Pseudo-Scholarship and Profit

E.M. Forster, Aspects of the Novel

“The scholar, like the philosopher, can contemplate the river of time. He contemplates it not as a whole, but he can see the facts, the personalities, floating past him, and estimate the relations between them, and if his conclusions could be as valuable to us as they are to himself he would long ago have civilized the human race. As you know, he has failed. True scholarship is incommunicable, true scholars rare. There are a few scholars, actual or potential, in the audience today, but only a few, and there is certainly none on the platform. Most of us are pseudo-scholars, and I want to consider our characteristics with sympathy and respect, for we are a very large and quite a powerful class, eminent in Church and State, we control the education of the Empire, we lend to the Press such distinction as it consents to receive, and we are a welcome asset at dinner-parties.

Pseudo-scholarship is, on its good side, the homage paid by ignorance to learning. It also has an economic side, on which we need not be hard. Most of us must get a job before thirty, or sponge on our relatives, and many jobs can only be got by passing an exam. The pseudo-scholar often does well in examination (real scholars are not much good), and even when he fails he appreciates their innate majesty. They are gateways to employment, they have power to ban and bless. A paper on King Lear may lead somewhere, unlike the rather far-fetched play of the same name. It may be a stepping-stone to the Local Government Board. He does not often put it to himself openly and say ‘That’s the use of knowing things, they help you to get on.’ The economic pressure he feels is more often subconscious, and he goes to his exam, merely feeling that a paper on King Lear is a very tempestuous and terrible experience but an intensely real one. And whether he be cynical or naif, he is not to be blamed. As long as learning is connected with earning, as long as certain jobs can only be reached through exams, so long must we take the examination system seriously. If another ladder to employment was contrived, much so-called education would disappear, and no one be a penny the stupider.”

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What’s Your Writing Like Without Quotations?

Diogenes Laertius, Chrysippos  7.7.180

“Apollodorus the Athenian in his Summary of Beliefs, because he wants to demonstrate that the works of Epicurus were written with personal force and were prepared with far fewer quotations than the books of Chrysippos, says in this very wording: “if the books of [Chrysippos] were scrubbed of all the superfluous quotations, only empty paper would be left to him.”

So much for Apollodorus.  The old women who used to sit next to [Chrysippos], according to Diocles, used to claim that he wrote 500 lines each day. Hekatôn reports that he turned to philosophy because the property left to him by his father was confiscated to the royal treasury.”

Καὶ Ἀπολλόδωρος δ᾿ ὁ Ἀθηναῖος ἐν τῇ Συναγωγῇ τῶν δογμάτων, βουλόμενος παριστάνειν ὅτι τὰ Ἐπικούρου οἰκείᾳ δυνάμει γεγραμμένα καὶ ἀπαράθετα ὄντα μυρίῳ πλείω ἐστὶ τῶν Χρυσίππου βιβλίων, φησὶν οὕτως αὐτῇ τῇ λέξει· “εἰ γάρ τις ἀφέλοι τῶν Χρυσίππου βιβλίων ὅσ᾿ ἀλλότρια παρατέθειται, κενὸς αὐτῷ ὁ χάρτης καταλελείψεται.” καὶ ταῦτα μὲν Ἀπολλόδωρος. ἡ δὲ παρεδρεύουσα πρεσβῦτις αὐτῷ, ὥς φησι Διοκλῆς, ἔλεγεν ὡς πεντακοσίους γράφοι στίχους ἡμερησίους. Ἑκάτων δέ φησιν ἐλθεῖν αὐτὸν ἐπὶ φιλοσοφίαν, τῆς οὐσίας αὐτοῦ τῆς πατρῴας εἰς τὸ βασιλικὸν ἀναληφθείσης.


Hedgehog number 2,  British Library, MS Egerton 1121, f. 44v.

