Scholarship vs. Skill

Thomas De Quincey, Confessions of an English Opium Eater:

I return to my own inaugural examination. On this day, memorable to myself, as furnishing the starting- point for so long a series of days, saddened by haughty obstinacy on one side, made effective by folly on the other, no sooner had my guardian retired, than Mr. Lawson produced from his desk a volume of the Spectator, and instructed me to throw into as good Latin as I could some paper of Steele’s — not the whole, but perhaps a third part. No better exercise could have been devised for testing the extent of my skill as a Latinist.

And here I ought to make an explanation. In the previous edition of these Confessions, writing sometimes too rapidly, and with little precision in cases of little importance, I conveyed an impression which I had not designed, with regard to the true nature of my pretensions as a Grecian; and something of the same correction will apply to that narrower accomplishment which was the subject of my present examination.

Neither in Greek nor in Latin was my knowledge very extensive; my age made that impossible; and especially because in those days there were no decent guides through the thorny jungles of the Latin language, far less of the Greek. When I mention that the Port Royal Greek Grammar translated by Dr. Nugent was about the best key extant in English to the innumerable perplexities of Greek diction; and that, for the res metrica, Moreli’s valuable Thesaurus, having then never been reprinted, was rarely to be seen, the reader will conclude that a schoolboy’s knowledge of Greek could not be other than slender. Slender indeed was mine. Yet stop! What was slender? Simply my knowledge of Greek; for that knowledge stretches by tendency to the infinite; but not therefore my command of Greek. The knowledge of Greek must always hold some gross proportion to the time spent upon it, probably, therefore, to the age of the student; but the command over a language, the power of adapting it plastically to the expression of your own thoughts, is almost exclusively a gift of nature, and has very little connection with time.

Take the supreme trinity of Greek scholars that flourished between the English Revolution of 1688 and the beginning of the nineteenth century — which trinity I suppose to be confessedly, Bentley, Valckenaer, and Porson — such are the men, it will be generally fancied, whose aid should be invoked, in the event of our needing some eloquent Greek inscription on a public monument. I am of a different opinion. The greatest scholars have usually proved to be the poorest composers in either of the classic languages. Sixty years ago, we had, from four separate doctors, four separate Greek versions of Gray’s Elegy all unworthy of the national scholarship. Yet one of these doctors was actually Porson’s predecessor in the Greek chair at Cambridge. But as he (Dr. Cooke) was an obscure man, take an undeniable Grecian, of punctilious precision — viz., Richard Dawes, the well-known author of the  Miscellanea Critica. This man, a very martinet in the delicacies of Greek composition, — and who should have been a Greek scholar of some mark, since often enough he flew at the throat of Richard Bentley, — wrote and published a specimen of a Greek Paradise Lost, and also two most sycophantic idyls addressed to George II on the death of his ‘august’ papa. It is difficult to imagine anything meaner in conception or more childish in expression than these attempts. Now, against them I will stake in competition a copy of iambic verses by a boy, who died, I believe, at sixteen — viz., a son of Mr. Pitt’s tutor, Tomline, Bishop of Winchester. Universally I contend that the faculty of clothing the thoughts in a Greek dress is a function of natural sensibility, in a great degree disconnected from the extent or the accuracy of the writer’s grammatical skill in Greek.

More Casual Misogyny in the Homeric Scholia

This is a follow-up to an earlier post on the same topic

Schol. D + bT ad Il. 4.20

“They were muttering”: they were complaining about something with mumbling lips. This is clearly also a feminine gesture character-wise. It also is fitting, but rage compels her to words too.”

| ex. ἐπέμυξαν: μεμυκόσι τοῖς χείλεσιν ἐπεμύχθησαν. ἠθικῶς δὲ καὶ τὸ γυναικεῖον τῷ σχήματι ἐμφαίνει, ὅπως γνώμης ἔχουσιν. καὶ ἤρκει μὲν τοῦτο, ἡ δὲ ὀργὴ καὶ ἐπὶ λόγους αὐτὴν ἄγει.

