Paul McKechnie & Philippe Guillaume (eds.)
Review by Silvia Barbantani
A History of the Hellenistic World 323-30 BC
The volume under review originates from an interdisciplinary conference on Ptolemy II Philadelphus held in Auckland, New Zealand, in July 2005. The purpose of this conference was a re-evaluation of the historical significance and of the personality of Ptolemy II, whom W.W. Tarn (Antigonos Gonatas, 1913) once disparagingly described as a weak and "sickly creature", more inclined to pleasures than to war.
His second wife and sister, Arsinoe II, depicted by many modern scholars as his perfect half - a cunning and power-thirsty virago -, underwent a revisionistic assessment already in the 1980s, thanks to works like S.M. Burstein, Arsinoe II Philadelphos: A Revisionist View, in Philip II, Alexander the Great and the Macedonian Heritage, eds.
W.L. Adams, E.N. Borza, Washington 1982, 197-212. Even without taking at face-value encomiastic praise of Ptolemy II such as Theocritus, Idyll XVII or Callimachus, Hymn to Delos, a more balanced picture of the second Lagid king was a long-due task for ancient historians.
Making the most of the available literary, epigraphic, papyrological and archaeological evidence, the contributors offer an updated and original perspective on many aspects of Ptolemy's reign: economic reforms, diplomatic and military initiatives, intercultural relationships, religious and philosophical traditions. Since already dozens of thorough and engaging studies (starting from Fraser's Ptolemaic Alexandria) have been devoted to Alexandrian philology, poetry and literature in Greek - fields where Philadelphus' reign reached the excellence -, it has been a wise choice not to include a specific chapter on this topic, leaving more space to less known aspects of Hellenistic Egypt.
(Navigate to isue 18, no.10)
Part 2, "The Hellenistic World in action" (pp. 77-161), looks separately at the affairs of Macedon and Greece, Asia, and Egypt under the Ptolemies down to the 220s. In the case of Iran Errington notes that the level of ‘Hellenizing’ is not known (p. 137), and there was surely a grey area between planned Hellenization and some measure of voluntary or even unconscious assimilation.