Ancient Math and Hellentistic Poetry

Interesting item from a Stanford press release:

Like novelists, mathematicians are creative authors. With diagrams, symbolism, metaphor, double entendre and elements of surprise, a good proof reads like a good story.

Reviel Netz, a professor of classics and, by courtesy, of philosophy, is especially interested in exploring the literary dimensions of the textual artifacts left by the likes of Archimedes and Euclid. Netz, one of the world’s preeminent experts on the works of Archimedes, sees proofs as narratives that lead the reader turn by turn through an unfolding story that ends with a mathematical solution.

In his book Ludic Proof: Greek Mathematics and the Alexandrian Aesthetic, Netz reveals the stunning stylistic similarities between Hellenistic poetry and mathematical texts from the same era.

Earlier this spring, Netz and other scholars engaged in the study of mathematics as text gathered at Stanford to discuss this growing area of academic inquiry.

[the article then goes into interview format]

How did you become interested in exploring the idea of mathematics as literature?

I was always interested in the ways in which mathematics – or science in general – is concretely experienced: not the abstract logic of it but the heartbeat-by-heartbeat sense of getting the piece of knowledge through one’s eyes, hands, thoughts. This gives rise very naturally to the thought of thinking of the taking-in of a mathematical text alongside the taking-in of a text in general, which is something literary scholars are sometimes interested in.

You have said that a math proof is more focused on the properties of text than any other human endeavor, short of poetry.

Mathematics is structured around texts – proofs – that have very rich protocols in terms of their textual arrangement, whether in the use of extra-verbal elements – diagrams – in the very layout, in the use of a particular formulaic language, in the structuring of the text. And its success or failure depends entirely on features residing in the text itself. It is really an activity very powerfully concentrated around the manipulation of written documents, more perhaps than anywhere else in science, and comparable, then, to modern poetry.

Can parallels be drawn between pre-modern mathematics and pre-modern literature?

Of course, and my book Ludic Proof: Greek Mathematics and the Alexandrian Aesthetic is precisely about the manner in which surprise, remarkable juxtapositions and the hybridization of genres are key norms for both mathematics and poetry in the culture of the Hellenistic Mediterranean.

How does an aesthetic examination of a mathematical text differ from studying the mathematical information?

When you study the information, you may translate the contents to whichever form suits you and consider its validity, axiomatic underpinning, etc; when you study its aesthetics, you must remain focused on the text as perceived historically.

How do you define or identify literary-like elements like metaphors in a mathematical proof?

Metaphor is fairly standard in mathematics. Mathematics can only become truly interesting and original when it involves the operation of seeing something as something else – a pair of similarly looking triangles, say, as a site for an abstract proportion; a diagonal crossing through the set of all real numbers.

You have said that a proof can be seen as having a complex narrative and even elements of surprise much like how a story unfolds. Can you give me an example?

You tell me, “I’m going to find the volume of a sphere.” And then you do nothing of the kind, going instead through an array of unrelated results – a cone here, a funny polygon there, various proportion results and general problems; then you make a thought experiment that shows how a sphere is like a series of cones produced from a certain funny polygon and, lo and behold, all the results do allow one a very quick determination of the volume of the sphere. Here is surprise and narrative. That’s Archimedes’ “Sphere and Cylinder” proof; it’s a typical mechanism in his works. Other authors are often much more sedate and progress in a more stately manner; this is Euclid’s approach.

Why is there a growing interest in studying the “aesthetic dimension of human endeavor,” and why is this a valuable course of study, especially in relation to mathematics?

There is an interest in the embodied experience of various fields, which gives rise to an interest in aesthetic. The unfortunate thing is that many scholars who study culture share this feeling but instead of actually engaging in the study of the aesthetic of a given culture – which would mean, essentially, a study of the formal properties of a historically situated group of artifacts – they engage in the ideas people had about aesthetics.

Would you say there is an art to being a mathematician?

Yes, it’s a cliché really, nothing I came up with. Mathematicians are always intensely aware of the aesthetic dimension of their own craft. I basically just try to say this is no mere waxing lyrical, there’s a concrete reality that needs to be studied.

Netz has been often mentioned at rogueclassicism for his work with the Archimedes Palimpsest …

A Whispering Column of Jerash in Queens

Checking into a somewhat nutty item sent me to an interesting item from the New York Public Library a few months ago … some excerpts:

The Whispering Column of Jerash stands quietly in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens. Many people walk pass this ancient treasure not realizing that it dates back to 120 A.D. Many do not know that this column is the second oldest outdoor antiquity monument behind the famed Cleopatra’s Needle in Central Park.

The inscription on the plaque states:

“This column was presented to the New York Worlds Fair and the City of New York by his Majesty King Hussein of the Hachamite Kingdom of Jordan on the occasion of Jordan’s participation in the Fair. The column was received by the Hon. Robert Moses, President, New York World’s Fair 1964-65 Corp. This is one of many columns in a temple erected by the Romans in 120 A.D. that stood in the Roman City of Jerash. The columns are known as the Whispering Columns of Jerash.”