Homer, Iliad, 24.292 [Hecuba speaking to Priam]

“Ask him for a bird omen as a swift messenger…”

αἴτει δ᾽ οἰωνὸν ταχὺν ἄγγελον

Schol. bT ad Il. 24.292 ex

“Ask for a bird omen”: it is a womanly custom to seek refuge in divination anytime there might be something to fear.”

<αἴτει δ’ οἰωνόν:> γυναικεῖον τὸ ἦθος τὸ ἐπὶ μαντείας καταφεύγειν, εἴ τί που περίφοβον σχοῖεν. b(BCE3E4)T

Od. 1.414-416

“I do not trust any message still, wherever it comes from,
I do not trust soothsaying, whatever divination
My mother elicits when she calls prophets to our home.”

οὔτ᾽ οὖν ἀγγελίῃ ἔτι πείθομαι, εἴ ποθεν ἔλθοι,
οὔτε θεοπροπίης ἐμπάζομαι, ἥν τινα μήτηρ
ἐς μέγαρον καλέσασα θεοπρόπον ἐξερέηται.

Cf. Schol. EQS Ad Hom. Od. 1.415

“He is deprecating because it is womanly to trust in these sorts of prophecies.”

ἐξεφαύλισεν ὡς γυναικεῖον ὂν ταῖς τοιαύταις μαντείαις πιστεύειν.

Schol. T Ad Hom. Od. 7.238 [On Arete recognizing Odysseus’ clothes]

“It seems to some a minor and humble matter that Arete first inquires from the stranger about the vestments. But it must be said that it has proceeded in this way for many reasons. First, it is seemly that it is the woman who recognizes the clothes. For it is the work of a womanly nature to weave, and tend, and handle these sorts of things.”

δοκεῖ τισὶ μικροπρεπὲς καὶ ταπεινὸν τὸ τὴν ᾿Αρήτην παρὰ τοῦ ξένου πρῶτον περὶ τῆς ἐσθῆτος πυνθάνεσθαι. ῥητέον δὲ ὅτι πολλῶν ἕνεκα ἐντεῦθεν ἤρξατο. πρῶτον μὲν ἐπιγνῶναι τὴν γυναῖκα τὰ ἱμάτια εἰκὸς ἦν πρώτην· καὶ γὰρ ὑφαίνειν καὶ θεραπεύειν καὶ διαχειρίζειν τὰ τοιαῦτα τῆς γυναικείας φύσεως ἔργον.

[N.B. this scholion is excerpted from something that had a multi-part argument, as is clear from the πολλῶν ἕνεκα and the structural πρῶτον μὲν.]

Hécube BnF Français 599 fol. 28v

Homeric Scholia Explain the Eminently Explicable

Zeus speaking to Thetis

Iliad 1.524 “Come, I will nod my head to you so you will trust me.”

1.524 εἰ δ’ ἄγε τοι κεφαλῇ κατανεύσομαι ὄφρα πεποίθῃς·

Schol.  bT ad Il. 1.524

“I will nod my head”: This is because the reasoning part happens in the head, but the feeling happens in the heart. Consider: “the heart barked within him” or “the heart with swollen with rage”. The desirous area is the liver….”

ex. κεφαλῇ κατανεύσομαι: τὸ λογιστικὸν περὶ κεφαλήν,τὸ θυμικὸν περὶ καρδίαν, „κραδίη δέ οἱ ἔνδον ὑλάκτει” (υ 13), Ab (BCE3E4)T „οἰδάνεται κραδίη χόλῳ” (Ι 646), AT τὸ ἐπιθυμητικὸν περὶ ἧπαρ, „ἧπαρ ἔκειρον” (λ 578).

Jupiter and Thetis
Lossenko, “Jupiter and Thetis” 1769


Filling Up the Heart

Homer Iliad, 1.517

“And [glaring greatly] cloud-gathering Zeus addressed her”

1.517 Τὴν δὲ μέγ’ ὀχθήσας προσέφη νεφεληγερέτα Ζεύς·

Schol. bT ad Il. 1.517 ex

“This is from filling the spirit/heart up to the top, from the word [river banks]. Or, it is from the word “burden”, the form “overburdened” which is a form of the aorist passive participle, as okhthêsas is.

ex. ὀχθήσας: εἰς ὕψος ἐπάρας τὸν θυμόν, παρὰ τοὺς ὄχθους. ἢ παρὰ τὸ ἄχθος ἀχθήσας, ὅ ἐστιν ἀχθεσθείς, καὶ ὀχθήσας

There is, of course, at least one article about this:

Holoka, James P. “”Looking Darkly” (ϒΠΟΔΡΑΙΔΩ&# X039D;): Reflections on Status and Decorum in Homer.” Transactions of the American Philological Association (1974-) 113 (1983): 1-16. doi:10.2307/283999.

looking darkly

Later, Holoka concludes:

Looking darkly 2

Too Hard to Translate!

