Mary Beard on Lost Authors

From the Guardian‘s book section:

Would it have been better had some surviving works of ancient authors been lost?

Classical studies are driven by the ambiguities of survival. It is not a question of what we have versus what we do not have (the surviving books of Dio’s History of Rome measured against the lost books of Tacitus’ – no doubt infinitely sharper – history of the last days of Nero). Classics, as a subject, engages in the curiosities, problems and discontents of survival. It builds on the puzzling, changing identifications of works that are transmitted via the scholarly hands of the monkish middle ages, or those dug up from the sands of Egypt. It makes us face how little we know about what the “survival” (or “loss”) of literature means.

Sometimes it’s clear enough. Diogenes, the second-rate, second-century AD epicurean philosopher, ensured his own survival by having his thoughts inscribed on the wall of his home city of Oenoanda in what is now Turkey. There was little chance of destroying that. But usually “survival” is a trickier question. Take the short essay “Constitution of Athens”, now attributed to the anonymous “Old Oligarch”. Is this a work of the Athenian renegade politician Xenophon (with whose works it has been transmitted in medieval manuscripts)? Or is it a weird rightwing tract by a not very bright anti-democrat of about the same period – that is, the late fifth century BC? (Moses Finley always used to say that the modern pseudonym “Old Oligarch” was the problem here: it made him sound like an engaging elderly pub-philosopher, when in fact he was the closest the ancient word came to a fascist – with the exception of Plato.)

Or think, rather differently, of the archaic Greek poetess Sappho. A few of her poems survive, brilliant enough to define the history of love poetry for the next two and a half millennia (“Phainetai moi . . .” as the best one goes in Greek, copied by the Roman poet Catullus in “Ille mi par esse . . .”). But maybe Sappho’s reputation has been helped by what we no longer have. Most of her output was, we fear, interminable marriage hymns for the young ladies in her entourage. Lost, and well lost, perhaps.

To think more widely (and not to forget that the origin of Christianity was in the Roman empire), what difference has it made that the four canonical gospels have been canonised as such – so effectively consigning the variants to the scrap heap? The recently published Gospel of Judas gives a hint of a very different tradition, and one in which – as never happens in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – Jesus actually laughs (with all the theological complexity that that involves – does God laugh?). Survival, or not, has theological implications and a theological history.

But the key example is that holy grail of classical scholarship – a holy grail because no one can agree whether it is lost or not – the second book of Aristotle’s Poetics (written in the mid fourth century BC). The first book of the Poetics deals with Aristotle’s theory of tragedy (the famous discussion of pity, fear and catharsis). The second book, or so we glean from other references in Aristotle, brought the reader back to comedy and to that tricky problem of laughter. The usual scholarly line here is to lament that this work did not make it through the middle ages. Umberto Eco’s novel The Name of the Rose (“spaghetti structuralism” according to Slavoj Žižek, but fun all the same) dramatised the disappearance of the last surviving copy: literally eaten as a subversive tract by a gloomy “agelastic” monk, before his whole monastery goes up in flames. And recently such leading scholars as Quentin Skinner have mourned its disappearance: if only we had Aristotle’s essay on comedy, writes Skinner, we would understand ancient laughter.

But has it disappeared? And what counts as disappearing? According to Richard Janko, valiantly reviving a (nearly lost) 19th-century theory, the weird little treatise “On Comedy” in a 10th-century manuscript (Tractatus Coislinianus, now in Paris, once on Mount Athos) is actually a summary of this lost work.

So is it or isn’t it? Scholarship has not gone with Janko. The essay in the Tractatus is a very mediocre little tract, and most likely – so the orthodox view goes – a jejune compendium of Aristotelian thought by a none-too-bright Byzantine monk. It includes, for example, some very plodding ideas of what makes an audience laugh (“silly dancing”, is one prompt to laughter). But could we see it differently? According to Michael Silk (no admirer of the intellectual power of lost Aristotle) we might actually think that, in all its mediocrity, this mediocre work was a reasonable summary of some very mediocre Aristotle – altogether not worth saving. Let’s not lament its loss.

Who knows? But this should remind us of the perils of survival (as the question asks us to reflect). Sometimes the best may not survive (and classical nostalgia always suspects that we have inherited some dross while losing some gems). But maybe (and this would be a simplified version of Silk’s position on the second book of the Poetics) what we have lost was second-rate all along. Perhaps the history of the transmission of classical texts has been a pretty efficient sorting mechanism: the survival of the fittest.