Details of the Column

The Whispering Column of Jerash stands 30 feet tall, topped with a Corinthian capital. The Column is located east of the Unisphere in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. During the New York World’s Fair 1964-65, the Jordanian Pavilion stood adjacent to the column. The Kingdom of Jordan gifted the column so that the column would serve as a permanent monument in the post-Fair park (NY Worlds Fair records, 1964-65, box 278)

This tells only part of the story. The column was transported over 5,700 hundred miles from Jerash, Jordan, to become an attraction of the New York World’s Fair 1964-1965.

[...]

The Whispering Columns of Jerash are part of the temple of Artemis. Artemis is the daughter of Zeus and Leto, and the twin of Apollo. She is the goddess of the hunt, known to assist in childbirth.

When you stand in the middle of the temple and whisper, the sound of your voice reverberates. Whispering galleries or amphitheaters that are naturally curved may result in the effect of having your voice bounce off the walls.

[...]

Note to self: look into ancient ‘whispering galleries’ … I thought they were a Renaissance thing.

Whispering Column of Jerash: 120 AD

Whispering Column of Jerash: 120 AD (Photo credit: Rebexta)

Missing Bits from the Cadeby Hoard Turn Up

Adrian Murdoch mentioned this one on Twitter … from the Star:

PART of a treasure-trove dating back to Roman times has mysteriously surfaced at an antiques fair – almost 30 years after the rest of it was found in a Doncaster wood.

A silver bracelet dating back to the third century is now wanted by Doncaster Museum so they can reunite it with the rest of the famous Cadeby Hoard discovered by a local metal detector enthusiast in 1981.

Yesterday the way was cleared for the Chequer Road museum to acquire it from the owners – an ancient artefacts dealer in Essex – after Doncaster Coroner Nicola Mundy declared the bracelet to be treasure-trove.

Experts from the British Museum, who will now decide its value, are convinced it would have been hidden in the same place as 112 silver Roman coins and four silver bracelets in Pot Ridings Wood, Cadeby, in the period after AD 250.

The Cadeby Hoard, which attracted national interest at the time, was found hidden in a rock crevice in October 1981 by Brendan Kennedy, of Victorian Crescent, Town Moor, while using his metal detector.

But the hearing was unable to shed any light on how the bracelet came to change hands separately at the Newark Antiques Fair in 2009 – where it was sold by Nottingham man Kevin Darby, who has no knowledge of the finder.

He was unable to attend yesterday’s hearing because he is recovering from a heart attack.

In a statement Mr Darby said he had had the bracelet for many years, and bought it t because he liked it.

The bracelet is 85 per cent silver with a carnelian gemstone. At almost 62mm wide it weighs 62.8g. It is believed to have been made by a silversmith in Lincoln or York between 250 and 280AD.

While researching on the internet Mr Darby found a similar bracelet in the Doncaster Museum collection and visited to see the others from the Cadeby Hoard.

He also showed it to museum staff and added: “I have done everything by the book.”

The bracelet was bought by Essex-based dealers Timeline Originals, whose chief executive, Brett Hammond, said they were told it had been excavated prior to 1975 and before treasure hunters’ legislation was tightened up.

Ms Mundy received an expert’s report from the British Museum, with Ian Richardson saying the bracelet dated from the third century and bore ‘strong similarities’ with two found in Pot Ridings Wood.

“Analysis suggest this bracelet is another element of the Cadeby Hoard and should be considered retrospectively as treasure-trove,” he stated.

The coroner concurred, saying the bracelet had ‘strong similarities’ with the Cadeby Hoard bracelets.

She said: “I believe it was part of that earlier hoard and would have been deposited under the same rock.”

The treasure-trove declaration means the object – currently in the custody of the British Museum – is now owned by the Crown and will be valued by experts before being offered for sale.

… not sure why I can’t find anything of substance about the Cadebury Hoard … (should be Cadeby)

Roman Salting Factory from Denia/Dianum

While poking around for more details about the Villajoyosa finds (see next item), I came across another item of interest in Euroweekly from back in February that I missed:

FOLLOWING on from the recent discovery of archaeological remains in the heart of Denia, a new excavation has brought to light the structures of an ancient salting factory under the town’s modern buildings.

The remains appear to be late Roman, dating from the 4th and 5th centuries, when old Denia went under its Roman name of Dianium, and consisted of “ a set of four contiguous pools of regular ground, dug into the earth, and have a strong coating of signinum opus (a heavy lime based plaster)” said local architect and the head of Denia’s Municipal Architecture Department, Josep A Gisbert.

These structures “are related to a common type of late Roman factory, the likes of which have been well documented along the coast of the Levante, and coastal enclaves of Andalusia and Tarragona “ continued Sr. Gisbert.

