He Knew Nothing of Real Textual Criticism

Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff,

History of Classical Scholarship (trans. Alan Harris):

“His [Nicholas Heinsius’] labours were confined almost entirely to Latin poetry, from Catullus to Prudentius. Apart from his numerous editions he left a great deal of material on which later scholars relied for their own publications. It is hard to believe that anybody ever had such an intuitive understanding of what these poets, especially Ovid, were trying to say and how they expressed themselves, or to doubt that, so far from rejecting what he put into their mouths as unworthy of them, they would sometimes have admitted that he had even improved on them; for, diligent as he was in consulting manuscripts and though his flair for the true reading served him well, he knew nothing of real textual criticism. He emended, as was customary, codicum et ingenii ope, thereby setting an example that was only too widely followed by people who possessed neither his feeling for style nor his ingenium. But our abhorrence of inept conjecture must not lessen our admiration for the genius of Heinsius.”

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Accumulated Capital of Classical Scholarship

Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff,

History of Classical Scholarship (trans. Alan Harris):

“We are all living on the capital accumulated by the industry of Casaubon and Stephanus; Scaliger is our great exemplar because he showed us the true end of all our labours. The writers treated by Casaubon, particularly Athenaeus, led him to the study of literary history, and he produced the first critical survey in his De satyrica Graecoru poesi et Romanorum satira, which has gone through many editions and can fairly be called a model of its time. After the murder of Henri IV, Casaubon too, a Protestant, had to leave his country; England gave him a hospitable welcome, and he is buried in Westminster Abbey.”

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How to Pronounce Ancient Greek

Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff,

History of Classical Scholarship (trans. Alan Harris):

“Erasmus’ name is linked with the Erasmian pronunciation of Greek, with the result that modern Greeks to a man – except the few trained philologists among them – curse him loud and long. Having learnt the languages from books, rather than from the lips of Greeks, he very naturally insisted on the pronunciation that had been current at the time when the script was formed. Nor was he even the first person to do so (as Ingram Bywater has demonstrated with rare learning); that was the Spanish humanist Antonius Nebrissenis, and no less a man than Aldus Manutius shared his view. Now that scholars have come to realize that every language in every age sounds differently as spoken by different people, and that in the course of time the accepted pronunciation of the written characters also changes, the dispute has lost its relevance. How we are to pronounce, or try to pronounce, ancient Greek is a purely practical question that admits of no universally valid answer, and the idea of condemning the living language of modern Greece as ugly, because, like ours, it has lost its sonority, is one that no scholar at least should ever entertain.”

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Stifling the Spirit of Humanism

Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff,

History of Classical Scholarship (trans. Alan Harris):

“By the time the church recovered its strength, inwardly and outwardly, after the shock of the Reformation, its attitude to antiquity had completely changed. The spirit of humanism was stifled by the Jesuits, who countenanced nothing but formal training in Latin grammar and rhetoric, and used it in their schools with ruthless efficiency to further their own ends. Romantic feeling of any kind was entirely alien to the age of the baroque, when ancient remains were recklessly sacrificed for the sake of ambitious programmes of new building. The famous quip Quod non fecere barbari fecere Barbarini was just; Sixtus V would have liked nothing better than to rebuild the Colosseum itself to house some new foundation.”

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Combating Barbarism, Reviving Knowledge

Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff,

History of Classical Scholarship (trans. Alan Harris):

“In his Elegantiae Linguae Latinae Valla gave proof of the same historical sense in the linguistic sphere by showing how to distinguish the various periods and styles of Latin and waging war, not only on current barbarisms, but also on the practice of mixing words and phrases from entirely different departments of Latin literature – though of course adherence to the best models was bound to end in Ciceronianism, and the case for greater latitude, as advocated by Politian, had its points. Finally, Valla’s philosophical writings, in which he tried to do justice even to Epicurus, were equally bold and equally characteristic of the outstanding acuteness and independence of his mind. If we look deeper, we cannot avoid the conclusion that it was Valla’s contact with the Hellenic genius that lent wings to his soul, and that the advance from humanism to scholarship was entirely due to the influence of Greek literature, which alone could put new life into philosophy and natural science.”

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A Different Aristotle Emerges

Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff,

History of Classical Scholarship (trans. Alan Harris):

“A different Aristotle emerged from Aristotle the logician, who alone so far was familiar, and was received in some quarters with enthusiasm, in others with misgiving. The effect was remarkable, particularly in England. John of Salisbury, Robert Grosseteste, and above all Roger Bacon were men of surprisingly wide knowledge; Bacon in particular was inspired with daringly original ideas. The church was not yet ready to tolerate this development, however, and was still able to subordinate everything to its own system, which was authoritatively defined for orthodox Catholicism by Thomas Aquinas. What chiefly concerns us here is that no study of the Greek language, nor indeed anything that so much as prepared the ground for an interest in history or scholarship, emerged from it all. The trouble was lack of contact with the originals, and in the specialist literature not a glimmer of the specifically Hellenic quality – in other words, of the nobility of beauty and art – was to be seen.”

