Promoting Classics in Spain

This just hit my twitterfeed as I was heading out the door and I fear it will scroll away before I get a chance to post it … a promotional video for Classics in the Spanish education system:

CJ Online Review:Thibodeau, Playing the Farmer

posted with permission:

Playing the Farmer: Representations of Rural Life in Vergil’s Georgics. By Philip Thibodeau. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2011. Pp. viii + 326. Hardcover, $60.00. ISBN 978-0-520-26832-6.

Reviewed by John Henkel, Georgetown College

Its author describes this book as a “large-scale exercise in compare-and-contrast” between the Georgics and the tradition of Greek and Roman agricultural writing (5). Most modern scholars have treated Vergil’s agricultural poem as a vehicle for some other message—whether political, moral, or literary—but Thibodeau hopes to renew interest in the poem’s treatment of agriculture for its own sake. Based on a thorough knowledge of Greco-Roman agronomy and a broad survey of relevant sources, he shows that Vergil’s presentation of agriculture differs significantly from that of his contemporaries, and he makes an attractive argument that these differences reveal part of Vergil’s purpose in the Georgics.

In Chapters 1–4, Thibodeau argues that Vergil’s intended original audience was wealthy landowners, whom the poet aims not so much to instruct as to entice to rustication and the further study of agronomy. The civil wars forced many of this class into an unhappy retirement from political life in the city, so the Georgics can be seen as a work of consolation carried out through a protreptic to agriculture. As Thibodeau shows, the Roman tradition before Vergil is generally hostile to the vita rustica, largely because its isolation precludes social and political advancement. Vergil, however, systematically distorts country life in ways that characterize it as a worthy alternative to the city and even, paradoxically, as a place where one could achieve glory. This argument is not only convincing, but also simple and elegant enough to teach with; one may hope it will finally supplant the dated view of the Georgics as an agricultural handbook advocating a return to the simpler days of peasant farming.

Thibodeau’s steady focus on agronomy—with its corresponding de-emphasis on the poem’s literary background—makes these chapters valuable as historical and economic context for any study of the Georgics, but also creates some blind spots. Thibodeau shows, e.g., that Vergil’s positive depiction of manual labor is foreign to the Roman agronomical tradition, but he fails to connect this perspective to Vergil’s literary model Hesiod, who enjoins work on his brother Perses throughout the Works and Days. Still, the book’s new perspective on Vergil’s audience gives it new traction with some previously difficult passages, like the Laudes ruris at the end of Georgics 2: where Ross and Thomas have seen the poem as provoking skepticism and pessimism through its “lying” presentation of rustic life as easy (e.g., fundit humo facilem victum iustissima tellus, 2.460), Thibodeau shows that much in this passage makes good sense from the perspective of a wealthy landowner, whose staff would handle the day-to-day difficulties of farm life.

In Chapter 5 Thibodeau departs from his early focus on agronomy to consider the Georgics in light of ancient literary criticism. Although it is not quite clear how this chapter fits with the rest of the book, it is nevertheless full of valuable insight into Vergil’s poetic method and its development. Proceeding from the ancient critical disagreement over the purpose of literature—instruction or entertainment (psychagōgia)—Thibodeau explores the poem’s “psychagogy,” i.e. its ability to excite and then relieve strong emotions in its readers, analogous to the excitement and catharsis of pity and fear that Aristotle saw in tragedy. Although didactic poetry was sometimes condemned for its failure to draw readers in emotionally, Thibodeau plausibly suggests that Vergil adapts technical advances by Nicander—who excited fear and pity by describing the effects of snake bites—and Lucretius—who excited and then undercut strong emotion to demonstrate its vanity—to involve his readers emotionally in his project of agricultural protreptic. To demonstrate, Thibodeau looks at how Vergil excites pathos in the Georgics, and how he “scripts” the emotional responses of his readers, finding (inter alia) that he creates emotional tension by exciting an emotion but ordering his addressee not to feel it (e.g., he should not forgive the horse’s pathetic old age, 3.95–100), and that he excites strong emotion only to purge it (catharsis) by channeling it into wonder (e.g., Aristaeus’s grief over the loss of his bees, 4.321–32 is dispelled by his wonder at his mother’s underwater home, 4.363–73). Thibodeau’s argument here is indirect, but his points are of great interest, and Vergilians will see implications for the Aeneid as well, since these techniques prefigure that poem’s well-known polyphony and its use of wonder/ignorance as a closural device (e.g. after Aeneas views his shield, 8.729–31).