Archaeological excavations in this area have not yet been completed.

And this week works are commencing on a new ‘dig’ in Denia in an attempt to expose more of the extensive factory remains and so gain better understanding of the factory and its workings.

The factories were coastal based to give easy access to salt beds, and so also were conveniently situated to offer instant salting for the locally caught fish trade.

“It’s (the salting works) special location is in an area close to the old city centre, adjacent to the forum (the main square in Roman times). This proves a strong urban regression from the classical city, which has overlapping ruins of industrial and domestic architecture, as well as fifth and sixth century cemeteries,“ said Sr. Gisbert.

The discovery “leads to another conclusion” he said, “this small salting factory which ran for almost one thousand five hundred years and was part of the fabric of Dianium, is a historical reference that confirms the presence of salted fish in the diet and work of the people’s daily lives.” In short, archaeology is not simply the study of old rocks. It tells us things. It explains life.

Excavating Allon/Villajoyosa

One of those items from EuroWeekly which is crying out for more detail:

THE archeological excavations in front of the gas station and plaza de la Generalista ton Avenida del Pais Valenciano in Villajoyosa have been completed.

They were carried out to be able to reconstruct the history of the ancient Roman city of Allon.

“This has been one of the most difficult excavations in the history of the area,” said Councillor Pepe Lloret.

“Despite this, the team has been able to uncover key aspects to help us understand this ancient city.”

The limit of Allon was discovered, although not all of it can be seen as some is below the national motorway.

Part of the ancient town was destroyed in the 1930s when roads were built.

It was found it was a unique town of its time in that the homes had their own private bathrooms at a time when communal toilets were common.

via: Villajoyosa Roman city excavation finished (EuroWeekly)

… looking for more details, I find that back in February, there was a report on this dig that I missed, however, so:

THE rich historical heritage of the Costa Blanca surfaced again, when it was reported that a 2,000-year-old pen was discovered in Villajoyosa during the excavation of a storm drain on the outskirts of the town.

The find coincided with works on a deposito – rain collector tank – when an ancient grain silo was exposed. It was within this ancient space that the bone stylus was discovered.

The item dates from an estimated 2,200 years ago in the area of Villajoiosa which sits on the old settlement which the Romans called Allon.

The bone instrument was carved to be sharp at its writing tip, and beveled flat at the opposite end to be used to erase errors, by smearing smooth the wax tablet on which the script was written – rather than modern paper – and the granary space was 1.8m across.

The finds were made by the town’s municipal archeology team when alerted to the presence of the old structure.

The storm drain is set to run for 800m, and following this first find, parts of the works have been cordoned off for archeological surveys to be carried out, and so ensure no other items of archeological significance are damaged by the works.

Ninety per cent of the drain is to be surveyed, illustrating the expanse of historical riches in the area. “The area of the find was special in giving good views out over the Bay of Allon (Villajoyosa),” said Antonio Espinosa, head of Villajoyosa’s heritage museum.

“And for this reason the place grew into an important settlement, being an Iberian community even before the arrival of the Romans.”

“The silo was a large hole sunk deep into the ground which would have been lined with burnt clay and plastered, before storing roasted grain that could then be used throughout the year,” said Villajoiosa’s Councillor Pepe Lloret.

In addition to the stylus and grain store, recent municipal works in the town have bared a Roman road that led north to Valencia, as well as hundreds of tombs in a substantial Roman graveyard.

Latin Summer with Ascanius Youth Classics

I think we need to give the Ascanius Youth Classics people some props (I’ve left the links live in this one for folks who want to follow up … from the Magic City Post:

LatinSummer Birmingham is a 10-day summer program that exposes kids to the world of the ancient Romans through hands on activities. The program is for 2nd to 7thgraders from July 16 to July 27 at Samford University. The goal of the program is to spark interest in the classical world in children, so no prior knowledge is necessary. Students from all over the southeast are invited to enroll.

“Roman history and Latin, and the Classics, have a reputation for being taught in a dull way or being really difficult.  Instead, we want to bring the Romans to young students in a way that’s exciting and sparks their interest,” said Lisa Yeager, Director of LatinSummer Birmingham.

The program is designed to provide fun activities that meet the goals of a liberal arts education. The program focuses on three parts: ancient Roman culture, Greco-Roman mythology, and classical and conversational Latin. Students are encouraged to make connections between what they learn and their own lives.

“Students are going to study the Romans and Greeks at various points in school, so we want them to have a positive experience like LatinSummer to build on as a framework for really understanding the ancient world when they get to World History class or Literature class later on,” Yeager said.

Ascanius Youth Classics Institute, a nonprofit organization, has conducted the LatinSummer program in cities throughout the eastern United States, but LatinSummer Birmingham will be the first to take place in the southeast. The program in Birmingham is a partnership with the Samford University Department of Classics.

“LatinSummer benefits students because they make these beautiful connections between the past and the present,” said Yeager.