Carlo Aretino, 

Preface to the Batrachomyomachia, addressed to Marrasio Siculo (Part 1/2)

Recently, my sweetest Marrasio, when I had praised Homer among some youths who were most eminent and dedicated to the pursuit of the humanities, and when I had talked about how much power he had to show his genius not only in great things, (which usually offer the greatest field for speaking to the orator or the poet), but even in that war of frogs and mice which he wrote in his youth, my listeners urged me with prayers and with force to translate that poem into Latin and argued that, should I not have the strength to do it in verse, I should at least attempt to give a prose translation of it. And so, since I was in no way able to resist their entreaties, I embarked upon the project of translating it in prose. But when I had translated just a few of the verses, the whole text seemed to me so unformed and so lacking in composition that there appeared in it nothing sweet, nothing elegant, and nothing Homeric.

So I changed my plan and called upon the Muses to inspire me and sprinkle upon my lips, if not the sacred waves of Parnassus, at least the waters of the Fonte Gaia, about which you recently published the most charming elegies. I promised them a hecatomb if I should suddenly come forth a poet from a crow (as that man says). On the very next night, I dreamt that I was born upon the lap of the Muses and submerged in the Fonte Gaia. For that reason, when I awoke a little later, I flew to writing with all mental haste and translated this little work into our language. If there seems to be anything elegant in it, you should attribute it both to Homer (that most excellent poet) and especially to those waters, with which, as you say, your own poems constantly drip. But if you think that anything in the translation is poorly done, you can attribute it to me.

Frontispiece of 'Batrachomyomachia or, The Battle of Frogs and Mice', translated by George Chapman
The Crowne of all Homer’s Worckes, eh?

Nuper, suavissime Marrasi, quom apud quosdam praestantissimos iuvenes studiis humanitatis mirifice deditos Homerum summopere laudassem dixissemque eum non solum in rebus magnis, quae mediocri oratori vel poetae maximum orationis campum praestare solent, verum etiam in eo bello quod adolescens de ranis muribusque finxit quantum iam ingenio valeret ostendisse, et precibus et vi a me exegerunt ut id in Latinum converterem ac, si non valerem versu, saltem id, quoquo modo possem, soluta oratione transferrem. Itaque, cum eorum studiis nullo pacto obsistere quirem, liber omni pede id traducere aggressus sum; sed, cum perpaucos transtulissem versus, ita ea oratio incondita et incomposita mihi visa est, ut nihil suave, nihil elegans, nihil denique Homericum resonare videretur.

Itaque mutato consilio, Musas invocavi, ut mihi aliquantulum aspirarent meaque labra si non Parnasi sacris undis, saltem lymphis illius Gaii fontis, de quo nuper quam plures suavissimos elegos edidisti, aspergerent. Ac si repente ex corvo (ut inquit ille) poeta prodirem, eis hecatombem pollicitus sum. Proxima deinde nocte in somnus mihi visum est Musarum gremio sublatum in Gaio fonte esse demersum, quamobrem paulo post experrectus, alacri animo ad scribendum accessi et hoc opusculum in nostram linguam transtuli. In quo si quid elegans visum fuerit, tum Homero, omnium poetarum praestantissimo, tuo maxime illis undis, quibus tua carmina uda esse dicis, attribuito; sin autem aliquid ineptum offenderis, id a me editum esse credas.


For anyone interested in a contemporary translation and commentary on the Batrachomyomachia, a couple of your favorite bloggers may have something published in that line:

Agency Through the Ancients: A Graduate Student Conference

Going to graduate student conferences was one of the best part of my graduate school experience. If you are eligible, apply to this one. Some cool things are happening at Boston University Classics.

