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The Oxford classical dictionary /

Other Authors: Hornblower, Simon., Spawforth, Antony.
Format: Book
Language: English
Published: Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 1996
Edition: 3rd ed.
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Review by Choice Review

First published in 1949, the OCD is itself a classic. The first edition offered a uniquely comprehensive, English-language reference for general readers and scholars, with articles on the persons, places, works, and institutions of ancient Greece and Rome by authors whose names still grace required reading lists (e.g., Highet, Momigliano, Nilsson, and Tarn). The second edition (1970) attempted to update the original by incorporating scholarship and archaeological discoveries from the intervening decades. For this third edition, editors Hornblower (Oriel College, Oxford) and Spawforth (Univ. of Newcastle upon Tyne) have led an international team of 364 scholars in an effort to revise older entries while expanding coverage of previously neglected regions (e.g., the Near East and North Africa), periods (late antiquity), and topics (ecology, suicide, motherhood). The result is a hefty tome of more than 6,000 entries, with more than 800 new articles and bibliographies updated through 1994/95, 30 percent larger than the previous edition. In addition to this thematic, interdisciplinary approach, the editors have tried to emphasize ease of use and eliminate academic arcana. Untranslated Greek and Latin terms have been kept to a minimum, and most Greek proper names have been romanized to their more familiar Latinate forms, with see references from variant transliterations (e.g., "Kronos" see "Cronus"). The volume is rich with cross-references, since the less useful name index from the second edition has been replaced with much more helpful see and see also references in the main alphabetical list of the Dictionary itself. Readers will need those cross-references to find many a noble or ignoble Roman, since they are listed under nomen (family name) rather than cognomen (hence, Tullius Cicero, not Cicero; Iunius Brutus, not Brutus). Unfortunately, this edition has also dropped the useful practice of providing Greek spellings for most proper Greek names; given the volume's preference for Latinate transliterations, this may make it more difficult for students with little Greek to find the correct spellings for names in lexica and gazetteers. This OCD is a highly readable and browseable delight, from one-paragraph gems, such as "keys and locks" or "cotton," to lengthier surprises, such as "breast-feeding" or "careers," to expansive explorations on topics such as "constellations and named stars" or "sacrifice." Many of the articles are by leading authorities in the field, including David Halperin ("homosexuality") and Martha Nussbaum ("Aristotle"). A very few entries are marred by inadequate editing, and some provide only a bibliographic citation in place of any text (e.g., "supplication, Greek"). Many entries, such as "literacy," are carefully written to cover current scholarly contentions, although, as with any work by so many hands, one finds occasional unevenness of tone or coverage. For example, Martin Bernal's controversial Black Athena (CH, Jan'92) is cited in the article on Hellenism but is not mentioned even dismissively in the entries for "race," "ethnicity," "linguistics," "Africa," "Egypt," or "Ethiopia." These small quibbles do not diminish the overall achievement of this edition. Matthew Bunson's Encyclopedia of the Roman Empire (CH, Oct'94), Lesley and Roy Adkins's Handbook to Life in Ancient Rome (CH, Oct'94), Robert E. Bell's Dictionary of Classical Mythology (CH, Dec'82), and Bell's Women of Classical Mythology (CH, Apr'92) do not approach OCD in comprehensiveness or scholarly sophistication. Civilization of the Ancient Mediterranean: Greece and Rome, ed. by Michael Grant and Rachel Kitzinger (CH, Jan'89), treats much of the same information, but in narrative form; Graham Speake's excellent Dictionary of Ancient History (1994) does not cover mythology or literature. OCD is the one work on the ancient world that should be in every reference collection. B. Juhl; University of Arkansas, Fayetteville

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Booklist Review

Over a quarter of a century has elapsed since the last revision to the Oxford Classical Dictionary, longer even than the 21 years between the first and second editions. As noted in the introduction to the current edition, those years have seen a phenomenal growth in classical scholarship, indeed, in all the humanistic disciplines, and an awakening of interest in new theories and subjects long ignored. Evidence of these changes can be seen in the titles of some of the approximately 800 new articles: Homosexuality, Women in Philosophy, Abortion, Class Struggle, and Literary Theory and Classical Languages. Most articles show signs of revision and reworking, often extensive. Bibliographies have been updated as well, even in those articles (mostly short ones) reprinted without change. The editors have also made an effort to make the work more accessible to the layperson. Many of the new articles are thematic articles of general interest: Earthquakes; Shipwrecks, Ancient; and Fishing, for example. Contributors have been instructed to limit explanations that require knowledge of Greek or Latin, and although a number do appear, they are generally related to very specific details and do not compromise the comprehension of the articles in which they are found. As with the second edition, there is no general index, but there are rather generous cross-references as well as asterisks next to terms for which a separate article exists. Users of the previous editions will be happy to know that the new edition continues to function well as a tool for identification and for the location of much of what factual information is known of the ancient world. Many of the new articles are for specific individuals, places, or things, from Acanthus (a Greek colony in Chalcidice) to Zeuxis Philathes (a Greek physician of the Augustan age). The level of scholarship remains uncompromising. Bibliographies, for example, consistently list relevant primary texts and often include non-English secondary sources. Certain discussions may not be clear to every reader, as in the account under Calender, Roman of how the 10-month calendar acquired extra months, which omits any explanation of how Quintilus came to be July. An effort has been made in this edition to list persons under family name and under linguistically correct forms even when other forms may be more familiar, so that Julius Caesar is under Iulius Caesar, Gaius and Scipio Africanus under Cornelius Scipio Africanus (the elder), Publius, though adequate cross-references exist. Occasionally, an effort to move the discussion of a specific term to a more general article has produced a blind reference; the reader, for example, is told under effatus to see Augures, but in that article the term effatus is not mentioned. Still, despite occasional difficulties, this is a work that makes a fascinating world of learning accessible to a broad audience. The editor, in thanking the contributors for their generosity, notes that "the pressures of university life are now in the direction of selfish productivity at the level of pure research." This work, though thoroughly up to date, does seem like the product of another era, when the gap between what scholars wrote and the rest of us read was less stark. It should continue to be the single most heavily used book on classical studies in the reference collections of academic libraries, and it deserves a place in all but the smallest public libraries as well as in high-school libraries where classical studies are at all a part of the curriculum.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.