Different parts of this book will be useful to different readers. Students will profit from its convenient Introduction, which lucidly surveys trends in the poem’s interpretation; teachers of literature and history will find Thibodeau’s narrative helpful for their accounts of the Augustan period; and scholars will find much of value in his endnotes, his survey of the poem’s early reception (Ch. 6), and his two highly informative appendices, which include a catalogue of the poem’s known early readers. The book’s greatest virtue is this assemblage of data, which allows Thibodeau to make good observations and novel suggestions. Not every detail of Thibodeau’s argument is equally satisfying, but its general contours emerge as both right and useful. And although some scholars may see insensitivities that result from his emphasis on economics, Thibodeau is remarkably sensitive to how Vergil creates an effect, even when one disagrees about why.

Classics in Nigeria

A glimpse from the Nigerian Tribune:

The relevance of Homer’s works to Africa was the focus at the Fourth Biennial Constantine Leventis Memorial Lecture, which was organised by the Classical Association of Nigeria, in collaboration with the Department of Classics, University of Ibadan, last week. Adewale Oshodi reports on the lecture, which highlighted similarities between the ancient Greek and Roman cultures and that of Africa.

Is the study of Classics still relevant today? This is the question that made the Classical Association of Nigeria, in collaboration with the Department of Classics, University of Ibadan, to bring in Professor Michael Lambert of the University of Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa, to speak during the Fourth Biennial Constantine Leventis Memorial Lecture at the Conference Centre, UI, last week.

The fact that the premier university is the only institution still offering Classics as a course tells a lot – either that the course is no longer relevant to modern day living, or Nigerians can’t simply apply it to their advantage.

However, a prominent business executive and graduate of Classics, Dr Gamaliel Onosode (OFR), believes the foundation of education itself has its roots in the study of Classics.

Dr Onosode, who was the chairman on the occasion, said Classics had made great contributions to the development of the country through its graduates. Citing people like the late Chief Bola Ige, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, Ambassador JTF Iyalla, among others, Dr Onosode said the study of Classics definitely had a great impact on these lives, while calling on government to reappraise its stand on the study of Classics.

“If today, we can only find a Classics department at the University of Ibadan, then there must be something not right, or something seriously wrong with the nation in absorbing Classics in its education system”, Dr Onosode said, while admitting he had no regret he studied Classics.

In his submission, the Dean, Faculty of Arts, Professor Remi Raji-Oyelade, believes the study of Classics is relevant today as it was in the past. Professor Raji-Oyelade, who was represented by the Head, Department of Communication and Language Arts, Dr Ayo Ojebode, said at this period of global economic upheavals, it was important we went back to learn from the ancients, especially on how they also survived turbulent periods similar to the one the world is experiencing at the moment.

In the lecture entitled, Why Read Homer in Africa?, Professor Lambert highlighted the similarities in the ancient Greek and Roman cultures with that of the African culture.

“Through Homer, we can actually discover ourselves; since there are similarities of cultural values between Africans and the Greeks and Romans, then Homer’s works can solve some of the problems we are facing on the continent.

“Homer’s works deal with relationships, sexuality, compassion, rule of law, xenophobia, interaction, among others, and these are issues we are facing in Africa”, Professor Lambert said.

While also highlighting the similarity between the Greek and African culture, a former HOD of Classics, Professor Folake Onayemi, cited the work of Homer, Iliad 22. Ibid, 353, which reads: “Hektor, my child, respond to this and have pity on me, if ever I gave the breast to soothe your trouble…”, saying the passage reveals a common act among African women who use their breasts to appeal to their children on certain issues.

Therefore, from the submissions of the various speakers, it is clear that the study of Classics is still relevant in today’s world, and this is what the secondary school students who attended the lecture took away with them.

Earlier, the longest serving HOD of Classics, Professor James Ilevbare, had commended the support the Leventis Foundation had rendered the department in the past, and are still rendering.

“The Leventis Foundation has, in no small measure, been supporting the Classics department through the donation of books, award of undergraduate and postgraduate scholarships, as well as in the area of academic support for teaching staff.

“For more than 25 years, we have enjoyed all these from the Leventis Foundation, and we hope this will continue”, Professor Ilevbare said.

In her remarks, the current HOD, Dr Olakunbi Olasope, thanked the Leventis Foundation for its continued support for the department, saying it was definitely going a long way in sustaining the quality and standard of the department.

The lecture was attended by academics, students and officials of the Leventis Foundation in Nigeria.

FWIW, I’m often struck by how many articles my spiders bring back from Nigerian (and Ghanaian) newspapers which have passing Classical references in them … the sorts of things you couldn’t really just drop into, say, a Canadian newspaper and expect people to get the reference.

