A critique of today's classicists in four parts
In 1845, America's earliest literary luminaries, Edgar Allen Poe, a Southerner, and a raving alcoholic, like so many of his imminent successors, but also a pedophile, (detested as a monster by today's child sex abuse industry) because the bride that he wed was only 13. Enthused, "the glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome (Psyche)", echoing the sentiments of our Founding Fathers as well the European Elite of his own day. In that binary adulation of his he elevated both of our classical civilizations. He reconciled the emulation of the Romans by their descendants, the speakers of the Romance languages with the Anglo-Germanic preference for the Greeks, presuming the Dorians, who they imagined as pure Aryans with racial as well as cultural affinities to themselves.
In all the leading schools and colleges, Latin and Greek set off the elite from the underprivileged, often dubbed the "great unwashed". After the Darwinian revolution, and that set off by his most influential admirer, Karl Marx, the upper classes began increasingly to neglect biblical studies (which nevertheless still required Greek and Latin) to ever more favor the classics, which by 1914 reached an apex. Theodore Mommsen, in Altertun Wissenschaft, received the first ever Nobel Prize for literature in 1902, the only historian ever to win it. The leading statesmen in every European nation quoted classical sources even more than the Bible. Catholics, more than Protestants, quoted the church fathers using Migne's magnificent collections which translated on facing pages the Patrologia Greca into Latin for priests too ignorant to read it in the original. History reigned supreme, particularly classical and medieval history, Mommsen's fields. Both depended on Greek and Latin, like the poet laureate Alfred Lord Tennyson. But even the English classicist, Jane Harrison, claimed that Greek myths were echoed universally in all cultures, and therefore weren't so special.
Before the catastrophe that began in 1914, J.B. Bury made the finest edition ever of Gibbons' Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and was appointed editor of the eight volume Cambridge Medieval History History of Europe, which followed Lord Acton's authoritative twelve volume Cambridge Ancient History. Bury's optimistic Idea of Progress (1920) was conceived like Oswald Spengler's negative Decline of the West (1918), before 1914. Until 1914, the Whig theory of history predominated along with European hegemony, but in history as Spengler shows the despair was increasing. Small holes were being bored in the dike by new disciplines developed by dissident European elites. Anthropology, sociology, and psychology, all of which required field work, orally gathered data not available from classical, biblical and other patristic sources, challenged the hegemony of the prevailing synthesis. The pioneers of these new disciplines have been themselves saturated with the classics and theology, to which they had first somewhat preferred. By the very nature of their oral interview techniques necessarily undermined them. Similar trends in all the arts and letters—abstract, primitive, and folk—simultaneously challenged classical models. The new disciplines and trends stressed dispersal, cultural relativism (polycentrism) on the one hand and displacement—claims that China, Egypt, and Israel were superior to Greece and Rome—on the other hand.
In 1908, the prestigious journal Reinische Museum Ernst Bethe proposed that, like primitive tribes in New Zealand and some islands in Oceana, that Dorian males injected their boys anally with semen so that they could physically transmit their courage and manliness to the boys, reducing Greek pederasty to a one way mechanical and primitive process.
Section 1: Before 1914
At the outbreak of World War 1, Europe had reached its apex, dominating the entire world as never before. Europeans had rapidly annexed all of Africa, according to the conventions agreed upon at Berlin in 1885, excepting only Ethiopia, where the French had double-crossed the Italians at the Battle of Adowa in 1896. China, too, the long term greatest rival to European civilization, had been completely humiliated by the suppression of the Boxer Rebellion in 1900, having been previously divided into spheres of influence. The French received the south, the English the lion's share in the middle, and the Japanese the north, having defeated the Russians in 1905. Likewise, the Anglophones in the United States had divided Latin America into a northern sphere of the U.S. and southern for British after the Venezuela boundary dispute in 1902. The Anglo-Russian entente of 1907 had partitioned what used to be called the Middle East, assigning the south to the British and the north to Russia after partitioning Persia. The only area not still up for contention was what was then called the Near East, the Ottoman Empire, the Sick Man of Europe. Austria and Russia, the only two of the eight great powers that abutted it, had long been encroaching on its Balkan provinces, but the British and French were equally interested, having seized its African provinces, and having aims on its Asian provinces. The German Reich, though arguably the most powerful industrial country except for the U.S. and a leader in most fields of science, social science, and all other fields of scholarship, had been systematically excluded from important acquisitions in all other areas except the Ottoman Empire, in Africa by the Anglo-French Accord at Fashoda in 1898 and the other treaties already mentioned on other continents. Only Siam, really dominated by the British and French, and Ethiopia, really a stooge of the British and French, and Iran, divided by the British and Russian spheres of influence, remained nominally independent. Like China and Iran, Siam and Ethiopia were dominated by extraterritorial capitulations so that Europeans were tried by European law and not by the barbaric laws of those backwards countries.