Agency through the Ancients: Reception as Empowerment

This fall, the graduate students of Boston University are hosting a graduate conference on the theme of reception of the classical world as a tool of agency for the disenfranchised. The conference will be held on November 9, 2019 at Boston University. It seems as if the only ‘reception’ of Classics that makes headlines these days is the misappropriation by hate groups or those wishing to use the ancient world as a means to exclude others. We at BU wanted to highlight instead the salutary side of classics and therefore are seeking papers that highlight engagement with the ancient world by groups which have been historically underrepresented or outright excluded.

The keynote speaker for this conference will be Dr. Emily Allen-Hornblower of Rutgers University, as well as Mr. Marquis ‘I AM’ McCray. Dr. Allen-Hornblower met Mr. McCray in her role as a professor in the NJ-STEP prison teaching program. Together, they will speak on their experiences teaching and learning classical literature in a prison setting, and what a rewarding experience that can be as both teacher and student.

We are hoping to gather papers on a wide range of topics and groups, including but not limited to veterans, prisoners, women/feminist groups, racial minorities, LGBTQ+ communities, and those living with physical or mental disabilities. If you are interested and have a paper, please send an abstract of 500 words or fewer and a short biography to A copy of the Call for Papers can be found by following this link. Deadline for submissions Friday, August 23, by 11:59pm.

Harley MS 5347 f. 26v c12046-06
 Harley MS 5347, f. 26v: St Margaret Visited in Prison by her Godmother

Brillionaire’s Club

“Right next to this we find the sacred library [of Alexandria] on which is inscribed “The Healer of the Soul”; and next-door to it are the statues of the gods of Egypt….”

ἑξῆς δ’ ὑπάρχειν τὴν ἱερὰν βιβλιοθήκην, ἐφ’ ἧς ἐπιγεγράφθαι Ψυχῆς ἰατρεῖον, συνεχεῖς δὲ ταύτῃ τῶν κατ’ Αἴγυπτον θεῶν ἁπάντων εἰκόνας,

Diodorus Siculus 1.49

Early on in my first year at my current University, a graduate student was mulling over possible thesis topics and expressed an interest in one of my favorite distractions, fragmentary mythography. This student was specifically interested in the intersection between history and myth and the link between genealogy and epic formed most clearly in anecdotal evidence and early Greek records. This was a time for the fragments of the Greek Historians. (Sound the Jacoby Klaxon!)

Even though it was not that long ago (ok, closer to two decades than one) when I started, the informational landscape has utterly transformed since I entered my PhD program. When I was shopping for graduate school, I was told to ask about the library and to make sure they carried certain journals. It used to be that when I made a request for an Interlibrary Loan article or book, I would fill out a form (by hand) and then go to a dark window in the corner of the library weeks later to retrieve my request in an impersonal manila envelope, as if I were retrieving something forbidden, illicit.

(And, as I think of it, it was a whole lot easier to make many drug transactions than it was to get certain journals when I started graduate school.)

Today, ILL is slick, fast, and rarely demands that I leave the safe, enervating confines of my own office. Where twenty years ago a student would have had to sit down with a tightly printed, nearly inscrutable volume of Jacoby’s Fragments of the Greek Historians, two years ago my student and I emailed the librarian, found out the there was a digital version available through Brill, and made a request for the library to negotiate access.

It took an excruciating week. But when it came in? Well, it was glorious. Jacoby online presents all the fragments, translated, with notes! The online world of Classical Studies can turn a desk jockey anywhere into a world-class scholar by delivering bibliographies through the arcane but indispensable L’Annee Philologique and all the starting details you need with Brill’s New Pauly (now in English, fools. No German for you! And don’t give me that look, no less a leading light than Richard Porson allegedly quipped that “Life is too short to learn German.”)

Jacoby 2

this is just beautiful.

You can be transformed by this access, if you have the right library. But I knew from just a few months earlier, that this conditional makes a world of difference. Brandeis is not a wealthy University, but it is wealthy enough to drop a few grand extra so 3-5 people can benefit from a database 99.5% of the population has never heard of.

