You see it all over Washington, practice it in politics and academics, hear it in the English language, revive it in names like Helen and Julian. It’s THE CLASSICAL TRADITION (Harvard Univ., $49.95), and it’s all around us, in the architecture, the politics, the museums. Ancient Greece and Rome did more than leave us ruins to uncover—they established a living legacy on which Western civilization continues to build. To get a sense of how all-encompassing an influence this is, an international team of experts, headed by Anthony Grafton, Princeton professor of history and author of The Footnote; Glenn W. Most, of the University of Chicago; and Salvatore Settis, of the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa, has compiled this rich encyclopedia. Organized alphabetically, the 500 authoritative articles cover all facets of Greek and Roman thought, from cartography and democracy to maxims and tragedy. Color and black-and-white images present the visual end of the spectrum, which runs the gamut from Palladio to I.M Pei, from the Pre-Raphaelites to Charles Addams.
The War That Killed Achilles (Viking, $26.95) is an insightful and original exposition of Homer’s epic poem, The Iliad. Caroline Alexander investigates the importance of Achilles’s actions in his defiance of Agamemnon, and his sorrowful plea to his immortal mother, Thetis, to avenge his wounded honor. However, this is not only about personal honor, but about what it means to fight for other people’s ends, whether to help colleagues like Agamemnon and Menelaus avenge their own injured pride, or, in more contemporary contexts, to help one’s nation achieve the kinds of goals the United States fought for in Vietnam. Alexander succeeds wonderfully in widening her scope from a study of Homer to an intricate and detailed account of what war’s sacrifices really mean.
Historians have traditionally formed a guarded view of Hadrian, acknowledged as one of Rome’s “good” emperors—he of caustic personality and obsession with Greece. The Victorians cast a disapproving eye on his passionate love life, and his legions devastated Judea. In Hadrian And The Triumph Of Rome (Random House, $30), Anthony Everitt, author of Cicero and Augustus, sets about restoring Hadrian’s status as one of the ancient world’s most significant figures. Rising from provincial origins, he became a prolific builder, and made the historychanging decision to limit the empire to natural frontiers.