Paul Cartledge

How To Do Things With – Popular or Public – Ancient Greek History

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Starting on an autobiographical note, examining how in the past 40 years he tried to make ancient Greek culture accessible in all its respects, the author examines the different ways in which Greek history and civilization can be popularized. The question that guided him has always been: how does a professional historian popularize his/her work, or how should one write popular history that is scientifically based? There are different kinds of audience that an historian can address, and it is up to him/her to make the choice of level. Using examples from popular books on Greek history written in English, the author shows how it is possible to do haute vulgarisation using one’s knowledge of primary sources and adopting a more colloquial language, without burdening the text with footnotes and a long bibliography – thus aiming at the “educated general readerµ. The distinction between “academicµ and “popularµ is not so neat; the real distinctions are between the historian and the historical novelist as well as between history and memory. More specifically, the author shows how his own expertise in Spartan history enabled him to debunk the opposition between (Greek) liberty and (Persian) slavery which informs so many representations of Sparta, such as the movie 300. Moreover, by examining ancient democracy and better knowing its functioning we can get insights for the current crisis of democracy. Finally, the audience for high level popularization is much wider than what authors, and even publishing houses, imagine when they start a new project.


  • Greek history
  • Popularization
  • Democracy
  • Sparta
  • Theory of historiography


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