For more information on Ascanuis Youth Classics Institute check out their website and Facebook. For more information on LatinSummer Birmingham, including how to enroll a child, check out their website and Facebook.

via: LatinSummer Birmingham Introduces Kids to the Ancient World (Magic City Post)

William Murray Looks at Naval Warfare in the Ancient Mediterranean

Nice feature in USF News on William Murray’s ongoing research:

Shipping and Greek culture connect University of South Florida Professor William Murray and Aristotle Onassis, a legendary titan in the shipping industry – a connection born of Murray’s lifelong love of sailing and the Onassis legacy.

More than three decades of research about some of the world’s oldest ships made Murray the perfect choice to launch a new book series sponsored by the prestigious Onassis Foundation in cooperation with Oxford University Press. The new Onassis Series in Hellenic Culture features books on topics presented in the Foundation’s highly-respected University Seminar Program, which selected Murray as a professor in 2007.

Others selected for the series include Professors Alain Bresson, University of Chicago; Simon Goldhill, University of Cambridge; Edith Hall, University of London; Mary Lefkowitz, Wellesley College; Henry Maguire, Johns Hopkins University; Claudia Rapp, UCLA; and Tim Whitmarsh from Corpus Christi College, Oxford. Each author is an eminent authority on an aspect of Hellenic or Byzantine history or culture.

In March, Murray introduced the first volume of this new series to a standing-room only audience in the Atrium of the Olympic Cultural Center in Manhattan. His groundbreaking book, The Age of the Titans: The Rise and Fall of the Great Hellenistic Navies, tells the story of the world’s first naval arms race. He explains, using fascinating new insights, how powerful kings built warships that were longer than football fields and crewed by thousands of men.

Murray, The Mary and Gus Stathis Professor of Greek History, in the Department of History at USF, always tries to marry archaeology with history, particularly as concerns the sea and maritime culture. That pursuit has led him to numerous archeological projects in Greece, Israel and Turkey, on land and underwater.

Having immersed himself in examining the artifacts and details of life from ancient Greece and Rome, Murray speaks with great authority. His love of the subject infuses his descriptions of the period with the kind of enthusiasm that makes his students feel he’s reporting from experience.

He’s particularly fascinated by the warships. Though none have survived in their entirety, shipwrecks have provided important pieces of evidence to support descriptions recorded from that era.

“We know that the largest weighed hundreds of tons and were crewed by more than a thousand men,” Murray said. “An important feature was the ship’s bow ram, a large bronze warhead of extraordinary workmanship and technical sophistication.”

He traces the roots of the naval arms race to slightly before 400 BC, when warships were first used to support siege warfare, attacking one another in prow-to-prow collisions. The game changer came in 332 BC.

“When Alexander used his navy to attack the island city of Tyre, it was as if he dropped an atomic bomb,” Murray said. “He used ships fitted with artillery and siege machinery to pound the city walls and break through the harbor defenses in ways that astounded both his friends and enemies. Thereafter, naval warfare was never the same.

“Alexander owed his success to his father Philip II, who had put together an ‘army corps of engineers’ whose R&D efforts jump-started the evolution to enormous vessels armed at the bow with ponderous bronze rams, driven by hundreds of oarsmen seated on multiple levels.”

When asked what drove such military research, Murray said, “policymakers and need. Phillip challenged his engineers to shorten his sieges of coastal cities and they responded by drawing up the plans that his son put into practice at Tyre. Alexander’s use of warships as integral parts of a new naval siege unit was revolutionary.”

Past researchers have focused their efforts on the big ships themselves – theorizing how they were rowed – but Murray wanted to know the answer to another question, namely, “what were big ships built to achieve?”

To get the answer, he combed through ancient texts and became more and more convinced that concrete strategic objectives drove the invention and development of larger than normal galleys. “The answer was so simple,” he said, “I wondered why no one else had come up with it before. The big ships were developed to attack and defend coastal cities – to literally bash through physical barriers strung across harbor mouths – and not to participate in duels with other big ships in set naval battles.”

A chance string of discoveries by others – one in 1913, another in 1980 – followed by a few “eureka” moments of his own started Murray on this line of reasoning.

While a graduate student at the American School of Classical Studies in Greece, he saw the partially excavated, overgrown weed-filled site of an ancient victory monument. It had been built by Augustus to commemorate his victory over Anthony and Cleopatra in the famous Actian War. More than 200,000 troops and 800 ships are said to have taken part in that historic fight for control of the Roman Empire.

“Overlooking the battle zone, on the side of a hill where Augustus had pitched his tent, one can still see the ghostly outlines of warship rams preserved in the stone facade of the monument,” Murray said.

When he first saw the site in 1973, he recognized its importance but was unable to explain how oddly shaped holes in the facade held bronze warheads from the enemy fleet. The key was pulled from the sea seven years later in 1980, when an intact warship ram was found near Haifa, Israel.

