Friday, August 21, 2009

A review (of sorts) of a review of Gideon Nisbet's "Ancient Greece in Film and Popular Culture".

The Bryn Mawr Classical Reviews blog (great for keeping up with newly posted reviews) recently brought my attention to the recent 2nd edition of Gideon Nisbet's "Ancient Greece in Film and Popular Culture".

Having studied under Nisbet at the University of Glasgow, I'm always keen to read his output. During my undergraduate degree, I recall reading a reworking of (what I believe was) his doctoral thesis (Martial's Forgotten Rivals) and enjoying his zesty approach and sense of humour. I've continued my interest in his publications, having read the 1st edition of the work I'm posting about now when it was a released initially a few years ago.

I thoroughly enjoyed that work - I thought it was full of fanboy passion and keen wit for the subject matter, but it also held a remarkable amount of interesting argumentation. The central idea that Greece was always mediated through Rome in both film and culture more generally resonated with me greatly, and even moreso after settling down to watch some of the movies in question.

The 2nd edition has allowed for an updated chapter on the phenomenon that was "300" (released in 2007, after the 1st edition's publication), and given the status of that work, the chapter was absolutely required to make the book relevant.

The review of the new edition is quite positive, generally commenting on the continued worth of the work, which, for me, can be fully summed up in the line:

"Avowing that academics are neither neutral nor outside observers in this area, Nisbet adopts the subjective stance of a scholar-fan toward his material"

Having seen Nisbet lecture, I can confirm that he his perhaps the ultimate "scholar-fan", and it is precisely for this reason that his work is vital and enjoyable. The reviewer (Seán Easton) points out that the work tends to prefer "big ideas" and "provoke" rather than "settle" questions, the resultant conclusion is that this work best serves as an introduction or discussion starter.

I disagree insomuch as I think both the "big ideas" and provoking of questions stems from Nisbet's fanboy wonderment at his subject material, and - having seen him lecture - his having fun with that same material. His writing style is unique and manages to capture his animated nature on paper well, transmitting all the elements I've just mentioned.

I'm yet to read the 2nd edition, but based on the strength of the 1st and combined with my experience thus far with Nisbet's knack for presenting material (I can imagine "300" gave him a lot to worth with), I think I can recommend this work to anyone.


Seán Easton's review at Bryn Mawr here.


A few qualifications: I know the term "fanboy" is often considered negative, but I am not using it in that way. I'm using it as the best label for someone who is excited by particular forms of media, and spends a significant amount of time with them. The connotations of being a "Geek" or "Nerd" inherent in the term "fanboy" are also something I'm aware of, and so I use the word deliberately.

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