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The Feminine Character of the Ancient Text
Reintroducing the Iliad
Homer’s Iliad is often considered a poem of blunt truthfulness, his characters’ motivation pleasingly simple. A closer look, however, reveals a complex interplay of characters who engage in an awful lot of lies. Beginning with Achilles, who hatches a secret plot to destroy his own people, Mark Buchan traces motifs of deception and betrayal throughout the poem. Homer’s heroes offer bluster, their passion linked to and explained by their lack of authenticity. Buchan reads Homer’s characters between the lies, showing how the plot is structured individual denial and what cannot be said.
There has never been any shortage of interest in philology, its status, its history, or its origins. Today, after more than twenty years of serial “returns to philology” under the banner of deconstruction, the new medieval studies, critical bibliography, and a particular kind of globally aware activist criticism, philology has again become available as a respectable posture for contemporary literary scholars. But what is “philology,” and how can we attend to it, either as a contemporary practice or as an age-old object of endorsement and critique? In this volume, edited by Sean Gurd, noted scholars discuss the history of philology from antiquity to the present. This book addresses a wide variety of authors, documents, and movements, among them Greek papyri, Latin textual traditions, the Renaissance, eighteenth-century antiquarianism, and deconstruction. It is too easy to see philology as the bearer of an antiquated but forceful authority. When philologists take up the tools of textual criticism, they contribute to the very form of texts; seeking to articulate the protocols of correct interpretation, they aspire to be the legislators of reading practice. Nonetheless, Philology and Its Histories argues that philology is not a conservative or ideologically loaded master-discourse, but a tradition of searching, fundamentally ungrounded, dealing with the insecurity of questions rather than the safety of answers. For good or ill, philology is where literature happens; we do well to pay heed to it and to its changes over the course of millennia.
Plato's Two Paradigms
In Plato's Republic, Socrates contends that philosophers make the best rulers because only they behold with their mind's eye the eternal and purely intelligible Forms of the Just, the Noble, and the Good. When, in addition, these men and women are endowed with a vast array of moral, intellectual, and personal virtues and are appropriately educated, surely no one could doubt the wisdom of entrusting to them the governance of cities. Although it is widely-and reasonably-assumed that all the Republic's philosophers are the same, Roslyn Weiss argues in this boldly original book that the Republic actually contains two distinct and irreconcilable portrayals of the philosopher.
According to Weiss, Plato's two paradigms of the philosopher are the "philosopher by nature" and the "philosopher by design." Philosophers by design, as the allegory of the Cave vividly shows, must be forcibly dragged from the material world of pleasure to the sublime realm of the intellect, and from there back down again to the "Cave" to rule the beautiful city envisioned by Socrates and his interlocutors. Yet philosophers by nature, described earlier in the Republic, are distinguished by their natural yearning to encounter the transcendent realm of pure Forms, as well as by a willingness to serve others-at least under appropriate circumstances. In contrast to both sets of philosophers stands Socrates, who represents a third paradigm, one, however, that is no more than hinted at in the Republic. As a man who not only loves "what is" but is also utterly devoted to the justice of others-even at great personal cost-Socrates surpasses both the philosophers by design and the philosophers by nature. By shedding light on an aspect of the Republic that has escaped notice, Weiss's new interpretation will challenge Plato scholars to revisit their assumptions about Plato's moral and political philosophy.
Representations of Rural Life in Vergil’s Georgics
Playing the Farmer reinvigorates our understanding of Vergil’s Georgics, a vibrant work written by Rome’s premier epic poet shortly before he began the Aeneid. Setting the Georgics in the social context of its day, Philip Thibodeau for the first time connects the poem’s idyllic, and idealized, portrait of rustic life and agriculture with changing attitudes toward the countryside in late Republican and early Imperial Rome. He argues that what has been seen as a straightforward poem about agriculture is in fact an enchanting work of fantasy that elevated, and sometimes whitewashed, the realities of country life. Drawing from a wide range of sources, Thibodeau shows how Vergil’s poem reshaped agrarian ideals in its own time, and how it influenced Roman poets, philosophers, agronomists, and orators. Playing the Farmer brings a fresh perspective to a work that was praised by Dryden as "the best poem by the best poet."
