THE OXFORD DICTIONARY OF THE CLASSICAL WORLD

Edited by John Roberts

Oxford (2016) h/b 858pp £35 (ISBN 9780198804864)

The bad news first, so bad indeed that this new packaging (now in the ‘Oxford Reference Collection’) of the American first edition of 2005 may need to be scrapped. Paperback in size and luxuriously hard-backed, it is a bulky 2” thick and weighs two and a quarter pounds. Nothing wrong with that, though handy pocket-sized it is not. But open it, and the gutter is barely half an inch wide. Open it flat in order to be able to enjoy the unexpected bonus of reading it, and the reviewer could observe the pages already beginning to split. His copy was ‘bound’ (if only) by CPI in Croydon.

The 2005 edition, as users of the original will know, consists of selected (c. 2,500) and abbreviated entries from the third edition of the superb Hornblower-Spawforth Oxford Classical Dictionary (1996, over 6,000 entries). This distinguishes it from the larger format Eidinow-Hornblower-Spawforth Oxford Companion to Classical Civilisation, whose entries are an unabbreviated selection, first (1998) from OCD3 and then (2014) from OCD4, which was published in 2012. One can understand why the original editors would have been somewhat loath to take on the job of abbreviating the full entries which they had invited from so many scholars. (In fact the whole OCD is now in the hands of American editors under Oxford [USA], with an online edition, rolling updates, rewriting of entries, and so on.)

That said, the 2005 edition was a fine piece of work. Though everyone can cavil with aspects of the re-working of any work of reference, this book has stood the test of time as an intelligent re-working of the mighty OCD3, designed for a market that does not require the original’s scope and detail but will welcome its authority in shorter format. Bar occasional misprints (e.g. Eburaeum for Eburacum), the reviewer’s main cavil would be the strange decision to mark macra only where doing so would not upset the normal English pronunciation. It is also odd that the helpful list of major authors should not show their dates. The appendix on ‘Money and its Value in the Classical World’ is still a particularly useful addition, as is the two-way gazetteer matching many of the ancient with the modern place names that appear in the dictionary.

Peter Jones

 

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