Tuesday, September 07, 2021

Review: Rome and Persia in Late Antiquity: Neighbours and Rivals

Rome and Persia in Late Antiquity: Neighbours and Rivals Rome and Persia in Late Antiquity: Neighbours and Rivals by Beate Dignas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked this book up in the spring because I was really looking for materials for Rome's interactions with the surrounding civilizations. It is a combination of a short monograph and a selection of sources on the relationship of the Romans and the Sasanian Persians from the foundation of Sasanian rule in the third century to the collapse of Persia in the face of the Islamic invasions. The scholarship is sound and gives a good picture of this relationship from both sides.

The only caveat I have about this book is that I would have liked more Persian sources. There are some, don't get me wrong, but the majority are Roman-Byzantine which tends to imbalance the document section a bit. I should also note here that I'm by no means an expert on Persian sources for this period, so it may be that there aren't many more that are available. However, more, if possible, would work against the prevalent bias towards the Roman point of view.

However, even with that caveat, this is a superb book and worth spending time with. It gives a good view of Persian-Roman relations and many of the important sources for them.

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Thursday, August 05, 2021

Review: Slavery in the Roman World

Slavery in the Roman World Slavery in the Roman World by Sandra R. Joshel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked up this book while trawling for books around Christmas and just got around to reading it. Joshel offers a good overview of Roman slavery, without getting too bogged down in the controversies and other distractions in the topic. She presents a variety of historical, legal and epigraphic texts to tease out what slavery meant in the Roman world, but the strength of the book really is in the attempt to understand how it look at it from the slave point of view. It is an occupational hazard in the study of the ancient Greek and Roman world that most of our sources are elite sources, so it is harder work to tease out what is happening to everyone else. And slaves are among the most invisible of the invisible.

Joshel also considers Roman slavery with other forms. Her point that there really was no 'North' to run to or really any secure place to escape is a good one, and, I think, crucial for the development of Roman slavery. Her discussion on resistance to slavery as shown by elite criticisms of slaves as lazy or dishonest or unreliable is a good one and one I'll be incorporating into my Latin classes in the fall.

This is a slim volume and a good overview. Obviously, there is much more to say about the topic. However, this is an excellent place to start.

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Monday, July 19, 2021

Review: Learning Latin the Ancient Way: Latin Textbooks from the Ancient World

Learning Latin the Ancient Way: Latin Textbooks from the Ancient World Learning Latin the Ancient Way: Latin Textbooks from the Ancient World by Eleanor Dickey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars



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Review: The Practice of the Presence of God

The Practice of the Presence of God The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence
My rating: 4 of 5 stars



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Review: The Romans: From Village to Empire: A History of Rome from Earliest Times to the End of the Western Empire

The Romans: From Village to Empire: A History of Rome from Earliest Times to the End of the Western Empire The Romans: From Village to Empire: A History of Rome from Earliest Times to the End of the Western Empire by Mary T. Boatwright
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a good, university level textbook which covers the history of the Roman Empire from its foundation to its end. Written by a team of first-rate scholars, this book provides a strong overview for the Romans and is an excellent place to start the study of the Romans. This edition is the second edition, so it has presumably been updated from the first (I hadn't read the first edition, so I can't comment on improvements).

What I enjoyed about this text is its blend of political and social/cultural history for each period. It makes interesting connections to cultures around it, as well as giving a good view of what was going on internally which influenced the development of the Roman state and culture. For me, it was a good review and, as I had intended it, a good general resource for my teaching, when I need to remind myself about something. That makes it a quite useful text.

Like any textbook, the view is general and there's always nuances that one might want to make, but for which there isn't space. However, this book gives a strong sense of the field and deserves a place on the shelf for anyone interested in Roman history.

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Wednesday, July 14, 2021

A Classical Resourcement

 A word that has been going around my head the last few months happens to be a French word.  That is a bit odd for me because my French is so poor that it is rare for any French word to stick, but this one has. It is resourcement. Its original meaning relates to a Roman Catholic theological movement of the early 20th century which set the stage for the Vatican II reforms by an re-examination of the past in order to re-examine the accretions of the past. Oddly, it, also, seems to be seeping into the world of the spirituality of education as a term whereby one shifts the emotional tone of a conflict to allow for a new and creative response. In itself, this shift is intriguing, but I'm not sure what to do with that. I don't normally quote Wiktionary, but here are some quotations for that usage: Wiktionary-resourcement

Now, what is it about this word that is causing it to stick in my mind? After all, it is a term for a somewhat obscure theological movement or a  new word emerging in a strange, but intriguing corner of the educational world. That is a good question, if I say so myself. What fascinates me about resourcement is that, at least in my mind, it is a word that seems to look both backwards and forwards. The backwards part is easy, of course. The most common cry of those interested in resourcement is "ad fontes!" or 'To the sources!" and, if that isn't a cry that every self-respecting historian can get behind, I don't know what is. In its own way, isn't it just a historian's slogans which we keep shouting at each other as we beaver through the archives. How is all this resourcement talk supposed to relate to now?