A clique of far-seeing intellectuals at the University of Berlin, which boasted to be the leading intellectual center of the world, advised the Kaiser that, by 1950, America, Russia and China would become super powers, to be joined by France and England if only they could retain their empires, but that Germany, its main allies Austria-Hungary and Italy, would be demoted, like Japan, from great power status. Consequently, Germany had to take over most of the Ottoman Empire to survive as a peer amongst the emerging superpowers of the 20th century, especially because it was oil rich, and oil was to be the major fuel by that time. All of this stoked military buildup, with the central powers opposing the Triple Entente, which encircled them, and unlike them, had significant overseas empires. The alliances set off an arms race, with not only vast expenditures on the armies, but even vaster ones on the naval race between Britain and Germany. Ironically, between 1870 and 1914, democracy was introduced to all of these countries who simultaneously increased their imperialistic intentions and military expenditures.
Missionaries had often preceded the troops and navies overseas, just as industrialists demanded colonies to secure their needed raw materials and markets for their surplus manufactured products, but even more, bankers wanted secure overseas places to invest their surplus capital in, it being much cheaper to acquire suitable factory sites and labor overseas than at home, where they were spending billions to develop railroads and factories, not just mines and markets.
Scholarship advanced apace with incredible speed, revolutions in mathematics, the pure sciences, physics, chemistry, and the applied sciences, medicine, engineering, etc. In law and philosophy, as well as in literature and art, the output was overwhelming. However, cracks began to appear in this towering edifice, which rested ultimately on the Greek and Roman classics, Christian theology, and nationalistic pride. Julius Wellhausen (1844-1918) showed how the Pentateuch had been pieced together rather poorly from four distinct sources called J, E, D and P and Albert Schweitzer in his Quest For The Historical Jesus (1906), had demolished the reliable of the Gospels. Worse, the disciples of Karl Marx, who had dedicated Das Kapital to Charles Darwin, had begun to undermine faith in religion, called the "opiate of the masses," as well as liberalism, and Hobson had foreshadowed Lenin's brief, Imperialism (1916). Perhaps more jarring were the exhibitions in Paris of African Art in 1905 and the Fauve's exhibit in 1907, setting the vogue for primitive art by Picasso and Braque, challenging classical art that had prevailed since Winckelmann's History of Ancient Art (in 4 volumes, 1764). Jazz, imported from African-Americas, challenged and undermined the three B's of classical music, Bach, Beethoven and Brahms,
Critiques and contradictions threatened the magnificent but crumbling empires presided over by inept tyrants. The most senile, Franz Joseph, had assumed at age 18 the crown in 1848 after revolutions had swept across all Europe, except Russia which was too backwards and England, which was too liberal. Having driven Metternich from Vienna to London, that Kaiser was still holding power, refusing to use telephones or automobiles. The next most bizarre was Czar Nicholas II, whose main preoccupations were, like Franz Joseph's, hunting and his family, especially his only son, the hemophilic Czarevitch, whom only the mad monk Rasputin could stop from hemorrhaging. Unfortunately, he like most of Victoria's other grandchildren, had inherited genes conferring low intelligence. His throne, as shown by the revolutions of 1905, was perhaps even shakier than Franz Joseph's. Another feeble-minded grandson of Victoria, the Kaiser Wilhelm II, was more emotional than his first cousin Nicholas but had a country united behind him, except of course for the growing number of Marxists among his subjects, whom he feared as much as the other two emperors feared their multicultural ones. Like our own super masculine Theodore Roosevelt, who engineered America's first overseas conquests, all the monarchs were fascinated by hunting, with their most prized trophies mounted on their walls. After Victoria's death in 1903, her whore mongering son Edward VII at long last succeeded to her throne, but he was as much interested in bridge as in hunting, uncle to both the Czar and the Kaiser, and both of whom he may have excelled in IQ. Like these political and social problems that beset Europe, the fissions had already appeared in the still leading scholarly disciplines of classical philology and Christian theology. In A Problem in Greek Ethics, privately published in ten copies in 1878 by J.A. Symonds had brilliantly summerized the Germanic discussions of Greek pederasty, just as Karl Marx's works had rested on the English treatises of Malthus and Riccardo (dates). Thus, by 1900, the English and Germans had come to dominate both classical philology and Biblical criticism, and their scholars were rivaling each other in those and all other fields, collaborating as well as competing in a race to predominate as the leaders of the two great alliances. But in fact, the work of the classicists and theologians were showing cracks and contradictions as massive as those that undermined the political and economic systems that supported them.