Woodcut of Aristotle ridden by Phyllis by Hans Baldung

An Assessment of Byzantine Scholars

Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff,

History of Classical Scholarship (trans. Alan Harris):

“John Tzetzes, that most unpleasant man, pretended to wider reading than he possessed and was a complete failure as a critic; but he had some advantages that we have not. The three princes of the church, Eustathius of Thessalonica, Michael Choniates of Athens and Gregory of Corinth (c. 1200), rank much higher. From Acominatus we learn that, apart from the Acropolis, the ancient monuments of Athens were already in his day as ruined, and her ancient traditions as forgotten, as when exploration began in the seventeenth century. The amount of material on Homer amassed by Eustathius is astounding, and his commentary, one of the first printed books, dominated Homeric studies for years; we possess it in the author’s own hand. At home it would not have found a public, even if the disastrous Fourth Crusade had not brought about a general decline and made havoc of the still ample heritage of ancient literature.

The damage was irreparable. Henceforth it was only small groups, mostly in monasteries, who exerted themselves to save the last remains.”

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Scholarship Declines Into Compilation

Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff,

History of Classical Scholarship (trans. Alan Harris):

“Higher education was centered entirely on the study of rhetoric, but that required preliminary training in the use of language by a ‘grammarian’. As early as the reign of Augustus, Tryphon compiled the first onomastikon, or vocabulary of the written language, and was also the first writer on syntax. Two hundred years later Herodian finally fixed orthography and ‘prosody’, both on strict classical principles. Innumerable manuals gave the classical vocabulary, and in time pasticheurs like Aristides became models of style in their own right. On the other hand, scholarly elucidation was reserved for an ever-diminishing range of poetical literature, and scholarship itself sank to the level of pure compilation.”

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(Don’t) judge a book by its cover

(Don’t) judge a book by its cover

As some of you may have seen from our Twitter announcement over the summer, Joel and I are publishing our second book together, under the title Homer’s Thebes: Epic Rivalries and the Appropriation of Mythical Pasts. In our earlier announcement, we tweeted a picture of what its front cover will look like; and, given the interest in it, Joel invited me to write this guest post on his blog. I am delighted to take him up on the offer, even though I know that his blog is more accustomed to dealing with weightier matters than what appears on a book’s cover…

With the possible exception of writing acknowledgements, I find choosing a cover image for a book arguably the most pleasurable, and most difficult, of the final tasks that needs accomplishing before I can happily pack off my manuscript on its merry way to the press. Even if we are told otherwise (in the famous axiom not to judge a book by its cover), how a book looks can play a decisive role in its purchase; after the subject matter and author, it’s the one thing that may determine whether I buy book a book or not. If I look on my bookshelves, for example, the dust jackets that stand out for me are: the famous image (from the so-called François vase) of Ajax carrying the dead body of Achilles that emblazons Greg Nagy’s 1979 classic The Best of the Achaeans (and Michael Lynn-George’s equally ground-breaking Homeric criticism Epos: Word, Narrative and the Iliad); the contemplative Regarding Penelope by Nancy Felson; the highly wrought, yet seductive, Medea of James Clauss and Sarah Iles Johnston; the satirical depiction of famous classicists playing characters from Aristophanes (!) on Martin Revermann’s Comic Business; and the striking pose of Gertrude Eysoldt captured in the role of Electra that advertises Simon Goldhill’s Who Needs Greek?. The arresting contemporary nature of this image (though the photograph dates back to 1903) hints at Goldhill’s thesis of the continuing legacy of Victorian attitudes to, and contests over, the Classics that shape and inform our own implicated relationship with the subject.

 

As these examples suggest, aesthetic looks isn’t the only desideratum when it comes to choosing a book cover. For sure we want something that looks good; but it’s equally, if not more, important for that image to say something about the book itself (a picture is worth a thousand words, right?), though perhaps not in an obvious or straightforward way. Let me explore this issue by reflecting on my own choice of three covers that I’ve had the pleasure to be able to choose.

The image I chose for my first book—Entering the Agon: Dissent and authority in Homer, Historiography and Tragedy (Oxford, 2009)—is in many ways very traditional. It’s the famous image (on the black-figure amphora by Exekias) of Achilles and Ajax playing dice. But it’s an image that worked for me not only because of its beauty—though hats off here to the team at OUP who extended the pot’s gleaming background (which sets off the black figures) to cover the entirety of the book’s cover in a fiery golden afterglow. Figure4This image also spoke to my book’s subject matter: namely, the idea of contest (agōn) and its representation in ancient Greek literature. In truth, I had a hard time finding an image that worked for me. I wanted some kind of ancient Greek artistic representation; perhaps because it was my first book (the “book of the thesis”), I felt it needed to be unambiguously classical. It should have been easy, right, to find an image from the whole corpus of ancient Greek ceramics, right? Wrong. I could find none of the scenes of debate in epic, history and tragedy, which were the core focus of my argument, that had been illustrated, not even—as one may have expected—the quarrel between Achilles and Agamemnon that starts off the Iliad with such a bang. There is a fresco, highly fragmented, from Pompeii’s House of the Dioscuri (on exhibition at the National Archaeological museum in Naples), which shows Achilles going for his sword; and of course there are later Renaissance paintings depicting the quarrel (such as Giovanni Battista Gaulli’s baroque rendering). But I could find none from the world of ancient Greek ceramics or friezes—perhaps because, as Robin Osborne pointed out to me, Greek artists simply were less interested in illustrating literary stories than in creating their own. (It is striking that the wall paintings from Pompeii *do* look like illustrations of early Greek literary narratives, including the moment Euripides’s Medea ponders killing her children.) What Exekias’s scene of gaming heroes gave me was a hint not only of the formalisation of contest, but also of the prominence of Achilles (who in my argument institutionalises contest in the arena of debate) and, moreover, of his pairing with Ajax (whose story in Sophocles’s tragedy formed one of my chapters).