CJ Online Review: Mayhew, Prodicus the Sophist

posted with permission:

Prodicus the Sophist: Texts, Translations, and Commentary. By Robert Mayhew. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. Pp. xxix + 272. £50.00/$75.00. ISBN 978-0-19-960787-7.

Reviewed by Michael Gagarin, University of Texas at Austin

Although Prodicus was an important fifth-century thinker, he remains relatively little known today. Socrates several times alludes to Prodicus as his teacher and we have numerous indications of his concern for correct word usage; but his longest surviving fragment, “The Choice of Heracles,” gives little indication of this concern or of any philosophical sophistication, and most scholars’ picture of Prodicus derives largely from Plato’s vivid and humorous parody in Protagoras. A new reassessment is thus most welcome, though I confess that my first thought on being asked to review a book on Prodicus was to question how one could fill a book with the scanty material in Diels–Kranz—twenty testimonia and eleven fragments, of which seven are labeled genuine (including the “Choice”), two doubtful, and two false. Part of the answer is that Mayhew considers not just these texts but “all the relevant ancient evidence.” This amounts to ninety texts, each with a facing translation, grouped into Life and Character; Language; Natural Philosophy, Cosmology, Religion; and Ethics. There follows a commentary, four brief Appendices on doubtful or falsely attributed fragments, notes on the source of each text, a Bibliography, and Indices.

So, what do we learn from Mayhew’s fifty-nine additional texts, all of which are late, some very late? Unfortunately, very little. They provide fodder for speculation about Prodicus and especially about his image in later antiquity, but almost nothing that is reliable enough to help us understand Prodicus’ thought. Some texts are even included “for the sake of completeness” (in one case “to warn against using it as a reliable source”). Completeness is arguably a worthy goal, with no great harm being done by additional texts, even if they add nothing; there is the danger, however, not entirely avoided here, of losing sight of the forest for the trees. This is especially regrettable because Mayhew presents an interesting sketch of Prodicus’ ideas in his brief Introduction.

For Mayhew, Prodicus’ contributions included three semantic propositions (no two words should have the same meaning, no word should have more than one meaning, a word’s meaning should match its etymology), a two-stage evolution of religion (humans first deified aspects of nature, then they deified people who brought them benefits), and a “sophistic” view of morality. This last, in my view, is Mayhew’s most interesting suggestion. For him, Prodicus’ “Choice” is not an argument for Virtue, as almost everyone beginning with Xenophon has thought, but rather a sophistic “double argument,” making the best case for each side. Mayhew stresses the conditional nature of both arguments: “if you want to be great and win honor, follow Virtue” vs. “if you want the most pleasant and easy life, follow Vice” (I oversimplify, of course). Both arguments, he thinks, are valid and so the choice is which kind of life one wants. Choosing Vice is thus not only rational, but is probably the choice Prodicus made for his own life.

My main difficulty with this is that unlike other sophistic double arguments, the Choice is clearly unbalanced: each speaker first argues for her way of life but Virtue then gets to add a long argument against Vice’s case, whereas Vice is only allowed one objection to Virtue, that its road is difficult, a point that Virtue herself has already emphasized. Even in the agon in the Clouds the stronger Logos, who promotes traditional virtues, is far from faultless. By contrast, Prodicus presents nothing but traditional arguments for each side and thus provides no reason to question the traditional judgment that Virtue is preferable.

Far more interesting, in my view, and more characteristic of the sophists, are Prodicus’ views on language. Here Mayhew misses a chance to connect Prodicus with other sophistic thought, especially with Protagoras (his alleged teacher), whose views on gender and mood appear as provocative as Prodicus’ lexical distinctions. But even here one wonders how much original thought Prodicus contributed. Plato’s presentation of Prodicus’ lexicology in Protagoras verges on ridicule (especially in the discussion of Simonides’ poem), suggesting that he may not have taken Prodicus very seriously.

Mayhew’s conclusions will not persuade all scholars, but they should, at least, stimulate interest in Prodicus. For this, however, the book’s format presents an obstacle. Mayhew presents his views of Prodicus in the Introduction, but his defense of these views comes in the commentary, where in most cases it is scattered among a number of different texts. Finding this defense (without a Subject Index) thus requires readers to work through a lot of the commentary, including much that is of little or no value in interpreting Prodicus’ thought. Eliminating peripheral material from the commentary (such as discussion of the dates of other authors like Herodotus) would help; even better, Mayhew could have gathered together the interpretative parts of the commentary into a single presentation of Prodicus’ views, making it easier for readers to evaluate his ideas and leaving it up to them to consult as much (or as little) of the commentary as they wished.

