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Philip II of Macedon: A Life from the Ancient Sources.

Philip Il of Macedon (382-336 B.C.), conqueror of Greece and founder of the Macedonian empire, is best known to the modern world as the father of Alexander the Great. This is partly because his achievement was eclipsed by the accomplishment of his son, but is no less attributable, as Bradford maintains, to the fact that "no ancient biography of Philip has survived, nor has any substantial history of the period" (xiv), though this evaluation is rather unfair to Diodorus of Sicily, who provides a fairly coherent narrative in his sixteenth book. This lack does not reflect the reaction of his contemporaries towards him, since that was abundant, even if largely negative. He was railed against by Demosthenes, admired by Aeschines, and courted by philosophers like Isokrates; numerous documents attest to his activities as well as those of his opponents; finally, the contemporary historian Theopompus wrote a massive work in fifty-eight books about Philip (and everything else), entitled Philippika, which began with the provocative dictum, "Europe has never produced such a man at all as Philip, the son of Amyntas." But this great work only survives in fragments and the other references are scattered; so, Bradford has elected to recreate "the life of Philip, as his contemporaries - and their descendants - knew him" (xv) from an edited compilation of the ancient sources in translation.

Sandwiched between a short prologue and an epilogue (the eulogy of Philip before the mutinous soldiers at Opis, attributed to Alexander by Arrian) are, twenty chapters, presenting the life and times of Philip of Macedon from birth to death in chronological order. Each chapter is broken up into sections (some only a few lines long) with separate headings. There are twelve rather bland maps. A thirteenth (Philip's Dream) claims to represent The Realm He Planned to Rule, but on what authority we are not told (in fact, the information presented is Bradford's dream). The battle of Chaironeia, notoriously difficult to recreate, is treated to five diagrams, supposedly depicting five phases of the battle. Again, there is no discussion. The book is illustrated by Pamela M. Bradford, the author's wife.

I find it very difficult to say anything positive about this book, largely because it is not clear what function it is meant to perform. If it is meant to be a literary biography based solely upon the ancient sources rather than modern research, it fails. Such works were in fashion in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, beginning with T. Leland, The History of the Life and Reign of Philip, King of Macedon (London, 1759, 2 vols.). But the scholars of that time forged the ancient material into a very readable and coherent product. This book is neither readable nor coherent, thanks to the countless sections into which the narrative is broken, often fragmenting the connected account of the source and creating incoherence where none existed (chapter 20, for example, breaks one continuous passage of Diodorus into six units). Anyway, unlike those literary creations of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, this book is composed almost entirely of straight translation or paraphrase of the ancient sources.

Is it, then, a source book? That is, indeed, the genre it most closely approximates, but, by design, it fails in this regard also. In the first place the sources are not shown with the passages, but listed separately (by section, to be sure) at the back of the book. That is annoying enough for the student, but worse still is the treatment (the editing and compilation) of the sources. Sometimes, as I have already mentioned, one source is broken up into many pieces; on other occasions several sources are blended together within a section, without any indication which part came from which source. The frustrated student will only find this out by consulting another translation of the passages cited. Sometimes, as for example in the Prologue, when he has disentangled the components, he will find an unattributed residue left over (for instance, there is no indication that Demosthenes, Crown 67 is the source for lines 4-7); sometimes the citation will be inaccurate (for example, on page four the passage from Thucydides is 2.99 not 2.100). A sensibly organized source-book would have been a useful contribution, but this is just annoying.

One thing this book makes no claim to be is a work of critical scholarship. The author displays either total ignorance of or complete contempt for modern scholarship and scholarly method. For instance, by giving equal space to all source material, good and bad, he thumbs his nose at source-criticism. Further, he provides no discussion of any of the numerous contested points in Philip's career. This is especially disappointing, because the last two decades have seen a resurgence of interest in Philip and numerous modern critical studies (articles, specialized monographs, and general books) have given us a better understanding of this king and his period than ever before. From this abundance of scholarship Bradford cites only three books; and it is not clear that he has absorbed much even from this exiguous bibliography (for example, though he refers to Hatzopoulos, he does not seem to be aware that that scholar has put forward good arguments for dating Philip's accession to 360 rather than 359).

In sum, educated members of the general public who might have been interested in a well-written biography of Philip, are not advised to buy this book; students who want to access the sources for the career of Philip, will be frustrated by this book; there is nothing in it for scholars at all.
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Author:Harding, Phillip
Publication:Canadian Journal of History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Aug 1, 1993
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