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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces an article in the
American Journal of Philology
Vol. 51, No. 1 (1930), pp80‑81.

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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 p80  Reviews.

A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome. By S. B. Platner, completed and revised by Thomas Ashby. Oxford University Press, 1929. Pp. 608.

This book, so eagerly awaited by all scholars interested in Roman studies, does not disappoint expectations. Before his death in 1921 Platner had completed most of the articles with the thoroughness, precision and the sense of balance that characterized his work. For his collaborator, Thomas Ashby, he had reserved the articles on aqueducts, gates and roads, and to him also fell a number of articles on sites in the Forum and on the Palatine which had been deferred for a renewed examination. The reader soon finds that Mr. Ashby has very conscientiously examined all the excavations and publications of the later years up to 1928 and has in the light of these revised a very large number of the articles. Mr. Ashby has estimated his own part as being "20 to 25 percent of the book," but since he had to assume the heavy responsibility of giving the final decision on all the moot questions — and they are of course very many — percentages of space will hardly express the great debt that we owe to the revising editor. Moreover, Mr. Ashby's intimate acquaintance with the excavations of the Palatine, which have not yet been published — Comm. Boni gave Mr. Ashby unusual privileges there —, his long study of such architectural puzzles as the Pantheon, which beget new theories every year, his accurate observations, made through a lifetime, of many objects no longer visible, and his sanity of judgment and fairness to the suggestions of his various collaborators in the field, all of these factors have enabled him to produce an invaluable reference book which will be as frequently consulted by the specialists as by the beginner.

In a work as large as this, one must of course expect some statements that will encounter demurrer. Maximus apparently stands for Flaminius on p252, and in the same article — on Hercules Custos — it might have been well to delete the comment that "the masonry . . . has been attributed to the fourth century," since the structure must date somewhere near 100 B.C. And as this is a building which promises to overturn some current notions about the date of republican concrete, it might have been in place to give a careful description of the materials. Among the houses, the domus of Q. Caecilius Metellus should have been included, with references to Cic. pro Cael. 59 and pro Milone 75; and to the one reference to the Palatine property of Q. Cicero one might add Cic. ad Att. II.4.7. Some readers will  p81 also wish that the authors had tried to clarify a little further the maze that Vaglieri left on the Cermalus near the Scalae Caci, and the equally confusing disarray that Boni uncovered near the old rostra. Line drawings of the remains with explicatory notes might well have been given here since the book is otherwise so richly illustrated.

The authors are usually conservative, and rightly so, but when one still finds the very early conventional dates assigned to the masonry arches in front of Saturn and to all the cappellaccio walls of the Quirinal one wonders whether they have not held too tenaciously to views published thirty years ago. On the other hand in assigning an unusual amount of building activity to Sulla the authors have yielded to rather intrepid conjecture. There does not seem to be evidence for the list given on pp232‑3, and several of the structures can be proved not to belong to the period of Sulla's dictator­ship. Lindström's new studies in topography did not appear in time to receive appraisement in this volume, nor Bartoli's optimistic report on the recent excavations on the Palatine. One would appreciate Mr. Ashby's expert opinion on both of these.

But any attempt to criticize this Dictionary is in danger of detracting unfairly from the value of a very remarkable book. No classical scholar can afford to disregard it, for it supersedes not only the pertinent articles of our classical encyclopedias, but also those of our books on Roman topography. Whether one is studying Roman archaeology, or Roman history, or the works of Cicero, Plautus, Livy, Ovid, Tacitus, Juvenal and Martial, this Dictionary is absolutely necessary.

Tenney Frank.

Johns Hopkins University.

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Page updated: 26 Aug 12