“There are those who accumulate books not from eagerness to use them, but from the desire to have them, and they possess them not as a bulwark to their minds, but as an ornament for their bedrooms.

Sunt enim qui libros, ut cetera, non utendi studio cumulent, sed habendi libidine, neque tam ut ingenii presidium, quam ut thalami ornamentum.

Petrarch, Epistles 3.18

Sometimes it is really easy to forget how much the information age has changed our access to the ancient world. The only scholarly text I saw before I picked up a copy of Cicero’s Pro Caelio at the Brandeis campus bookstore in 1998 was a dog-eared copy of Fordyce’s Catullus (that in-depth, but tragically incomplete commentary). I remember handling my first Loeb in the Classics section at the now defunct Borders (Books and Music); the first Latin text I actually owned was a bilingual edition of Catullus special-ordered from that same Borders by my high school girlfriend.

If you lived in certain regions, Greek and Latin texts were hard to find even if you could afford them. When I was in college and bar-tending in a seaside town in Maine, I noticed a patron reading Horace at the bar. I casually asked him where he was a professor, and he was like “Heavens, no, I am a stockbroker! The University is the death of the Arts.” (Really.) After a conversation filled with “o fons bandusiae” and the like, he asked me how often I frequented Schoenhof’s foreign language bookstore in Cambridge. When I said never, he had a heart attack. Ok, he only feigned a heart attack. But he did give me a 20 dollar tip and bid me to get there post haste.

For thousands of years, access to the texts bequeathed to us by antiquity was dictated by geography and class. You could be born into a family with a private library (rare) or endowed with the resources to send you to an institution which had one (less rare, but still, you know, 1% stuff) or you could happen to be near an institution that just happened to possess a Homer or a Vergil. (Assuming, of course, you’d get to look at it.) Or, of course, you could be lucky enough like Richard Bentley to get a tutoring gig for a family so well-endowed that the notes you made from their library helped launch and sustain your career.

Very few public libraries that aren’t also University libraries house Greek and Latin texts to this day. I read whatever was at the library when I was a kid. Every Stephen King book was there, so that’s what I read. When I wanted to read Frank Herbert, God Emperor of Dune was the book they stocked, so that’s the one I started with (and my favorite to this day). On the rare occasions we trekked to the largest library I had ever seen (the Portland Public Library), it was to browse and admire. It was, let’s say, simply too far to go to get a book just to return it.

Part of the radical legacy of the late Renaissance, the rise of the printing Press, and the Enlightenment is the democritization of material once so carefully cloistered. The spirit of access is clear in the creation of the French Budé editions of Greek and Latin texts and the Loeb Classical Library in the United States. These bilingual editions were (and remain) far more affordable than most scholarly editions and more readily available.

Thanks to Perseus, The Latin Library, Lacus Curtius,, the Suda Online, and Dickinson College Commentaries and the hundred other sites I am forgetting, even the casual student of antiquity has nearly instant access to more Greek and Roman texts and translations from a cell phone than Poggio, Petrarch, or Erasmus saw in their entire lifetimes. And forward-thinking institution like the Center for Hellenic studies publish their scholarly texts for free online when they are released.

(Full disclosure: I have a book coming out with CHS this year with Elton Barker. We selected CHS as a venue for the book in part because of their open access policy.)

Social media can break down boundaries between the Oxford Don and the Brazilian high school student in ways I think would have shocked William Gibson in 1985. But there are other stories behind this obvious social gain: the quality of the texts are curbed (we still have trouble sharing critical texts with functioning critical apparatus), the quality of some sources is unclear, and these sites often lack the funds and expertise to ensure they are accessible for the visually impaired. And, the newest and latest material is almost always pay-walled: the neoliberal publishing market has found ways to cloister some of our most useful contributions.

“For I seriously need both the Greek books—which I have an idea about—and the Latin ones”

nam et Graecis iis libris quos suspicor et Latinis quos scio illum reliquisse mihi vehementer opus est. Cicero, Letters to Atticus 1.20

Spending time in libraries ain’t what it used to be. Don’t get me wrong, free public libraries remain one of the most essential democratic institutions in our country and we should celebrate them and their librarians. But modern libraries reflect their use and function like any other place, with real estate. More and more space is given over to computers through de-accession and that terrible three word phrase, off site storage.

