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The Oxford Classical Dictionary.

According to the accompanying leaflet, the OCD reveals 'the sensational truth about the ancient world!' while, more modestly, the dust-jacket proclaims the third edition 'the ultimate reference work on the classical world'. In fact neither 'ancient' nor 'classical' is really appropriate: it is, of course, the Greco-Roman world which is the subject though the wider world of the Persians and others is not wholly neglected, and entries, having made a start in the Bronze Age, extend well into the Early Byzantine period (hence the excellent assessment of Justinian and his reign by Michael Whitby). The new OCD is splendid value for money even if purchased after 1996; it has no need of puff or endorsement so extravagant as to verge on the ridiculous.

With a compilation of this type it is easy enough to select the suitable entries based on peoples and places. But what else is to appear? How are the 6,250 contributions to be allocated? Here I must say at once that however often I dipped in and however recherche my quest for enlightenment, I was disappointed on only a very few occasions. Having discovered 'Dead Sea Scrolls', 'diagnosis', 'Monte Testaccio', and 'Rhinthon' 'writer of phlyax-plays') I began to appreciate how thorough the editors had been and I had yet to check on 'Riace warriors', 'senators, patterns of 'recruitment', and 'translation'. At this point I gave up trying to catch the editors out. But it should be noted for the future that it is some time since Aberystwyth had a classics department (see the 'home' of Bernard Dietrich), the earthquake in Campania is said to have occurred in A.D. 62 according to the entries 'earthquakes' and 'Pompeii' but in A.D. 63 if you happen to look up 'Herculaneum' and 'Vesuvius', and to the bibliography following widows' should be added SO 66 (1991), 5-26 (a personal gripe for which I apologise, Gillian). Just occasionally I found an entry mildly eccentric as in the case of Hornblower's 'kinship' or in need of development as with Bremmer's 'Metis' but these may be objections others do not share and anyway are intended as the mildest of criticisms. The 364 international contributors form a most impressive team; if you want to see how varied they are and how imaginative a choice they represent, check on T.R.B., G.L1.-M., A.F.R., and S.S.-W., the last being still the greatest expert on the Seleucids though now apparently pursuing a very different career.

Classics has changed dramatically (and much for the better?) in the last quarter century as can readily be seen by a quick glance at the 'List of New Entries'. Gender studies and sex are extensively represented by the likes of 'abortion', 'breast-feeding', 'gynaecology', 'homosexuality', 'incest', 'menopause', 'menstruation', 'sexuality', and 'women in cult' and 'women in philosophy', the former of these last two items being twice the length of the latter (and what does that tell us?); social values has produced entries such as 'euergetism', 'gift, Greece', 'philotimia', and 'reciprocity (Greece)', though more might have been entered and 'shame', another newcomer but not listed as such (nor are the immediate preceding and following 'shamans' and 'sheep'), attracts a pitiful two lines; and don't miss 'class struggle' or 'Marxism and classical antiquity' and also note pottery, scientific analysis of. I was unable to locate the new entries 'Ephesus (late antiquity)', 'Pergamum (late antiquity)', or 'Smyrna (late antiquity)' but now I am becoming petty. A word of serious advice: the hard-pressed teacher with yet another lesson or lecture to prepare or the student falling behind with essays could do much worse than commencing a search for basic information and further reading with the OCD. Neither will be let down.

The publicity blurb informs us that this dictionary is now 30% larger' and 'contains over 6,000 entries, ranging from abacus to Zosimus'. Quite an achievement. There is also the assertion that these bring the ancient world to vivid life', a claim with which I do not quarrel though vivid' is not the adjective I would choose myself. I must admit to having already found the opinions expressed most helpful in setting essays (e.g., 'He [Pompey) did not wish to overthrow the republican constitution, but was content if its rules were bent') but it is the factual detail I cherish while welcoming views which encourage thought and especially thought in some depth. I may regret the absence of illustrations and maps but what can be expected if price is to be kept low and, hopefully, within the scope of a student's pocket. I have a suspicion that a student can get away with purchasing just the OCD, and no other book unless a linguist, and otherwise depend upon the resources of a reasonably stocked library. I am going to consult the OCD more than any other volume acquired in 1996 or many an earlier year and my experience, I am sure, will not be unique.
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Author:Walcot, P.
Publication:Greece & Rome
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 1997
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