“How Was the [Expensive Classics Event]?”: Income Inequality and the Classics

This is a companion to the earlier essay, “This is Not My Beautiful House: Classics, Class, and Identity”, which elicited a variety of personal responses from classicists and students about the myriad problems in the discipline. My contribution here, specifically, is to further articulate and contextualize my response to Amy Pistone’s asking “what can individuals maybe do to help?”


The title of this article is at the heart of my response to the question on what can be done to help to address the class-based challenges of studying the Classics. “How was the ________?”, whether the blank space is filled in with conference, study abroad term, workshop, or something else, is a question of access. Encoded in this question is the fact that one person had this access while another didn’t. It is an innocuous question, with an innocuous reply, that contextually is a perfect representation of Classics’ self-perpetuating economic inequalities. And these inequalities were regular features of my studies.

My formal involvement with Classics began when I was twenty-one years old, though in high school I had developed an interest in Greek and Roman history and was even able to take year of Latin before the program was cut. In my first years of college, I focused on social science courses in psychology, sociology, and political science, with an interest in labor relations. But after donating three years to these subjects, I didn’t feel the same love for learning them that I did when I was reading about the Peloponnesian Wars or Roman politics in my free time.

So, I switched to Classics, starting Latin coursework right away and Greek later (along with French in anticipation of graduate work). Now in my early thirties, I am still involved with the field as an adjunct instructor teaching Greek and Roman Civilization (while missing teaching Latin), and I also work outside of academia to pay the bills. At times I feel like I belong, but at other times I feel like a stranger in a strange land. This was the case from the beginning.

During both my undergraduate and graduate pursuits in Classics, I found myself uttering some variant of this “how was the ______?” quote almost every time I’d gone a week without seeing a classmate—or so it felt. On the same day that I was excited to use a coupon for $1 off the price of a pizza on my way home from an eight-hour shift at a liquor store, a classmate was, for example, touring the Alamo after the SCS Conference. Another classmate brought back some fantastic replica pottery and coins from an 8-week study abroad event in Greece a month or so earlier; I remember thinking at the time that the cost to bring the vases back on a plane was probably more than my disposable income for the month.

Asking about someone else’s experiences at a conference, study-abroad program, or workshop was at the same time painful and embarrassing. I received an (often thorough, vivid) account of a classmate’s engagement with the field in a way that I could only rarely—if ever—experience, and simultaneously I gave responses which made it abundantly clear that I couldn’t participate. Despite this, I was still genuinely interested in others’ more extensive involvement with Classics, through some combination of intellectual interest, living vicariously through my classmates, and being polite.

In upper-level undergrad and graduate courses, I just hoped the familiar classmates wouldn’t return with a question about my own travels. They almost always did, and I became better at changing the subject after a quick “no.”

These types of conversations—dialogues of coded income inequality—were not unusual to me even outside of academia, though. During my childhood in two small towns in the Midwest, my family toed the poverty line, between lower middle class and “lowest” (how’s that for an official socio-economic designation?). From elementary school onward, I listened to stories of Disneyworld during summer vacation and spring break trips to the beach. Later I would become a “first-generation” college student; I use quotation marks because my father attended college, but was not a part of my life past my infancy.

P. Mich 8.471 – Letters of Claudius Terentianus*

“My mother sold our linens for an as so I could go to Alexandria.”

mater m[e]a no[bi]s assem vendedi[t] lentiamina / [u]t veniam alexandrie

*My interests are in non-elite (“vulgar”) Latin; sorry, Cicero, Virgil, et al. Whenever possible I opt to use the words of people outside of Rome’s literary elite.


At any rate, by the time I arrived at a state university—after some time at a community college—I was quite accustomed to hearing about things I couldn’t do or have. Thankfully, my mother didn’t have to sell her linens so that I could leave town when the time came, unlike Claudius Terentianus’ mom. We have student loans for that now.

It wasn’t until graduate school and afterward that inequality in Classics, which had previously been confined in my cognitive space to my inability to contribute to travel-related conversations, became a more substantive obstacle. To be clear, it did not come from the faculty, classmates, or department at my state school, all of whom were wonderfully accommodating and committed to widening access to the historically isolated field.


