Ancient Libraries, edited by Jason Konig, Katerina Oikonomopoulou and Greg Woolf
Cambridge University Press (2013), Hardback, 497 pages
The most treasured item in my library, for the purely selfish reason that my very first published work is within its pages. Yes, on the contents page, seventh on the list, you will see “Priests, Patrons and Playwrights: Libraries in Rome before 168 BC”, which is indeed my very own effort. In September, 2008, I travelled a very long way, to St Andrews in Scotland, to attend a conference entitled “Ancient Libraries”. I was then a PhD student, working on a thesis which would eventually be entitled “Roman Libraries during the Late Republic and Early Empire: with Special Reference to the Library of Pliny the Elder”, so you can probably see why I did want to travel a long way (and spend about $2500 of my own funds, over and above the $2000 the University of Queensland generously contributed for my travel) to attend this conference. In fact, once I had heard about this conference, I was determined to get there by any means possible. Given the topic of my thesis, I simply had to be there. Not only do conferences specifically related to this topic come along about once every Ice Age, but every authority in the field, everyone whose papers I had been reading in the course of my study was going to be there. So, after about 6 months of skimping, saving, promising, wangling, arguing and cajoling, I found myself on a plane to Heathrow. Then, the Tube to King’s Cross. Then, a train to Edinburgh. Then, another train to Leuchars. Then, finally, a bus to St Andrews. Planes, trains and automobiles, literally. (I got major kudos from those at the conference for having travelled by far the farthest, by the way). But it was so worth it. The conference was fabulous, the papers were interesting in the extreme (don’t laugh, if you are interested in ancient libraries, they would be), and I got to rub shoulders and converse with all the authorities in the field. It was priceless in every sense of the word, in an academic sense, and as a life experience. Presenting my own modest contribution, I hardly remember. To my mind, it was simply dwarfed by the superb papers which I heard, and which are contained within these pages. However, for better or for worse, because I happened to present at a conference attended by so many luminaries, my modest contribution has actually been published (think of a minnow getting caught in a net with a whole school of bluefin tuna). About it, I will say nothing more, you can judge for yourself. About the book, I could say a great deal. But simply, it a priceless collection of material on the subject of libraries in the ancient world, not a truly exciting topic, I will happily grant you. But precious, bceause it is unlikely there will be such a collection of material on this topic published again, at least not in my lifetime. It’s by no means an inexpensive book, so I doubt anyone will be buying it for pleasure. However, if by some chance you happen across a copy, perhaps in a university library, I highly recommend that you at least skim its pages. You may just find something that interests you. And if you do conjure up the funds to purchase it, you be assured of having something in your possession that will only appreciate in value, in academic if not monetary terms.
(Come on, I can’t give it a 10, can I? No-one would believe its a valid score, given my level of self-interest, would they?)