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New and noteworthy.

This month's column is devoted to reference works, the first five of which are published by OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS. The first edition of the Oxford Dictionary of Literary Quotations was published in 1997. In a new edition, priced at [pounds sterling]18.99, the editor, Peter Kemp, takes the opportunity to bring his compilation up to date. His aim is 'to revise, refresh and enlarge' which means he has dropped some quotations and added almost 900 new entries about writers and writing to make a grand total of over 4,000. He has also included quotations from sources outside the English-speaking world and enlarged the number of themes to include solitude, collaboration, interruption, illustration, omission, graffiti and epitaphs. The book's organisation has also been simplified and now consists of one straightforward alphabetical sequence of themes and authors. Quotations remain the spices we use to add flavour to our speech and writing and this is the ultimate spice-rack.

The second new title from OUP is another new edition, this time of The Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs ([pounds sterling]14.99) edited by Jennifer Speake. This replaces The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs which began life in 1982. Throughout its history this volume has concentrated on contemporary usage and the editor has therefore added over forty new proverbs for, as she says, 'the proverb in Britain and North America is as vital and varied as ever'. By drawing on the Press's long established expertise Miss Speake has been able to revise, correct and enlarge the background material given for each proverb. Indeed, it is this background material which makes one linger far longer than one had intended when only looking up one proverb. This fact, by itself, is a testimony to the book's value.

A new addition to OUP's range of general reference works is The Oxford Dictionary of Classical Myth and Religion ([pounds sterling]25.00) edited by Simon Price and Emily Kearns. They have compiled this book from the third edition of The Oxford Classical Dictionary. The difficulty with Classical myths is the numerous variations in their telling, in part because some myths were centred in one area whilst others, such as those told by Homer and Hesiod, drew on 'panhellenic' histories. This mixture of local and panhellenic lay at the bottom of Greek mythology whilst Roman myths were 'in essence myths of place'. The editors have included, in addition to Greek mythology and Roman festivals, Greek and Roman religious places and officials, divination, astrology, regional religions, mystery cults, and magic, along with Christianity and Judaism in the Hellenistic and Roman periods. The book is fully cross-referenced and has a useful Thematic Index along with a clear and valuable Introduction.

The next two OXFORD titles are confined to specific authors. The first is The Oxford Companion to Chaucer ([pounds sterling]65.00) edited by Douglas Gray. Its aim is 'to present in attractive form a range of information which will help readers and students in the understanding of England's greatest mediaeval poet'. The entries, which number over 2000, are arranged alphabetically and cover Chaucer's life, reading, family, friends, works, and fictional characters. In addition there are entries on people and places mentioned by him, on his sources, on contemporary English and European writers, religion and society and on his knowledge of science. More specifically there are discussions of his language and poetic style as well as of the topics and ideas in his work. The editor has included reaction to Chaucer's works both during his time and since under the long entry, 'Criticism of Chaucer'. This volume will be a gold-mine not just for students of Chaucer or fourteenth century literature but of the mediaeval period.

A similar volume in format is The Oxford Companion to the Brontes ([pounds sterling]60.00) edited by Christine Alexander and Margaret Smith with additional contributions from a team of seven scholars in Canada and the U.S. Their aim is to 'evoke the milieu in which the Brontes lived and wrote, to disseminate new reliable research, and to provide detailed information about their lives, works, and reputation'. The text includes not just the three sisters but their brother, Branwell and their father, the Rev (not Rev. as incorrectly used here) Patrick Bronte. The authors and their contributors have cast their nets far and are exhaustive in their treatment. Entries include not only biographies of the writers and discussions of their works, but books read by the family, sources used, friends, education, heroes, places visited and imagined, historical events which shaped their lives and imaginations, topics such as religion, their famous juvenilia and works about the Brontes such as films. There is also a detailed chronology, family trees, maps and a list of contents. The editors have achieved what they hoped for: to be 'an up-to-date, informative, and wide-ranging reference work' for specialists and general readers alike.

The definition of a companion varies with individual publishers. CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS uses the term to mean a collection of essays by leading experts on a general topic and has established a solid reputation for this type of book. For those wanting a more detailed examination, rather than a wider cover, Cambridge's companions are among the best choices. Two new publications are The Cambridge Companion to Greek and Roman Philosophy ([pounds sterling]47.50), edited by David Sedley and The Cambridge Companion to St Paul ([pounds sterling]42.50) edited by Prof. James D.G. Dunn. In the first title Prof. Sedley includes twelve contributions by scholars from Britain, France, the U.S., the Netherlands and Italy. The topics covered include leading figures and aspects of Greek and Roman philosophy: the role of argument; the relationship between philosophy and literature, and between religion and science; the Presocratics, and the Sophists and Socrates; Plato; Aristotle; Hellenistic and Roman philosophies; the contribution of late ancient philosophy; and, finally, the legacy of ancient philosophy. As Prof. Sedley writes in his introduction, the ancient philosophers began 'the tradition to which most of us are heirs' and this will prove an extremely helpful introduction to that tradition.

The second new Companion, that for St Paul, is arranged slightly differently into four parts. The first, on St Paul's 'life and work' has two essays on the apostle's life and on his role as missionary and pastor whilst the second, by far the longest part, has eight essays on the Saint's 'letters' which did so much to formulate Christian doctrine. The third part, with five essays, looks at St Paul's theology in more detail, with discussions of his Jewish presuppositions, his Gospel message, Christology, ecclesiology and ethics. The fourth and final part, entitled simply 'St Paul', has three essays which look at the apostle's position in the second century, at his enduring legacy and at contemporary perspectives on the Saint and his influences. Prof. Dunn is right to say that St Paul 'has always been an uncomfortable and controversial figure in the history of Christianity', never more so than today. With that in mind, this collection, reflecting as it does the latest research and thinking, is both timely and valuable.
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Publication:Contemporary Review
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Feb 1, 2004
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