A History of Private Life, Volume I (Magill's Literary Annual 1988)
This is the first installment of a projected five-volume series devoted to a history of private life from ancient Rome through the late twentieth century. The series, edited by the late Philippe Ariès and Georges Duby, reflects the general orientation toward social history encouraged by the French Annales school, and the particular interest in private practices evident in such monumental French studies as Numa Denis Fustel de Coulanges’ La Cité antique (1864; The Ancient City, 1956) and Ariès’ L’Homme devant la mort (1977; The Hour of Our Death, 1981). The focus of the series is upon private beliefs and everyday life, the backdrop to the great political and military events of which traditional history is made.
The text, accompanied by extensive illustrations depicting various aspects of ancient private life, is at its best when visual image and written word merge into a unified picture of private life. Roman hope in eternal rest in the afterlife, for example, is aptly supported by an illustration of a sarcophagus showing the deceased reclining on her bed in a bedchamber. Such coherence of text and illustration, however, is the exception rather than the rule in a book which lacks even a catalog of illustrations and in which words and visual images tend to create parallel rather than integrated impressions of the private life of humankind.
The first three chapters of this volume are devoted...
(The entire section is 2187 words.)
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