Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Feeney, Denis. Caesar's Calendar: Ancient Time and the Beginnings of History. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007.

Denis Feeney’s Caesar's Calendar investigates time and its contours as described by the ancient Romans, both the early empire and later, as Rome exerted its influence as a major world power. Feeney welcomes the reader into a world where time was changeable, and where simply ascertaining a date required a complex and often contentious cultural narrative. Feeney lucidly investigates the pertinent systems, including the Roman calendar (which is still our calendar) and its near-perfect method of capturing the progress of natural time, as well as its incorporation of the rhythms of consular government, the plotting of sacred time, and the meshing of the Roman city-state's concept of time with those of the foreigners they encountered. Because this web of time was Greek before the Romans transformed it, the book is also an interesting study in the cross-cultural interaction between the Greek and Roman worlds.

Feeney's treatment of specialized historical material is engaging and accessible, and ranges from details of the time schemes used by Greeks and Romans to accommodate the Romans' unprecedented rise to world dominance to an edifying discussion of the fixed axis of B.C./A.D. (or B.C.E./C.E.), and the supposedly objective "dates" implied. He closely examines the time divisions between myth and history, and concludes by demonstrating the impact of the reformed calendar on the way the Romans conceived of time's recurrence. Feeney's book achieves a reconstruction of the Roman conception of time – and it may transform the way his readers inhabit and experience time as well.

Previewed by John Breitmeyer.  Click here to read the book.

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