“At the time, I was helping to excavate Herod’s harbor at Caesarea,” Murray said, “and someone casually suggested I hop on the bus up to Haifa to see what they’d found.” Murray smiled as he recalled the moment when he first saw what is now known as the Athlit Ram. “Someone threw a switch on the light bulb in my head and I experienced the biggest eureka moment of my professional life.” Thereafter he knew how the rams were mounted in the peculiar holes on Augustus’ victory monument.

Murray was now certain that the wall displayed 37 warheads cut by the victor from the bows of Antony’s and Cleopatra’s biggest ships. “The number surely represented a tithe or 10 percent dedication from the 370 warships that Augustus captured during the war,” Murray explained.

The holes also exhibited a range of sizes, and all held much larger rams than the one from Israel, which weighed half a ton.

“Anthony and Cleopatra clearly revived the big ship phenomenon after a period when big ships were being used less and less, just as the ancient histories tell us,” Murray said. “And their defeat at Actium spelled the end of an era in naval history.”

Faced with the size, weight, and raw power these rams represented, Murray began to question old theories and formulate new answers. The ram from Israel and the enormous warheads from Actium were telling a new story and Murray wanted to piece it together.

He read all he could about ancient warships, known by different names that referred to their relative oar power – the most popular being “threes,” “fours,” and “fives,” the smallest being “ones,” the largest a “forty.” Murray gathered the evidence for their different crew sizes, the armaments they carried, and their characteristics in battle. But he wanted to know more. He began to question a lot of assumptions and presumptions historians had made up to this point.

Hints and clues would come from some of history’s most colorful leading characters: not only Alexander the Great, and his father Phillip II of Macedon, but also the generals who fought for his empire after he died in 323. These included men like Antigonus “One Eye,” Demetrius “The Besieger of Cities,” and a long line of Ptolemies, including Cleopatra VII and her Roman ally Marcus Antonius.

The precise plans of these last two have been the subject of speculation since the period of their infamous love affair and war with Augustus Caesar, then known as Octavian.

Dio Cassius, a Greek historian who lived two centuries after their defeat, wrote that the pair intended to invade Italy and oust Octavian and his men from power. Later historians thought Cassius was speculating. Murray’s conclusions about big ship navies and their uses, however, support Dio’s assertion and challenge long-held assumptions about the pair’s ultimate objectives.

“When I started the book, I did not intend to say anything new about Actium, but when I got to this point of the narrative, the big ships made no sense unless Antony and Cleopatra really planned to invade Italy. Otherwise, we must conclude they were ignorant of three centuries of naval history.”

But this was only part of the story. Murray was not entirely satisfied with historians’ other assumptions about how big ships were used in battle.

“Most everyone agrees that the smaller ships relied on their light weight and superior maneuverability to attack their enemies with ram strikes. But monstrous rams and the big ships they armed must have been used for purposes other than combat in set naval battles.”

It was an ancient handbook that became the lynchpin of his new way of looking at things – the writings of an ancient ‘military consultant’ – Philo of Byzantium. His Compendium of Mechanics provided Murray with the “how-to” book on conducting sieges of coastal cities during the height of the big ship era. It supports Murray’s new assertion that yesterday’s navies used their bow rams not only on other ships but on harbor fortifications – a new idea at the core of Murray’s new book.

Long troubled by the fact that no other scholar came to this conclusion before, he found that Philo’s work was largely unreadable prior to 1920. As a result the document was ignored by 19th and 20th century scholars who formulated the current models of naval power. Thereafter, when a readable text of Philo was published, no one noticed his advice about using big ships to attack cities. This was true until Murray read the text in 1996 and was rewarded with a goldmine of information about the uses of big ships in siege warfare.

According to Murray, much remains to be done. In 2009, for example, he enlisted the help of USF’s Alliance for Integrated Spatial Technologies (AIST) who scanned the Actium Victory Monument with 3D laser scanners.

Working from these data, Murray and a team of computer modelers are creating “virtual rams” to fit the complex holes of the monument.

“With the scan data, we can do some ‘reverse’ engineering to recreate not only the rams, but also the timbers of each warship’s bow,” he said.

The ultimate goal? To conduct crash tests on the different sizes of ships they produce.

Murray eventually hopes to simulate battle maneuvers and thus gain a sense of the physical reality involved in ship attacks on one another – and on land fortifications. When he does, he’ll have even more to share with his fellow scholars at the Onassis Foundation and beyond. This month he’s sharing his research and details from his book during a cruise of the Aegean and will join an expedition in Sicily searching for ancient warship rams.

“When you dig into the details, you can end up rewriting history or at least furthering the discussion,” Murray said. “That, and the use of new technologies to visualize and then refine what we could only dream about as recently as 10 years ago … that’s what makes this work so exciting and so satisfying.”

