The more we know about the poems, the more complex the processes, the more contradictory the evidence, and the more mysterious and irrecoverable the origins of the poems become.
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Re: Books of a Nature not Necessarily Academic but Nice*

Postby Paul Derouda » Fri Nov 15, 2013 1:49 pm

Qimmik wrote:Which Skafte Jensen book, the earlier one or the new one? I read the earlier one some time ago but getting a hold of the newer one is difficult or impossible outside of Scandinavia. She's a hard-core "oralist" (as West would call them) and did field work in Albania, but I thought the earlier book was well-argued when I read it, probably 20 years ago. She puts "Homer" in the 6th (!) century.

I meant the newer one. I've read an article where she puts forward her idea of a 6th century dictating "Homer", the whole epics being dictated in a very short time, like 1 song per day (I don't remember exactly). That part of it was not at all convincing to me. But she has perhaps some good insights with comparative evidence from other oral traditions.

One book I found really illuminating is Homer's Trojan Theater, by Jenny Strauss Clay. She tries to map out the topography of the battle books, suggesting (without embracing any particular theory about the origin of the poem) that the composer of the Iliad had a very concrete map in his (or her) mind and used it to keep everything straight throughout the narrative--and, more broadly, that this was a technique that an oral poet/singer might have used to manage the task of committing a long narrative to memory. But the book is valuable for explicating the action of the battle books, quite apart from her ideas about compositional technique.

I guess that book's on my reading list. Incidentally, M.L. West also thinks the Iliad poet knew the Troad well.

One other thought: ultimately, I think speculation about the origin of the Homeric poems has run its course. It doesn't really contribute to our understanding and appreciation and enjoyment of the poems. That's not to say that much of the scholarship of the past 200 years--much of it focused on the search for origins--has made no contribution to our understanding of the poems. But the specific focus on how the poems came into being has hit a dead end. The more we know about the poems, the more complex the processes, the more contradictory the evidence, and the more mysterious and irrecoverable the origins of the poems become.

I'm not so pessimistic. It's just that all the threads have grown so overwhelming for a single individual. It's unrealistic that anyone could ever convince everybody, even if he found out the truth. It's not like natural sciences, you can't make uncontestable experiments to show that your solution to the Homeric question is true. You have to convince other people, and if other people haven't done their homework, they won't believe you, even if you're right. There will always be noisy Felipe Vincis, creationists and whatever to obfuscate the truth, but you don't have to listen to them.
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Re: Books of a Nature not Necessarily Academic but Nice*

Postby Scribo » Fri Nov 15, 2013 3:00 pm

Skafte-Jensen's new book, wow what a difficult text that was to get hold of. My own library was useless, the press wanted to charge me £50! Luckily my partner is in Cambridge where they're eminently sensible and I spent a weekend forgoing...early pleasures in order to read it.

Basically, she's to be commended for doing her own fieldwork and some of her criticisms of Nagy's evolutionary model were interesting iirc. I think overall her late date is untenable, but then reading the book gave me several ideas of my own so there's that. It was not a wasted time.

I too agree that there's quite a lot to be learnt from investigating composition, I just think people are faffing about in the wrong areas. I think sometimes it's a question of distance too...my opinions, actually my approach, changed markedly not just by examining other Greek stuff but traditions from around the word. I can still rapidly perform/improvise Sanskrit version with even only a slight grasp of the old Indic formula system. I can go for quite a few lines too before forgetting where I'm meant to be going with the story...

Spatial dimensions: I liked it too, but nothing new since the Celticists (is that a word?) have long since maintained similar stuff about the Filid.
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Re: Books of a Nature not Necessarily Academic but Nice*

Postby Qimmik » Sun Nov 17, 2013 4:04 pm

One troublesome aspect of the "hard Parryist" (for want of a better term) school that Paul mentioned is the tendency to remind us that the success of the Homeric poems crowded out virtually all the rest of the enormous body of oral poetry circulating in archaic Greece, and then to construct arguments based on what the rest of the tradition might have been.

If you're prepared to read an 800+ page book built on extravagant flights of fancy of that sort, I would highly recommend Hippota Nestor by Douglas Frame, with the imprimatur of the Center for Hellenic Studies, an institution that promotes this sort of thing, right here in Washington, DC. I have to admit that I haven't read it, but I was intrigued enough to buy it because it wasn't too expensive.

It turns out--again, admittedly, on casual inspection--to be based on an actual in-depth engagement with archaic Greek evidence, but very much akin to the book that places the Trojan War in Finland in the wild fantasies it constructs out of the evidence.

http://www.amazon.com/Hippota-Nestor-Hellenic-Studies-Douglas/dp/067403290X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1384703915&sr=8-1&keywords=hippota+nestor
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Re: Books of a Nature not Necessarily Academic but Nice*

Postby Scribo » Sun Nov 17, 2013 5:25 pm

Yeah I sat through that book, I really can't say anything nice about it whatsoever. I mean there are some glimpses of worthwhile stuff about e.g an Ionian context but little that can't be found elsewhere. Overall...yeah just read something less mental.
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Re: Books of a Nature not Necessarily Academic but Nice*

Postby Paul Derouda » Sun Nov 17, 2013 5:31 pm

I haven't read the book, but I remember the BMCR review because of its memorable opening line:

"There is something humorous about the garrulous Nestor of Homeric epic as the subject of a 900-page book".

http://bmcr.brynmawr.edu/2010/2010-12-04.html
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Re: Books of a Nature not Necessarily Academic but Nice*

Postby Scribo » Sun Nov 17, 2013 5:49 pm

Ha that's actually a pretty good review. I forgot about the bit about cattlemen twins, ha. Poor Periklymenos! cattleman here, guardian of the dead elsewhere, how many interpretations is he going to get.
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Re: Books of a Nature not Necessarily Academic but Nice*

Postby quendidil » Wed Feb 05, 2014 12:45 am

I like The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization by Bryan Ward-Perkins.

It is about the economic history of the late Western empire based on both texts and archaeology.
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Re: Books of a Nature not Necessarily Academic but Nice*

Postby daivid » Wed Feb 05, 2014 1:02 pm

quendidil wrote:I like The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization by Bryan Ward-Perkins.

It is about the economic history of the late Western empire based on both texts and archaeology.


I also enjoyed this book and he very effectively reaffirms that the fall was indeed dire.

His book is a good example of how heresy is the new orthodoxy. Rather than stress that the case he is putting is reaffirming what most historians have always thought he takes great pains to talk up the "fall - what fall?" school of historians. By making those historians who argue that very little changed when German kingdoms were established across the western empire appear as the new establishment, he positions himself to be an iconoclastic rebel.

Peter Heather's The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History makes a nice companion to Ward-Perkins book dealing with the how rather than the consequences.
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