At first, as auxiliary and subordinate to math, science, theology and classics, new disciplines, the so-called social sciences, were emerging. Anthropologists, duly classifying societies from savage to barbarian to civilized, in ascending order, reinforced the preeminence of classical and European culture. Likewise, they and sociologists classified religions as progressing from animism to polytheism to monotheism (despite the Christian trinity). Psychologists, led by Kraft-Ebbing and Freud, who ahistorically and Eurocentrically, analyzed only the monogamous family which prevailed only in Europe, but still used classical texts to discuss sexual perversions and varieties. Most of all, history and modern languages came to rival classical philology and theology as acceptable and respectable areas of college majors and university doctorates, which in that period spread from Germany to the United States. The best editor of Gibbons' The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire an editor the eight volume, multi-authored Cambridge Medieval History, J.B. Bury conceived the Idea of Progress (1920) before the outbreak of the war and likewise, Oswald Spenger conceived the negative The Decline of the West (1918) before 1914.
Section 2: 1918-1945
After the self-immolation of Europeans during the Great War, and the subsequent partition of the Ottoman Empire, the last Oriental one to succumb, the pseudoscientific social sciences grew bolder, more assertive, and much more independent. Led in the United States by Franz Boas, and his students Margaret Meade, and her girlfriend, Ruth Benedict, anthropologists dared to claim that barbarian and even savage societies were, in their own way, as good, great, just and beautiful as European. American sociologists began to question whether arts, literatures, and societies could be ranked at all. Psychologists, dominated by Freudian epigones, who fled Germany and Austria to escape Hitler, mainly to Anglophonic countries, hardened their stance against homosexuals, thus demeaning classical pederasty.
Universities increasingly dropped Greek and Latin as entrance requirements. Consequently,, classical philology and Biblical studies declined because they required those tongues. Majors and Ph.D.s became common in all of the social sciences, including economics and archeology, which ceased concentrating on classical and pre-classical to embrace the Americas, sub-Saharan Africa, even even Australian and New Zealand aboriginal societies. Likewise, as the middle bourgeois gained entrance, the requirements in mathematics were reduced or even eliminated, so that there was hardly any basis for logical thought, which had formally been instilled in math and classical languages. The U.S. led in this democratization of the universities because the agricultural and mechanical colleges established by the Morrill Act of 1864 specialized in practical subjects, from home economics and agriculture to civil engineering and business, but conferred university degrees. Then, even the liberal arts colleges of such universities were sabotaged by the removal of the math and as well as modern language and history requirements. Increasingly, one could major in business or political science, which was deemphasizing Plato, Aristotle and Cicero. Without any knowledge of classics, professors routinely proclaimed that Egyptian or Chinese contributions to society exceeded those of the Greeks and Latins. Others announced that the Mayans had excelled in mathematics (though, of course, their knowledge of mathematics did not survive their decline) and admired the Aztecs, whose great pyramid, completed in 1478, exceeded that of even of Cheops, while denying that they were cannibalistic. Nothing remained sacred. In the interwar years, communism, socialism, fascism, Bolschevism, and even Nazism, were proclaimed as advances on the liberalism so dominant before 1914. The idea of progress was debunked, in spite of ever more spectacular advances in math and all the hard sciences, as well as in law, medicine, and engineering. The so called Whig view of history was attacked by the annalists. Even history was to be done from the bottom up, and all canons of literature and art were challenged. With their relativistic theories, the so called New Critics, as well as Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot, drove Matthew Arnold out of fashion. No orthodoxies survived in modern literature or history, much less in classical philology or religious studies.
Section 3: After 1945 and worse after the 1960s
The cataclysm of World War II dwarfed the destruction of World War I. Although the Japanese Empire fell, the main destruction occurred in Europe, whose suicidal attempt was much more successful than its try in World War I. All of the European overseas empires collapsed between the independence of Ethiopia and Libya before 1945, and most significantly of India, the crown jewel of the British Empire in 1947, to be followed by all of the African and Asian empires ending, ironically, with the final extirpation of the Portuguese empire, which was the first to begin, in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia (ending dates) Angola and Mozambique after bitter struggles, Goa and Macao, annexed not long after Hong Kong. After 1945, with Europe in shambles and the U.S. still sole possessor of the atomic bomb, with all other nations indebted to us, stood tall. Stalin may have had a bigger army, but we stopped his overseas expansion with our containment policy.