CJ Online Review: Wallace, Virgil’s Schoolboys and Wilson-Okamura, Virgil in the Renaissance

Posted with permission:

Andrew Wallace, Virgil’s Schoolboys: The Poetics of Pedagogy in Renaissance England. Classical Presences Series. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. Pp. xvi + 264. Hardcover, £66.00/$110.00. ISBN 978-0-19-959124-4.

David Scott Wilson-Okamura, Virgil in the Renaissance. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010. Pp. xiv + 299. Hardcover, £58.00/$100.00. ISBN 978-0-521-19812-7.

Reviewed by Craig Kallendorf, Texas A&M University

It is a curious, but often commented upon, fact that there is no Renaissance equivalent to Domenico Comparetti’s Virgilio nel medio evo. Vladimiro Zabughin’s two-volume Vergilio nel Rinascimento italiano da Dante a Torquato Tasso comes the closest, but it is restricted to Italian material and, like Comparetti, is now badly outdated. The problem, of course, is the sheer mass of relevant material, which rises from daunting in the Middle Ages to staggering in the Renaissance. The two books under review here attempt to fill this gap in scholarship, and they do so with considerable success.

The more ambitious volume is Virgil in the Renaissance, which sets out “to identify what seems normal, central, common … the chitchat about Virgil that could be exchanged over cocktails without fear of contradiction, because educated people had all learned more or less the same things in the course of their schooling, and could be expected to hold compatible views” (pp. 9, 48). Wilson-Okamura begins where he should, with a preliminary survey of the early printed editions based on the resources available at the time he was writing. His survey suggests that Virgil was printed hundreds of times between 1469 and 1599, but that the Renaissance reception of Virgil was shaped primarily by a handful of commentaries that were published most often in this period: Servius and Donatus from antiquity, accompanied by Filippo Beroaldo, Josse Bade, Philipp Melanchthon, Paolo Manuzio, Cristoforo Landino, and Giovanni Pierio Valeriano. It was this last commentator, Valeriano, who was chiefly responsible for fixing the incorrect spelling (Virgil rather than Vergil) in modern scholarship in spite of Poliziano’s compelling arguments to the contrary.

The next section, entitled “Reputation,” contains one chapter for each of Virgil’s major works, focused around a theme that arises from ancient criticism and structures the Renaissance reception of those works. For Renaissance commentators, the plot of the Eclogues was Virgil’s quest for patronage. This led naturally and normally to the belief that Virgil was praising Augustus, although the idea that Virgil was also criticizing his patron in Eclogues 1 and 9 was present in Servius and occasionally appears in the Renaissance commentaries as well. Other subjects discussed in the commentaries are imitation of Theocritus, love among the shepherds, Christian prophecy, Virgil’s Epicureanism, and the low style. The most popular commentaries on the Georgics (those of Servius and Probus among the ancients, Mancinelli and Bade among the moderns) do not stress the labor omnia vincit (Geo. 1.145) theme that dominates modern criticism, but focus rather on variety, on the wide range of subjects discussed in the poem and Virgil’s versatility in treating them. Praise for Virgil’s style, in other words, regularly shades into praise of his erudition. Wilson-Okamura’s window into the Aeneid is likewise a word that has meaning on the levels of both style and content: purity. On the personal level, Virgil was widely known as “Parthenias” because of his sexual purity, although his predilection for adolescent boys was also discussed, to be denied in the commentaries and accepted, hesitantly, in poetry. On the stylistic level, Virgil’s poetry was pure because it was polished carefully, licked into shape as a she-bear licks her cubs. This provided the grounds for elevating Virgil over Homer, although it also cost Virgil his place as the prince of poets when the natural came to be preferred over the refined.

The last section, “Interpretation,” gives us two chapters on the Aeneid, one on its Odyssean half, the other on the Iliadic one. In the first half, the most popular episodes were the fall of Troy, the encounter with Dido, and the underworld; scholarship on the Renaissance Virgil has slighted the last of these, so this is where Wilson-Okamura focuses most of his attention. What is most interesting here is the “otherness” of early modern commentary, the ideas that were commonplace then but are not now, e.g., the various ways in which one might “descend to the underworld”—the soul enters the body, the person contemplates vice, etc. Ideas that challenged commonplace thinking, like the transmigration of souls, were sanitized, so that reincarnation was revisioned as the first step toward resurrection. Early modern commentary on the Iliadic half of the poem also differs in key ways from its modern successors. The death of Turnus, for example, received discussion in terms that seem familiar today, but it was not seen as the defining moment of the poem; accordingly there was some criticism of Aeneas’s actions, but the focus was on the killing of Turnus as an act of self-mastery. Discussion of the second half of the Aeneid tended to embrace many different sections, tied together through various classroom techniques, the concept of Aeneas as an ideal man, and a new determination to give the last six books the same prominence that the first had received in the Middle Ages and therefore to see the poem whole. The whole could be tied together through a focus on the theme of love, but again, this went in a different direction from modern scholarship, for in the Renaissance the Aeneid became the model for romances like Ariosto’s that rest on an attitude toward love that strikes most modern critics as the polar opposite of the renunciation they see Virgil advocating.