Again, don’t get me wrong. This is not to be a luddite’s rant against the computer or a bibliomaniacal fetish piece. The reason I lament the absence of books is that the computer terminals are only as good as what they have access to. In a way, computers are like books: you can’t judge the contents of either by the cover. And when the contents work, it can be transformative. I have never been a Classicist without the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae. For some years, I used a purchased CD-ROM of the TLG-E; for a few, we negotiated through our library at UTSA a single computer subscription. (For others, well, let’s just say some people know how to put the ILL back in illicit. This is an essential tool for modern philology and everyone should have access to it, for free.)

If we were to re-imagine the current world of Classical Studies as one particular site, it would be a platform with different identity levels controlling access. If you have high speed internet access, you can get free public domain Latin and Greek texts with translations, the Suda Online, and random uncurated website, articles, all mediated by google and requiring time intensive labor to sift through. There are some e-books and pdfs, but many of them are teases and there’s always a threat of piggybacking malware. If you have entry-level professional organization or second tier public school access, you might get the Loeb Classical Library, and more articles through JSTOR.

But if you are at the top of the access food chain, if you’re a Brillionaire, you have L’Annee Philologique, Brill’s New Pauly, Brill’s Jacoby, the Oxford Classical Dictionary, the Encyclopedia of Ancient Greek Latin and Linguistics, and more. So much more that you don’t know about it all and you just don’t care. This is what one might call eff you level access.

At my last institution, the University of Texas at San Antonio, I could get most articles I needed, but had access to very few databases. To use L’Annee Philologique, I had to go to UT Austin and ask for computer access. But they gave it to me because of my status (Professor) and my geography (TXShare, with some hurdles, allowed for people from public libraries to use the University library).

So, while we have democritized a lot of the past in some ways, we have created new boundaries in others. Who you are, where you live, and what you do still dictates the level of access you receive to the embarrassment of research riches at our fingertips. If you have no affiliation, you get the surface level, search engine mediated access. If you are lucky enough to be at a top tier institution, you have everything, but likely don’t know about it and, until you lose that status, won’t know that your work may be dependent on one bundling plan or some administrator’s choice. If you live too far or don’t have whatever relationship it is you need to get some special status, you are left on the outside looking in

And let’s not prevaricate here. Open access is about equity and inclusion. As long as we live in a world where historical and structural racism, gender bias, ableism, and classism influence where a person is born and the lives they lead, then any system which limits access to information based on geography or class will be at its foundation racist, sexist, ableist, and classist.

“I am not ignorant in the meantime (notwithstanding this which I have said) how barbarously and basely, for the most part, our ruder gentry esteem of libraries and books, how they neglect and contemn so great a treasure, so inestimable a benefitRobert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy 2.2.4

“Money is the cause of many of mortals’ evils

πολλῶν τὰ χρήματ᾿ αἴτι ᾿ ἀνθρώποις κακῶν #Euripides

The information access problem is tied in part to the labyrinthine economy of the neo-liberal university system. At its base is a heinous labor scam most of us in the academy are complicit in and which most of us are too busy to notice, too tired to fight, or too weak to resist. Almost all of the databases I mentioned above were produced through free (or nearly free) labor by scholars working to get or keep their jobs. (And this overlooks the unmentioned and often unpaid labor of students, administrators and family members along the way.).

I myself have written entries for at least one of the publications mentioned above: I received a 30% off promise for 2000 words. My university does not have access to an article I have never seen in its native form. And this is all a greater part of what is the bait-and-switch of academic publishing. What a perversion that we labor for years to produce books we cannot actually afford and which almost none of our friends or colleagues could afford to purchase!

(Another part of the story that needs to be told is how this economic system makes it possible for predatory publishers to take advantaged of those already marginalized by charging them fees to get work published…)

As the university has engaged in increasingly high-stakes brinksmanship, raising its perceived rankings value by pumping up the publication stats of its professors, non-profit and for-profit presses have joined the game by furnishing both a venue and a market for these intellectual markets. Young academics are trained not to write ‘trade’ books (that is, books that make money); instead, to secure the too often elusive promise of a job we write books for which we receive no compensation and for which we are often expected to pay for our own indexing (and in some cases, copy editing).