Conceived during the trial of Dreyfus in the late 1890s, by the Viennese journalist Theodor Herzl, Zionism was the last of nationalisms to originate in Europe, and was unlike all others. Totally bereft of a homeland of their own no longer really independent since Nebuchadnezzr (587) from the devastation of it by Titus and Hadrian, they were the last of all Europeans to become nationalistic, and until World War 1, only a tiny minority of the assimilated European Jews were adhered to Zionism first conceived in 1896. Few assimilated Jews adhered to it, but in 1917, some Rothchilds who belatedly joined the movement persuaded Lord Balfour to declare, in return for extra loans to the hard pressed British Exchequer, that after the war, the British would help establish a homeland for the Jews in Palestine. Only, however, after the persecutions by Hitler, did the majority of the European Jews and those living in Anglophonic countries become Zionists. With the help of Truman, the Zionists established a Jewish state in Palestine in 1948, but it was only after their amazing triumph in 1967 against the armies of their united Arab neighbors that Zionists worldwide developed a total superiority complex and began a systematic apartheid oppression of the Palestinian Arabs whom they had displaced.
Whether a tribe, a race, a religion, theretofore Jewish nationalism originated with Zionism -- almost stillborn, but after a sickly childhood, both sustained by the Balfour Declaration, a sort of miracle drug, only to struggle to adulthood with the triumph of Hitler and to mature Truman's aid, and to prosper in the War of 1967 that followed -- a catastrophe to the Palestinians. Ninety percent of Jews became Zionists and decided to reclaim the grand Kingdom of Soloman, never really having existed but imagined in the Jewish scriptures.
The most intellectual Jewish refugees from Hitler had taken refuge at the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton, at NYU and the New School born in nearby Manhatten, and at Brandeis, the first Jewish university ever outside Israel, along with colonies in Los Angeles and at Berkeley. But before 1967, all of these refugees, trained in the Old World, had basically supported the discipline of classics, in which many had made outstanding contributions, and approved of the great achievements of the Greeks and Romans. In fact, often taking humanistic perspectives, such as those in Greco-Roman culture, they had often attacked and demeaned all superstitions and religions, including Judaism itself.
After 1967, Jewish professors, even those trained in classics, became Zionists in theory if not in practice, and Zionism, which had been the last of the European nationalisms to emerge, under pressure from extreme Orthodox Jews, now becoming a large proportion of the population in Palestine, began to abandon the socialist underpinnings of Zionism to accommodate extreme religious views and to become extreme nationalists. Summers, before his removal as President of Harvard, before which he had become Secretary of the Treasury under Clinton and now serving as a top economic advisor to President Obama, dared, to proclaim that anyone who criticized Israel was anti-Semitic. And of course, the pagan Greeks and Romans had a long history of persecuting the Jews in Palestine and Alexandria long before they converted to Christianity, when the persecution greatly increased. Thus. since 1967, many Jewish scholars, with Zionist enthusiasm, have attacked the Greco-Roman culture. Cyrus Gordon (1908-2001), the archeologist, had already claimed that Greek culture was primarily derived from the Semites and Michael Astour (1916-2004) had continued that line of argument.
Martin Bernal, half Jewish, and grandson of one of the greatest Egyptologists, Sir Alan Gardiner, and whose own father, John Desmond Bernal, was a world class mathematician, although a professor of Chinese political science at Cornell, published his very popular Black Athena (1987, 1991, 2006) insisting that the Greeks got more of their higher culture from Egypt, and that even during their Middle Kingdom, 2100-1700, the Egyptians had actually colonized Greece. Afrocentrists embraced it, and went on to assert that Egypt had gotten most of its techniques from sub-Saharan Africa. Mary Lefkowitz, professor at Wellesley, but married to the homophobic Lloyd Jones, retired as Regis Professor at Oxford, devastated Bernal's claims, showing that the more we learned about Egypt after the decypherment of hieroglyphics beginning in the 1830s, disproved the assertions of the Greeks themselves that they had learned very much from Egyptians and therefore disproved European scholars writing before the 1830s who had agreed with certain Greek sources about Greek cultural debts to the Egyptions, what Bernal had called the "Old School,(CORRECT THIS)" before imperialistic motives had led European scholars to downgrade the contributions of Semitic and Hermitic cultures to Greek learning. Bernal, though had had promised me in a phone conversation to discuss pedagogical pederasty, athletic nudity and delayed marriages in a subsequent volume, has failed to do do. And Lefkowitz, who triumphantly burst out to me at my first meeting with her, "We're winning, we're winning," (over Bernal), has so far failed to mention any of those essential and unique ingredients to Greek culture, either because of her feminism or her late husband's homophobia. Professor Martin Bernal died in 2013, without bringing out his projected fourth volume of Black Athena. Today his thesis remains moot. Lefkowitz was not totally successful in demolishing it, as Bernal showed in his rebuttal, Black Athena Writes Back (2001). However, a number of key aspects of his overall thesis, including the linguistic claims, have not found general acceptance.
