The Burden of History

Peter Green is one of the rarest birds in the academic chicken coop, a popular historian who combines careful scholarship and original opinions into a coherent account that respects its sources and yet attempts to go beyond them.  In a long career he has achieved considerable renown for such varied books as a translation of Juvenal’s Satires, historical novels, and several important studies of what he calls The Greco-Persian Wars.  His Alexander to Actium (1993) bucked the current tide of historical research, which refuses to regard the postclassical Greek world as a decline from the “Golden Age” of the fifth and early fourth centuries.  The Hellenistic Age, a work aimed at common readers rather than at specialists, represents only a minor revision of the earlier work, though he was able to take advantage of a large body of scholarship that has been ground out in the 17 years that have intervened.

The Hellenistic Age is hard to grapple with.  The term itself is modern: J.G. Droysen coined it (in the late 19th century) to identify a period that, as Green describes it, begins with “the shattering impact of Alexander’s conquest of the Persian Achaemenid empire,” continues through “the power struggle engendered among Alexander’s marshals by his premature death, and then of the several dynasties founded by the victors (the so-called...

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