First conceived in 1983 and presented for the first time in 1986, the Runciman Award is an annual literary award offered by the Anglohellenic League for a work published in English dealing wholly or in part with Greece or Hellenism. Named in honor of Sir Steven Runciman, the pre-eminent historian of the Byzantine Empire and of the Crusades, whose work is largely responsible for the blossoming of Byzantine studies in Britain, the Award aims to stimulate interest in Greek history and culture, to encourage good and accessible writing as well as to promote a wider understanding of Greece. Previous winners have included Mark Mazower, Anthony Beevor, Richard Clogg and Bruce Clark.
Seven books have been shortlisted for the 2018 Runciman Award and the joint winners, announced at the ceremony that took place at the Hellenic Centre in London, were Matthew Simonton, author of "Classical Greek Oligarchy: a Political History", and Colm Toibin, author of "House of Names".
Classical Greek Oligarchy by Matthew Simonton (Princeton University Press), thoroughly reassesses an important but neglected form of ancient Greek government, the "rule of the few." Matthew Simonton challenges scholarly orthodoxy by showing that oligarchy was not the default mode of politics from time immemorial, but instead emerged alongside, and in reaction to, democracy. In his interview for the Runciman Award website the writer said that, “my working assumption is that most governments would like to use those kinds of techniques [control of public space, manipulation of information, and patron-client relationships] if they thought they could get away with it. So the book is not at all meant to be a matter of "rah-rah, we're a democracy and these unfortunate people aren't"--our own government can and sometimes does use these techniques, and so if the book has any practical utility, maybe it could be for people to recognize them and organize against them.”.
House of Names by Colm Tóibín (Penguin/Viking), is a powerful retelling of the classic Greek myth of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, a breathtaking story of a family at war with itself, reimagined by one of the world's greatest living storytellers. In his article for the Guardian, Tóibín described how the sectarian violence in Ireland during his youth seemed to him a perfect parallel to the retributive horrors described by the myth and its depiction of violence "as a spiral and something lodged in secret places of the soul": "This story haunts us because of the way in which violence begets further acts of violence. Once I began to read and reimagine the story of how Clytemnestra was fooled by Agamemnon, who told her that their daughter Iphigenia was to be married when in fact she was to be sacrificed, it was not hard to imagine her rage. And then I could conjure up Clytemnestra’s decision to murder her husband when the time was right. And I could also imagine Electra, their other daughter, and her fury directed against her mother and her mother’s lover, her determination that they too should be murdered.”
The other short-listed books were:
Collectors, Scholars and Forgers by Carolyn Higbie (Oxford University Press), focuses on the fascination which works of art, texts, and antiquarian objects exerted over Greeks and Romans in antiquity and uses brief parallels from other cultures and times to offer contexts for that fascination.
Istanbul: Tale of Three Cities by Bettany Hughes (Weidenfeld & Nicolson), is an ode to three incarnations of the city: Byzantion of the ancient past; the Constantinople that was the capital of the Christian Byzantine empire; and the Constantinople of the Muslim Ottomans that today goes by the name of Istanbul. Hughes guides us round a city that is majestic, magical and mystical, leaving few stones unturned.
The Afterlives of Greek Sculpture by Rachel Kousser (Cambridge University Press), is the first comprehensive, historical account of the afterlives of ancient Greek monumental sculptures. Whereas scholars have traditionally focused on the creation of these works, Rachel Kousser instead draws on archaeological and textual sources to analyze the later histories of these sculptures, reconstructing the processes of damage and reparation that characterized the lives of Greek images.
Greek Historical Inscriptions 478-404 BC by Robin Osborne & P. J. Rhodes (Oxford University Press) aims to update the scholarly corpus, as well as to broaden the thematic range of inscriptions discussed and to include a greater selection of material from outside Athens, while still adhering to the intention of presenting texts which are important not just as typical of their genre but in their own right.
Homer The Odyssey translated by Emily Wilson (W.W. Norton & Company) is a lean, fleet-footed translation that recaptures Homer’s “nimble gallop” and brings an ancient epic to new life. Αccording to the Guardian, this translation is a cultural landmark that will change the way the poem is read in English: “armed with a sharp, scholarly rigour, the writer has produced a translation that exposes centuries of masculinist readings of the poem; she has also written a work of limpid, fast-moving verse, in English epic’s home metre of iambic pentameter.”
You can read interviews with the authors for the short-listed books here.
Founded in 1913, the Anglo-Hellenic League is a London-based charity dedicated to promoting friendship between the people of the UK and Greece through cultural and charitable work. John Kittmer, former UK ambassador to Athens, is chairing the council of Anglo-Hellenic League since early June, as he wrote on his private blog. “For me, the relationship between Greece and Britain, between Brits and Greeks, has been the most important intellectual passion of my life: an intellectual passion with a strong emotional component, On the perpheries of the European landmass, but indissolubly European, we have very much in common; have supported each other through thick and thin for nearly two centuries; and have very strong reasons for continuing to be the closest of friends and allies. In the years ahead, I shall do all I can to strengthen this relationship through our cultural and charitable work.”
Read also via Greek news Agenda: Roderick Beaton on the study of Greece and modern Greek achievements; Professor Gonda Van Steen on her lifelong fascination with all things Greek; UK Ambassador to Greece John Kittmer’s farewell; 100 years from the founding of the Koraes Chair at King’s College, London