Sir Moses Finley, a historian who emphasized economics, driven out of the United States during the McCarthy era, from his perch at Oxford attacked the Greeks and Romans because of their heavy reliance on slavery, while not castigating the Egyptians or the Semites for their total obeisance to living gods like the Pharoahs or absolute tyrants like the Semitic ones, receiving their orders from cruel and irrational gods. But Earnst Badian, the brilliant refugee who has worked his way up from refuge from Vienna in New Zealand as a teenager to preeminent classical historian at Harvard, compared Alexander the Great to the power mad Hitler, whereas the great English expert of the previous generation, Tarn, had described how Alexander had spread knowledge, humanism, art and progress to the whole of the Middle East. being aware of how the Greeks and the Romans later persecuted the Jews, who of course had little art of note, because their scriptures forbade them to portray human or animal forms, belittled classical culture from art to philosophy.
When I arrived in New Orleans in 1962 to my first full time teaching job, I soon became mesmerized by the cosmopolitan brilliance of Henry Friedlander. Within the year, Henry had replace Emile Karafiol who at 16-year-old had dazzled me as a freshman during my first year at Princeton. Emile became the first to graduate in only three years since World War II veterans, but unlike Henry, his Jewish parents just barely escaped the Holocaust, but neither them talked much about it. Even in 1962, there was very little being said or written about the Holocaust. Henry remained my most influential friend until about 1985, by which time he and his second wife, Cybil Milton, had become joint editors of the Simon Wiesenthal. Annual and she was soon to be appointed head historian at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. Together, they edited volumes of memoirs about the Holocaust. Henry persuaded me to write in my western civilization text (accepted but not pubished by Prentice Hall because my co-author Ed Fox didn't finish volume 2) that the Kingdom of Solomon had been even larger than Israel became, even when it still occupied the Sinai. Having published Euthanasia, Prelude To Genocide, Henry, who had been a secular socialist by inclination with profound admiration for the Roman Republic, ended up a fervent Zionist teaching in the Jewish Studies department at Brooklyn College. What a transformation from 1962!
Following World War II, and more so during and after the 1960s, the American underclass, demanding equality and seeking fraternity, overwhelmed our institutions of higher learning with the GI Bill and a feeling of entitlement by veterans and minorities. With open admissions, affirmative action, and policies of retention, semi-educated barbarians not only entered the gates but took ever our universities. By 2000, not even history or modern languages were even required even for a for a liberal arts degree. Classics departments only survived by courses in translation and etymological courses for medical students and mathematics by remedial courses, which had not only abolished calculus, but also precalculus for a degree, At my own institution of UMass/Boston, physical education and public service and administration, for which one can get up to two years' credit for "life experiences," attracts far more majors than classics or mathematics. Its two most famous graduates were Joseph Kennedy 3rd, who had survived his older brother's death by narcotics, and Thomas "Mumbles" Menino, the blue collar mayor of Boston, who has served longer than any previous mayor but still can't speak proper English.
Feelings and enthusiasm, just express your own opinion, no matter how ignorant, is what is taught. All are equally valid, from those of the most illiterate freshman to the most senior professors.
New groups hostile to the classics and to Christian theology have taken over. Now a majority of undergraduates, females, led by feminists, denounce both as patriarchal and misogynistic, failing to understand that other societies were more so in both ways, Zionists, that includes the vast majority of Jews for the first time now, beginning in World War 2, denounce both, without bothering to learn Greek or Latin. Racial minorities, led by Black Studies, which exaggerate Martin Bernal's Black Athena (In 3 volumes: 1987, 1991,1996), to argue that everything significant originated in not only in Egypt, but in sub-Saharan Africa, Amer-Indians and Asians of various ilks, who also benefit from affirmative action, dump on western civilization, as well as classics and Christian theology without knowing anything about them at all. Latinos, who have now surpassed African-Americans as a percentage of the total population, though many are whiter than I am, demand exaggerated attention to their own cultures, which have contributed little to the advance of math and science, very little indeed. Even gays and lesbians, now dominated by feminists and lesbyterians, denigrate Greek pederasty and insist that Roman married later than they did to politically correct, not realizing that the Greeks were better to girls, who married later than anyone else, and the Romans to matrons, who were more empowered than anywhere else.. And finally, most of all, the anti-elites, who encompass most of the above, attack classics and even Christianity as being hierarchical and slave-using, disdain logic in favor of emotion. Allowing students to take courses online for credit towards university degrees, where there are few verifiable checks of who is doing the writing or other course work, can be seen as the latest stride towards complete farce with regards to academic rigor and integrity.
