Asaf Bartov (ijon) wrote,
Asaf Bartov

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Shimron's Introduction to Classical Culture

I've just finished reading a Hebrew introduction to classical culture called Classical Culture, by Binyamin Shimron, published by Papyrus Press, Tel Aviv University, 1993.

The book is the freshest attempt at an introduction to the cultures and histories of ancient Greece and Rome in Hebrew. The author was a lecturer at Tel Aviv University's Classics Dept.

The book was edifying and insightful, for a reader with no serious background in classics, like me. Nevertheless, there were at least a dozen cases where Shimron made small leaps I was able to bridge only with some anecdotal knowledge I've gained through long conversations with my erudite friend Yossi Gurvitz, who has a bachelor's degree in History and Classical Studies. Example: Shimron explains that the old Roman republic had two classes: Patricians and Plebeans. He explains that the Patricians were better off than the Plebeans, but does not explain why, or provide insight to the meaning of the names. Also, he begins using Latin inflected forms (such as plebs) as a singular feminine noun in his Hebrew prose, without pausing to explain this. Being half-literate in Latin, I understood that, too, but Shimron was careless in his use of such terms. This minor fault is further aggravated by the lack of either a glossary or an index.

The bibliography, to pursue the structural criticism I offer, fails to mention Edward Gibbon's classic The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Gibbon himself is mentioned in the text of the final chapter, and some of his views are represented, but the name of his masterpiece is never mentioned in the text, and he is entirely missing from the bibliography, as is Mommsen, for instance, despite being mentioned in the text as well.

Content-wise, the book does provide a comprehensive (if necessarily superficial) overview of the cultures of classical Greece, the Hellenic kingdoms, and both the Roman republic and the Roman empire. Shimron takes care to bring several opinions about many issues, and is careful not to reveal his own take on controversial matters. The single thing I would have wished improvment in is the issue of literature and philosophy, which is covered in great brevity, to my taste. I recommend the book as a first text for any Hebrew reader interested in classics. Myself, I plan to proceed to less introductory texts, and to complement some of the subjects Shimron discussed too briefly with the sumptuous entries in my copy of The Oxford Classical Dictionary.

Finally, I must complain about the level of proofreading and editing the manuscript has apparently gone through. I contend that the book has not been edited, and perhaps only very fleetingly proofread, and even then, by classics scholars with an eye for facts and not by copy editors with an eye for language. I am supported in thinking this by the lack of an editor credit in the book itself, and by the astounding number of awkward phrases, badly punctuated sentences, typos, and actual grammar and spelling mistakes (this despite a generally rich vocabulary).

In a serious reference work, especially one intended to be a mainstay of amateur and undergraduate introductory literature, special care must be taken to ensure the quality of the manuscripts, not only factually (which, I grant, is the more important aspect), but textually as well. In such a book, even two mistakes per chapter are too many, and this book has around ten times that! The book was published in 1993 and has seen three reprints, but not a single new edition. I feel this reflects badly on the publisher, which is supposedly academic and not merely in it for the money.

Nevertheless, this is the only modern, updated, clear introductory text for amateur Hebrew readers.

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