M. I. Finley (1912-1986), the son of Nathan Finkelstein and Anna Katzellenbogen, was born in New York City. He graduated from Syracuse University at the age of fifteen and received an MA in public law from Columbia, before turning to the study of ancient history. During the Thirties Finley taught at Columbia and City College and developed an interest in the sociology of the ancient world that was shaped in part by his association with members of the Frankfurt School who were working in exile in America. In 1952, when he was teaching at Rutgers, Finley was summoned before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee and asked whether he had ever been a member of the Communist Party. He refused to answer, invoking the Fifth Amendment; by the end of the year he had been fired from the university by a unanimous vote of its trustees. Unable to find work in the US, Finley moved to England, where he taught for many years at Cambridge, helping to redirect the focus of classical education from a narrow emphasis on philology to a wider concern with culture, economics, and society. He became a British subject in 1962 and was knighted in 1979. Among Finley’s best-known works are The Ancient Economy, Ancient Slavery and Modern Ideology, and The World of Odysseus.

Ancient Technocrats

The Muses began their long career as vague minor spirits whom old Greek poets such as Hesiod invoked for inspiration. But when mythology fell into the hands of the learned, the Muses became fixed in number (nine) and they acquired individuality, with personal names and specialized spheres of activity. The …

A Profitable Empire

“No administration in history has ever devoted itself so whole-heartedly to fleecing its subjects for the private benefit of its ruling class as Rome of the last age of the Republic.” That sentence, from the final chapter of Professor Ernst Badian’s exciting little book on Roman imperialism (originally a set …

Back to Atlantis

In The New York Review of Books for May 22, 1969, I took the opportunity, in reviewing Voyage to Atlantis by James W. Mavor Jr., to discuss at length (and dismiss) current efforts to historicize Plato’s myth of Atlantis. That old game has been revived with the recent discovery that …

Atlantis or Bust

Plato interrupted the flow of several of his dialogues to tell a myth, the purpose of which was to convey in an imaginative or symbolic way a truth not (or less) accessible to his usual dialectical method of demonstration. They were eschatological or more general religious truths, with one striking …

Et tu, Teddy White

The fundamental difference between the good professional historian and even the best amateur historian is that the latter, sooner or later, decides that there is nothing new under the sun. Theodore White tells us in his prologue that Caesar was “oddly modern and romantic,” that he was “perhaps more a …

Up from Democritus

The historian, we are frequently reminded, has to have sympathy with his subject. There is validity in the injunction: it would be difficult for anyone to write a reasonable history of the Assyrians if he shared the hatred expressed in the Old Testament. But there is also danger. Sympathy easily …

Daedalus Lives!

“A novel” says the dust-jacket. And in a way it is, the autobiography of the archetypal craftsman Daedalus, who constructed the labyrinth which housed the Minotaur, the wings with which he and his son Icarus flew westward from Crete, a golden honeycomb, and many other wondrous contrivances. In the primitive …

Plutarch, Historical Novelist

Thomas North’s translation of Jacques Amyot’s French translation of Plutarch’s Lives was published in 1579. In the next generation Shakespeare wrote Julius Caesar, Anthony and Cleopatra, and Coriolanus, and thus at second hand Plutarch placed an indelible stamp on the images of four or five major personalities (and on one …

Digging the Trojans

Defending his acceptance of the legendary history of Britain, John Milton wrote, “Yet those old and inborn kings, never to have been real persons, or done in their lives at least some part of what so long hath been remembered, cannot be thought without too strict incredulity.” No historian of …

UnRoman Activities

After The Will of Zeus, The Mask of Jove, a “history of Graeco-Roman civilization from the death of Alexander to the death of Constantine”—“a narrative,” says Stringfellow Barr, “not an argument, a drama in which I have again allowed the actors to tell the story in their own words whenever …

The Classical Cold War

The books under consideration all touch on major Greek inventions: historiography, the theater, and especially politics. The word “invention” is meant seriously and rather literally, though its appropriateness to politics has perhaps not been sufficiently noticed. One can see the beginnings at least as far back as 600 B.C. Solon …

The Idea of Slavery

In the year AD 61 the prefect of the city of Rome, Pedanius Secundus, was murdered by one of the slaves in his town house. Under the law, not only the culprit but all the other slaves in the household had to be executed, in this instance numbering four hundred.

Greek to Him

In recent years there has been a call to re-examine the classical world by employing the tools of analysis made available by sociology and social psychology. We classicists and classical historians are asked to mend our ways, with no little justice, but it ought not go unnoticed that sociologists can …

Must We Dig?

What, one wonders, would a browser in a bookshop expect to find when he picks up a book called Introduction to Archaeology? Probably just what Dr. Gorenstein tries to provide, a simple instruction-book on excavation—finding a site, digging, keeping records, analyzing the data. To most laymen an archaeologist is a …

Good and Bad History

What is history? This question is exercising an unusual number of historians and others these days, and there is reasons to believe that underneath there is a considerable malaise. To a degree, though not altogether, the question can be re-phrased and divided into two: 1) Why bother? 2) Why bother …

The Anonymity of Antiquity

The number of sites on the mainland of Greece now known to have been inhabited at some time in the Bronze Age runs to many hundreds. This is in addition to the islands and the western coast of Turkey, and the total grows steadily. In any single year, perhaps thirty …

The Jews and the Death of Jesus

It is hardly surprising to find some discordant notes among the general chorus of enthusiastic praise for the recent Vatican Ecumenical Council’s draft declaration on the Jews. Thus, a Reuters dispatch from Damascus, under date of December 5th, reports a protest by the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and the …

Etruscan Things

The Italians have a word, etruscheria, with the same slightly mocking overtone as in chinoiserie, and we are apparently in the midst of another floodtide. When even a first-rate professional of many year’s experience, Axel Boethius, can close his lively account of “The Etruscan Centuries of Italy” in the Swedish …

The Origins of Christianity

Maurice Goguel died in 1955, having been for fifty years professor at the Faculté Libre de Théologie Protestante of the University of Paris. During that long and very productive life of scholarship all his effort was concentrated on a century-and-a-half of history, to 150 A.D. in round numbers. Such dedication, …

Alsop’s Archaeology

Ever since Schliemann and Sir Arthur Evans opened up the Bronze Age of Greece, a whole network of interesting and complex historical problems have been debated. Then came the announcement in 1952 of Michael Ventris’s unexpected discovery that Greek was the language of most of the clay tablets found in …

Christian Beginnings

Who came first, Homer or Moses? That question was vigorously debated between Christian and pagan apologists in the last centuries of antiquity, and often it was turned into a blunter question, Who plagiarized from whom? As an anonymous writer of about the year 200 phrased it, I think you are …

Bogus Togas

Towards the middle of the second century B.C., Cato the Censor wrote a manual, De Agricultura, on the management of large estates operated with slave labor. “Sell the old work oxen,” he recommended, “the wool, the skins, the old wagon, the worn-out iron tools, the aged slave, the slave that …