The inequalities became increasingly problematic during the first year of my M.A. program, as I began to focus more seriously on a career profile and CV that would get me beyond the first rounds of application purges. Diving into research on proper Classics CVs, newly hired faculty credentials, and all of the other things that repel students from graduate schools and higher education, it quickly hit me like a speeding chariot that I would not have even the opportunity for success in this discipline unless I could afford to sacrifice thousands of dollars (in addition to regular expenses), and extensive time away from a family that at many times needed me nearby.

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Pedantry’s Proper Place

Ulrich Von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, History of Classical Scholarship (trans. Hugh Lloyd-Jones):

“The avoidance of hiatus had been noticed earlier – another useful observation, though it has been put to improper uses. On the other hand, attempts to tie the great masters of Attic prose to hard and fast rules are doomed to failure. The microscopic examination of language, whose practitioners here often delighted in compiling statistical tables of average percentage frequencies, has sometimes achieved results. But equally often it has proved deceptive, because the mind cannot be mechanised. We must not despise little things – but neither must we forget that they are little.”

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Pythagorean Self-Invention

Scholion to Sophocles Electra 62.2

“Pythagoras shut himself in a hole in the ground and told his mother to tell people that he was dead. After that, once he reappeared again later, he was telling fantastic tales of reincarnation and the people Hades, explaining to the living about the matters of the dead. From these stories, he created that kind of repute for himself that, before the Trojan War, he was Aithalidês the son of Hermes and then Euphorbos, and then Hermotimos of Samos, then Delian Pythios and after all of them, Pythagoras.”

…Πυθαγόρας καθείρξας ἑαυτὸν ἐν ὑπογείῳ λογοποιεῖν ἐκέλευσε τὴν μητέρα, ὡς ἄρα τεθνηκὼς εἴη. καὶ μετὰ ταῦτα ἐπιφανεὶς περὶ παλιγγενεσίας καὶ τῶν καθ’ ᾅδου τινὰ ἐτερατεύετο, διηγούμενος πρὸς τοὺς ζῶντας περὶ τῶν οἰκείων, οἷς ἐν ᾅδου συντετυχηκέναι ἔλεγεν. ἐξ ὧν τοιαύτην ἑαυτῷ δόξαν περιέθηκεν, ὡς πρὸ μὲν τῶν Τρωϊκῶν Αἰθαλίδης ὢν ὁ Ἑρμοῦ, εἶτα Εὔφορβος, εἶτα Ἑρμότιμος Σάμιος, εἶτα Πύθιος Δήλιος, εἶτα ἐπὶ πᾶσι Πυθαγόρας.Monday

Newly Discovered Text: A Late Antique Dialogue on “The Etymology of ‘Mimosa'”

The following late antique text, recently discovered in a restaurant basement, is surmised to be a lost part of Macrobius’ Saturnalia, possibly from discussion, in book 5, of Virgil’s borrowings from Greek authors (e.g., one notes similarities to the etiological mode of Aeneid 7.112-19, where the fulfillment of a prophecy is simultaneously the origin of pizza). It is presented here in the form in which it has been preserved–namely, a loose debate among several scholars, many of them pseudonymous and not a few of them ridiculous, in the tradition of lampoons of intellectual life including Plato’s Symposium and Aristophanes’ Clouds. The accompanying image offers a reconstruction of a painting described by one of the speakers in an ekphrasis.

An interjection from a noted linguistic charlatan:

“Ah, I always thought it was the nominative singular present active feminine participle of μιμάω (“I drink in the morning”), accented like this: μιμῶσα But, with your explanation, I get to use it on myself.”


