In commemoration of the anniversary of the destruction by fire of the Sydenham Crystal Palace on the same night in 1936, Gwendoline and Lucien cordially invite you to witness the burning of the Pompeian Court at 8pm GMT (12pm PST/Second Life time) on Wednesday 30 November. We will be setting fire to the Palace at 8 sharp to mark the end of our lease in Second Life and to celebrate the migration of our project to our own Open Sim server at the University of Bristol. As a friend of our project, we would love to see you there.
For those of you who do not have your own Second Life account, please contact Nic Earle (email@example.com) as we would be very happy to lend you an avatar for the evening. Alternatively, for full instructions on setting up your own account, downloading the Second Life software and finding us in world visit http://tinyurl.com/cdzwdm2.
Yesterday’s discussion in the research seminar of Anthony Grafton’s memoir of Arnaldo Momigliano raised a number of important issues that could loosely be put together under the heading of ‘classics and cosmopolitanism’. I was very struck – doubtless as a result of spending last week giving some lectures in a couple of German universities – by Grafton’s (polemical) contrast of a lost world of real cosmopolitanism back in Momigliano’s time and the international English-speaking world in which we now live. It may perhaps be true that more British classicists are more familiar with the research of foreign scholars than was previously the case, because more of it gets translated or is written in English in the first place – but it would be dangerous to assume that all important work will automatically be translated and so anything that hasn’t been translated can’t be very important. It was suggested in the discussion that perhaps national traditions of scholarship are no longer terribly important – that differences between approaches in different universities are much more significant – but I’m not certain; at any rate I ‘ve found that writing in German does sometimes entail different ways of thinking, and that different sorts of questions may be considered most important. That also raises the question of how one keeps up with work in another country; you may have a fair idea of what’s going on relevant to one’s own specialist field – but what if people are developing an entirely new approach? And that’s if you have the necessary grasp of the language in the first place…
That then leads into the questions raised in general discussion about what skills classicists and ancient historians require (do we still need French, German and Italian?) and what we might do to ensure that our subject doesn’t become entirely parochial and marginalised – which might imply that we need still more languages (Sanskrit, Mandarin..?). What will be the basis for our continuing claim for the relevance and usefulness of academic study of the ancient world: the historical accident that classical antiquity helped shape the modern world, the marketability of the skills that a classical education can offer, the intrinsic and universal quality of the texts and artefacts we study, or the possibility that we can generate knowledge and understanding that is genuinely significant beyond our own discipline? How far, as Duncan suggested, is the existence of the discipline of Classics contingent and potentially ephemeral? Is the best response to marginalisation to continue to insist on the significance of our work for the rest of the world, or to change our approach so that we engage properly with the rest of the world..?
Discipli rerum classicarum cognoverint Oxonii singulis annis celebrari fabulam graecam vocibus graecis enuntiatam. Itaque hoc anno Aeschyli Choephori, cui nomen didascali dederunt “Clytemnestra,” in aedibus Theatri Oxoniensis spectari potest.
Fabulam antiquam hisce temporibus agere semper aliquid nodosi affert. Una ex parte iuvat agentes audire graece loquentes, licet sonus musicales emittere non conentur (dico gravem, acutum, etc.). Iuvat etiam numeros carminum choralium sentire magna cum diligentia servatos. Ceterum altera ex parte haec ipsa traditio vitium proprium quasi in interis celat: quoniam in cultu civili nostro vivimus et cogitamus, spectaculum Atheniense saeculi quinti BCE non possumus sicut eius temporis homines spectare. Quod luce clarius nobis patefecit Erika Fischer-Lichte. Quae cum ita sint, equidem mihi placebat hanc fabulam spectare; amicam tamen, quae medica est, fabulae taedebat. (Quis hic est? inquit. Quorsum illud facit? Equando terminum hic cantus choralis inveniet? Quod mihi in animum carminis illius Housman revocavit!) Ambo autem consensimus opus musica fuisse. (Cur quasi monachi cantant? Num sic chorus Aeschyli?)