Some of the worst are Dover's Greek Homosexuality (1980), originally intended as a collaboration with the Canadian shrink Deveraux, who demeaned the Greeks as perpetual adolescents because of their "pseudo-homosexuality", which asserted that the erastai only lusted after the eromenoi and never tried to educate or inspire them, in what is still in some misguided circles claimed to be the authoritative work on the subject. Another major complaint is the attempts by today's classicists to contradict the facts in order to free both the Greeks and the Romans from the new greatest sin of pedophilia, now conflated with pederasty, that is love of post pubescent teenager. Saller, Shaw, and Scheidel, by misinterpreting Latin epitaphs, have claimed that Roman males on average married at 28 to females of 19, contradicting the established and correct dates of about 19 and 15. Likewise, without even misinterpreting any evidence because there's none at all to substantiate his argument, Davidson has claimed that erastai waited until their eromenoi reached 18 before having sex with them. Both of these ridiculous claims have not been contradicted sufficiently by any classicists, so incompetent, cowardly and small are the cliques that now dominate that profession from authors to editors to publishers. Perhaps even more outrageous, Sergeant in two books (Homosexuality in Greek Myth, 1986, and L'homosexualité Initiatique dans l'Europe Ancienne), misapplying Georges Demezil's long already outmoded theories of Trifunctionalism, common he thought to Indoeuropeans, even claimed that a pan-Indoeuropean pederasty existed across Eurasia until stiffled by religious and social developments in every region except Greece, again having a baneful anthropological effect on classical scholarship.
This addition was written by Wayne Dynes:
The end of the twentieth century saw the emergence of a new wrinkle in classical studies. Considered promising by some, the capacity of Reception Studies to revitalize the field remains problematic. It has nonetheless generated a considerable volume of scholarship, assuring tenure for at least a few academics.
The precursors of this approach were a group of German literary theorists of the School of Konstanz, headed by Hans Robert Jauss (1921-1997) and Wolfgang Iser (1926-2007). Jauss’s English-language book, Towards an Aesthetic of Reception (1982) made the approach known outside of Germany.
These scholars upheld the concept of reader-response criticism. In a nutshell, the idea is this. Up to now literary studies have focused on three major concerns: source-spotting; links with the biography of the creator; and the formal qualities of the work. Left out is what may be the most crucial aspect at all: the way the attentive reader constitutes the work in the actual task of reading it, which is primarily a silent, individual endeavor. This is the act of Reception.
The drawback of this method as originally formulated is that it may lead to critical anarchy. How can one know which readerly approach is best if everything is in the care of the individual consumer, with all of his or her quirks and penchants? As the Latin proverb has it, Quot homines, tot sententiae. Thus there is a swirl of competing interpretations, as each act of reading makes way for a new one. Subjectivity is king.
The specter of subjectivity fostered a reformulation of the issue, recognizing that the effort of decoding the work is not simply a matter of individual caprice, as it were, for such judgments respond to overarching factors that are collective in nature. These factors include the subculture of academics (who continue to occupy the commanding heights), gender, social class, ideology, and fashion.
For their part, Jauss and Iser had stressed the role of the individual interpreter. As the idea spread, though, it was realized that it is unwise to ignore the collective aspects, for we read not just as individuals but, willy-nilly, as participants in a group endeavor
An early formulation of this issue is due to an American professor of English, Stanley Fish (Is There a Text in This Class, 1980). Fish stressed the role of interpretive communities. Embracing the relativistic implications of the reader-response theory, Fish maintained that a text does not have meaning apart from an overarching set of cultural assumptions. This context includes authorial intent, though it is not limited to it. He claimed that we as individuals interpret texts because each of us is part of an interpretive community that supplies us with a particular way of reading a text. This is so, he held, even though we may not be fully aware of the nature of this collective endeavor and the way it shapes our perceptions,
There is also a diachronic aspect, because over the course of time different emphases are dominant.
