Review of House of Ptolemy



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House of Ptolemy

The House of Ptolemy is a site with something for everyone. It is a treasure trove of delights, far more extensive geographically and far less limited temporally than its title implies. The site takes its name from Edwyn R. Bevan's book on the Ptolemys, but-- although the electronic House of Ptolemy similarly concentrates on the Ptolemaic period--it ranges well beyond Bevan's temporal limit. True, more than 275 of its links are devoted to Ptolemaic Egypt, but an additional 200 or more address later Egypt, making The House of Ptolemy one-stop shopping for Egypt from ca. 330 BCE to the present. As noted on its index page, "The House of Ptolemy has been selected by the Discovery Channel School and eBLAST: Encyclopædia Britannica's Internet Guide as a valued Internet resource," and it has also been accorded the Perseus Award.

Anyone attracted to post-pharaonic Egypt will find something of interest here. Teachers and their students (from Middle School, I should think, onward), college professors and their students, Egyptophiles and scholars can all profit from this site, since it indexes nearly every Internet page that touches on post-pharaonic Egypt and its legacy. As a cautious reviewer, I add the qualifier "nearly," but the persistence of the site's author in gathering information is exceeding impressive. An Argos search engine (from the University of Evansville) is inserted on the index page, but given the authority of the links provided at the house of Ptolemy, I cannot imagine that much can be further gained. Nevertheless, despite my confidence, I did enter "Alexandria" into Argos, which produced (agghhh!!!) 710 hits. Of those (many of which indexed Church Fathers), I found only one mention that was of interest to me--and I can assure you, only to me--that I am certain is not listed in The House of Ptolemy. Numismatics is especially well-represented, since this field is a particular interest of Philippidis, and images of some of his own coins are included.

Not surprising, given the breadth of the undertaking, the sites that are recognized yield a wide continuum of intellectual depth. Online encyclopedias (of the level of Encarta and the Concise Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia) fight for space with articles in scholarly journals (such as the Ancient History Bulletin) that are accessible online. Articles or abstracts from popular journals (such as Kemet and Archaeology), bump up against translations of original source material (such as that provided by Perseus and the ancient history sourcebook from Fordham). My favorite site of this latter type is http://members.xoom.com/dloeillet/KL/KLS/EPtol.html which gives the six names of each Ptolemaic king (the sixth being the transliteration of his Greek name) in transliterated hieroglyphs. Links to ancient documents themselves (e.g., squeezes provided by the Oxford University Centre for the Study of Ancient Documents, although this site, unfortunately, has realigned its structure since these links were created) and reviews from BMCR and breaking news stories rub shoulders with these more popular ventures, but that is, of course, the nature of the web, and no fault of the site's administrator.

This global inclusiveness should constitute an impediment to The House of Ptolemy's effectiveness, but the strong arrangement of the material and the useful annotations to the links provided by the author greatly mitigate this imagined problem. The site is organized on a fairly transparent modular system. At the head of the index page are five categories: Ptolemaic Egypt, Roman-period Egypt, Byzantine Egypt, Modern Egypt, and Bibliography and two boxes: Whatăs News, and Site Update Summary (which-- disappointingly--refers not to new finds from archaeological contexts but to updates to the web site!). These categories link to further modules, which in turn refer to further subdivisions or to external links. When books are cited, as in the section on Bibliography, a link to Amazon.com is provided. This addition (which is endemic it seems, even to sites--such as this one--that do not otherwise admit commercial sponsors) might offend some audiences; I, however, find the citation of Amazon merely another link that can be visited or not. My main criticism (and this is a purely personal reaction) regards the appearance of the site. It is, to my mind, neither a handsome site nor a visually crisp one. But it so well serves its purpose that I am happy to overlook things I find unpleasant -- colors and typography and animated gifs -- to get at The Stuff.

The possibility of speedy emendations is one of the web's most useful features, and in this area The House of Ptolemy shines. The Site Update Summary on the index page provides a quick reference (and links) to the most recent additions to the site, but it is worth looking further. The latest addition (which is not yet included in the Site Update Summary, but which is indicated with an animated gif as are the others), is as of 29 April 1999, an impressive three days before this review was submitted! This latest entry links to the web site "Alexander the Great on the Web" (http://www-personal.umich.edu/~spalding/Alexanderama.html) by Timothy Spalding, an astounding collection of links to over 750 pages about Alexander that, according to the web master whose acerbic comments greatly increase the visitor's enjoyment, "vary widely in scholarship and beauty, [although] the general level of both is quite low." Aside from the really bizarre (see, e.g., the section on Religion) and despite Spalding's cynicism, the site yields much of interest for academics such as links to the relevant articles in the Ancient History Bulletin neatly grouped, another to a superb "pamphlet" by Stanley Burstein on the Hellenistic Period (http://chnm.gmu.edu/aha/pubs/burstein.htm), and a third to the University of Chicago's spectacular site on Persepolis (http://www-oi.uchicago.edu/OI/MUS/PA/IRAN/PAAI/PAAI_Persepolis.html).

The inclusion of such recent additions to The House of Ptolemy as the one cited above permits our confidence that Philippidis is on top of things. As one of my students said recently, "Egypt is a hot topic," and with the two competing French excavations in Alexandria (one of which concerns itself with both land and sea excavations) and with the French celebration of the 200th anniversary of Napoleon's Egyptian campaign, this past year has been a hot one for post-pharaonic Egypt as well. The House of Ptolemy has been remarkable in keeping attuned to these breaking events. What's News on the index page, includes two subdivisions: one of recent newspaper articles, television shows, books, and articles (the latest entry is a link to abstracts on the Pharos excavations in the March/April issue of Archaeology magazine) and a second of symposia and workshops, the most recent entry of which states plaintively, "It has become so hard to keep up with new seminars." This, of course, is one of the inherent problems in so ambitious a site. Yet Philippidis seems--at least in other areas--to be well up to the task, and I, for one, certainly hope that he will continue his self-appointed mission.



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