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FW: Book Review - The Egyptians, The Greeks, The Byzantines, Medi eval Callings

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  • Popplestone, Ann
    ... From: Danny Yee [SMTP:danny@ANATOMY.USYD.EDU.AU] Sent: Monday, July 19, 1999 11:23 AM To:
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 19, 1999
      -----Original Message-----
      From: Danny Yee [SMTP:danny@...]
      Sent: Monday, July 19, 1999 11:23 AM
      To: ANTHRO-L@...
      Subject: Book Review - The Egyptians, The Greeks, The Byzantines,
      Medieval Callings

      An HTML version of this book review can be found at
      along with more than 450 other reviews
      titles: The Egyptians, The Greeks, The Byzantines, Medieval Callings
      from: the Italian
      publisher: The University of Chicago Press 1995-1997
      edited: Sergio Donadoni, Jean-Pierre Vernant,
      : Guglielmo Cavallo, Jacques Le Goff
      other: 361, 318, 293, 392 pages; bibliographies; indices

      These four books are part of an Italian social history series. Each
      contains ten or so long essays by specialists on particular "types" of
      people, defined by profession, activity, position, or other criteria. This
      framework is not an an opening for simplistic typological classification,
      but rather a method for approaching social diversity: the contributors vary
      in the extent to which they try to describe regional and temporal variation,
      but all are wary of oversimplification.
      Some of the essays deal with clearly defined positions ("The Emperor" and
      "The Pharaoh") or groups with a well-developed sense of identity ("Monks")
      or in the process of evolving one. Others are studies of groups defined on
      the basis of external criteria. Where social specialisation is limited, no
      attempt is made to impose artificial categories: in _The Greeks_, for
      example, the essays describe roles rather than separate groups: "War and
      Peace", "The Citizen", "Becoming an Adult", "Spectator and Listener", "Forms
      of Sociality", and "The Greeks and their Gods".
      The focus in most of the essays is on symbolic and ideological systems, on
      how individuals perceived themselves and were perceived by others, in their
      relationships to society as a whole and in their allegiances to particular
      groups. The essays explore nuances in terminology, both modern and
      contemporary, and the extent to which categories were real or perceived as
      real. An essay on the Byzantine "Poor", for example, analyses contemporary
      terms for and attitudes to poverty, its connection with monasticism, and so
      forth, rather than entering into any kind of economic analysis, while essays
      on "The Saint" and "The Marginal Man" address Byzantine ideas of sanctity
      and exclusion.
      This approach means that many topics are not covered at all: military theory
      and technology, for example, or theology. Literary and historical evidence
      is obviously central, but the contributors are wary of too narrow an
      emphasis on this and many draw on archaeology and evidence from material
      culture as well. Some of the essays are also closer to traditional social
      or economic history: "The Peasant and Agriculture", "The City-Dweller and
      Life in Cities and Towns", and "Women and the Family" (_Medieval Callings_)
      and "The Economist" (_The Greeks_), for example. And a few enter into
      historiographical territory: "The Saint" contains an explanation of how to
      read Byzantine saints' lives.
      Short bibliographies of varying selectivity accompany the essays. One
      consequence of the European-wide sourcing of contributors is that many of
      the works listed in these are in languages other than English, which may be
      a drawback for students. (The translator of _Medieval Callings_ has
      sensibly supplemented the essays' bibliographies with a list of suggested
      readings from the literature available in English.)
      In general the essays are pitched so as to be accessible to those without
      much background knowledge of the culture in question, to students or the lay
      reader. They are, however, substantial enough to avoid superficiality and
      they illuminate aspects of life which remain shadowed in more general social
      history or in narrowly biographical studies. Where they treat milieux about
      which I am reasonably knowledgeable (Greece and medieval Europe), I found
      them thought-provoking and challenging; where they cover less familiar
      territory (Byzantium and Egypt), I thought they were excellent


      %T The Greeks
      %E Jean-Pierre Vernant
      %F Charles Lambert
      %F Teresa Lavender Fagan
      %M Italian
      %I The University of Chicago Press
      %C Chicago
      %D 1995 [1991]
      %O paperback, index
      %G ISBN 0-226-85383-7
      %P 318pp
      %U http://www.press.uchicago.edu/cgi-bin/hfs.cgi/00/12787.ctl
      %K ancient history, social history, Greece

      %T The Byzantines
      %E Guglielmo Cavallo
      %F Thomas Dunlap
      %F Teresa Lavender Fagan
      %F Charles Lambert
      %M Italian
      %I The University of Chicago Press
      %C Chicago
      %D 1997 [1992]
      %O paperback, index
      %G ISBN 0-226-09792-7
      %P 293pp
      %U http://www.press.uchicago.edu/cgi-bin/hfs.cgi/00/13143.ctl
      %K medieval history, social history

      %T The Egyptians
      %E Sergio Donadoni
      %M Italian
      %I The University of Chicago Press
      %C Chicago
      %D 1997 [1990]
      %O paperback, index
      %G ISBN 0-226-15556-0
      %P xvi,361pp
      %U http://www.press.uchicago.edu/cgi-bin/hfs.cgi/00/13232.ctl
      %K ancient history, social history, Egypt

      %T Medieval Callings
      %E Jacques Le Goff
      %F Lydia G. Cochrane
      %M Italian
      %I The University of Chicago Press
      %C Chicago
      %D 1996
      %O paperback, bibliographies, index
      %G ISBN 0-226-47087-3
      %P vii,392pp
      %U http://www.press.uchicago.edu/cgi-bin/hfs.cgi/00/3441.ctl
      %K medieval history, social history

      19 July 1999

      Copyright � 1999 Danny Yee (danny@...
      <mailto:danny@...> )

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