 

The second book I needed to choose an image for presented a rather different challenge. This was for an edited volume entitled: New Worlds out of Old Texts: Revisiting Ancient Space and Place (Oxford, 2016). Figure7The book derived from an interdisciplinary project that I had led called Hestia, which investigated representations of space and place in Herodotus, as well as the spatial construction underpinning his Histories. At the heart of the book was a discussion of the different disciplinary approaches that we undertook, spread over three chapters (which I co-authored with different team members), exploring: digital annotation and mapping (with Leif Isaksen and Jessica Ogden), geographical spatial theory (with Stefan Bouzarvoski), and philological close reading (with Chris Pelling). Our resulting book included other contributors working in this space (pardon the pun), who had presented at our conference in Oxford, and who, like our team, represented an array of disciplines—not only Classical Studies, but also archaeology, digital humanities, and the history of thought. The image I wanted, then, needed to respect these different disciplinary approaches while at the same time hinting at ways in which they might be combined and intertwined (for interdisciplinary research). And, of course, it needed to be in some way spatial, to suggest the complexity of trying to represent and unpick spatial entities and relations. A web-designer friend (a shout-out here to Richard Rowley of Agile Collective) put me on to London-based artist Emma McNally, whose work attempts to “portray essence not as substance… but rather as the result of a process of reciprocal determination, where individual lines, markings, and trajectories are brought to significance through their interrelations with those around them” (https://www.flickr.com/people/emmamcnally/). After getting her approval (she was very happy for us to use her work provided that she got a copy of our book: gold armour for bronze, as Homer would say!), I chose her scratches, traces, spaces. This work on graphite (“a medium that lends itself perfectly to [a] sort of rhythmic making and unmaking. It is a material for palimpsest”: ibid) seemed to me to perfectly capture the spatial palimpsests that many of us were striving to reveal and more closely examine in our texts, while also being provocatively new and overtly relational. Emma later informed me that the very same artwork was used by Ridley Scott as a navigation map in his latest Alien prequel Convenant. If it’s good enough for Ridley…!

Figure8

All this brings me to the last image—the one that Joel had invited me to write about in the first place… Our book, Homer’s Thebes, sets out to argue that the Iliad and Odyssey (mis)represent heroes and themes from the Theban tradition to set out and realise the unique superiority of these texts in performance. In arguing this, we are attempting to view the Homeric poems in a new light, by emphasizing a non-hierarchical model of “reading” them and the Epic Cycle together within the framework of oral-formulaic poetics and artistic rivalry. With this in mind, we wanted an image that suggested Homer in some way (epic poetry, heroes, etc.) but that wasn’t a straightforward classical take on that. From a very early stage I was convinced that a cubist painting of some kind would work, with that central idea of taking something familiar (for us, reading Homer; for Homer’s audience, the Troy story and the siege of Thebes) and, by viewing it from different perspectives, producing a radically different picture (a Troy story that emphasises internal conflict among the Achaeans, for instance). For me, cubist works echo the type of violent reception and adaptation that our book is about. But here we ran into a significant problem that meets anyone looking to reuse a contemporary image, whether that is a museum photograph of an ancient artefact or a modern painting in a gallery’s collection: copyright. For all the cubist paintings that I could find that seemed to dialogue with our approach, the answer kept coming back from our publishers that we couldn’t use them because of the copyright and/or the costs involved. Out went The Thebaid by Wyndham Lewis, along with his Composition; we fared no better with Barbara Hepworth’s Two Heroes; we couldn’t even use Le Poète by Picasso, even though I had sourced it from Wikipedia.

Just as I was beginning to despair, and I thought that we would have to give up on this idea of a cubist-style makeover for our Homer, I had the inspiration to look for works by modern Greek artists. I knew that ever since the twentieth century, Greek writers and painters alike have been grappling with the problem of their country’s complicated (and often times suffocating) classical legacy. And thus I had the fortune to come across the work of Nikos Engonopoulos. He’s the painter most famous in Greece for revisiting classical themes in a distinct modern style (tending towards surrealism). Having found a number of post-classical images that I thought that we could use, I contacted the person responsible for his website and who owns the copyright to his works, his daughter Errietti Engonopoulou. Like Emma, Errietti could not have been more accommodating, and immediately allowed us to use a high-resolution image of the image that we decided on.

I present to you Engonopoulou’s 1939 oil on canvas The poet and the muse. We hope that you like it as much as we do.

Figure9

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