Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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Wars and the lies we tell about them

By Jessica H. Clark
Just east of downtown Tallahassee, Florida, there is a small city park known as “Old Fort.” It contains precisely that – a square of softly eroding earthworks (all that’s left of the fort) along with a few benches placed benignly in the shade of nearby oak and pine trees.

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A map of Odysseus’s journey

Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey is a classic adventure filled with shipwrecks, feuds, obstacles, mythical creatures, and divine interventions. But how to visualize the thrilling voyage? The map below traces Odysseus’s travel as recounted to the Phaeacians near the end of his wandering across the Mediterranean.

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Telemachos in Ithaca

How do you hear the call of the poet to the Muse that opens every epic poem? The following is extract from Barry B. Powell’s new free verse translation of The Odyssey by Homer. It is accompanied by two recordings: one of the first 105 lines in Ancient Greek, the other of the first 155 lines in the new translation. How does your understanding change in each of the different versions?

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The fall of Rome to the rise of the Catholic Church, in pictures

By Peter Heather
After the collapse of the Roman Empire, the Western world went through a turbulent and dramatic period during which a succession of kingdoms rose, grew, and crumbled in spans of only a few generations. The wars and personalities of the dark ages are the stuff of legend, and all led toward the eventual reunification of Europe under a different kind of Roman rule — this time, that of the Church. Below, historian Peter Heather selects ten moments from the period upon which the fate of Europe hinged.

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Ten moments that shook the Roman world, in pictures

By Peter Heather
The Roman Empire at its peak was the first great hemispherical power in human history. Over the years, though, this mighty society was torn apart by internal strife and attacks by rival powers. Below, the renowned historian Peter Heather describes the ten most critical turning points which led to the fall of the Empire and the beginning of the Dark Ages.

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The Roman conquest of Greece, in pictures

This sequence of photos roughly outlines the progress of the Roman takeover of Greece, from the first beginnings in Illyris (modern Albania) in 230 BCE to the infamous “destruction” of Corinth in 146 BCE. The critical figures of this swift takeover were two Macedonian kings, Philip V and Perseus, who were determined to resist Roman aggression.

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The rise and fall of the Macedonian Empire [slideshow]

Alexander the Great (356-323 BCE), King of Macedonia, ruled an empire that stretched from Greece in the west to India in the east and as far south as Egypt. The Macedonian Empire he forged was the largest in antiquity until the Roman, but unlike the Romans, Alexander established his vast empire in a mere decade.

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Virgil in Russia

By Zara Martirosova Torlone
In 1979 one of the most prominent Russian classical scholars of the later part of the twentienth century, Mikhail Gasparov stated: “Virgil did not have much luck in Russia: they neither knew nor loved him . . .”. This lack of interest in Virgil on Russian soil Gasparov mostly blamed on the absence of canonical Russian translations of Virgil, especially the Aeneid.

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Why literary genres matter

By William Allan
One of the most striking aspects of classical literature is its highly developed sense of genre. Of course, a literary work’s genre remains an important factor today: we too distinguish broad categories of poetry, prose, and drama, but also sub-genres (especially within the novel, now the most popular literary form) such as crime, romantic or historical fiction. And we do the same in other creative media, such as film, with thrillers, horrors, westerns, and so on. But classical authors were arguably even more aware than writers of genre fiction are today what forms and conventions applied to the genre they were writing in.

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The 9/11 memorial and the Aeneid: misappropriation or sincere sentiment?

By J. C. McKeown
The National September 11 Memorial Museum will be opened in a few weeks. On the otherwise starkly bare wall at the entrance is a 60-foot-long inscription in 15-inch letters made from steel salvaged from the twin towers: NO DAY SHALL ERASE YOU FROM THE MEMORY OF TIME. This noble sentiment is a quotation from Virgil’s Aeneid, one of mankind’s highest literary achievements, but its appropriateness has been questioned.

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The Illyrian bid for legitimacy

By Robin Waterfield
The region known as Illyris (Albania and Dalmatia, in today’s terms) was regarded at the time as a barbarian place, only semi-civilized by contact with its Greek and Macedonian neighbours. It was occupied by a number of different tribes, linked by a common culture and language (a cousin of Thracian). From time to time, one of these tribes gained a degree of dominance over some or most of the rest, but never over all of them at once. Contact with the Greek world had led to a degree of urbanization, especially in the south and along the coast, but the region still essentially consisted of many minor tribal dynasts with networks of loyalty. At the time in question, the Ardiaei were the leading tribe, and in the 230s their king, Agron, had forged a kind of union, the chief plank of which was alliances with other local magnates from central Illyris, such as Demetrius, Greek lord of the wealthy island of Pharos, and Scerdilaidas, chief of the Illyrian Labeatae.

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How to write a classic

By Mark Davie
Torquato Tasso desperately wanted to write a classic. The son of a successful court poet who had been brought up on the Latin classics, he had a lifelong ambition to write the epic poem which would do for counter-reformation Italy what Virgil’s Aeneid had done for imperial Rome.

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A bookish slideshow

From ancient times to the creation of eBooks, books have a long and vast history that spans the globe. Although a book may only seem like a collection of pages with words, they are also an art form that have survived for centuries. In honor of National Library Week, we couldn’t think of a more fitting book to share than The Book: A Global History. The slideshow below highlights the fascinating evolution of the book.

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Sex and the ancient teenager

By Jane Alison
Jane Fonda spoke passionately about teenage sexuality this week on the Diane Rehm Show. (Her new book is Being A Teen: Everything Teen Girls & Boys Should Know About Relationships, Sex, Love, Health, Identity & More.) Fonda’s book and words are very much of our age, yet some of her most moving points evoke the ghost of Ovid and his mythic stories of young sexuality that are over two thousand years old.

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Ovid the naturalist

By Jane Alison
Ovid was born on the 20th of March (two thousand and fifty-some years ago): born on the cusp of spring, as frozen streams in the woods of his Sulmo cracked and melted to runnels of water, as coral-hard buds beaded black stalks of shrubs, as tips of green nudged at clods of earth and rose, and rose, and released tumbles of blooms.

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