Join me, Theron, Andreas and Coridan as the Spartans conqueror the Beaten Track.
The Peloponnesian War is one of those subjects which, whenever a new book is published about it, begs the question, "do we really need another book on it?" This is understandable considering that 1) having been written about for nearly 2,500 years it has been one of the most worked-over events in human history, 2) the first of these books, Thucydides's History of the Peloponnesian War, ranks as one of the foundational texts of Western historiography and in many respects will never be bettered, and 3) recently (i.e. within the past half-century) Donald Kagan wrote both a four-volume history of the war AND a single-volume condensed version which are difficult to top as a modern account for the conflict. With all of these books, is there space for another?
The answer, as Jennifer Roberts proves, is a clear yes. She demonstrates this by fitting the conflict within the context of Greek city-state relations in the 5th and 4th centuries BCE. By widening her focus, she shows the war not as the culmination of inter-city-state rivalry as it has sometimes been presented, but as one of a series of conflicts which neither began nor ended with the war itself. This is not a novel revelation (anybody who has more than a passing familiarity with Hellenic Greek history understands this), but by adopting this approach Roberts makes several more obscure points clearer, foremost among them being that Sparta was not so much the ultimate victor as merely temporarily ascendant among the city-states, with their defeat of Athens setting the stage for their own downfall a generation later.
Roberts's approach offers one of the best assessments of the impact of the war upon ancient Greece. While lacking the immediacy of the ancient sources or the thoroughness of Kagan, she draws upon both sources as well as others to provide a clear-eyed understanding of its true significance. It makes for an excellent resource for anyone seeking to understand a conflict which became one of the great referential points of Western history, because while it may have been only one of many wars the Greeks fought with each other, it has endured in the popular imagination in ways which make it relevant even today.
I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to get round to reading this lovely book. It’s been waiting patiently on my Kindle for ages.
But better late than never, as they say. And so at last I’ve been able to enjoy Rebecca's excellent novel about Rachel’s experiences as a TEFL teacher in Greece. Anyone who’s ever lived or worked abroad, or thought about doing so, will revel in this story, with its ups and downs of foreign life, the faux pas and the frustrations but the endless fascination of discovering another culture. I’ve never been to Greece and so I eagerly soaked up every detail we get of all the places our heroine describes to us, and, of course, the people she meets.
There’s not only the geographical journey, there’s a spiritual journey too. Rachel feels that she has a point to prove to unsympathetic family when she undertakes a year of TEFL: that she’s independent and perfectly capable, thank you. But you do get the distinct feeling she’s not quite happy in her own skin at the start of the book, but by the end, when she’s the girl gone Greek, then she most certainly is. Greece is her spiritual home, the place where she can be who she’s meant to be. Through friendships and minor but significant triumphs at work, Rachel puts down her roots and blossoms.
It’s a delightful, uplifting book, full of sharp observations, humour and determination.