Μιμάω: “I brunch”
μιμήσω: “I will brunch”
ἐμίμησα: “I brunched”
μεμίμηκα: “I have brunched”
μεμίμημαι: “I have been brunched”
ἐμιμήθην: “I was brunched”; but contrast with middle ἐμιμησάμην: “I made brunch available for others”



[Dr. Benjamin Eldon Stevens works on classical receptions, especially in contemporary fictionscience fiction, and fantasy (most recently co-editing a volume of essays on Frankenstein, while upcoming is a volume on ‘displacement’); underworlds and afterlives; Latin poetry; and histories of the senses. He has also published translations of Spanish poetry and French fiction. Hailing from Colorado and Nebraska, and having taught in Washington DC, New York, Virginia, and Pennsylvania, Dr. Stevens is currently at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas.]

Splendid Ignorance

Ulrich Von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, History of Classical Scholarship (trans. Hugh Lloyd-Jones):

“Lachmann, by common consent, was already the greatest living master of textual criticism in the domain of early German literature, where his immortality is assured, and his Berlin friends appealed to him to deal with such exceptionally difficult texts as those of Gaius and the Agrimensores. He acquitted himself well, but the verdict of Mommsen, who once called him ‘the great master of language’ was: ‘His emendations are splendid – if only he had known something about the subject!’”

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“This is Not My Beautiful House…”: Classics, Class and Identity

“This is Not My Beautiful House…”: Classics, Class and Identity

How did I get here?

When Telemachus invites Athena-in-disguise to sit in his hall at the beginning of the Odyssey and he has already complained to her about the suitors, he asks, “Who are you and from where among men? Where is your city and your parents?” (τίς πόθεν εἰς ἀνδρῶν; πόθι τοι πόλις ἠδὲ τοκῆες; 1.170). This line is repeated on several occasions during the Odyssey and forms of it echo throughout Greek literature. It even shows up in Roman literature as a bit of a proverb: Seneca has Herakles use this line to hail the dead Claudius when he arrives on Olympus (Seneca, Apocolocyntosis 5). My friend Justin Arft is working on the poetics of this line, exploring how it engages with larger poetic traditions and functions as an authoritative marker for speech. It elicits a particular type of story and signals a special kind of world view.

For me, this line has always also functioned metonymically for social hierarchy. It is an indexing question to establish the addressee’s cultural position. The initial “who” of “who are you” turns out to be a mere introduction, signaling an insufficient framework. The subsequent questions flesh out acceptable parameters for defining this particular “who”: a generic person, a tis, requires a geographical origin (invoking tribal connections as much as spatial associations), a civic entity (the city here is certainly a type of state), and a family. And, given the importance of genealogy in myth and the flexibility of place and state, I think we have a rhetorical structure of increasing importance: space, state, and family. The last question, in epic at least, is about fame and noble birth.

During the past few years, I have been thinking about this question when I find myself out and about in the world, asking and being asked who I am. How we elicit information about people tells us something about how we organize the world in our minds. And how we answer these questions tells us something else about how we view ourselves and our comfort with this view. Social context alters the meaning of deceptively simple words. For instance, when people ask addressees of color where they are from, it often is a coded or subconscious attempt to establish an ‘ethnic identity’ or some hierarchy of citizenship. Who are you and where are you from is always potentially a probe to evaluate political status and social cache.

The functional question that communicates our modern values and social structures is that ubiquitous “What do you do?” This innocuous conversation starter (or staller) is a metonym for our capitalist values: we are defined by what we contribute to society, by what we produce, by how we may be commodified. Of course, we can put this another way: in a ‘post-aristocratic’ world, we are allowed to define ourselves by how we spend our time—what we decide to dedicate our lives to communicates our values. (This second take assumes that we have the power and resources to make these choices in such a way that there is a meaningful correlation between our activity in the world and our values; and, secondly, that vocation and avocation may necessarily overlap.)