In sum, anyone seeking to produce a full study of Prodicus’ thought will find this book useful, indeed essential. For others, however, a much shorter treatment (like Dan Graham’s recent redoing of Kirk–Raven–Schofield) will provide virtually all that is wanted.

Odysseus in America?

Here’s some (ultimately vintage) nuttiness for your Black Friday standing-in-an-endless-line-at-the-checkout reading … from Greek Reporter:

The first researcher, who questioned the prevailing theory that Ulysses wandered the Mediterranean Sea for years before the gods allowed him to set foot once again on his beloved Ithaca, was an American historian from Chicago, Henriette Mertz.

In 1964, Mertz suggested with conviction in her book The Wine Dark Sea: Homer’s Heroic Epic of the North Atlantic that Ulysses, in many of the adventures described in Homer’s epic The Odyssey went outside the Mediterranean.

Based on her research and explorations in North America, Mertz proposed that Ulysses had reached the shores of North America with the help of the sea currents.

Mertz studied the speed of sea currents in conjunction with the time it took Ulysses to travel from one place to the other, reading carefully through Homer’s original descriptions and observations. She said she identified the exact locations Ulysses visited in the then unknown part of the world, which have lately revealed archaeological treasures dating back to the ancient Greek hero’s time.

Mertz took her research one step further and designed a detailed chart containing all of Ulysses’ journey stations after the fall of Troy and on his way back home. The map points out the island of the Sirens, the exact point on the American coastline that harbored the sea monsters Scylla and Charybdis, and the actual sea route Ulysses took to get back to Ithaca (assisted all the way by the powerful and swift current of the Gulf Stream).

The study of Siegfried Petrides in 1994, Odyssey – a Naval Epic of the Greeks in America, came to strengthen Mertz’s findings and proposals. According to Petrides, the Greeks have a naval history that starts from at least 7250 B.C. as proved by the findings in Frachthi cave in Argolida.

“… The uniqueness of the Greek geographical area, namely its location in the relatively small Aegean Sea with its hundreds of islands, allowed the prehistoric Greek inhabitants to develop the technology of sea communications very early. Over the years and with the accumulated experience of sea voyages, sailors from the Aegean became more brave and started sailing off to the North and the Black Sea, to the South in Egypt and Phoenicia, and to the West to Italy and the Iberian Peninsula.

“They discovered that the sea they had been sailing was everywhere surrounded by land and had only one exit. They did not hesitate to leave the familiar waters and travel to the North in order to get precious metals, and they did the same westwards as well” he wrote.

The Greek literature is rich in references of the geographical and astronomical knowledge of the ancient Greeks, which allowed them to use the constellations for directions. In his study, Petrides also presented data on the geographic knowledge of areas, such as the North (hyper north), the East (Asia), the Southern (Ethiopia, Cyrenaica, Egypt, the rest of North Africa) and nd the West (Italy, islands west of Italy – Sardinia, Corsica, Elba, Capri, Ischia – the Iberian Peninsula, France, north-east Europe, Britain and Ireland. These references can be easily found in Homer’s epic (Rhapsody 5, 273).

Petrides’ said his long experience as a sailor and his study findings allowed him to confirm and correct wherever necessary the conclusion of Mertz providing extra details on the wind direction, sea routes, description of the islands etc. He suggests in his book, unlike Mertz, that the ancient Greek sailors did not rely on mere chance to have reached the American shores but owned fast and flexible vessels that could easily navigate through the Atlantic. They also knew perfectly well how to take advantage of both the sails and the rows, which enabled them to cover long distances.

Henriette Mertz was one of those people who figured everyone, more or less, had been to America before Columbus … Petrides’ work is a couple of decades old … why is Greek Reporter wasting valuable electrons bringing this stuff up again for a new generation?

CJ Online Review: Hodkinson and Macgregor Morris, Sparta in Modern Thought

posted with permission:

Sparta in Modern Thought: Politics, History and Culture. Edited by Stephen Hodkinson and Ian Macgregor Morris. Swansea and London: The Classical Press of Wales, 2012. Distributed in the United States by David Brown Book Company. Pp. xxvi + 462. £60.00/$120.00. ISBN 978-1-905125-47-0.

Reviewed by Tim Rood, St. Hugh’s College, Oxford

This fine collection of essays on the reception of Sparta adds greater depth and detail to the picture established by Elizabeth Rawson’s remarkable 1969 monograph The Spartan Tradition in European Thought and subsequently refined by further research, in particular on the eighteenth-century image of Sparta (e.g. in Chantal Grell’s extensive Le dix-huitième siècle et l’antiquité en France, 1680–1789 (1995)).

