Vox Populi, Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about the Classical World but were Afraid to Ask

Vox Populi, Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about the Classical World but were Afraid to Ask

Peter Jones
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5 Mushroom Heads
The title says it: almost everything that you might might want or need to know about classical antiquity is covered, or at least touched upon, here. Vox Populi represents value for money: a remarkable amount of information has been condensed into 277 pages, excluding the Appendices. At £12.99 (RRP), it is a bargain. Vox Populi can be read for simple enjoyment; there is something for everyone here, so this book could be a good, affordable Christmas present for that intelligent friend or relation who has everything that they could possibly want.

The book aims to explain how the literature and physical remains of the ancient world have been preserved; to provide a broad outline of the history of the classical period (roughly 700 BC to AD 500); and to elucidate certain aspects of Greek and Roman life that the author anticipates will interest the reader. These include history - including military history – politics, philosophy, economics and literature. Dr Jones is well-qualified to undertake this task because he writes history as literature. Like Thomas Carlyle or Sir Steven Runciman, he makes it accessible to ordinary readers; fun to read, as well as informative and instructive.

Who in particular will appreciate this book? The Pointless TV show hosts Alexander Armstrong and Richard Osman, for a start. And anyone with an interest in our common Western culture, of which the four pillars are Greek, Roman, Jewish and Christian. Greece and Rome still matter enormously, because they deeply influence the ways in which we think and operate today, even though we may not be fully aware of this. Although English is not a Romance language, it is deeply permeated by words of Greek and Roman origin, as well as whole phrases. Military readers will find all that they wish to know about Greek and Roman armies; how they were organised; how they evolved; their battle tactics and such fascinating details as their use of elephants in battle. Serious students of Classics will find this a useful reference work. At the other extreme, it will be invaluable to crossword addicts and quiz competitors, providing the answers to questions like: 'Who was Rome's first emperor?'; 'Who founded the Stoic school of philosophy?' 'Why is it called that?' and 'What was the date of Julius Caesar's first invasion of Britain?'

The author usefully explodes a number of politically-correct myths about the Classics. They are only an 'elitist' study in the sense that learning classical languages is more challenging and demanding than (say) the Social Sciences, but they are also of absorbing interest. The Classics do not necessarily assume a male chauvinist view of the universe: Greek, and even more so Roman, women were often important and influential. Some wrote books and poetry.

Nor does the West owe "a great debt” to the Muslims for the survival of Ancient Greek literature; that debt is owed to Christian Byzantium. The Arabs were only interested in a small number of Greek philosophers, such as Euclid, Aristotle and Hippocrates, whose scientific works had a practical application in mathematics, medicine or war. They were not concerned with the survival of the works of Plato, Homer, Sophocles or Aristophanes; quite the reverse. See page 65, The Return of Greek:

“The [Byzantine] Greeks knew what these Muslims could do to libraries: if a book disagreed with the Koran, they burnt it; if it agreed with the Koran, it was not needed because it was only doing what the Koran did, only less well. So they burnt it too.”

Definitely buy this book.

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