870: Roman Classics by Mary E. Snodgrass

by Gerard

870.9001: Snodgrass, Mary Ellen. Roman Classics: Notes. Lincoln, NE: Cliffs Notes, Inc., 1988. 334 pp. ISBN 0-8220-1152-2.

Back in Dewey’s day, the classics were king. Every person of higher learning was expected to know the plays of Plautus and Juvenal’s satires. Politicians regularly pilfered from Cicero’s speeches. For this reason (and probably many more), the literatures of ancient Greece and Rome get their own divisions. Roman literature occupies the 870s, and books that combine many types and eras of Roman literature (general works and anthologies) float right to the top—870.

I suppose it goes without saying that I don’t regularly read Cliffs Notes versions of books. On the other hand, it’s actually a really good way to get a lot of information about a potentially difficult subject. Since a lot of Renaissance literature is based on Roman writings, the works themselves are no more difficult than Shakespeare’s plays (which is to say, dense in some parts and full of sexual innuendo in other parts).

Mary Snodgrass’s Roman Classics explores and summarizes the works of many of the major figures in Roman literary history. Starting with Plautus in the Early Republic, she goes through the Republic Years, the Golden Age, the Silver Age, and finally, the Late Empire. She rightfully spends more time in the Golden Age, with Virgil and Ovid getting the majority of the attention. The plays themselves (or at least, the summary of the plays) are rich with intrigue and early theatrical devices. While the mode of delivery is significantly different from modern plays, the emotions and storytelling are still apparent.

While there is nothing absolutely or inherently immoral about reading Cliffs Notes, it is readily apparent that you miss the nuances of the actual text. On the other hand, this book did get me ready for the classics I will have to read for the rest of the division. Overall, in a pinch, it’ll do. Otherwise, cowboy up and read the real thing.