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Finley is one of the foremost classical historians of his time, and that kind of distinction usually means a less than enthralling experience for non-specialists. But Finley's aggressive style and love of argument make him different, as The World of Odysseus and Ancient Slavery and Modern Ideology have shown. This collection has the merit of presenting scholarly articles in several of the areas Sir Moses has made his own: Homeric society, slavery and the ancient economy, and the citizen and the classical city. In three essays from the mid-Fifties, Finley works out some of the details of his reinterpretation of Homer's world. Following the decipherment of the so-called Linear B tablets of ancient Mycenae, and the discovery that the language of Linear B was a form of Greek, it was assumed that Homer's world was the world of Mycenae. Finley gives a summary of the decipherment, deftly weighing the evidence available, and then argues that the kind of palace economy that the tablets depict was unknown to ancient Greece or to the Western world; and there was, therefore, a complete break between the World of Mycenae, which came to an abrupt end in the 11th century B.C., and the society depicted in Homer's poems, which in Finley's brilliant reading is one based on gift exchange and reciprocity. Finley's breakthrough on Homer was made possible by his use of anthropology, and his writing has always been characterized by careful attention to methodological questions. Another example is a recent essay, ""The Ancient City: From Fustel de Coulanges to Max Weber and Beyond"" (1977), in which he argues that the ancient city represents a type unto itself, primarily because it incorporates the hinterland around an urban concentration into the city itself; so, unlike the medieval or modern city, there is no antagonism between town and country. Finley's insistence on the distance between modernity and antiquity as a necessary precondition for understanding the ancient world is followed here too in his studies on freedom and slavery. In all, 14 essays, plus an introductory overview of Finley's work by the editors and a complete bibliography of his considerable corpus. An excellent introduction for the nonspecialist and a must for Finley admirers.

Pub Date: Feb. 16th, 1982
Publisher: Viking