Mirabile Lectu! The Book That Was Born a Blog

 “As soon as the opportunity arrives, give yourself over to your studies or to leisure”

ut primum fuerit occasio, relinque teque studiis vel otio trade

Pliny Letters, 1.9

Way back in 2014, Erik and I sat down to read the Commentary to the Iliad by Eustathius, the Archbishop of Thessaloniki, and before reading more than a few words, we ended up starting on the Homeric Batrakhomuomakhia.

[here is the publisher’s homepage]

Anyone who knows either of us or who spends time in our classes would not find this all that surprising–we (and especially I) tend to leap from topic to topic with fury and swoon under the emotional influence of texts and languages both living and dead. At the time, Erik was thinking about teaching high school and I was moving into my post-tenure malaise.

We got to know each other a few years before. I used to have students read Greek with me in the summer. Erik–who was not my student and had graduated before I was a faculty member at UTSA–joined and quickly demonstrated that (1) he knew Latin a lot better than me and (2) he cared a lot more about scholarly minutiae than I typically did.

I cannot say with strong enough force that the time we spent together over the next few years changed the way I taught, read, and thought about the ancient world. By the time we sat down to read Eustathius, Erik was in my mind an intellectual model and a true friend.

During the early years of this blog, I struggled a bit to find a partner who had the time, energy, and interest to make it into something more than it was. Erik showed pretty quickly that he had these qualities, but also a different vision–as is clear from his essays on varied subjects.

As I begin from the first page, I pray that the chorus
comes from Helikon for the sake of the song
I have just set down on the tablets at my knees;
a song of limitless strife–the war-rousing work of Ares–
because I hope to send to the ears of all mortal men
how the mice went forth to best the frogs
in imitation of the deeds of the earth born men, the giants.
Or so the tale went among men. It has this kind of beginning.

When I asked Erik if he wanted to read the “Homeric Battle of Frogs and Mice” instead, it was an easy sell. We used to spend time in my office once of twice a week, using multiple monitors and just spreading all the texts we could around the place, Sometimes we would get through two lines in two hours. Sometimes we would do ten times as much. At first, we just thought we were posting translations, as we did. But, over time, as we realized we needed a commentary in English to finish our work and that we might as well write the commentary we needed, the posts changed. And, as a result, the blog changed too.

1 ᾿Αρχόμενος πρώτης σελίδος χορὸν ἐξ ῾Ελικῶνος
2 ἐλθεῖν εἰς ἐμὸν ἦτορ ἐπεύχομαι εἵνεκ’ ἀοιδῆς
3 ἣν νέον ἐν δέλτοισιν ἐμοῖς ἐπὶ γούνασι θῆκα,
4 δῆριν ἀπειρεσίην, πολεμόκλονον ἔργον ῎Αρηος,
5 εὐχόμενος μερόπεσσιν ἐς οὔατα πᾶσι βαλέσθαι
6 πῶς μύες ἐν βατράχοισιν ἀριστεύσαντες ἔβησαν,
7 γηγενέων ἀνδρῶν μιμούμενοι ἔργα Γιγάντων,
8 ὡς λόγος ἐν θνητοῖσιν ἔην• τοίην δ’ ἔχεν ἀρχήν.

So, in a way, the story of the book that came out today (“The Homeric Battle of the Frogs and Mice”, Bloomsbury 2018) is the story both of how a book came from a blog and how a blog became a book. At our wildest fancy, we thought we would pitch it to some open source repository or present it more completely on the website.

But we were afforded the otium to pursue and complete this project. We built up several documents in Dropbox and spent hours apart adding and subtracting to the comments and what we thought should be in the introduction…While kids and pets were sleeping or eating, we typed away at additional bits or did extra word searches. We had help from excellent libraries at the University of Texas at San Antonio, the Center for the Anthropology of the Ancient World at the University of Siena, and Brandeis University. We tested the commentary online and with graduate students at UT Austin and Brandeis.

“Clearly, something must be published – ah, it would be best if I could just publish what I have already finished!

