Peter Green is Dougherty Centennial Professor Emeritus of Classics at the University of Texas at Austin and Adjunct Professor at the University of Iowa. His most recent book is The Hellenistic Age: A Short History. His translation of the Iliad is forthcoming.
 (March 2015)

When the Roman Empire Didn’t Stop

‘Marcus Curtius’; after John Martin, circa 1827. According to the historian Livy, when a chasm opened up in the Forum in 362 BC and an oracle declared that Rome could endure only by casting its greatest strength into it, the soldier Marcus Curtius said that its greatest strength was arms and valor and rode his horse into the chasm, saving the city.
“Is there any human being so indifferent or idle,” wrote Polybius in the introduction to his Histories, “as not to want to know how, and through what kind of regime, almost the entire society of the inhabited world, in less than fifty-three years, came under the sole rule of the …

They Couldn’t Escape the Greeks

John William Waterhouse: Hylas and the Nymphs, 1896
From the onset of the Dark Ages down to our own time, the fraught and variegated relationship between Greek or Roman civilization and those civilizations’ heirs has never been less than significant and fascinating. Initially there was an emphasis on the survival and influence of classical literature. More recently, the …

He Found the Real Alexander

Charles Le Brun: Alexander the Great Entering Babylon, 1665
Throughout the fifth and fourth centuries BCE the southern Greek states had an increasingly uneasy relationship with the kingdom of Macedonia. Located north of Thessaly, in the ring of mountains surrounding the wide fertile plain above the Aegean (the site of modern Salonika), Macedonia was widely regarded by its southern …

Obsessed with Scapegoats and Outcasts

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres: Oedipus and the Sphinx, 1808
With the possible exception of Homer, no cultural phenomenon from the ancient world has had a more widespread or persistent impact on subsequent generations, from Aristotle’s day to our own, than Greek tragedy. It developed primarily in Athens, in the late sixth century BCE, and, as is generally agreed, reached …

Sunlight on MacNeice

Louis MacNeice (far left) with Ted Hughes, T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden, and Stephen Spender at a Faber and Faber cocktail party, 1960
In 1946 the vigorously right-wing South African poet Roy Campbell was festering with militaristic irritation at the pacifism, Marxism, and sexual oddities of Bloomsbury and the fashionable UK poets of the Thirties, and became particularly enraged by his wife Mary’s passionate affair with Vita Sackville-West. To work off his feelings …

The Great Marathon Man

When Herodotus was giving a public reading to an Athenian audience from his work-in-progress, one late source relates, among those present, brought along by his father Olorus, was the adolescent Thucydides. Herodotus’ performance allegedly reduced the boy to tears, and the speaker, duly flattered, declared: “Olorus, your son has a …

The Women and the Gods

In a surviving fragment of his lost play The Captive Melanippe, Euripides puts in his heroine’s mouth a vigorous claim for the primacy of women when it comes to religious affairs, from oracular pronouncements to the service of various deities. Sophocles’ Antigone risks death rather than leave her brother Polyneices …

Finding Ithaca

In 1911 the Alexandrian poet Constantine Cavafy circulated a long-meditated poem extolling the many benefits of travel as against those of arrival. The theme was no novelty (it had found its way into at least one proverb): indeed, the most striking thing about it was the particular journey that Cavafy …

Homer Lives!

At first sight the rhetorical question Who Killed Homer? looks rather like one of those trick questions attributed to mythical lawyers, like “Have you stopped beating your wife?,” since with half a dozen paperback translations of the Iliad and Odyssey selling nicely, and more appearing every year, Homer might seem, …

Tough Act to Follow

When Alexander the Great, still only thirty-two years old, lay dying in Babylon in the summer of 323 BC, he was asked to whom he bequeathed his empire. The question was crucial: though he had left two wives, the Bactrian Roxane and Darius III’s eldest daughter Stateira, pregnant, he had …

Greece Against Itself

To a chorus of political mudslinging and inflammatory editorials provided by Athens’s volatile daily press, Greece is moving toward a fall election between the two perennial elements of Hellenic society—the conservative-authoritarian and the demagogic-liberal. On the right, George Rallis, the incumbent premier, has been the leader of Constantine Karamanlis’s New …

The Macedonian Connection

After Tutankhamun, Alexander. With an explosion of publicity, yet another spectacular venture in museum promotion has been launched: how fitting that Time Inc. and the National Bank of Greece, co-sponsors of this new exhibition, should have patented as its trade mark the royal Macedonian starburst. “The Search for Alexander” has …

The Poets’ Greece

When the Swedish Academy announced its choice for the Nobel Prize in literature last year, the general reaction was one of bewilderment. Who on earth, people asked; was Odysseus Elytis? Some students of the international literary scene (“irritated,” as a friend wrote me, “at the selection of a man who …

Athenian Drama, Attic Salt

Greek tragedy is a perfect subject for wild theorists. Its origins, for scholars today as for near contemporaries like Aristotle, were, and remain, shrouded in Dionysian ambiguities, mostly of a ritual nature. Fertility ceremonies, some more embarrassingly ithyphallic than others, lurk offstage. With the exception of one or two early …

Tut-Tut-Tut

By the time the Tutankhamun exhibition closes in San Francisco, it will have been seen by more than eight million people, almost all of whom had to apply for reserved tickets: the potential audience was probably twice as large again. Museum directors and their PR men have in the past …

On the Thanatos Trail

Death, the one immutable element in every life, is at the same time the one transition that no one can claim as a conscious experience. We do not live through it—a paradox all ages have been disinclined to accept—and putative exceptions to the rule, from Lazarus to mediums’ contacts or …

Answering Service

Psychologically, Delphi stood at the center of the Greek world. Geographically, Delphi lies west and north of Athens: just over a hundred miles distant by road, about eighty as the eagle flies, which it does less often nowadays because of noisy tourist traffic and diesel fumes. Ancient pilgrims, hardly less …

The Masks of Mary Renault

It is interesting to speculate what kind of critical reception The Praise Singer might have received had it not been the seventh in a sequence of immensely successful historical novels by that masked and devious illusionist Mary Renault (inevitably, a nom de plume). Her publishers have been touting her new …