Articles are little different: peer review requires free labor from editors, referees, and the authors themselves. Some editors do get paid (more on this soon), but rarely is there more than an annual drink or meal for an editorial board and referees can at times receive a few hundred dollars for reading a book and a digital wink-and-a-smile for reading an article. The authors themselves, after scores, if not hundreds of hours of work, are compensated with 5% less existential angst and the chance that 1 of the 5 people who read their article might cite them. And the exclusivity can keep some people out of disciplines altogether: think of some of the nearly criminal tales dogging papyrology lately or how few people actually can get decent training in paleography. Where you are and where you started still guides most of our academic journey.

The scandal behind the publication heist is that most of this labor is subsidized by Universities themselves. Full-time faculty are expected to do research and service (and all the work I mentioned above falls into this category.) But many schools also provide funds to student and graduate student workers to assist in the publication cycle; others task administrative assistants or actual journal employees to the job. Untold millions of dollars are provided by public and private universities to support the publication of academic research. Then this subsidized research is repackaged and sold back to their over-extended libraries in an over-priced bundle. This is a cartel-level scam.

(This is why employees of universities in some countries (e.g. the UK) are required to publish open access material. Such a requirement might work for public institutions in the US and is already operable for work funding by certain federal initiatives, but it would be difficult to enforce universally.)

Problems with the cost of journal subscriptions are not new—giants like Elsevier gobble up journals, ‘bundle’ them together, and extort institutions. But this parasitic crisis is not going to end. We don’t face this problem with journals and database subscriptions alone—as textbook publishers go full on digital to keep their revenues rolling in, students and authors are getting screwed.

Give up the books and pay attention to only your own affairs”

ἄφες δὲ τὰ βιβλία καὶ μόνα ἐργάζου τὰ σαυτοῦ. Lucian, On the Ignorant Book-Collector 27

I know that there is another side to the story. I got to hear first-hand from the acquisitions editor for Brill Classics why their subscription costs so much. There are multiple people working full time to support the online databases for the New Pauly and the Jacoby. Editing, formatting, and tech support takes time and costs money. I would not want to take any stance that they should not be paid fair, livable wages. The costs of articles in other disciplines are even higher: in the sciences where editors need to worry about positive result bias, misused data, an undisclosed conflicts of interest, publishing can be labor intensive.

(To be clear, I am using Brill as a metonym here: there are far worse offenders.)

And I think that it is hard for us to think about the full economic cost of online resources. Databases need servers. Servers need bandwidth, energy, and, and maintenance. The more use they get, the more they cost. And, something we probably all live in daily denial about, this use has environmental and social costs: google searches have carbon footprints. Computers don’t run on love and hope; they run on electricity and much of this is still driven by coal.

Other economic pressures shape this system too. Some publications are supported by professional organizations. Companies like JSTOR buy rights to these publications from the organizations—these deals look really good to the editorial boards. Imagine this: you and your friends write something for free every year and you don’t have the expertise or the infrastructure to digitize it. You also depend on subscription fees and individual library purchases to break even in the printing of the work. Suddenly, a friendly digital giant comes along and offers you, I don’t know, $20,000 dollars a year for the rights to digitize and distribute your journal. You take this and use it to pay the editor, lower membership fees, fund journal production costs, and even create scholarships for students. This is a win-win-win!

Except, the FDG turns around, bundles the journal, and extorts Universities and libraries all over the world. Your organization’s 20K can easily turn into 200K for them while many of your friends and colleagues without institutional access can’t get to your work. (And some estimates put the gross receipts of one article in the sciences to be $5000.00 for the publisher.) This hypothetical is not uncommon. But I am not trying to impugn any single person or organization by telling the story. Like many trends, this is the aggregate result of individuals and small groups making rational decisions in isolation. Objection to the systematic exploitation of academic labor should not lead us to condemn or dismiss colleagues who are also being exploited by this system.