As is often the case, the weaknesses of this book, which are relatively few, are inextricably connected to its strengths. Wilson-Okamura sees two themes, continuity and change, running paradoxically through the Renaissance reception of Virgil—that is, “the idea of Virgil that was current in the sixteenth century is largely the same one as was current in the fourth and fourteenth centuries,” but at the same time “some things at least seemed new. There were new manuscripts, new technologies, and in poetry, a new ethos” (p. 8). This is a good thesis, one that is supple enough to adapt to the complex responses that generations of careful readers brought to some of the most suggestive poetry ever written. But in the effort to do what has not been done before and provide the “big picture,” Wilson-Okamura occasionally gives in to the temptation to overgeneralize. For example, it is perfectly reasonable to note that Protestant commentaries were sometimes printed and often sold in Catholic countries, and vice versa, but it will not do to offer statements like “… the Reformation did not change which commentaries got published in which countries” (p. 177). The notes of Philipp Melanchthon, for example were initially published in his name by the Lyonnaise printer Sébastien Gryphius but were quickly disseminated anonymously and absorbed into other material in France for religious rather than scholarly reasons, and the Georgics commentary of the Protestant Josse Willich was first published, then obliterated in response to censorship, then removed from a succession of sixteenth-century Venetian editions.

A larger problem revolves around Wilson’s publication statistics for Renaissance editions of Virgil and the two appendices derived from them, “Virgil commentaries in Latin editions, 1469–1599” and “Virgil commentaries ranked by number of printings.” At the time when he was working, the resources simply did not exist to generate reliable statistics: the principal reference work, Giuliano Mambelli’s Gli annali delle edizioni virgiliane, is notoriously inaccurate and unreliable; online sources like WorldCat/OCLC are also difficult to use, listing the same book multiple times and repeating the errors of those who did the initial cataloguing; and survival rates are often low, making it impossible to limit research to a reasonable number of libraries with large repositories of early printed books. Fixing this would be a different project, and it would be unfair to criticize Wilson-Okamura for not undertaking it, but his results have to be treated with caution. It so happens that updating Mambelli is my project, as Wilson-Okamura generously notes, which gives us some idea of what is at stake here. A random sampling of his figures suggests that his totals are about 20% too low on average, but the percentage is not the same for all commentators (Christoph Hegendorf isundercounted by more than half) and there are a couple of troubling instances (e.g., Domizio Calderini) in which Wilson-Okamura’s totals are up to 20% higher than mine, which rest on detailed study of a far higher number of sources. While broad conclusions about the relative popularity and importance of Servius, for example, will not change, some things like Table 1, “Aeneid commentaries that appeared in thirty or more editions, 1470–1599,” will have to remain subject to modification (the adjusted figure for Hegendorf’s work, for example, moves it past all of Wilson-Okamura’s figures for sixteenth-century commentaries).

Wallace’s aim, to discuss Virgil’s poetry as a school text, appears initially to be more modest, but as his argument unfolds, we come to see that Virgil’s Schoolboys moves toward a broader explanation of Virgil’s central place in Renaissance culture than its title suggests. Wallace begins by showing that Virgil was “an adventurous theorist of instruction” (p. v) whose poetry marks, among other things, an extended meditation on teaching and learning. It would stand to reason that if this observation is correct, Virgil’s readers should have noticed this aspect of the text, and this is in fact what happened, with grammarians, commentators, editors, schoolmasters, and translators responding to what Virgil has to say on the nature and process of instruction as they tried to make the poems teachable. Since Renaissance writers were products of the schools, we would expect their work to offer another set of responses to Virgil’s meditations on instruction; they do, as Wallace shows in his discussion of writers like Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, Edmund Spenser, Francis Bacon, and John Milton.

The argument begins by noting that from antiquity onward, Virgil occupied a dominant place in grammar instruction, supplying an abundance of examples for the initial environment in which Virgil was encountered in the schools. As it was generally taught in Renaissance England, this Virgilianized grammar stressed its own pedagogical nature, with the popular grammar attributed to William Lily using magister as the model noun for the study of the cases and the verbs amare, docere, legere, and audire as models for conjugation. The verb that might initially not seem to fit in a pedagogical context is amare, but Wallace saves his argument by claiming that this word is actually at the center of Renaissance educational practice. Successful teaching requires an affective relationship between master and student, and Wallace shows that the observations of Paolo Manuzio, which formed the base of most pre-1600 Virgil commentaries published in England, respond regularly to appearances of amor in the text. As any teacher knows, school texts have a distressing habit of remaining mute in the hands of students, but commentaries can stand in for the loving master as a way to make a book comprehensible. This line of reasoning replaces the prevailing image of the commentary as agonistic, a text that struggles against the words it explains for dominance on the page, with one of cooperation and help, driven by love, not war.

