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Thucydides's Melian Dialogue and Sicilian Expedition. A Student Commentary M. Taylor Pp.xx + 456, maps. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2019, US$34.95. ISBN: 978-0-8061-6194-5

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 September 2020

Clive Letchford*
Affiliation:
University of Warwick
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Book Reviews
Creative Commons
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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
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‘Thucydides is hard’ as Taylor comments. How best to help students who are at a relatively early stage of their Greek studies make sense of the text, both for its historical context and the way it expresses its ideas? Taylor has chosen the episode of the Sicilian expedition and put it in the context of the Melian dialogue. The work shows that she is an experienced practitioner who knows the needs of her students well.

She gives a full introduction of 41 pages, dealing with such topics as writing history, Thucydides’ language, the city of Syracuse and themes in his account of the Sicilian expedition. She sets out the issues clearly and perceptively, but in a way that invites the reader to explore further. To facilitate this, she includes a significant bibliography and also a series of reading lists on various topics which she calls ‘Sources for Student Work’ such as ‘Alkibiades and Nikias’ and ‘The City Theme’ and ‘Homeric Allusions’. The bibliography and reading lists are complementary and useful at undergraduate level.

The bulk of the book is the commentary. Unusually for a student-facing edition, there is no text within the volume. Taylor bases her comments on the Oxford Classical Text of H.S. Jones to which she refers the reader, helpfully pointing out that it is available on Perseus. There is a lot of value in a student at this level being able to print out a copy of a text for their own annotation. However, this approach has the disadvantage that not everything is contained in the one book. There is also no alphabetical list of vocabulary in the book, so the student will have to be confident in using their lexicon. She warns against overreliance on the Perseus vocabulary link – ‘there is much value in flipping through a paper dictionary’.

What about the level of help given? She notes that today's students need more help than those of the past - such as the ‘senior pupils in schools’ who were Dover's constituency in his edition of Book 7 in 1965. This edition is not designed to be read all the way through, so Taylor has decided to repeat herself in the commentary to facilitate this. She also states that she has erred on the side of saying more rather than less. This means that often quite basic things are touched on, which makes the commentary longer to work through and perhaps detracts from its clarity. In this, her notes are longer and fuller than those of H.D. Cameron is his edition of Book 1 (2003) aimed at a similar constituency. The presentation has a clear, well-spaced typeface of a good size. As a minor point, it would have been helpful, to my eyes at least, if the Greek words being commented on had been made to stand out, such as putting then in bold and I would have found it helpful if the summaries had been distinguished from the notes in their appearance. On the plus side, there are many references to Smyth's Greek Grammar so the less common points can be easily checked by the student whose curiosity has been aroused.

I found her exploration of the style of Thucydides very helpful. She helps make sense of Cicero's comment that Thucydides’ writing, especially his speeches, contain ‘so many dark and obscure sentences as to be scarcely intelligible’. She places a lot of emphasis on grammatical analysis and explanation (as opposed to gloss), an approach which is favoured in North America, but may be found on the dry side in the UK.

This edition is an interesting and helpful resource for anyone who wishes to begin to get to grips properly with the language and style of Thucydides and useful for any teacher wanting to brush up their skills, perhaps in preparing for teaching Thucydides as an unseen author.

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Thucydides's Melian Dialogue and Sicilian Expedition. A Student Commentary M. Taylor Pp.xx + 456, maps. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2019, US$34.95. ISBN: 978-0-8061-6194-5
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Thucydides's Melian Dialogue and Sicilian Expedition. A Student Commentary M. Taylor Pp.xx + 456, maps. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2019, US$34.95. ISBN: 978-0-8061-6194-5
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Thucydides's Melian Dialogue and Sicilian Expedition. A Student Commentary M. Taylor Pp.xx + 456, maps. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2019, US$34.95. ISBN: 978-0-8061-6194-5
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