Yet, somehow it does. Hidden in that strange French word is a hint that we don't just go back to the past for its own sake or because we'd like to escape there or for our own edification. We go back to try to understand. We go back because we look around this world and wonder, how did we get here and is all this all have be the way we say it is. It is reflecting on the past, but with different questions in our mind- 'did our source actually say that?' 'why did we think it said something else?' 'where did it get that idea?' 'is there some other way we could go?' We may find some surprising things which cause us to see our world and our practices with new eyes or we may find there are something about the past that we don't want to emulate anymore, which are no longer good for us (if they ever were). It is this sense of using the past to disturb the status quo which fascinates me. 

I could go in so many different directions with how practically the word can be used in my varied interests, but I'll confine myself to just one- the field of Classics. Let me propose that there now, thankfully, a resourcement underway. We heard the first rumblings of it in the 1990s when I was in grad school with the Black Athena controversies, but it has burst forth with greater and greater momentum in the late 2010s and in COVID-tide. It is a call to look again at our sources with an anti-racist lens to ask new questions: 'what are the connections of the Graeco-Roman world to the rest of the world?' 'how does white supremacy influence how we read our sources?' 'how have we marginalized non-white voices in the past and how are we doing it now?' 

Those are critical questions and ones whose answers are not just a matter of academic interest, but which need to inform our decisions about our future as a discipline as well as what we bring to the wider non-scholarly world. For too long, we have believed our privilege was our justification for our place in the educational world- knowing Latin and Greek as the marks of 'civilized' people. Yet, what we've discovered is that there are so many civilized peoples, so many flourishing cultures that we no longer have the corner of that market, if we ever truly did. What we are scrambling to do is try to figure out why Graeco-Roman Classics is worth studying, amid all these other choices out there? What makes us compelling when we remove our assumed privilege? The answer- I don't know, but one path to get that answer is resourcement- filtering for white privilege and recasting ourselves in a new way. 

Wednesday, July 07, 2021

Review: A Season of Mystery: 10 Spiritual Practices for Embracing a Happier Second Half of Life

A Season of Mystery: 10 Spiritual Practices for Embracing a Happier Second Half of Life A Season of Mystery: 10 Spiritual Practices for Embracing a Happier Second Half of Life by Paula Huston
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This really is a lovely book. In it, Paula Huston focuses on ten practices which will make the second half of one's life more fulfilling- listening, delighting, lightening, settling, confronting, accepting, appreciating, befriending, generating and blessing. She weaves in some robust monastic theology, her own experience and just a lot of compassion and humour to produce a book which is beautiful guide to transformation.

What I love about Huston's writing is that it is both deeply personal, but able to connect meaningfully to the deeply wise monastic tradition- a juxtaposition which is not easy to achieve. Those theological passages are intriguing and thoughtful and presented with a clarity which not only make their points intelligibly, but relates it back in a way that one can take it into their own lives. And that is what Huston does as she moves back into the more personal sections of her narrative. Both work together-the theology deepening what we've experienced about God in this time of life, but the experience making the theology relevant to our own lives.

The overall message of this book is a hopeful, but realistic one. The practices Huston explains aren't a panacea, but they are things that, if we do them, will make us better and, hopefully, the world around us. Whatever we face in this second half of life, that strikes me as more achievable than ignoring the realities of what is to come.

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Review: A Season of Mystery: 10 Spiritual Practices for Embracing a Happier Second Half of Life

A Season of Mystery: 10 Spiritual Practices for Embracing a Happier Second Half of Life A Season of Mystery: 10 Spiritual Practices for Embracing a Happier Second Half of Life by Paula Huston
My rating: 4 of 5 stars



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Sunday, June 13, 2021

Review: Atchison Blue: A Search for Silence, a Spiritual Home, and a Living Faith

Atchison Blue: A Search for Silence, a Spiritual Home, and a Living Faith Atchison Blue: A Search for Silence, a Spiritual Home, and a Living Faith by Judith Valente
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I found this book because I was digging around Google Books for books by some of the more recent authors I've been reading, especially Judith Valente and Paula Huston. Both are oblates of Benedictine monasteries and both talk about how they live out their lives as oblates- not as monks, but as ordinary people trying to apply Benedictine spirituality to their own lives. I've already reviewed one book from each. So, this seemed a logical step.

This book is more autobiographical than the previous book I reviewed. It is Valente's experiences on various retreats at St. Scholastica, in Atchison, Kansas which are the focus, especially on her encounters with various Sisters in the convent. The book focuses on how to apply the lessons she learns from the Sisters in her busy and complicated life.

Valente offers great insight into prayer, conversion and living a life of faith in the everyday world. She is honest about her shortcomings and her need for continuing conversion, which is heartening because we're all facing both our ideals and our shortcomings when we deal with people. The gentle wisdom of the Sisters leavens the book, but not in a saccharine or unrealistic way. Valente's journey is like most of ours- messy, sometimes inspiring, sometimes not, but familiar.

This is book which rewards slow reading. It is thoughtful and invites reflections. It is also likely to reward re-reading.

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