Passion and Genius: A Reader’s Report from Pliny

Pliny, Letters 4.20

To My friend Novius Maximus

What I thought about each part of your book I sent you once I finished reading it. Now you can have my general judgment about the whole. It is a beautiful work, strong, sharp, deep; it is full of varied language with clear figures.

Its capacious nature will be equaled by the greatness of the praise you receive for it. In this work, you were driven as widely by your intelligence as your passion and each of these in turn has given the other strength: for your intelligence has added depth and magnitude to your passion while your passion has given your genius force and focus.

Plinius Novio Maximo Suo S.

Quid senserim de singulis tuis libris, notum tibi ut quemque perlegeram feci; accipe nunc quid de universis generaliter iudicem. Est opus pulchrum validum acre sublime, varium elegans purum figura­tum, spatiosum etiam et cum magna tua laude diffusum, in quo tu ingenii simul dolorisque velis latissime vectus es; et horum utrumque invicem adiumento fuit. Nam dolori sublimitatem et magnificentiam ingenium, ingenio vim et amaritudinem dolor addidit. Vale

Roman fresco of a blond maiden reading a text, Pompeian Fourth Style (60-79 AD), Pompeii, Italy

Pythagoras’ CV

Diogenes Laertius, Pythagoras 8.1

“Three books were composed by Pythagoras: Education, Politics, and Nature. But the one which is circulated as by him is really by Lysis of Tarentum, a Pythagorean, who was an exile in Thebes and a tutor to Epaminondas. Herakleides, the son of Sarapiôn, reports in his Epitome of Sotion that Pythagoras also wrote On Everything in epic verse, and, in addition, The Sacred Word which begins: “Young men, hold all these things in reverence with silence.”

Heracleides adds to this list third On the Soul, fourth, On Poetry, fifth, Helothales the Father of Epicharmus of Cos, sixth, Croton, and other works too. He also says that the Mystical Word was written by Hippasos to slander Pythagoras and that many works written by Aston of Kroton were misascribed to Pythagoras. Aristoxenos says that Pythagoras received most of his ethical beliefs from Themistokleia at Delphi.”

γέγραπται δὲ τῷ Πυθαγόρᾳ συγγράμματα τρία, Παιδευτικόν, Πολιτικόν, Φυσικόν· τὸ δὲ φερόμενον ὡς Πυθαγόρου Λύσιδός ἐστι τοῦ Ταραντίνου Πυθαγορικοῦ, φυγόντος εἰς Θήβας καὶ Ἐπαμεινώνδα καθηγησαμένου. φησὶ δ᾿ Ἡρακλείδης ὁ τοῦ Σαραπίωνος ἐν τῇ Σωτίωνος ἐπιτομῇ γεγραφέναι αὐτὸν καὶ Περὶ τοῦ ὅλου ἐν ἔπεσιν, δεύτερον τὸν Ἱερὸν λόγον, οὗ ἡ ἀρχή·

ὦ νέοι, ἀλλὰ σέβεσθε μεθ᾿ ἡσυχίης τάδε πάντα·

τρίτον Περὶ ψυχῆς, τέταρτον Περὶ εὐσεβείας, πέμπτον Ἡλοθαλῆ τὸν Ἐπιχάρμου τοῦ Κῴου πατέρα, ἕκτον Κρότωνα καὶ ἄλλους. τὸν δὲ Μυστικὸν λόγον Ἱππάσου φησὶν εἶναι, γεγραμμένον ἐπὶ διαβολῇ Πυθαγόρου, πολλοὺς δὲ καὶ ὑπὸ Ἄστωνος τοῦ Κροτωνιάτου γραφέντας ἀνατεθῆναι Πυθαγόρᾳ. φησὶ δὲ καὶ Ἀριστόξενος τὰ πλεῖστα τῶν ἠθικῶν δογμάτων λαβεῖν τὸν Πυθαγόραν παρὰ Θεμιστοκλείας τῆς ἐν Δελφοῖς.

Detail of Pythagoras  from The School of Athens by Raphael.  Rome, 1509.

Didn’t Get What You Want for Christmas? Cicero Writes His Brother About Books

Cicero, Letters to Quintus 25

“I believe that you will anticipate that I didn’t lose those books without some kind of a stomach ache…”

puto enim te existimaturum a me illos libros non sine aliquo meo stomacho esse relictos.

