Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Landmark Arrian - The Campaigns of Alexander

I am enough of "certain" age to remember a time when Classical History was still taught in Western Civilization high school classes in the American education system.  In fact, I even took a year of Latin myself, and actually read portions of Caesar's "De Bello Gallico" in the original Latin.  Alas, I fear that those days are long gone, and that the version of Ancient History that most younger Americans are familiar with is probably best represented by films such as "Gladiator" and "300".

I read a lot of Ancient and Medieval history, but mainly from modern, secondary sources.  Browsing through my neighborhood bookstore, my eye happened upon "The Lankmark Arrian - the Campaigns of Alexander", and suddenly seized with a desire to spend some time once again reading the actual primary sources that have been preserved throughout the ravages of time, I impulsively purchased a copy of this 2,000 year old document...and am I glad that I did!

First off, this is just a gorgeous piece of publishing.  I know that we are rapidly moving into a world of ebooks and push media, but at least the hardcover version of "The Landmark Arrian" is a throwback to a rarely seen old school book standard.  The volume has a great binding, clear printing on high quality paper, and a wonderfully satisfying heftiness to it.  The simple act of picking up and thumbing through the pages of this book is a pleasure all of its own.

Second, the content is just fantastic.  Of course, there is the original text, written by Arrian during the height of the Roman Empire, but with a clear, updated, modern translation.  Although I have frequently found Ancient original sources to be very intriguing as reference material, they don't always make for the most exciting reading experience - but not so with this volume, and that is mainly because of the extensive annotations.  Footnotes are frequently interspersed throughout the text, located on the same page, offering a wealth of additional information, such as different descriptions of events from other sources, historical clarifications, definitions, etc.  There as also many maps, placed in the text where the events being described occur, so that it is very easy to keep track of where Alexander and his army are located at any given time.  Speaking of time, there is an useful chronological track running down the side of each page, with summary paragraphs of what is contained at that point in Arrian's text.  Finally, there are illustrations and photographs throughout, even though they all unfortunately only in black-and-white.

Before the main text, there is an Introduction and an Editor's Preface, placing Arrian's text into the content of both his, and Alexander's time.  At the conclusion of Arrian's text, there is an Epilogue concerning the breakup of Alexander's empire following his death, and then a series of informative Appendices covering a wide range of topics from "Alexander's Army and Military Leadership" to "Greek and Macedonian Ethnicity".

So, "The Landmark Arrian" is simply a beautiful book, a fascinating read, and a wonderful reference volume.  And it makes a distinctive decorative item adorning the shelves of the library of any Ancient History buff.  The Landmark Series has also published "Herodotus: The Histories", Thucydides, and Xenophon's "Hellenika".  I hope that someday Polybius makes it into this series, but in the meantime, I have since obtained a copy of Thucydides' Peloponnesian War for my collection that I will also get around to reading someday.

1 comment:

  1. I love reading (most of) these old classics. Cheaper, but less aesthetically satisfying, penguin editions do the trick, though it certainly pays to look for more recent editions with more recent translations.