"Oedipus the King, "Prometheus Bound" and "The Bacchae" are among the very highest works of world literature. Except for William Shakespeare, no other"Oedipus the King, "Prometheus Bound" and "The Bacchae" are among the very highest works of world literature. Except for William Shakespeare, no other playwright, not even Ibsen or Racine, approaches Sophocles, Euripides and Aeschylus, at their very best, for their wisdom, truth and formalistic mastery. I have been studying these 33 plays for over a dozen years in various translations and I feel that this edition - edited by David Grene and Richmond Lattimore - is the best complete set of translations currently available. It is marred, however, by its lack of footnotes and supplementary material. Sophocles is clearly the star of this collection. Subtle and profound....more
Shakespeare's "Antony and Cleopatra" leaves the domestic sphere of the earlier tragedies and enters into a world of vast Spenglerian vistas as one culShakespeare's "Antony and Cleopatra" leaves the domestic sphere of the earlier tragedies and enters into a world of vast Spenglerian vistas as one culture, weighed down by its 'decadence,' declines and another, elevated by its coldness and amorality, replaces it. A meditation on the tragic nature of history, it is a very political play (written just prior to "Coriolanus," Shakespeare's most political play). It takes into account our nobility but realizes that it is easy prey. The scenes with Ventidius, Pompey and Menas, and Antony and the Soothsayer are hauntingly and tragically illustrative. The play contains a very large cast of characters, all of them memorable and very well individualized. Psychologically, it is perhaps the work most emblematic of the author's unparalleled genius for creating characters who give the illusion of being full human beings. The star role belongs to Cleopatra, who should be for the actress what Hamlet is for the actor - the most challenging and rewarding of roles. It rightly vies with the other high tragedies as one of Shakespeare's greatest works.
G.E.M. De Ste. Croix's magisterial historical materialist history of the Greco-Roman world spans nearly fourteen hundred years of history beginning wiG.E.M. De Ste. Croix's magisterial historical materialist history of the Greco-Roman world spans nearly fourteen hundred years of history beginning with the Archaic Age (c. 700 B.C.) and ending with the Arab conquests of the Greek Near East, Asia Minor and North Africa. By seeking to understand how issues of class, exploitation and property-relations functioned and perpetuated themselves De Ste. Croix attempts to explain the vast social changes that occurred over the broad expanse of Classical history. The book thus divides itself into two units of four chapters each, the first dealing with theoretical issues behind how classes and economic relationships functioned during the period under investigation, and the second providing a more chronological narrative of the major events and social changes that occurred over that span of time.
Class, for De Ste. Croix and for Marx and Engels, is a social relationship not only to the means of production but one between classes - a relationship based on exploitation. With the development of urban civilization certain members of society take on other roles besides that of economic (i.e. agricultural) producers and these individuals (administrators, soldiers, educators, artists and scientists) must thus be maintained by the labor of the producers in order to fulfill their specialized functions. Exploitation then is the extraction of this 'surplus labor' from one class to the other. Considering the limited surplus the technologically primitive nature of classical economic production was able to produce, Greco-Roman civilization would have been impossible without this exploitation, which took place between the 'propertied' (primarily in land) and 'non-propertied' classes. Exploitation during this era is divided by the author into 'direct individual' and 'indirect collective' forms. The former (rendered from individual to individual) touched upon slaves, serfs, debtors, tenants and wage-laborers, while the latter (exacted by the state from individuals or a whole community) involved taxation, military conscription and compulsory services. These class divisions also corresponded to a separation of society into the 'polis' (the urban city) and its neighboring 'chora' (the agricultural areas and their corresponding villages), with the latter being exploited by the propertied members of the former. While in ancient Greece, 'polis' and 'chora' shared the same culture, in the colonized East the cities were made up of the Greek elite (and the indigenous but deeply Hellenized upper classes) while the 'chora' was made of poor native populations who did not share in Greek culture.
One of the book's central arguments is that while the vast majority of production in the ancient Greek world was done by free producers - small peasants, primarily, but also artisans and traders - who formed the majority of the population (until the great increase in state exploitation circa 300 A.D.), the ruling class extracted most of its surplus from the exploitation of unfree labor in the forms of slavery, serfdom and debt bondage. In the words of the author, "the most significant distinguishing feature of... each `mode of production', is not so much how the bulk of the labour production is done, as how the dominant propertied classes, controlling the conditions of production ensure the extraction of the surplus which makes their own leisured existence possible." There was no bourgeoisie or petit-bourgeois then existing to any significant degree beyond the subsistence level. Any merchant who managed to become financially successful would use his new-found wealth to retire and buy land (which was deemed necessary in order to achieve wealth, status and political power). Wage-laborers were rare and were thought of as little better than slaves.
I suspect that for most readers the most fascinating chapters will be the historical analyses which make up the second half of the book rather than the earlier theoretical ones. 'Part Two' takes us through the Archaic Age displacement of the king and his hereditary aristocracy by the 'tyrant' (most likely propped up by a city's hoplites) as Wealth overtook Nobility as the new true source of power; the pursuant overthrow of the tyrant by the poorer commoners; the glorious birth of Greek democracy, lead by Athens, which allowed all male citizens to rule directly, empowering peasants and artisans to defend themselves against previous levels of exploitation, and the tragic defeat of Greek democracy by the Greek propertied class in alliance with Macedonia and then Rome. While more concerned with the Greek East than with the Latin West the author also analyzes the journey that lead Rome to become mistress of much of the known world. The conflict between patrician and plebeian within the context of a system of patronage-clientship and territorial expansion; the impoverishment of the citizens, growth of slave estates and the decline of the peasantry; and the development of a split among the Roman ruling class which lead to the rise of the reformist 'populares,' the conservative 'optimates' and a series of catastrophic civil wars which lead to the rise of Augustus Caesar ("one of the ablest political figures known to human history") and the Principate. In other of the book's segments, De Ste. Croix fruitfully compares Aristotles' political sociology to that of Marx, investigates the role of propaganda in the class struggle, and later studies the impact of Christianity on the Greco-Roman world.
The most famous argument in this book in undoubtedly De Ste. Croix's Marxist interpretation of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. As Rome's massive territorial expansion began necessarily to slow down a marked decrease in the number of wars bringing in large slave-hauls followed. The propertied class in turn turned to slave-breeding but this was found to be financially prohibitive as it required a great increase in the purchase of female slaves, many of whom could be expected to die in childbirth. Since the surplus labor extracted by the propertied classes derived ultimately from unfree labor, the decline in the availability of slaves lead to a significant crisis. The Roman Empire responded by intensifying exploitation of the free population, legally turning free peasants into serfs (people 'enslaved to the land'), vastly increasing taxation on all but the very wealthy, expanding the two-tiered justice system for the upper and lower classes and introducing legal torture and flogging to larger segments of the population, with not even the lower levels of the propertied classes immune from increased subjection. The results were a number of peasant revolts (the Bacaudae mentioned by various ancient sources) and a series of popular defections and instances of co-operation with the 'barbarian' invaders who were thus allowed to eventually conquer most of the Roman Empire. Among the defectors and collaborators could sometimes be found Christian minority sects seeking to flee the chastisement of the 'orthodox' Catholic Church. As the author summarizes his conclusion, "It was, I suggest, the combination of unlimited economic power and political power in the hands of the propertied class, their emperor and his administration which ultimately brought about the disintegration of the Roman empire." A more thoughtful, comprehensive and illuminating study of a civilization could not be asked for. ...more