Socrates at home;Subject of the week;Reference books

1st May 1998 at 01:00
THE ANCIENT CITY: Life in Classical Athens and Rome. By Peter Connolly and Hazel Dodge. Oxford University Press pound;29.99.

Peter Connolly's eminent reputation as an archaeological illustrator can only be enhanced by this superb book.

Using remarkable simulations of city-scapes, modelled maps, imaginative and convincing reconstructions of objects, together with vase paintings, friezes and statues in clear photographs, he has made two great civilisations come alive on the page.

The text, written with the classical scholar Hazel Dodge, is demanding, but set out in lucid paragraphs. In Athens we encounter the games and lessons of childhood, the lives of women, the tasks of slaves, parties, shopping, festivals, religious observances, all related in animated detail to the buildings in which they took place. The Roman section is, if anything, even more lavish. Here we see courts, restaurants, apartment blocks, schools, temples, clothes and furniture. Just when you think six pages on chariot-racing are superlative, there follow 30 even better pages on the Colosseum.

Connolly's imagination dwells happily on minute particulars without ever losing sight of the explanatory whole. If you want to know exactly what it looked like when Socrates attended the famous Symposium with Agathon and Aristophanes, or what Suetonius saw when he described Nero's Golden House, this is the book to tell you.

Tom Deveson

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