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Ancient Days….

Took the children, who had a fistful of gift cards, to Barnes & Noble’s yesterday and picked up a couple of books for myself:


The Spartacus War by Barry Stauss

Marcus Aurelius: A Life by Frank McLynn

The legendary slave rebellion of Spartacus has yielded a relatively thin book by Strauss but it is an opportunity for me to get a fresh interpretation of “Roman COIN” (as if Caesar were not clear enough about how Romans dealt with insurgency in his Commentaries). Marcus Aurelius too has acheived almost mythic status, the stoic philosopher-Emperor who is the gold standard to whom other rulers are compared, and frequently found wanting.

Not sure when I will get to these…into the antilibrary pile they go 🙂

7 Responses to “Ancient Days….”

  1. Dave Schuler Says:

    A small note on the manuscript tradition of M. Antoninus’s Meditations.  There is extant only one complete copy.  It is in the Vatican Library and dates from the 13th century.  A few other (similarly late) manuscripts contain a few excerpts.  That’s it.  Biographical information on him is very scanty and likely fictional (biographies of other emperors in the same works are known to be fictional).

  2. Lexington Green Says:

    As an aside inspired by Dave’s point: The entire corpus of Roman-derived law in Medieval Europe, which has shaped European law, and the law of much of the world, ever since, was all derived from ONE COPY of the Pandects of Justinian.  The Holy Roman Emperor Lothair took as part of the loot when he captured Amalfi from the Norman Roger of Sicily in 1137, and turned it over to the men who founded the first law faculty in Europe, at Bologna.  I note however, upon a few more seconds looking, that F.W. Maitland denies this story.  However, the substance is essentially unchanged: "As to the .Digest, during some four hundred years its mere existence seems tohave been almost unknown. It barely escaped with its life. … The romantic fable of the capture of an unique copy at the siege of Amalfi in 1135 has long been disproved; but, if some small fragments be neglected, all the extant manuscripts are said to derive from two copies, one now lost, the other the famous Florentina written, we are told, by Greek hands in the sixth or seventh century."So, OK, the romantic fable is false, though reported as true at several places on the Internets!  However, the romanticism of two copies versus one still hows how tenuous our ties to the ancient world really are, and how much we have certainly lost.  A world-historic single volume.  

  3. T. Greer Says:

    I enjoyed Mr. McLynn’s biography of Richard the Lionheart and his ill fated brother. Here is to hoping his work on Aurelius is just as good!

  4. zen Says:

    Hey Dave,
    Is there a handy reference of ancient primary sources that dates the oldest known copies of various classics?

  5. Alex Says:

    I’m glad I am not the only geek who stacks unread books by his bedside.

  6. Joseph Fouche Says:

    I think Marcus Aurelius is overrated. My evidence: his strong insistence that his son Commodus succeed him. This was in contrast to his four predecessors going back to Nerva where, though perhaps prodded by circumstances, adopted an able understudy to succeed them.

  7. Dave Schuler Says:

    Is there a handy reference of ancient primary sources that dates the oldest known copies of various classics?Unfortunately, no, at least not to my knowledge.  Many of the manuscripts are in the Vatican Library or in Lorenzo de’ Medici’s collection in Florence.  Catalogues of those are good places to start.

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