Collective Decision Making and the Iliad
The Poetics of Consent breaks new ground in Homeric studies by interpreting the Iliad’s depictions of political action in terms of the poetic forces that shaped the Iliad itself. Arguing that consensus is a central theme of the epic, David Elmer analyzes in detail scenes in which the poem’s three political communities—Achaeans, Trojans, and Olympian gods—engage in the process of collective decision making. These scenes reflect an awareness of the negotiation involved in reconciling rival versions of the Iliad over centuries. They also point beyond the Iliad’s world of gods and heroes to the here-and-now of the poem’s performance and reception, in which the consensus over the shape and meaning of the Iliadic tradition is continuously evolving. Elmer synthesizes ideas and methods from literary and political theory, classical philology, anthropology, and folklore studies to construct an alternative to conventional understandings of the Iliad’s politics. The Poetics of Consent reveals the ways in which consensus and collective decision making determined the authoritative account of the Trojan War that we know as the Iliad.
The Roman writer Cornelius Nepos was a friend of Cicero and Catullus and other first-century BCE authors, and portions of his encyclopedic work On Famous Men are the earliest surviving biographies written in Latin. In The Political Biographies of Cornelius Nepos, Rex Stem presents Nepos as a valuable witness to the late Republican era, whose biographies share the exemplary republican political perspective of his contemporaries Cicero and Livy. Stem argues that Nepos created the genre of grouped political biographies in order to characterize renowned Mediterranean figures as role models for Roman leaders, and he shows how Nepos invested his biographies with moral and political arguments against tyranny. This book, the first to regard Nepos as a serious thinker in his own right, also functions as a general introduction to Nepos, placing him in his cultural context. Stem examines Nepos' contributions to the growth of biography, and he defends Nepos from his critics at the same time that he lays out the political significance and literary innovation of Nepos' writings. Accessible to advanced undergraduates, this volume is addressed to a general audience of classicists and ancient historians, as well as those broadly interested in biography, historiography, and political thought.
One of the masterpieces of Latin and, indeed, world literature, Virgil's Aeneid was written during the Augustan “renaissance” of architecture, art, and literature that redefined the Roman world in the early years of the empire. This period was marked by a transition from the use of rhetoric as a means of public persuasion to the use of images to display imperial power. Taking a fresh approach to Virgil's epic poem, Riggs Alden Smith argues that the Aeneid fundamentally participates in the Augustan shift from rhetoric to imagery because it gives primacy to vision over speech as the principal means of gathering and conveying information as it recounts the heroic adventures of Aeneas, the legendary founder of Rome. Working from the theories of French phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Smith characterizes Aeneas as a voyant-visible, a person who both sees and is seen and who approaches the world through the faculty of vision. Engaging in close readings of key episodes throughout the poem, Smith shows how Aeneas repeatedly acts on what he sees rather than what he hears. Smith views Aeneas' final act of slaying Turnus, a character associated with the power of oratory, as the victory of vision over rhetoric, a triumph that reflects the ascendancy of visual symbols within Augustan society. Smith's new interpretation of the predominance of vision in the Aeneid makes it plain that Virgil's epic contributes to a new visual culture and a new mythology of Imperial Rome.
Antigone and the Invention of Individuality
In Private Lives, Public Deaths, Jonathan Strauss shows how Sophocles' tragedy Antigone crystallized the political, intellectual, and aesthetic forces of an entire historical moment--fifth-century Athens--into one idea: the value of a single, living person. That idea existed, however, only as a powerful but unconscious desire. Drawing on classical studies, Hegel, and contemporary philosophical interpretations of this pivotal drama, Strauss argues that Antigone's tragedy, and perhaps all classical tragedy, represents a failure to satisfy this longing. To the extent that the value of a living individual remains an open question, what Sophocles attempted to imagine still escapes our understanding. Antigone is, in this sense, a text not from the past, but from our future.
These ardent, even obsessed, poems about erotic passion are among the brightest jewels in the crown of Latin literature. Written by Propertius, Rome's greatest poet of love, who was born around 50 b.c., a contemporary of Ovid, these elegies tell of Propertius' tormented relationship with a woman he calls "Cynthia." Their connection was sometimes blissful, more often agonizing, but as the poet came to recognize, it went beyond pride or shame to become the defining event of his life. Whether or not it was Propertius' explicit intention, these elegies extend our ideas of desire, and of the human condition itself.