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Ancient world in the news

THE GREEK NEWS By Anton Powell and Philip Steele

THE ROMAN NEWS By Andrew Langley and Philip de Souza Walker Books Pounds 8.99 each.

The best way to appropriate knowledge is to learn it as you do something else. Have you ever attended a lecture on the standpoint of the political parties in Northern Ireland? Probably not. Similarly, few parents systematically teach their children the British constitution. We assimilate such information along the way, while we read newspapers.

So what a brilliant idea to present Greek and Roman civilisation, not in textbook form, but as a would-be newspaper. The Greek News and The Roman News declare themselves "the greatest newspaper in civilisation". The premise is that, after centuries of great stories, the paper is publishing a special compilation edition of all the "stories that really made the headlines", together with "fascinating articles on everyday life".

Thus it is that The Greek News has articles on "our brave Boys" (Thermopylai); a guide to the Olympics which tells you how to catch competitors cheating; and adverts for a runaway slave, houses for sale and surgical instruments.

The Roman News is the same, with headlines screaming, "Hannibal Invades" and "Caesar Stabbed!". Adverts include "Your Empire Needs You" (conditions of army service). The women's pages even have an agony column, Cornelia's Corner.

There are small factual omissions, particularly in illustrations: Greek actors, for instance, wore platform shoes, and, because the book is not a textbook trudge through events, the reading age has crept up.

But the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. Both books will be essential for the history section of the school library, and will also be popular with children in the reading corner or as a Christmas present.

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