Book Review: Dionysius of Halicarnassus and Augustan Rome: Rhetoric, Criticism and Historiography


by Richard Hunter and Casper C. de Jonge, editors

Cambridge & New York: Cambridge University Press, 2019. Pp. x, 300. Illus., notes, biblio., index. $105.00 . ISBN: 110847490X

Understanding an Ancient Ancient History

Dionysius of Halicarnassus (fl. 60-7+ BC) was a Greek author who’s most famous work is the Roman Antiquities, a detailed history of Rome from the its mythical origins (c. 800-700 BC) through the beginning of the First Punic War (264 BC) divided into twenty books, about half of which survive more or less intact and the rest in fragments, offering an enormous amount of valuable information and insights into early Roman history.

But Dionysius is not always easily understood by modern readers because his writing style and content were influenced by the fact that he was trained not only as an historian but also in rhetoric and literary criticism, professions rarely overlapping in modern academic education. This collection of essays is intended to help modern scholars better understand the style and purposes of Dionysius’s work.

In their introduction the editors (classicists at Cambridge and Leiden), note that Dionysius wrote of the “complex relationship between Greece and Rome”, as he considered the Eternal City a Greek foundation. The essays are grouped in three parts.

Four papers deal with the literary criticism and rhetorical aspects of his work. Three essays address various aspects of Dionysius’s version of early Roman history, which the various authors note is generally more detailed than, and at times at variance with, the account by Livy, and offer explanations for these difference.

The final three essays explore various aspects of Dionysius’s work within the framework of Augustan historiography, given that he was a witness to the formation of the Principate and how this influenced his work; one paper usefully asks “How Roman are the Antiquities?”. While Dionysius of Halicarnassus and Augustan Rome, a volume in the Cambridge series “Greek Culture in the Roman World”, is primarily intended for serious scholars of early Rome, portions certainly a likely to be of interest to the arm chair student of Roman history.


Note: Dionysius of Halicarnassus and Augustan Rome is also available in several e-editions


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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