Cicero, Letters to Quintus 24

“Concerning the issue of supplementing your Greek library and trading books in order to acquire Latin ones, I would really like to help get this done, since these exchanges are to my benefit as well. But I don’t have anyone even for my own purposes whom I can trust with this. The kinds of books which are helpful are not for sale and they cannot be procured without a deeply learned person who has a serious work ethic.”

De bibliotheca tua Graeca supplenda, libris commutandis, Latinis comparandis, valde velim ista confici, praesertim cum ad meum quoque usum spectent. sed ego mihi ipsi ista per quem agam non habeo. neque enim venalia sunt, quae quidem placeant, et confici nisi per hominem et peritum et diligentem non possunt.

Bonus Quotes from Cato, Dicta Catonis

“Read books”

“Remember the things you read”

Libros lege.

Quae legeris memento.


Picture stolen from here

Life In Exchange for Burning Your Books?

The following piece from the elder Seneca (Yes, Seneca the Elder, not the Younger) is based upon the imaginary story that Marcus Antonius offered to preserve Cicero’s life in exchange for the destruction of all his books. 

Seneca the Elder, Suasoria 7

Cicero Deliberates whether to burn all his writings since Antony has promised his safety if he did so

Deliberat Cicero an scripta sua conburat, promittente Antonio incolumitatem si fecisset, 11

Here the conditions [of the agreement] were intolerable. For nothing is so intolerable as to burn up the proofs of your own genius. In addition, this was an insult to the Roman people, whose language Cicero had elevated so that their eloquence outstripped the knowledge of arrogant Greece as much as their fortune in war. This would be a crime against humanity! Cicero would regret breaths bought at so high a price, since he would have to grow old as a slave using his eloquence only for one thing: praising Antony. This was a wretched sentence: to be granted life, but surrender genius.

Pompeius Silo proceeded to argue that Antony was not negotiating but instead was mocking Cicero. This was a not a condition, it was an insult: For even after the books were burned he would still kill him. Antony was not so foolish that he believed that burning the books was a concern to Cicero, a man whose writings were already famous over the whole world. Antony did not seek this thing he could do himself, unless of course he did not have the power over Cicero’s books which he had over Cicero. He sought nothing other than to kill Cicero after reducing him to a state of shame because he had spoken bravely and often about his contempt for death. Hence, Antony was not giving him life on a condition, but he was seeking his death in dishonor. Thus, Cicero ought to suffer bravely now what he would certainly suffer later in shame.

Hic condiciones intolerabiles. <Nihil tam intolerabile> esse quam monumenta ingenii sui ipsum exurere. Iniuriam illum facturum populo Romano, cuius linguam huc ipse extulisset ut insolentis Graeciae studia tanto antecederet eloquentia quantofortuna; iniuriam facturum generi humano. Paenitentiam illum acturum tam care spiritus empti, cum in servitute senescendum fuisset <et> in hoc unum eloquentia utendum, ut laudaret Antonium. Male cum illo agi: dari vitam, eripi ingenium.

Silo Pompeius sic egit ut diceret Antonium non pacisci sed inludere: non esse illam condicionem sed contumeliam; combustis enim libris nihilominus occisurum; non esse tam stultum Antonium ut putaret ad rem pertinere libros a Cicerone conburi, cuius scripta per totum orbem terrarum celebrarentur, nec hoc petere eum, quod posset ipse facere, nisi forte non esset in scripta Ciceronis ei ius cui esset in Ciceronem; quaeri nihil aliud quam ut ille Cicero multa fortiter de mortis contemptu locutus ad turpes condiciones perductus occideretur. Antonium illi non vitam cum condicione promittere, sed mortem sub infamia quaerere. Itaque quod turpiter postea passurus esset, nunc illum debere fortiter pati.


Image result for Ancient Rome Cicero and Marcus Antonius
Not a fan of Cicero.

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

Tyrants in the Stacks: Pisistratus, the First Librarian?

Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights 7.17

17: Who was the first of all to provide books for the public to read; and what quantity of books were in Athenian public libraries before the Persian invasions?

Pisistratus the tyrant is said to have been the first to make books of liberal disciplines available to be read publicly in Athens. Afterwards, the Athenians themselves increased the collection eagerly and carefully. But later when Xerxes became master of Athens and the city was burned except for the citadel, he stole the entire collection and took it to Persia. Many years later, King Seleucus, who was nicknamed Nicanor, made sure that all of these books were returned to Athens.