In a way it was summed up towards the beginning of Tom Stoppard’s The Invention of Love. The play’s “hero”, AE Housman, Cambridge professor and celebrity classicist, is going down to Hades from the Evelyn Nursing Home in Cambridge. He is delighted to interrogate Charon, the boatman taking him across the Styx, wanting to find out more about what happened in Aeschylus’ lost play, Myrmidons. Charon looks as if he can deliver. But the joke is that he only tells Housman the lines that Housman knows already, preserved in later quotations and no surprise at all.

The allure of survival turned out to be the survival of what Housman already knew. It complicates the idea of choice and loss.

via: ‘You may now turn over your papers’ Guardian

… other authors are asked different questions

Australasian Society for Classical Studies 2010 Proceedings

Seen on Classicists (please send any responses to the people/institution mentioned in the post, not to rogueclassicism!)

ASCS 31 [2010] Proceedings

Refereed papers from the 31st conference of the Australasian Society for Classical Studies

Edited by Dr Neil O’Sullivan (The University of Western Australia)

…. some very interesting items here (dm)

CONF: Edinburgh Classics Research Seminars 2010/11: Semester 1

Seen on Classicists (please send any responses to the people/institution mentioned in the post, not to rogueclassicism!)

Dear colleagues,

Please find below the Semester 1 programme of Classics Research Seminars at Edinburgh. All seminars take place on Wednesdays at 5 pm in the Sydney Smith Lecture Theatre, 2nd floor, Medical School, Teviot Place, unless otherwise stated. All are welcome to attend. For further information please contact Ursula Rothe (ursula.rothe AT

Semester 1:

29th September
Prof. WILLIAM HARRIS (Columbia)
‘Approaches to Roman poverty’

6th October
‘Herakles in the Odyssey’

13th October
Prof. JAN BREMMER (Groningen)
‘Ancient necromancy – fact or fiction?’

20th October
‘Herculean tasks: writing about Herakles in the 21st century’

3rd November
Dr. CALUM MACIVER (Edinburgh)
‘Rereading Longus’ Daphnis and Chloe’

10th November
Prof. THOMAS HARRISON (Liverpool)
‘Herodotus on Persian royal ideology’

17th November – 5.30 start!!!
Prof. DAMIEN NELIS (Geneva)
‘Vergilian futures in the Georgics’

24th November
‘Aspects of excavation and research in and around the Bronze Age Palace of Knossos’

Reading Odyssey’s Marathon2500 celebration

Seen on Classicists (please send any responses to the people/institution mentioned in the post, not to rogueclassicism!)

Dear Colleagues,

Phil Terry, the Director of the non-profit organisation, The Reading
Odyssey, has asked me to circulate this invitation to join in our
organisation’s activities, including a year-long celebration of the
anniversary of the battle of Marathon.

The year-long program has been designed by Paul Cartledge and The Reading
Odyssey, and includes free webinar/teleconference lectures and a monthly
Herodotus reading group (using the Landmark Herodotus text)

Please consider the following:
– Sharing this invitation with graduate students, undergraduates, other
faculty, friends and colleagues around the world (and any associations).
– Integrating Marathon2500 into your curriculum. Many professors are
integrating these lectures into their curriculum (or making one or more
optional for students).
– Joining the remote lecture network. Students and faculty are attending
together one or more of the lectures. Just let Phil know if you are
bringing a group together live and he will list your university or college
on the remote lecture network page (

I. Marathon2500 Lecture Invitation (webinar/phone-based)

We have designed 8 lectures with some of the top scholars to commemorate the
2,500 year anniversary of the Battle of Marathon. (We take the 2,500 year
anniversary to be in September 2011 but are commemorating Marathon for an
entire year beginning in September 2010.) As you can see below, these
lectures range from Paul Cartledge’s kickoff context-setting talk to Victor
Davis Hanson’s presentation on the life of a solider to Peter Krentz’s
detailed discussion on the battle itself (timed to the publication of his
new book "The Battle of Marathon") to John Marincola’s epilogue.