One way in which this volume takes Rawson’s research further is by covering the period since her work was published. Rawson herself concluded with the reflection that it would be inappropriate to draw any conclusion from the history of the Spartan tradition, “for the reason that it has surely not yet come to an end.” The final three chapters (forming Part IV: Cold War Politics and Contemporary Popular Culture) confirm that she was right—while also showing that the Spartan tradition has taken turns of which she could not have dreamt. Gideon Nisbet’s typically lively contribution, “‘This is Cake-Town!’: 300 (2006) and the Death of Allegory,” discusses a number of receptions of the film 300 published on the YouTube website (the chapter follows nicely from Lynn S. Fotheringham’s discussion of the original graphic novel 300). Nisbet defines these modern responses through the trope of negation: “There is no Cold War here, no Nazis, no socialists, no paladins or public-school mottos. Unsurprisingly, no-one is quoting Plutarch”—or reading Rawson, by the sound of it. Rather, YouTube is engagingly figured as a new Sparta where actions speak louder than words.

There is plenty of Cold War, by contrast, in Stephen Hodkinson’s meticulous and fascinating survey of “Sparta and the Soviet Union in the U.S. Cold War Foreign Policy and Intelligence Analysis.” Hodkinson argues here that there is no evidence before the late 1960s for specific analogies between Sparta and the Soviet Union in U.S. foreign policy discussions (as opposed to much looser generic perceptions of the contemporary relevance of the Peloponnesian War). A great strength of his analysis is the way he looks at the relations between practices in the U.S. intelligence service and academia (with a particular focus on the influence of Donald Kagan’s teaching at Yale). Hodkinson’s discussion of the historical shifts in the use of the Sparta/Soviet analogy is compelling: provocatively he suggests that W. R. Connor’s recollection (in the introduction to his 1984 book on Thucydides) of readings of the Peloponnesian War in the 1950s in which “totalitarian, land-based” Sparta was made to stand for the Soviet Union reflects better the terms of the analogy at the time when Connor himself was writing. It will be interesting to see if Hodkinson’s picture is modified by investigation of any archival material that Hodkinson’s extensive research has not uncovered.

The countries and periods that receive greatest attention in this volume are Enlightenment to Post-Revolutionary France (Part II) and Germany: From Literary Hellenism to National Socialism (Part III). These sections contain valuable essays on themes already treated more briefly by Rawson, but they are slightly marred by a certain amount of repetition that could have been avoided with stronger editorial guidance. The degree of repetition is less of a problem in Part III, which in addition to a broad survey of “The Spartan Tradition in Germany, 1870–1945” (Volker Losemann) has essays focusing on Hölderlin (Uta Degner) and Nazi education (Helen Roche); rich material here includes discussion of “Sparta” as a brand-name for German sun-tan lotions (a topic more at home in the field of Classical Reception as currently configured than in the study of the Classical Tradition as generally practiced in Rawson’s time). In Part II, by contrast, Haydn Mason’s survey of “Sparta and the French Enlightenment” picks up some themes from the second essay in Part I, Kostas Vlassopoulos’ excellent study of “Sparta and Rome in Early Modern Thought” while also covering some of the same ground as Michael Winston’s “Spartans and Savages” and Paul Christesen’s “Treatments of Spartan Land Tenure in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century France.” This element of repetition is a shame, as these last two are valuable essays which do also contain extensive discussion of new material. Christesen’s concluding focus on the political context of nineteenth-century French scholarship on Spartan land-tenure is particularly interesting given, as he notes, its continuing presence in modern scholarship.

The most substantial contribution to our knowledge of periods covered by Rawson is found in Ian Macgregor Morris’ illuminating discussion of “Lycurgus in Late Medieval Political Culture.” Rawson includes a brief chapter on “The Middle Ages” followed by a chapter entitled “Sparta Rediviva.” Readers of Macgregor Morris’ detailed chapter will wonder whether rumors of Sparta’s death were exaggerated (Macgregor Morris also promises a monograph on Sparta in medieval political culture). This is not to criticize Rawson’s pioneering work: after all, the uses of antiquity in the Middle Ages is still a rather marginal area in the field of Classical Reception. (Indeed, Macgregor Morris’ chapter seems rather an interloper in a volume on Sparta in modern thought.)

This book makes an important contribution, then, to the study of Spartan reception, particularly in relation to political thought. The one criticism I would have (apart from the slight repetition noted above) is that the fragmented nature of the contributions means that the background to two important shifts remains under-developed: the shift from the Sparta–Rome polarity discussed by Vlassopoulos to the dominant Sparta–Athens polarity and the (partial but related) shift from Plutarch to Thucydides as lens for viewing the Spartan mirage.

Classical Words of the Day