Even though the Odyssey is a narrative of disguises and forestalled recognitions, it is one in which the question “who are you, where are you from” also points to established and accepted social boundaries (even if they are eventually transgressed or subverted). When we ask “what do you do”, it seeks to instantiate social relationships. I have spent so much time thinking about this because my life’s work is in a field where the boundary between life and work is blurred to the point of there being almost no distinction. And, although we live in a period where the answer to “what do you do” is more fluid than in the previous generation, the line between the workaday doing and the non-work living is less clear. (And, to be fair, for the working poor and a great number of people throughout the world, the whole notion of such a boundary to begin with is one of incredible privilege.)

My problem is not really with the impact of this fading boundary on me: one of the reasons I avoided pursuing other careers early on is I believed, correctly or not, that my current pursuit would not force some of the same stark choices as others—despite much evidence to the contrary, I still believe that my career as one where we are supposed to think about what life is for (even if we are not often encouraged to do so). My problem is with talking about what I do outside the academy, with naming it, with answering that question, what do you do?

*                                   *                                   *

Odyssey 19.203

“He was like someone speaking many lies similar to the truth.”

ἴσκε ψεύδεα πολλὰ λέγων ἐτύμοισιν ὁμοῖα·

Who are you and What do you do? I don’t come from a family of academics. I grew up in a lower middle class, rural area where most high school graduates did not go to college (and where high school graduates were only recently the majority). To say that I have class anxiety about being a Professor, much less a professor of Classics and one of Ancient Greek, is quite the understatement. I rarely use a title outside of work—my self-naming is so muted that when my son grabbed the mail one day and saw something addressed to “Dr. Christensen” he said “you’re a doctor?” To this I responded, “well, kind of.” In his consternation, he looked at the envelope, looked back at his mother—who is a dentist—and said, “wait, boys can be doctors?”

Where are you from? This is a question for people who are out of place, whose dislocation is clear enough as to be recognized before even hearing a name. How did I get here? Leaving home, getting a BA in the humanities, moving to New York and getting a PhD has separated me physically and ethically from all the people I grew up with and it has in many ways alienated me from my family. Anyone who has gone to graduate school knows that the process is intense and transformative intellectually; the part we don’t talk about enough is that it also constitutes a social metamorphosis: you are not only what you do, you are the people you engage with. ‘Who are your people’ and ‘where is your home’ are a critical part of Telemachus’ question—both communicate values and allegiances. Getting a PhD in the Classics complicates answers to both of those questions. The PhD changes the appearance and performance of social class; the rarefied air of that title “the Classics” makes us strangers even among our professorial peers.

The depth of my class and social anxiety is particularly felt in the way I change my answer to the question “what do you do”. When I go to birthday parties for my kids, while talking to other parents I almost always answer, “I am a teacher” and, more often than not, I consciously steer the conversation somewhere else. Part of the reason I do this is I don’t always handle the follow up question well.

True story: I was in a Starbucks in Milton, MA and I saw Jordan Knight of New Kids on the Block. At my sister’s urging over text messages (she has seen NKOTB multiple times as an adult), I went and asked for a picture and had a fine conversation going until he asked what I do. I said, “I teach at Brandeis.” To the inevitable “what do you teach?” and the true answer (“Classics. Um, mostly Ancient Greek”) the response was a typical, awkward silence.

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Classics for the Fascists

Some of our detractors disparage us for employing classical texts as a mode of understanding our own time or even using contemporary thought to reason about the ancient world. This charge is as fatuous as it is frequent, and rests on a sure foundation of ignorance regarding the reception of texts and, in the pre-literate age, oral exempla from history.

Nestor is the earliest figure guilty of the “sin” of moral reasoning about the past. Amidst his counsels, Nestor not infrequently cites mythical (to him historical) figures and simultaneously uses his own understanding to reason about them while employing the exempla themselves to bolster his arguments about what course of action his contemporaries should take in the present, and even to censure the conduct of his contemporaries. Early Alexandrian scholars such as Aristarchus reasoned about the text of Homer by bringing what we can recognize as their own cultural prejudices to bear on the project of textual scholarship. It is thus that Aristarchus reasons that δαῖτα was an inappropriate substitution for πᾶσι in the opening lines of the Iliad, in large part because he reasoned that δαῖτα was a word inapplicable to animals and uncivilized people. Yet, that prejudice and the interpretive horizon within which Aristarchus worked were already informed and limited by his formative engagement with the ancient text.

