Debut volume in English of a five-volume French masterpiece that re-creates history through the eyes of a fly on the wall...


A HISTORY OF PRIVATE LIFE: Vol. I From Pagan Rome to Byzantium

Debut volume in English of a five-volume French masterpiece that re-creates history through the eyes of a fly on the wall watching humans at their most intimate domestic moments--in their ""private lives."" This absorbingly illustrated series is intent on presenting the past with both physical immediacy and with as little academic fuss as possible. The illustrations in the first volume have a subjective penetration of the text that is like an inner musical accompaniment. This valume does not pretend to roll out a complete rug of civilization from Rome to Byzantium, nor is the series--which also covers feudal Europe to the Renaissance, the Renaissance to the Enlightenment, the French Revolution to the Great War, and WW II to the present--a reprocessing of other histories. It leans toward cultural anthropology, without towering pedantry. Few readers, even of I, Claudius, will have experienced pagan Rome with quite the freshness evident here. One contributor, Editor Veyne, begins his history with Rome rather than Greece because the ""Greeks are in Rome, are the essence of Rome."" If Romans had too many mouths to feed, they gave away their children at birth or left them exposed to die. Some fathers thought it better to do away with a child than to disinherit it. The prevailing morality taught that ""fathers should love their children as bearers of the family name and perpetuators of its grandeur. Tenderness was misplaced."" Rhetoric was the society game: ""Suppose that a law holds that a seduced woman may choose either to have her seducer condemned to death or to marry him, and, further, that in one night a man rapes two women, one of whom demands his death, while the other insists on marrying him."" Other chapters cover Judaism and early Christianity (including the birth of Christian innerness as opposed to Roman body awareness), private life and domestic architecture in Roman Africa, the early Middle Ages in the West, and Byzantium in the 10th and 11th centuries. Always, the accent is on privacy in the household, in family feelings, in sex, birth and death. History-to-touch.

Pub Date: March 1, 1987


Page Count: -

Publisher: Harvard Univ. Press

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1987