A Funny Thing about French and British Classicists

I explain here how I came to find that a 1973 work of British classicism is available in a cheaper and more recent edition in France than in Britain, and decided for the first time that I need to read a French translation of an English text.

It all comes from exploring the classicist background, in the 19th and 20th centuries, to Michel Foucault’s work on antique ethics and political thought.

This little story starts in London last Summer when I was looking round the second hand section, of Waterstone’s bookshop in Bloomsbury , for an interesting possibly out of print book presenting some major work of classical scholarship to compare with Foucault.  What I stumbled upon was The Greek City and its Institutions by Gustave Glotz (Routledge 1965).  I read it with increasing interest as a text that seems broadly in line with Foucault’s understanding.

What I noticed then was that Glotz belongs to a great stream of French classicism which is part of Foucault’s context,  Glotz published La cité grecque in 1928; and it can be taken as a ‘democratic’ reading of antiquity in reaction to the work Fustel de Coulange’s Ancient City of 1864, which has a traditionalist, pietist, conformist view of antiquity.  Coulange’s book has a reputation outside classicism as a work of sociology and political thought which drew me to reading it.  Glotz’s book is in print in French, a 1988 edition (Albin Michel).

On looking at Claude Mossé’s preface to that edition, I noticed the importance of Moses Finley for French classicists, particularly his book Democracy Ancient and Modern (a title which refers to Benjamin Constant’s early 19th century essay, ‘On the Liberty of the Ancients Compared with that of Moderns’ which has its own considerable interest).  So I checked Amazon UK, and thenAmazon France, because it might be a good idea to get the French edition to understand how Finley was taken up in the classicist tradition preceding Foucault.

What do I find>

English language edition, Princeton University Press, 1985, one year before Finley died.  No edition since with added scholarly apparatus. Price £ 19.90

French language edition. Payot 2003.  Preface by Pierre Vidal-Naquet, himself a great name in classical studies. Price € 8.08 (the pound sterling is worth about 1.15 Euros).

So the French edition is more than half as cheap, is more recent, and has some additional thoughts from a great classical scholar.  I certainly would not have predicted that, I will try to work out what is behind this little but intriguing oddity.

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