The Greeks and Us

Democracy Ancient and Modern

by M.I. Finley
Rutgers University Press, 118 pp., $6.00

The Ancient Economy

by M.I. Finley
University of California Press, 222 pp., $2.95 (paper)

The Use and Abuse of History

by M.I. Finley
Viking, 254 pp., $10.00

When Moses Finley came to England from Rutgers University in 1954 as a refugee from the McCarthy persecution he had just published his Studies in Land and Credit in Ancient Athens (1952) and was about to publish his World of Odysseus (1954). Taken together, these two books showed him to be the best living social historian of Greece and the one most prepared to face the methodological problems which social history implies. This was recognized by a restricted group of specialists which included the men who gave him a choice between Oxford and Cambridge (he settled in the latter and in 1970 succeeded A. H. M. Jones in the Chair of Ancient History). But even his warmest supporters did not expect that in less than twenty years Finley would become the most influential ancient historian of our time, equally respected and studied on both sides of what used to be called the Iron Curtain.

Indeed Finley returned propheta in patria in 1972 when he delivered the Sather Classical Lectures on “Ancient Economy” at Berkeley and the first Mason Welch Gross Lectures on “Democracy Ancient and Modern” at Rutgers University. The two volumes which emerged from these lectures in their turn received in England the Wolfson Literary Award for History—a major prize. Together with a third volume, The Use and Abuse of History—a collection of essays on the methodology of the interpretation of ancient sources—these books represent Finley’s most mature and systematic thought.

It is certainly too early to measure, and even to foresee, the combined impact of these three books: up to now they have been reviewed separately, as far as I know. But it is not too early to say that their mere appearance at very short intervals is bound to create a new perspective for Finley’s work. Each of them has of course its roots in his previous research. In fact, The Use and Abuse of History contains only one previously unpublished paper. This is “Anthropology and the Classics,” the Jane Harrison Memorial Lecture for 1972.

The Ancient Economy extends and systematizes Finley’s analysis of the categories of ancient social life (orders defined by privileges versus status-groups; masters and slaves; landlords and peasants; town and country). Even Democracy Ancient and Modern elaborates motifs already to be found in Finley’s papers on Athenian demagogues (Past & Present, 1962) and on the trial of Socrates (now in Aspects of Antiquity, 1968). But The Ancient Economy goes far beyond anything said before by Finley on the place of the state in ancient economic life, and perhaps also on town and country. Democracy Ancient and Modern, being the first explicit analysis of ancient democracy to appear for a long time, adds a new dimension to his work. Finley himself discovered, I believe after having written his essay, that his nearest predecessor was, incredibly enough, a German scholar whose book was published in Berlin in 1940: Bernhard Knauss, Staat und Mensch in Hellas (reprinted Darmstadt, 1964 …

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Letters

Bearing Gifts January 22, 1976