After these general observations, Wallace devotes a long chapter to each of Virgil’s poems. The language of pedagogy, for example, provides one of the principal organizing rhythms of the Eclogues, beginning with tu, Tityre, lentus in umbra formosam resonare doces Amaryllida silvas of Ecl. 1.4-5 and rising to a powerful crescendo in Eclogue 6, where the song of Silenus doubles as a school lesson that must be learned even by the responsive bay leaves (Eurotas iussitque ediscere lauros, l. 83). The homoerotic theme of Ecolgue 2 presented problems, but as Erasmus showed, commentary could guide the loving master and his students down the safe and appropriate path. This concern with a Virgilian language of pedagogy, in turn, reappears in the pastoral elegy of John Milton. Reading the “Georgickes of the mind concerning the husbandry and tillage therof” (p. 132), as Sir Francis Bacon put it, makes sense for a didactic poem, but Wallace’s interpretation of the Aristaeus epyllion and Cyrene’s skill as a teacher goes well beyond what a casual meditation on this point might generate, moving through Charles Hoole’s educational program, the illustrations of François Chauveau and Franz Cleyn, and John Ogilby’s 1654 English translation. With the Aeneid Wallace begins by associating memory and forgetting, which is obviously a key theme in the poem, with the need for pupils to remember their lessons and their masters’ fears that they will not. The relationship is a complicated one, in that Aeneas needs to forget his past in order to embrace his future while future success for a student depends on the capacity to remember what has been learned. This chapter ends with one of the most insightful discussions in the entire book, in which Wallace identifies the Palmer who accompanies Guyon in Canto 2 of The Faerie Queene as a schoolmaster, then uses this identification to develop a reading of the destruction of the Bower of Bliss and the end of the canto as a wrath-driven disaster that parallels Aeneas’ failure in Aeneid 12.

Virgil’s Schoolboys is a more challenging book than Virgil in the Renaissance. A careful reader should have no trouble following the train of thought, but the argument is by no means as clear and direct as my summary suggests. Wallace moves freely through a wide variety of primary sources; the movement from one to another is clearly signaled, but the effect is sometimes a bit vertiginous. There is also a tendency to make associations that occasionally strike me as arbitrary. Within one seven-page stretch, for example, Wallace claims that Aeneas’s story “will sound, almost inevitably, like the delivery of the substance of a school lesson” (p. 181), then that Surrey’s Aeneas occupies a position in the educational hierarchy called the “repeater” (p. 183), and then that the Harpies “can adopt the tones of chastising schoolmasters” (p. 186). Wallace has certainly convinced me that the pedagogical imperative is important both for Virgil and his Renaissance readers, but at times it seems as if he hears schoolmasters everywhere.

But I do not want to end on a negative note. Both of these books are thoughtful and well informed, and together they do much to help us understand Virgil’s central place in Renaissance culture. For this, both authors deserve our thanks.

Honours for Tim Winters

From the Leaf Chronicle:

One gets the impression that Dr. Tim Winters, Austin Peay State University classics professor, doesn’t sleep much. A dedicated teacher, he’s won most of the University’s major faculty awards, such as the Socrates Award for Excellence in Teaching and the APSU National Alumni Association Distinguished Professor Award.

Add that to grading papers, writing scholarly articles, mentoring students and teaching study abroad courses in Greece every summer, and it leaves little time for what most of us know as rest.

But in his few off hours, Winters isn’t sitting at home watching television or catching up on his sleep. He’s out in the community, keeping local streets safe as a reserve officer for the Clarksville Police Department or visiting hospitals and nursing homes as an ordained deacon with the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church. His dedication in this area rivals his academic career, and it led the Clarksville Area Chamber of Commerce to present him recently with the 2012 Distinguished Community Service Award. The award is presented every spring to an APSU faculty member who demonstrates exemplary service to his or her community. Dr. Minoa Uffelman, APSU associate professor of history, nominated Winters for the award.

“Dr. Winters is a selfless individual who always seeks to improve the lives of those around him, whether those individuals are students or members of the local community,” Dr. Mickey Wadia, APSU professor of languages and literature, wrote in a memo supporting Uffelman’s nomination.

The memo went on for two pages listing Winters’ service to the community, such as going on four of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church’s medical missions to Haiti, helping to organize a telethon for that country after it was devastated by an earthquake in 2010, playing drums in a band that volunteers at benefit concerts for organizations such as Special Olympics and the Humane Society, helping rebuild the home of a local police officer’s widow for the ABC television show “Extreme Makeover” and working to preserve and restore the Nashville Parthenon at Centennial Park.

“He is a constant and positive force in the Clarksville community,” APSU President Tim Hall wrote in a letter to Steve Kemmer, chairman of the Clarksville Area Chamber of Commerce. Kemmer agreed, and on April 24, during the APSU Academic Honors and Awards Day Ceremony, he presented Winters with the community service award.