Let us briefly consider a particularly rich example, the work of the great Latin poet Vergil (Publius Vergilius Maro; 70 BCE-19 CE). His first two lyric collections, the Eclogues and the Georgics, are themselves examples of reception, owing much to the examples of the Hellenistic Greek bucolic poetry found in Theocritus and Bion. His major work, the Aeneid, is indebted to Homer.
Fortunately, Vergil’s request that the Aeneid be destroyed on his death was not honored, and it quickly took its place as the national epic of Rome. In late antiquity his somewhat mysterious Fourth Eclogue, hailing a charismatic child as a kind of savior figure, was welcomed by Christians as a prophecy of their faith. Tertullian hailed the Latin poet as anima naturaliter Christiana.
There were also occult aspects. In late antiquity, for example, Vergil’s works functioned in a kind of divination exercise, the Sortes Virgilianae, whereby one would open the text of his works at random, seeking guidance from the passage so revealed. During the Middle Ages Vergil took on the legendary guise of a magician. Yet the supreme medieval exemplar of the cult of Vergil is his role as Dante’s guide in the Divine Comedy.
In various ways the Aeneid served as a model for Renaissance vernacular epics, such as Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso (1532) and Camoes’ The Lusiads (1572).
The persistence of Latin as the common vehicle of intellectual communication in Europe assured Vergil a continuing readership. Yet in eighteenth-century Germany Vergil was somewhat downgraded because of the preference for ancient Greek works, especially Homer. Still, Italians continued to cherish the Latin poet who was viewed as a national treasure. In France, the composer Hector Berlioz utilized the Aeneid for the libretto of his grand opera, “Les Troyens,” composed between 1856 and 1858.
With the decline of Latin, Vergil is nowadays mainly read in modern languages, with some inevitable loss of the aesthetic qualities that depend on the special character of the Latin language.
In principle the reception approach can be applied to any past or present cultural manifestation that is regarded as worthy of study. The following is the expansive view of the Reception Studies Working Group at the University of California, Davis. “Reception studies confront us with the changing intellectual and cultural roles of sacred and profane canons of art and literature in the broadest sense. Indeed tracking receptions requires an examination of the cultural setting of the reception in which the new work appears; the authority of learned environments and educational systems in general; the relationship of culture and politics where canons and their reception are created, translated, promulgated, and preserved. [The task is to] examine how the various appropriations of earlier texts and cultural forms have responded to them as prompts, have imitated or echoed them, have inspired new cultural, scientific and artistic developments, selectively read or edited them, undermined them, or otherwise used them, all of which constitute their reception history.”
However this may be, in the present context the issues stem from classical reception - the reception of Homer, Pindar, the Pre-Socratics, Thucydides, Epicurus, Cicero, Ovid, Tacitus and many other authors and historical figures. The approach also serves to address classical achievements in the visual arts, where the Parthenon in Athens, the Pantheon in Rome, the sculptural group known as the Laocoon - not to speak of many other works - have had complex reception histories.
Reception Studies seeks to delineate this pluralism. It has something in common with the older idea of “our classical heritage,” sometimes phrased as the Legacy of Ancient Greece and Rome, though it regards such this concept as too passive and too dependent on the flattering notion that classical works are unchanging, inviolate paradigms of splendor. Then there is the idea of our debt to ancient Greece and Rome. All these metaphors - heritage, legacy, and debt are ultimately rooted in economics.
Two languages that have been major vehicles of classical scholarship yield more vital metaphors. In German one speaks of the Nachleben of the classics, sometimes rendered as survival, but the original term is more strongly vitalistic: the classics live on - they have an afterlife. But do they live on just as they are, or is there some quality of the supernatural? That is, are they revenants, kindly ghosts accompanying us on our journey?
Continuity is also implicit in the Italian term fortuna, though this term also connotes precariousness, for the turns of the Wheel of Fortune can be capricious. Ultimately, this term may be rooted in the Greek tyche, though this implies good fortune.
For its part, the Latin language gives us the moniker of traditio, or handing down. This time-honored concept is not entirely satisfactory, for in assigning the consumer a passive role as a mere recipient it denies agency at the point of delivery.
In his perceptive book on Sophocles entitled Oedipus at Thebes (1957), the Hellenist Bernard Knox has encapsulated the older view that the Reception approach challenges. “What does [the Oedipus Tyrannus”] mean to us now? And the answer suggested is: the same thing it meant to them, there, then. For in this case the attempt to understand the play as a particular phenomenon reveals its universal nature, the rigidly historical method finds itself uncovering the timeless.” Knox displays a confidence few would endorse nowadays, as we recognize that all efforts to recover the mentality and, if you will, the message of works conceived long ago in a society very different from our own are fraught with uncertainty. Moreover, Knox’s own views were colored by his own experiences. As a US Army soldier he fought in Italy in World War II. The success of that effort encouraged some in the belief that in the radiant postwar era we were entering a new, juster world order. And the classics would take their place among the pillars of that order.