We cannot separate our engagement with classical texts from two influences: the tradition of classical reception which has made them a foundational part of our culture imbibed before we are capable of objectively reasoning about them, and the cultural-moral framework which we are unable to escape as the inhabitants of the modern world. Though I feel the persuasive pull of “immersing oneself” in the classics and attempting to reposition my hermeneutic framework solidly within antiquity, I realize that this is both ultimately undesirable and moreover impossible, considering that the very notion of “classical antiquity” is an abstraction which cordons off an arbitrarily demarcated time frame and is equally arbitrarily delimited to geographical regions whose literature and thought have shaped our own through the stealthy influence of reception. Even the most ardent classical partisan must surely recognize that our lionization of Greek and Latin literature is a historical accident. (One of my professors once noted that we could with a slight change in the course of history have been ardent devotees of ancient Persian literature.)

One may simultaneously engage in “objective” and scientific scholarship while still maintaining an active, even partisan mode of engagement with classical texts. Those who carp on about doubting our scholarship seem to have confused a blog, which is little more than a commonplace book or journal open to public viewing, with some more sober, measured, and professional publication. The blog is a record of our reading, in which we share noteworthy passages and selections, and occasionally comment upon them. In vulgar parlance, this is called spitballing, and is an entirely different mode of engagement from drafting articles or books for scholarly publication. Even when this turns into pamphleteering or polemic, it is still very much in the well-worn rut of classical reception dating back to antiquity itself.

As a relatively modern example, consider what that arch-Tory Samuel Johnson once said about the barbarity of Greek and Roman culture:

“Sir Adam introduced the ancient Greeks and Romans. JOHNSON. ‘Sir, the mass of both of them were barbarians. The mass of every people must be barbarous where there is no printing, and consequently knowledge is not generally diffused. Knowledge is diffused among our people by the news-papers.’ Sir Adam mentioned the orators, poets, and artists of Greece. JOHNSON. ‘Sir, I am talking of the mass of the people. We see even what the boasted Athenians were. The little effect which Demosthenes’s orations had upon them, shews that they were barbarians.’” [Boswell, Life of Johnson]

Is this the seed of Johnsonian ‘grievance studies’?

Though he may be unfashionable today, few can doubt that Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire was the product of expansive scholarship. Yet Gibbon never shies away from the opportunity to import remarks ranging from moral censure to catty criticism into the work, and famously wrote:

“Antoninus diffused order and tranquility over the greatest part of the earth. His reign is marked by the rare advantage of furnishing very few materials for history; which is, indeed, little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind. [emphasis added]

In the foundational days of the American republic, all of the founders put their grammar school classics to good use in reasoning about morality, modes of government, and the dangers of tyranny. They freely engaged in pamphleteering which employed classical exempla either as moral paragons or as dangers to be avoided, but their engagement was rarely dispassionate. Jefferson, for example, found both Plato’s mysticism and his moral philosophy repugnant:

“It is fortunate for us that Platonic republicanism has not obtained the same favor as Platonic Christianity; or we should now have been all living, men, women and children, pell mell together, like beasts of the field or forest. Yet `Plato is a great Philosopher,’ said La Fontaine. But says Fontenelle `do you find his ideas very clear’? `Oh no! he is of an obscurity impenetrable.’ `Do you not find him full of contradictions?’ `Certainly,’ replied La Fontaine, `he is but a Sophist.’ Yet immediately after, he exclaims again, `Oh Plato was a great Philosopher.’ Socrates had reason indeed to complain of the misrepresentations of Plato; for in truth his dialogues are libels on Socrates.” [Letter to John Adams July 5, 1814]