At a later date, a great number of books—nearly seven hundred thousand volumes, were either collected or published in Egypt under the Ptolemaic kings; but these books were all burned in our first Alexandrian War during the sack of the city—this wasn’t done on purpose or by any orders, but accidentally by the auxiliary regiment.”

 XVII. Quis omnium primus libros publice praebuerit legendos; quantusque numerus fuerit Athenis ante clades Persicas librorum in bibliothecis publicorum.

1 Libros Athenis disciplinarum liberalium publice ad legendum praebendos primus posuisse dicitur Pisistratus tyrannus. Deinceps studiosius accuratiusque ipsi Athenienses auxerunt; sed omnem illam postea librorum copiam Xerxes Athenarum potitus urbe ipsa praeter arcem incensa abstulit asportavitque in Persas. 2 Eos porro libros universos multis post tempestatibus Seleucus rex, qui Nicanor appellatus est, referendos Athenas curavit. 3 Ingens postea numerus librorum in Aegypto ab Ptolemaeis regibus vel conquisitus vel confectus est ad milia ferme voluminum septingenta; sed ea omnia bello priore Alexandrino, dum diripitur ea civitas, non sponte neque opera consulta, sed a militibus forte auxiliaris incensa sunt.


[The War mentioned here is likely 48 CBE; the Library at Alexandria was rebuilt by 41 BCE. It was burned again in 272 CE and abandoned by the end of the 4th century CE]

Ingres - Pisistratus head and left hand of Alcibiades, 1824-1834.jpg
From here

Mouse Meets Frog: Both Die Terribly

Aesop, Fabula 302

“There was a time when all the animals spoke the same language. A mouse who was on friendly terms with a frog, invited him to dinner and led him into a storehouse of his wealth where he kept his bread, cheese, honey, dried figs and all of his precious things. And he said “Eat whatever you wish, Frog.”

Then the Frog responded: “When you come visit me, you too will have your fill of fine things. But I don’t want you to be nervous, so I will fasten your foot to my foot.” After the Frog bound his foot to the mouse’s and dragging him in this way, he pulled the tied-up mouse into the pond. While he drowned, he said “I am being corpsified by you, but I will be avenged by someone still alive!” A bird who saw the mouse afloat flew down and seized him. The Frog went aloft with him too and thus, the bird slaughtered them both.

A wicked plot between friends is thus a danger to them both”

ὅτε ἦν ὁμόφωνα τὰ ζῷα, μῦς βατράχῳ φιλιωθεὶς ἐκάλεσεν αὐτὸν εἰς δεῖπνον καὶ ἀπήγαγεν αὐτὸν εἰς ταμιεῖον πλουσίου, ὅπου ἦν ἄρτος, τυρός, μέλι, ἰσχάδες καὶ ὅσα
ἀγαθά, καί φησιν „ἔσθιε, βάτραχε, ἐξ ὧν βούλει.” ὁ δὲ βάτραχος ἔλεγε• „ἐλθὼν οὖν καὶ σὺ πρὸς ἐμὲ ἐμπλήσθητι τῶν ἀγαθῶν μου. ἀλλ’ ἵνα μὴ ὄκνος σοι γένηται, προσαρτήσω τὸν πόδα σου τῷ ποδί μου.” δήσας οὖν ὁ βάτραχος τὸν πόδα τοῦ μυὸς τῷ ἑαυτοῦ ποδὶ ἥλατο εἰς τὴν λίμνην ἕλκων καὶ τὸν μῦν δέσμιον. ὁ δὲ πνιγόμενος ἔλεγεν• „ἐγὼ μὲν ὑπό σου νεκρωθήσομαι, ἐκδικήσομαι δὲ ὑπὸ ζῶντος.” λούππης δὲ θεασάμενος τὸν μῦν πλέοντα καταπτὰς ἥρπα-σεν. ἐφέλκετο οὖν σὺν αὐτῷ καὶ ὁ βάτραχος καὶ οὕτως ἀμφοτέρους διεσπάραξεν.
ὅτι ἡ τῶν φίλων πονηρὰ συμβουλὴ καὶ ἑαυτοῖς κίνδυνος γίνεται.

Note 1: ὁμόφωνα τὰ ζῷα, “common animal language”: It is unclear whether, in these halcyon days before the fall from linguistic harmony, a Frog would squeak or a Mouse would croak when in the other’s company.