Reception studies proceed from very different premises. This approach holds that can have no confidence that we can recover - and then endorse - the true meaning of any work that has come down to us from the past.
Yet it may be that Reception bears the traits of is own era, the approach that can be broadly termed postmodernism. In this view everything is fluid and transitional. There is no stable reality to be recovered from the past, only changing perceptions thereof. A more balanced view combines the recognition of the value of the source works with a delineation of the transformations that have enriched - though also sometimes distorted - our understanding of the source works.
At all events, even in this era of a crisis in publishing, some academic presses have enthusiastically embraced the reception approach. Oxford University Press, the leader in this endeavor, now has more than seventy titles in its Classical Presences series.
Some caveats are appropriate. Do reception studies truly offer salvation - or even solace - for classical studies? This hopeful conclusion is questionable, because in place of the older confidence in the intrinsic value of the classics, the new approach relegates them to the modest status of triggers in a process that ends up overshadowing them. In this way the classics assume a minor role in a narrative that in its many twists and turns inevitably overshadows the originals. Moreover, in focusing - as it sometimes does - on adaptations in film and television, in the comics and electronic games, the approach runs the risk of pandering to popular taste, with scanty positive yield.
Mirage or substantive advance? The upshot is yet to be determined
Section 4: A Summary Critique of Today's Classicists
From the eighteenth to as late as the early twentieth century, Greek and Latin were required even for entrance and normally also in the curriculum of most of the major universities. With such backgrounds, many majored in Classics and Religious Studies, especially Biblical and Patristic Studies, proficient as they were in the required languages and because those studies were then on the cutting edge. They attracted many of the finest minds of those times. And classicists often became the top intelligent officers and code breakers during the First and Second World War.
But after the First and even more the Second World War, the requirements were dropped and ability and interest in those fields diminished. Classical, Biblical and Patristic Studies attracted proportionately fewer majors and fewer doctoral candidates and very few first class minds entered those fields after the 1950s. As backwaters, they have become small cliques that did not include very many of the best and brightest.
Now, Classics has deteriorated to such a point that hegemonic cliques overwhelmed by the “publish or perish” mentality pour out their new half-baked theories for the sake of raises and promotions. Arrogantly and rudely, they neglect and willfully contradict the profound analyses of their great predecessors who understood the Gesamt: the totality of Altertumswissenschaft. Knowing only bits and pieces of the basic field, these new, overly specialized arrivistes fill the journals and university presses with mostly worthless gibberish that few read. They ignore and suppress valid criticism of their all too often simplistic, trendy theories and innovations. Having lost interest in the field and no longer linguistically equipped for it anyway, the great educated public has let these insipid, disrespectful rude insiders get away with cronyism. They review and praise each other’s rubbish, currying favor with their superiors hoping to advance their careers. I hereby call for searching critical review and opening up of this closed area by probing inspection and frank criticism. Having taught movies and even comic books about the classics, today’s classicists can still hardly fill their classes and when they do, they don’t produce properly trained Greek and Latin scholars but only scribblers and babblers like themselves.
Science is the Queen of Intellect today, and rightly so. And most students can not be expected to master both Greek and higher mathematics. I just want to see classics survive as a smaller discipline.
Classicists saved themselves in the short run in the eighteenth century by stressing their association with Religious studies—and by the same token, they damned themselves in the long run. Our scientific age has outgrown religion (though it clings ever more tightly to the mind of the masses), and thrown out the Classics baby with the bathwater.
As regards the deterioration of a smaller discipline, there are more general factors at work here. Publish or perish and the tenure system have corrupted other disciplines too. The American tenure system assures cronyism just as surely as the college of cardinals. Philosophy, for example, has become the same kind of picky, dogmatic logic chopping of just one school of thought (in England and the U.S., it is the Analytic school) as it was in the Middle Ages.
Critical thinking is sorely needed, but I don’t think this situation will really improve unless tenure is replaced by due process and those who decide are obligated to read and discuss candidates’ publications and teaching reviews. As it stands now, the publications in these fields are as environmentally unfriendly because they waste trees to make worthless paper as the excess of babies being conceived. All those who contribute to this impending catastrophe should be severely reprimanded, if not punished, be they scribblers or breeders.