Book Review: Valuing the Past in the Greco-Roman World: Proceedings from the Penn-Leiden Colloquia on Ancient Values VII


by James Ker and Christopher Pieper, editors

Leiden / Boston: E.J. Brill, 2014. Pp. x, 548. Illus., notes, biblio., indices. $180.00. ISBN: 9004269231

Valuing the Past in the Greco-Roman World: Proceedings from the Penn-Leiden Colloquia on Ancient Values VII, edited by James Ker and Christopher Pieper. Leiden / Boston: E.J. Brill, 2014. Pp. x, 548. Illus., notes, biblio., indices. $180.00, ISBN 978-9-0042-6923-1;

What did the Ancients Think About the Past?

In an attempt to answer this question, Professors Ker (Penn.) and Pieper (Leiden ) have gathered 19 essays by scholars from the United States, Germany, The Netherlands, and Greece. These essays examine various aspects of the question of how the ancient Greeks and Romans understood, valued, and used the past. So the essays are not about history, but rather about how these peoples perceived and used history.

A good example is the essay “Pelasgians and Leleges: Using the Past to Understand the Present,” which does not discuss whether these peoples, thought by the Greeks to have preceded them in Hellas, actually existed, but rather what was believed about them and how those beliefs affected Greek culture, politics, and historiography. 

Other essays cover such matters as the Roman perception of Egyptian history and culture, Greek and Roman perceptions of the ruins and other relics of earlier times amidst which they dwelt, the valuing of antiquities in Greco-Roman times, and how earlier events were embroidered to throw them into a better light, so as, for example, to turn the story of the Roman general Regulus from one of defeat to one of victory, or to teach a moral or philosophical lesson, as in the story of Agrippina the Younger, Nero’s mother. Several essays discuss how the perceived past was used by orators, poets, historians, and others, such as the persistent tendency by Greeks of the Roman era to describe battles using terminology from the age of Alexander. 

While these essays will primarily be of value to serious scholars, amateur students of ancient history will find some of interest. 

Note: A volume in the Brill series “Monographs on Greek and Latin Language and Literature”,  Valuing the Past in the Greco-Roman World is also available as an e-pub ISBN 978-9-0042-7495-2.


Reviewer: A.A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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