Est enim plane aliquid edendum — atque utinam hoc potissimum quod paratum est!

Pliny the Younger

And]along the way, I think we had a pretty good time. After we had completed the book’s parts, we had a few conversations with the classics acquisitions editor at Bloomsbury. She was interested in the project, and, believe it or not, the blog and twitter feed’s following. That meeting was in the spring of 2016.

During the summer I left Texas for Boston (to return to teach at my undergraduate alma mater, Brandeis University) and Erik continued his teaching at a local high school with a serendipitously similar name. Ah, we no longer have those long Monday afternoons staring at ancient Greek! But we have the memory and this book. Imperfect as it may be, I feel incredibly lucky to have been a part of it.

Seneca, De Tranquilitate Animi

“Still nothing lightens the spirit as much as sweet and faithful friendship. What a good it is when hearts have been made ready in which every secret may be safely deposited, whose understanding of yourself you worry about less than your own, whose conversation relieves your fear, whose opinion hastens your plans, whose happiness dispels your sadness, and whose very sight delights you!”

Nihil tamen aeque oblectaverit animum, quam amicitia fidelis et dulcis. Quantum bonum est, ubi praeparata sunt pectora, in quae tuto secretum omne descendat, quorum conscientiam minus quam tuam timeas, quorum sermo sollicitudinem leniat, sententia consilium expediat, hilaritas tristitiam dissipet, conspectus ipse delectet!

BM

Two Roman Notes of Encouragement for Procrastinating Authors

I suspect there are others are just like me right now, keeping busy and avoiding the start of summer projects. Alas, Martial’s words ring in my head every morning: “You will live tomorrow, you say? Postumus, even living today is too late; he is the wise man, who lived yesterday.” (Cras uiues? Hodie iam uiuere, Postume, serum est: / ille sapit quisquis, Postume, uixit heri, 5.58). Here are two Roman authors talking about writing and publication.

Seneca, De Tranquillitate Animi 13-14

“Why do we need to compose work that will endure for generations? Why not stop driving to make sure posterity won’t be quiet about you? You have been born mortal—a silent funeral is less annoying! So, for the sake of passing time, write something for your use in a simple style not for publication. There is less need to work for those who study just for today.”

Quid opus est saeculis duratura componere? Vis tu non id agere, ne te posteri taceant? Morti natus es, minus molestiarum habet funus tacitum! Itaque occupandi temporis causa, in usum tuum, non in praeconium aliquid simplici stilo scribe; minore labore opus est studentibus in diem.

 

Pliny the Younger, Letters 10 To Octavius Rufus

“For the meantime, do as you wish regarding publication too. Recite it from time to time, then you may feel more eager to publish and then you may experience the joy I have long been predicting for you, and not without reason. I imagine what crowds, what admiration, what clamor then silence awaits you. (For myself, I like this as much as applause when I speak or read, as long as it shows a desire to hear me speaking). There is a great reward ready for you! Stop undermining your work with endless delay! When even this is excessive, we need to be wary of hearing the name of idleness, laziness, or even fear. Farewell!”

Et de editione quidem interim ut voles: recita saltem quo magis libeat emittere, utque tandem percipias gaudium, quod ego olim pro te non temere praesumo. Imaginor enim qui concursus quae admiratio te, qui clamor quod etiam silentium maneat; quo ego, cum dico vel recito, non minus quam clamore delector, sit modo silentium acre et intentum, et cupidum ulteriora audiendi. Hoc fructu tanto tam parato desine studia tua infinita ista cunctatione fraudare; quae cum modum excedit, verendum est ne inertiae et desidiae vel etiam timiditatis nomen accipiat. Vale.

Image result for Ancient Roman Book

Addendum:

Pliny the Younger, Letters 1.2

“Clearly, something must be published – ah, it would be best if I could just publish what I have already finished! (You may hear in this the wish of laziness.)

Est enim plane aliquid edendum — atque utinam hoc potissimum quod paratum est! Audis desidiae votum