Note 2: ἐμπλήσθητι τῶν ἀγαθῶν :”you will have your fill of good things”. If the Mouse knew his Pindar (῎Αριστον μὲν ὕδωρ, 1.1), he would suspect that the Frog will do what in fact does, which is to fill his lungs with water. This illustrates that good things are in fact relative. A Mouse and Frog will hold different things dear.

This fabula (and more!) appears in our book on the Homeric Battle of the Frogs and Mice. This is a periodic reminder that it exists: Here is Bloomsbury’s Homepage for the book.

This bad-boy is coming out in paperback soon…

The Curriculum Vitae of Telephos of Pergamon

Suda, s.v. Τήλεφος

Telephos the Pergamêne, a scholar. He also wrote […] in which he specifies all the things a scholar needs to know. In addition: On Homeric Figures of Speech (two books); On Attic Syntax (five books); On Rhetoric in Homer; On Agreement of Homer and Plato; On A Varied Love of Knowledge; The Lives of Tragic and Comic Poets; On Expert Knowledge of Books, three books in which he lists the books which are worth having. Only Homer of the Ancient Poets Speaks Greek, A Description of Pergamon; On the Sebasteion in Pergamon (two books); On the Courts of Athens; On Athenian Laws and Customs; On the Kings of Pergamon (five books); Concerning the Names or Use of Clothing and Other Items which We Use (an alphabetical catalogue); On the Wandering of Odysseus; Swift-Born (a collection of epithets prepared for use in the same situation as a treasure-trove for description), ten books.”

Περγαμηνός, γραμματικός. ἔγραψε καὶ αὐτὸς ** ἐν οἷς παρατίθεται πόσα χρὴ εἰδέναι τὸν γραμματικόν· Περὶ τῶν παρ᾽ ῾Ομήρωι σχημάτων ῥητορικῶν βιβλία β̄· Περὶ συντάξεως λόγου᾽Αττικοῦ βιβλία ε̄· Περὶ τῆς καθ᾽ ῞Ομηρον ῥητορικῆς· Περὶ τῆς ῾Ομήρου καὶ Πλάτωνος συμφωνίας· Ποικίλης φιλομαθείας βιβλία β̄· βίους τραγικῶν καὶ κωμικῶν· βιβλιακῆς ἐμπειρίας βιβλία γ̄, ἐν οἷς διδάσκει τὰ κτήσεως ἄξια βιβλία· ῞Οτι μόνος ῞Ομηρος τῶν ἀρχαίων ἑλληνίζει· Περιήγησιν Περγάμου· Περὶ τοῦ ἐν Περγάμωι Σεβαστίου βιβλία β̄· Περὶ τῶν᾽Αθήνησι δικαστηρίων· Περὶ τῶν᾽Αθήνησι νόμων καὶ ἐθῶν· Περὶ τῶν Περγάμου Βασιλέων βιβλία ε̄· Περὶ χρήσεως ἤτοι ὀνομάτων ἐσθῆτος καὶ τῶν ἄλλων οἷς χρώμεθα (ἔστι δὲ κατὰ στοιχεῖον)· Περὶ τῆς᾽Οδυσσέως πλάνης· ᾽Ωκυτόκιον (ἔστι δὲ συναγωγὴ ἐπιθέτων εἰς τὸ αὐτὸ πρᾶγμα ἁρμοζόντων πρὸς ἕτοιμον εὐπορίαν φράσεως) βιβλία ῑ.

byzantium libraries

Give Me The Books! Legacy Hunter, Bibliophile Edition

Cicero to Atticus, 1.20 12 May 60

“Now, so I might return to my own affair, Lucius Papirius Paetus, a good man and my fan, has set aside as a gift for me the books which Servius Claudius left. Because your friend Cincius informed me that it is permitted thanks to the Lex Cincias for me to take them, I told him happily that I would accept the books if he brought them to me. Now, if you care for me and you know that I care for you too, please endeavor through your friends, clients, guests even your freedmen and slaves if necessary, to ensure that not even a page is lost.

For I seriously need both the Greek books—which I have an idea about—and the Latin ones—which I know that he left. Day-by-day I find rest for myself in these books in whatever time is left for me from my political work. I will be really, really thankful if you would be as diligent in this as you are usually in the affairs which you understand concern me deeply. I also entrust to you Paetus’ personal business, concerning which he owes you the greatest thanks. And I not only ask but I even implore you to visit us soon.”

