Greek And Latin Authors: 800BC – 1000AD, by Michael Grant
I can see why a book like this needs to be written. People who are classicists need a place to look up the relevant ancient and early medieval writers whose writings deal on a particular subject, so it helps those readers know the sort of writing that has been accounted for in the historical record as well as that which survives and would need to be recognized and understood by someone who was appealing to the ancient world of classic literature to make some kind of point. Admittedly, though, this book was not a very exciting read and it was quite a slog to get through. Part of that was the book’s sheer bulk, but a big part of it was the way that the book was organized. This is an example of a book that would have been far more enjoyable to read had there been some topicality in the way that the book was organized. Perhaps it would have been a bit more tricky to navigate, but it would have at least read better. Then again, a book like this is designed not for the comfort of people reading it cover to cover but rather for those who use it for a reference tool and in that it works well.
This particular volume is about 500 pages long and it begins with a list of authors included, a list of illustrations (with credits) as well as a preface that describes the wide scope of this book over nearly two millennia of Greek and Roman literature (sadly it does not include any of the Bible, although Josephus, Philo, and a great many Hellenistic Christian writers are included). There is a key to pronunciation as well. After that the bulk of this book consists of alphabetically organized writers, many of whom I was familiar with, some of which I have read in translation, and some of which were admittedly unfamiliar to me (although I have to say that was pretty rare). The various biographical sketches include a great deal of critical comment by the author of this collection and also include the works that they are known for and those which survive to the present day, as well as the reception that the writer received in the ancient world as well in the contemporary period. After that there are two appendices that include works of doubtful attribution (although someone had to write them, obviously), as well as a chronological list of the authors arranged by century that demonstrates the bias of the collection towards emphasizing works from 400BC to 400AD or so, as there are comparatively far fewer books before and after this time period.
Ultimately speaking, this is a reference book and only a fairly nerdy person like myself would undertake the unpleasant and frustrating task of reading it cover to cover. The book itself includes a wide variety of writers, spending more time on the familiar or those who were particularly prolific and comparatively less time on those whose writings were more limited or more obscure. There are a great many writers whose political views the author critiques, and the author is notably possessed of a considerable anti-Christian bias that is notable and lamentable. There are even some comments in here that indicate the author’s desire to praise as many female authors as possible, although there are not many who are here. A book like this, as dull and scholarly as it happens to be, is still useful in reflecting upon the culture wars of our own time as well as the fact that such culture wars are by no means a new phenomenon, as much that exists from one to three thousand years ago in the Greek and Latin languages suggests a high degree of cultural squabbling over many generations in a great many cultures.