Thomas Paine is equally ready to censure the legacy of antiquity, and follows a tradition as old as Plato in his condemnation of Homer:

“I am not contending for the morality of Homer; on the contrary, I think it a book of false glory, tending to inspire immoral and mischievous notions of honor; and with respect to Aesop, though the moral is in general just, the fable is often cruel; and the cruelty of the fable does more injury to the heart, especially in a child, than the moral does good to the judgment.” [The Age of Reason]

Benjamin Rush went all-in on the campaign against the morality of the ancient world:

“The study of some of the Latin and Greek classics is unfavourable to morals and religion. Indelicate amours, and shocking vices both of gods and men, fill many parts of them. Hence an early and dangerous acquaintance with vice; and hence, from an association of ideas, a diminshed respect for the unity and perfections of the true God. Those classics which are free from this censure, contain little else but the histories of murders, perpetrated by kings, and related in such a manner as to excite pleasure and admiration.” [Essays: Moral, Literary, and Political]

I cite these examples in particular because I doubt that these writers, who are avatars of the ‘old dead white man’ will readily be dismissed by intellectual conservatives as fools or the architects of what they like to disparage as ‘grievance studies’. But clearly, these men were not afraid to use their knowledge of the ancient world in conjunction with the developments in moral reasoning which had been achieved by their time in order to reason about and critically interrogate the classical past which formed the very basis of their education and thought. When Joel published the set of quotations on The Child-Killing Lamia, he did little more than mention the fact that the Greek conception of the Lamia was misogynistic. This is not an assault on classical literature, nor was it a revolutionary call to action against those long-dead Greeks. It was an observation, a comment, a note. Do we not find critical notes of this sort strewn all about the scholia for many of our texts?

Further, the claim that some Greek authors were misogynists is also hardly an importation from the modern world onto antiquity. Athenaeus alludes in a jocular way to a tradition that Euripides was criticized as a misogynist even in antiquity:

“When someone said to Sophocles that Euripides was a misogynist, Sophocles said, ‘He may be a misogynist in his tragedies, but he is a philogynist in the bed.”

‘εἰπόντος Σοφοκλεῖ τινος ὅτι μισογύνης ἐστὶν Εὐριπίδης, ἔν γε ταῖς τραγῳδίαις, ἔφη ὁ Σοφοκλῆς· ἐπεὶ ἔν γε τῇ κλίνῃ φιλογύνης.’ [Deipnosophistae 13.6]

In sum, a reasonable modern and even moral engagement with antiquity does not preclude the possibility of objective scholarship, nor is it a wedge or Trojan horse for turning classics into a form of ‘grievance studies’. The study of antiquity is not the study of a cold, lifeless, and wholly inert substance. It is a study of people, including their morals, their characters, and their politics, and is bound therefore to reason about morality, character, and politics. Any claim that all engagement with the classical past must be wholly amoral in order to remain objective and scientific is little more than fatuity in support of fascism.


Yes to Vergil, No to Lucan

J.E. Sandys, Harvard Lectures on the Revival of Learning:

“Cicero and Virgil became the principal text-books of the Revival of Learning. Petrarch describes them in one of his poems as the ‘two eyes’ of his discourse. In his very boyhood he had been smitten with the charm of Virgil, and, even in his old age, he was still haunted by the mediaeval tradition of the allegorical significance of the Aeneid. But, unlike the mediaeval admirers of Virgil, he does not regard the Latin poet as a mysteriously distant and supernatural being; he finds in him a friend, and he is even candid enough to criticise him. Under his influence the Aeneid was accepted as the sole model that was worthy of imitation by the epic poets of the succeeding age. A German critic regards this result with regret, a regret that few, if any, will share; nor is it easy to believe that any scholar would really have preferred seeing Petrarch throw the weight of his example on to the side of any other Latin epic poet, such as Lucan.”

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