7 Nunc ut ad rem meam redeam, L. Papirius Paetus, vir bonus amatorque noster, mihi libros eos quos Ser. Claudius reliquit donavit. cum mihi per legem Cinciam licere capere Cincius amicus tuus diceret, libenter dixi me accepturum si attulisset. nunc si me amas, si te a me amari scis, enitere per amicos, clientis, hospites, libertos denique ac servos tuos, ut scida ne qua depereat. nam et Graecis iis libris quos suspicor et Latinis quos scio illum reliquisse mihi vehementer opus est. ego autem cottidie magis quod mihi de forensi labore temporis datur in iis studiis conquiesco. per mihi, per, inquam, gratum feceris si in hoc tam diligens fueris quam soles in iis rebus quas me valde velle arbitraris, ipsiusque Paeti tibi negotia commendo, de quibus tibi ille agit maximas gratias, et ut iam invisas nos non solum rogo sed etiam suadeo.

15th century Bologna, University Library. Cod. Bonon. 963, f. 4


Cicero might be a bit of a bibliomaniac. We have posted earlier about his letter to his brother, asking for books. He describes returning home as a reunion with his books. (Vergerio riffs on this) Petrarch seems to have contracted a similar disease. (Really, he was incurable.)

Antiquity had an apocryphal moral argument about Cicero earning his life in exchange for burning his books.

And although Mark Tully is all about giving books, he’s not much into lending them:

Letters to Atticus, 8

“Beware of lending your books to anyone; save them for me, as you write that you will. The greatest excitement for them has gripped me, along with a contempt for everything else.”

libros vero tuos cave cuiquam tradas; nobis eos, quem ad modum scribis, conserva. summum me eorum studium tenet, sicut odium iam ceterarum rerum.

Editing the Enneads

Porphyry, Life of Plotinus 24

“This is, therefore, our story of Plotinus’ life. When he assigned to me the arrangement and editing of his publications, I promised him when he was still alive and I also guaranteed our other friends to do that. So, first, I did not think it just to allow his books to be out of order from the time they were published but have imitated Apollodoros the Athenian and the peripatetic Andronicus. They first gathered the works of Epikharmos the comedic poet into ten collections and the second ordered the works of Aristotle and Theophrastos by subject matter, collecting into the same place similar theoretical discussions.

In a similar way, in fact, since I had 54 works of Plotinus, I separated the books into six groups of nine volumes each, chancing upon the final number six along with nines quite happily. Once I assembled similar topics into each Ennead, I gave the first place to the more tractable problems.”

Τοιοῦτος μὲν οὖν ὁ Πλωτίνου ἡμῖν ἱστόρηται βίος. Ἐπεὶ δὲ αὐτὸς τὴν διάταξιν καὶ τὴν διόρθωσιν τῶν βιβλίων ποιεῖσθαι ἡμῖν ἐπέτρεψεν, ἐγὼ δὲ κἀκείνῳ ζῶντι ὑπεσχόμην καὶ τοῖς ἄλλοις ἑταίροις ἐπηγγειλάμην ποιῆσαι τοῦτο, πρῶτον μὲν τὰ βιβλία οὐ κατὰ χρόνους ἐᾶσαι φύρδην ἐκδεδομένα ἐδικαίωσα, μιμησάμενος δ᾿ Ἀπολλόδωρον τὸν Ἀθηναῖον καὶ Ἀνδρόνικον τὸν Περιπατητικόν, ὧν ὁ μὲν Ἐπίχαρμον τὸν κωμῳδιογράφον εἰς δέκα τόμους φέρων συνήγαγεν, ὁ δὲ τὰ Ἀριστοτέλους καὶ Θεοφράστου εἰς πραγματείας διεῖλε τὰς οἰκείας ὑποθέσεις εἰς ταὐτὸν συναγαγών· οὕτω δὴ καὶ ἐγὼ νδ ὄντα ἔχων τὰ τοῦ Πλωτίνου βιβλία διεῖλον μὲν εἰς ἓξ ἐννεάδας τῇ τελειότητι τοῦ ἓξ ἀριθμοῦ καὶ ταῖς ἐννεάσιν ἀσμένως ἐπιτυχών, ἑκάστῃ δὲ ἐννεάδι τὰ οἰκεῖα φέρων συνεφόρησα δοὺς καὶ τάξιν πρώτην τοῖς ἐλαφροτέροις προβλήμασιν. Ἡ μὲν γὰρ πρώτη ἐννεὰς ἔχει τὰ ἠθικώτερα τάδε·

Image result for Plotinus