Jasper Griffin is Emeritus Professor of Classical Literature and a Fellow of Balliol College, Oxford. His books include Homer on Life and Death.


Under the Volcano

A painting in the Chaste Lovers bakery, Pompeii; from Mary Beard’s The Fires of Vesuvius. ‘At first sight an elegant scene,’ Beard writes, ‘with comfortable cushions and drapes, and glass vessels set out neatly on the table. But the woman behind is

The Fires of Vesuvius: Pompeii Lost and Found

by Mary Beard
The Mediterranean Sea is an area subject both to earthquakes and to volcanic eruptions. Usually of no great significance, they are occasionally shattering. In the year 79 AD, Vesuvius erupted to terrific effect, and with a force reckoned as equal to that of many atomic bombs. There had been warning …

Virgil Lives!

The Virgilian Tradition: The First Fifteen Hundred Years

edited by Jan M. Ziolkowski and Michael C.J. Putnam
T.S. Eliot, contemplating in lordly style the whole of Western literature, found only one author who fully deserved the title of classic: the Roman poet Virgil. His poems, written in the generation immediately before the birth of Christ, were fully mature in style; they were also central in position, poised …

Mad About the Boy

Alexander the Great: A Life in Legend

by Richard Stoneman
A choice few characters in history have earned, or at least have acquired and retained, the title of “The Great.” Peter the Great, of Russia; Charles the Great, who is Charlemagne, Emperor of the West; Louis le Grand, fourteenth of that name, King of France: we are familiar, more or …

East vs. West: The First Round

Thermopylae: The Battle That Changed the World

by Paul Cartledge
The early history of Europe is a history of constant invasions from the East. The peoples which think of themselves nowadays as quintessentially European—the French, the Germans, the Anglo-Saxons—all came into what we now call Europe, originally, from what we now call Asia. It was only later that invasion and …

The Hero’s Wife Speaks

The Penelopiad

by Margaret Atwood
The Odyssey of Homer—far more than the darker and more comfortless Iliad—has been a book with great appeal. Readers, followers, and imitators have abounded. James Joyce’s Ulysses is only one of the more elaborate and fantastic of its variants, along with the enormous and yet more fantastic Odyssey: A Modern …

‘The True Epic Vision’

Gilgamesh: A New English Version

by Stephen Mitchell
There were two ancient languages and literatures: Greek and Hebrew. One of them, probably Hebrew, was the original language, from which (after the Fall) all the others arose as degenerate and distorted descendants. That was, roughly, how things looked to educated Westerners until, in the early nineteenth century, there began …

The Myth of the Olympics

The Ancient Olympics: A History

by Nigel Spivey

Games and Sanctuaries in Ancient Greece: Olympia, Delphi, Isthmia, Nemea, Athens

by Panos Valavanis
There are those, said Plato, who go to the Olympics to compete; there are those who go to watch; and there are those who go to buy and sell things. Of the three, he characteristically adds, the noblest are those who go to watch, for their activity is closest to pure contemplation, the highest activity of the human mind.

It’s All Greek!

The Peloponnesian War

by Donald Kagan

The Spartans: The World of the Warrior-Heroes of Ancient Greece, from Utopia to Crisis and Collapse

by Paul Cartledge
We look into history from motives of two kinds. There is curiosity about the past, what happened, who did what, and why; and there is the hope to understand the present, how to place and interpret our own times, experiences, and hopes for the future. The world of classical antiquity …