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Special Collections & Archives

The rare or unique holdings of Nimitz Library.

The Glory That Was Greece

by Jennifer Bryan on 2023-08-29T13:42:14-04:00 in History, Special Collections & Archives | 0 Comments

In 1856, the Naval Academy library purchased an American edition of George Grote's 12-volume History of Greece, first published in London between 1846 and 1856.  Grote's history represented the latest scholarship on the subject, which only within the eighteenth century had become a distinct unit of study.  Several works on ancient Greece had been published prior to Grote's, two of which were in the Naval Academy library when the school opened in October 1845.  Within a few years, the library had acquired two more relatively recent histories on the subject.  Grote's history, however, superseded those of other authors in erudition and popularity and almost immediately became the standard work on ancient Greece.  A banker, member of Parliament, and scholar, Grote combined narrative history with contemporary German critical scholarship that emphasized rigorous examination of evidence.  Donald Kagan, the distinguished modern historian of the Peloponnesian War, has called Grote "the father of ancient Greek history as we know it today."          
















The London publisher John Murray issued the first two volumes of Grote's history in 1846.  The first volume and nearly half of the second were devoted to "legendary Greece."  Grote began his account of "historical Greece" with the first Olympiad in 776 B.C.  Volumes three and four appeared in 1847 and volumes five and six in 1849; these took the history of Greece through the Persian wars and into the beginning of the Peloponnesian War, which was continued and concluded in volumes seven and eight, published in 1850.  Volumes nine and ten, published in 1852, covered the expedition of the "ten thousand" into Persia through the campaigns of Epaminondas, the great Theban general who defeated Sparta.  Volume eleven, published in 1853, and volume twelve, published in 1856, brought Grote's history to a close with the life and death of Alexander the Great.



The condition of the Naval Academy library's 1856 edition of Grote attests to the heavy use it has received through the years from midshipmen, especially the volumes dealing with the Persian and Peloponnesian Wars.  All twelve volumes have been rebound in sturdy buckram, a cloth especially popular with libraries for its durability, indicating that the original bindings had worn out from repeated use.  Grote's history remained in circulation until the 2010s, when it was placed in Special Collections as part of a project to move all the pre-1860 library accessions into the department.  Midshipmen can peruse the original volumes purchased 167 years ago, or they can access an abridged online version.  There is also an 1862 eight-volume edition and a 1906 12-volume edition in the Guggenheim Collection. 

















Advertising Harper and Brothers' publication in 1852 of a library edition of the first ten volumes of Grote's work, an announcement in Harper's New Monthly Magazine stated, "in acuteness and extent of research, comprehensiveness of scope, and depth of critical discussion, this history is one of the most remarkable productions of living English scholarship.  Its vivid portraitures revive the fading glories of ancient Greece, while its profound analytic investigations throw light over many an obscure corner on her traditional history."  Almost 150 years later, Oxford Professor of the History of Philosophy T.H. Irwin wrote, "Grote's work constitutes a contribution of the first rank both to the study of Greek history and to the study of Greek philosophy.  None of his English contemporaries equalled his contribution to either area of study; and no one at all has equalled his contribution to both areas.  Both his History and his book on Plato still deserve to be read by anyone who is interested in Greek history or in Plato, not simply by those who are interested in the history of scholarship."   




Ceserani, Giovanna, "Modern histories of ancient Greece:  Genealogies, contexts and eighteenth-century narrative historiography."  In The Western Time of Ancient History: Historiographical Encounters with the Greek and Roman Pasts, edited by Alexandra Lianeri.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

Grote, George.  The Minor Works of George Grote.  Edited by Alexander Bain.  London: John Murray, 1873.  D7.G745

Grote, George, M.O.B. Caspari, and J.M. Mitchell.  A History of Greece:  From the Time of Solon to 403 BC.  London: Routledge, 2001.

Harper's New Monthly Magazine, December 1852, 139.

Irwin, T.H., "Mill and the Classical world."  In The Cambridge Companion to Mill, edited by John Skorupski.  Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998.  B1607.C25 1998

Kagan, Donald.  The Peloponnesian War.  New York: Viking, 2003.  DF229.K34 2011

Momigliano, Arnaldo.  Studies in Historiography.  1966.  Reprint.  New York and London: Garland Publishing, 1985.  D13.2.M62 1985

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