A retro review from January 4, 2009 since I’m resting up today.
In this collection of ancient historians writing in Greek and Latin, Grant selects all the historians anyone who casually exposed to Ancient Greek or Roman history would be likely to have heard of: Livy, Thucydides, Plutarch, Polybius, Herodotus, Caesar, Xenophon, Suetonius, Tacitus, and Josephus (translations of his Greek writing). To those he adds a more obscure roster: Hecataeus, Hellanicus, Nepos, Diodorus Siculus, Sallust, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Velleius Paterculus, Appian, Arrian, Dio Cassius, Eusebius, and Ammianus Marcellinus. Luke of the Gospels is also thrown in for his historical material.
There are three main purposes behind this collection.
First, Grant simply wants you to read these historians who are so important as primary source on the classical world, see where some of the famous anecodotes so often repeated in cable documentaries actually come from, get a sense of the character of their writing. Second, Grant gives some basic information about each historian – when they lived, the works they wrote and which ones survived to our time, the extant of their personal involvement in what they write about, the merits and defects of their histories, and a bit on their political and literary influences on the modern world. Finally, by arranging the book in chronological order of the historians’ lives, and not by language or order of their subjects, Grant develops an argument about how the art of history developed in the classical world and which writers were regarded as particularly admirable.
Besides his own translation work (primarily on Tacitus and Suetonius), Grant has selected many other translators and all are fully credited if the reader wants to follow up and get their entire translation of a work.
Grant’s introduction and timeline puts the selections in a rough context for events in the ancient world. The book is extensively footnoted, and Grant often gives, in the titles to individual selections, the date of the event described.
As to the span of time covered here, we have the migration of the Etruscans from Lydia and the founding of Thebes to the death of Emperor Valens at the Battle of Adrianople.