University presses do similar things with books and subscriptions. And, again, we can’t blame them because they are also part of an economic system that is suffering from public divestment and new informational paradigms. Things will probably get worse: education is facing an eighth year of lower enrollments, even more severe public funding cuts—many politically manufactured crises like that at the University of Alaska, or cynical attacks on functional schools like that at the University of Tulsa—and the late capitalist land-grab of corporate takeovers: Starbucks and Amazon are talking college partnerships and credentialing now, but how long until they just open their own schools or acquire financially troubled institutions in WSJ approved experiments in innovation and public-private synergy?!

If knowledge is a public good and publication makes knowledge available, is it too much of a twisted syllogism to insist that publication be treated as a public good?

Nosse bonos libros non minima pars est bonae eruditionis.

“To know good books is not the least part of sound erudition”

motto over Bishop Cosin’s library at Durham, Henry L. Thompson, Henry George Liddell: A Memoir

When I was finishing my PhD I lucked into one of those tutoring jobs that form the stuff of legends. A high school student wanted to learn Greek from scratch. The student’s home had its own elevator to the penthouse where it overlooked central park. For two years I happily went there once or twice a week and worked through all of Hanson and Quinn, Plato’s Ion and much of Herodotus Book 1. During the second year, the student’s mother asked me if I had seen the old books she had been giving her husband for birthdays and holidays. They were late Renaissance era texts of Homer, Pindar, and more. I trembled as I asked if I needed gloves to handle them—of course, not, why would I? These were just gifts to be presented and seen on the shelves.

If schools continue to lose funding and presses pursue what meager profit is left—or worse, cease supporting the tools and databases we have already created—we run the risk of returning to the plutocratic exclusivity of the finest resources for the rarest few. Don’t consider just the students at less well endowed and funded schools who cannot test-drive the Brill-iant cadillacs like the New Pauly. What about unaffiliated scholars or students and readers from outside countries with ‘world-class’ universities? Our scholarly production is already an exclusive country club with gilded chains on the windows and doors.

Internet publishing
Ultimately, we need a public funding system to support research and publishing that makes it available for everyone. Since this is highly unlikely in our current political reality, what can we do? Some of us break the rules individually, you know, engage in a little ‘innovation’ and ‘creative disruption’. We can handout articles as if they are candy; we can give people advice on how to find those pirated TLGs. I know that is another profiteering algorithm machine, but it and sites like it allow us to share our work with anyone with an email address.

Those of us who have secure positions can choose which venues we send our work in; we can support open access publication for our junior colleagues. We can ask our schools to host our work; we can choose to publish only in open access journals and venues, but this also means that when we judge people for employment and tenure, we need to re-evaluate the value of journal prestige.

Perhaps there is more we can do institutionally. Why can’t universities share their access more widely? At the very least they can use their informational footprint to sponsor our work and help shift the perspective on access. In our professional organizations we can make open access a clearly articulated mandate and we can raise money to support databases and journals that are subscription fee (and I am happy to hear that the TLG has a plan to do so. It is too bad it has not happened faster).

Again, there are projects that need to be done—like the digitization of the Lexicon Iconcographicum Mythologicae Classicae—which we should make sure are done for everyone and we should not only seek to support the scholars who do this work financially, but we should support their work ethically by counting open access and publicly facing work as equal to if not greater than traditional journal articles when it comes to hiring, tenure, and promotion.It is and will be personally and professionally difficult to disentangle this elegant cage we have helped make for ourselves. But the first step is acknowledging that it is there, that we have contributed to it, and that some of us have benefited from keeping many others in the dark. When you’re in it, the Club is a fine and rare place to be. But with the disappearance of full-time jobs, the increase casualization of labor in the Academy, and the fetishization of the gig-economy, more of us will be on the outside looking in.

“I confess indeed that I am obsessed with studying literature. Let this fact shame others who do not know how to make use of their books so that they can’t provide anything from their reading to common profit or to make their benefit clear in sight.

Ego vero fateor me his studiis esse deditum: ceteros pudeat, si qui se ita litteris abdiderunt, ut nihil possint ex his neque ad communem adferre fructum neque in aspectum lucemque proferre: Cicero, Pro Archa 13


Here’s a survey about open access issues in Classics and the UK from 2008.

We can create our own publishing paradigms

Public libraries may be able to provide structure and scaffolding for more equitable access