Laudandi autem sunt qui personas principales egerunt, qui nisi tanta praesentia habuissent, nos spectatores obdormissemus. Quod quin fieret cavere videbantur didascali: namque dum chorus cantat fabula ad medium eunte, Clytemnestra paene nuda intrat et vigilantiam, ut ita dicam, stimulat. Unde in intermissione dixit amica in prima parte optime sibi placuisse introitum mulieris paene nudae! Verum Orestes, Electra, Aegisthus, nec non Clytemnestra magnis viribus versus pronuntiaverunt et argumentum omni modo communicaverunt. Nec non pars visualis huius spectaculi nitida fuit et ornata.
Since it advertises itself as “a webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language”, it seems entirely possible that most people who might browse a blog on classical matters won’t have come across the genius that is XKCD. Time for some cross-fertilisation of web networks. This, at least, should strike a chord with anyone who’s marked student essays on any subject whatever:
Interesting snippet from the newly-published notes of conversations between Adorno and Horkheimer in 1956, when they were attempting to write an updated version of the Communist Manifesto. (I should stress that I’ve so far seen only the extract published online at http://www.the-utopian.org/post/12034084404/towards-a-new-manifesto, not the whole thing, published last month by Verso).
Horkheimer: I believe that Europe and America are probably the best civilizations that history has produced up to now as far as prosperity and justice are concerned. The key point now is to ensure the preservation of these gains. That can be achieved only if we remain ruthlessly critical of this civilization.
Adorno: We cannot call for the defence of the Western world.
Horkheimer: We cannot do so because that would destroy it. If we were to defend the Russians, that’s like regarding the invading Teutonic hordes as morally superior to the [Roman] slave economy.
The analogy seems to have two facets: firstly, a historical one, emphasising the problem that a genuine and vital civilisation may rest on an immoral and inhuman base (the West depends on capitalism as Rome depended on slavery); secondly, a historiographical one, emphasising the dubious antecedents of any celebration of barbarians smashing civilisation (given that this was a prominent theme in early-mid C20 German accounts of the end of Rome). Of course, the fact that the old image of invading hordes has now been abandoned by historians allows us to sidestep the wider political issues…
As the flight from Bristol to Edinburgh arrives, let alone leaves, at ungodly o’clock, I had lots of time to kill before giving a paper to their research seminar last week. I spent a chunk of it in the Edinburgh Central Library, browsing their collection of Books of Quotations, as one current minor project involves seeing how, and how often, Thucydides gets quoted in different contexts. Interesting (or interesting to me, at any rate) observation #1: more of the quotes found online are genuine, or at least not completely fake, than I initially thought, but they don’t half choose some dodgy translations. Interesting observation #2: the first two editions of the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations had four (very obvious) quotations from Thucydides, which were then dropped from the third edition in 1979; Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, arguably the US equivalent, had just a couple in 1941, but expanded it to 13 in the 1960s and still further by the 1990s. Given that the entries for most ancient authors were being cut back in the same period, to make room for more contemporary quotations, this seems to tell us something significant about Thucydides and his place in modern American life. And that’s before we get onto the contemporary indie band producing a song entitled Thucydides II.58. Why II.58???
I think two things probably need explaining about this post, for everyone who knows me in the non-virtual world. The first is that ‘Abahachi’ is my well-established online identity (certainly well enough established that I have no intention of abandoning it now, however inconvenient it may prove in a context that’s a bit more closely related to my professional world); yes, this is Neville Morley. The second is that, under this alias, I intermittently produce music-related podcasts on one of the other blogs I frequent regularly. As it happens, the latest episode dealt with a selection of songs about ancient history, so the inauguration of a classics-related blog offers an ideal opportunity to try to add to my audience figures. Even better if I can stir up a bit of controversy: I’ve now come to the conclusion that the Nico song featured in this podcast is not merely puzzling but actively rubbish. Peter Hammill, on the other hand, offers a genuinely interesting take on the subject of Pompeii…