Registration for all 8 lectures here

or any individual lecture here:

1. Paul Cartledge, Cambridge/NYU, Tue Sep 28 @6pm ET, "The Context and
Meaning of the Battle"

2. Peter Krentz, Davidson College, Tue Oct 12 @ 4pm ET, "The Battle Itself"

3. Victor Davis Hanson, Hoover Institution, Wed Nov 10 @ 1pm ET, "Life of a
Soldier—Greek and Persian"

4. Thomas Harrison, University of Liverpool, Tue Jan 18 @ 1pm ET, "The
Persian Perspective"

5. Dean Karnazes, world-renowned ultramarathoner, Wed Feb 9 @ 1pm ET “The
Battle and Modern Sports”

6. Thomas Scanlon, UC Riverside, Tue Apr 5 @ 1pm ET “Sports in the Ancient

7. Robert Strassler, Independent Scholar, Tue May 10 @ 1pm ET “Herodotus and
the Invention of History” ,

8. John Marincola, Florida State University, Wed Jun 8 @ 4pm ET “Epilogue:
What happened after the Battle"

– – –

II. Herodotus Reading Groups

The Reading Odyssey, the nonprofit running Marathon2500, runs virtual
moderated reading groups on classics such as Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon
and others. For Marathon2500 we are running multiple small sections of
Herodotus. Small groups of 20 will meet by phone monthly to discuss each
book of Herodotus.

Please suggest to your students that they might consider joining a Herodotus
reading group with us.

Registration link:
Dates (via teleconference):Ӭ8pm New York timeӬMondays РOct 11, Nov 15,
Dec 6, Jan 10, Feb 7 and Mar 7, 2011

– – –
Sponsors of the Marathon2500 program include a range of technology companies
– Citrix Online, Constant Contact, Squarespace to the Embassy of Greece. All
of our sponsors are listed here:

– – –
III. Facebook and Twitter

Please also consider asking your students to become fans of our fledgling
Marathon2500 Facebook page and Twitter feed.



On behalf of the global volunteers of the Reading Odyssey, thank you for
considering our invitation to participate in Marathon2500.

CONF: Restoring the Acropolis of Athens

Seen on various lists (please send any responses to the people/institution mentioned in the post, not to rogueclassicism!)

Restoring the Acropolis of Athens – a study day at the British Museum

Friday 8 October 2010, 09.30–17.00

BP Lecture Theatre, British Museum

£40, Members and concessions £25, includes tea/coffee and buffet lunch

Since its formation in 1975, the Acropolis Restoration Service has studied, conserved, dismantled and restored the world famous monuments of the ancient Acropolis of Athens. The various stages of this colossal task have been meticulously presented and recorded in a series of conferences in Athens and their accompanying publications. Now that the current phase of restoration is in sight of completion, Professor Charalambos Bouras, President of the Service, and prominent members of his team have kindly agreed to share with a British Museum audience their unique experience and knowledge of the
Acropolis buildings.


09.30–10.00 Registration in the Clore Education Centre Foyer

10.00–10.10 Welcome by Dr Andrew Burnett, Deputy Director of the British Museum

10.10–10.20 Opening address by Dr Lina Mendoni, Secretary General, Greek Ministry of Culture and Tourism

10.20–11.05 Professor Charalambos Bouras, President of the ESMA: 35 years’ restoration works on the Acropolis

11.05–11.20 Coffee

11.20–12.00 Mrs Maria Ioannidou, Director of the Acropolis Restoration Service: Research and technology in the Acropolis restoration project

12.00–12.30 Mrs Evi Papaconstantinou, Chief Conservator of the Acropolis Restoration Service: The surface conservation of the Acropolis monuments

12.20–13.30 Lunch

13.30–14.00 Mrs Dionysia Michalopoulou, Civil Engineer in charge of the restoration of the temple of Athena Nike: The Athena Nike restoration project

14.00–14.30 Dr Tasos Tanoulas, Architect in charge of the restoration of the Propylaia: The Propylaia restoration project

14.30–15.00 Mr Nikos Toganides, Architect in charge of the restoration of the Parthenon: The Parthenon restoration project

15.00–15.30 Mrs Lena Lambrinou, Architect, Parthenon Restoration Project: Interventions past and present on the north side of the Parthenon

15.30–15.45 Tea

15.45–16.15 Professor Fani Mallouchou-Tufano, Member of the ESMA: The restoration of the Erechtheion

Programme subject to change.

Tickets are available online, from the Ticket Desk in the Great Court, or via phone +44 (0)20 7323 8181. For further information and online bookings, see http://blmcmsweb/BritishMuseum/whats_on/events_calendar/october_2010/restoring_the_acropolis.aspx