- M. I. Finley: An Ancient Historian and His Impact ed. by Daniel Jew, Robin Osborne, Michael Scott
The fifteen papers in this collection originated in one of the (many) international celebrations of the centenary of the birth of Sir Moses Finley (1912–1986), but the purpose of this conference was, explicitly, “to assess his impact,” rather than “simply to remember and to celebrate” the man (xv). While a few of the papers do manage to “remember” Finley, and generally quite fondly, many are better characterized as exercises in rereading Finley’s published works and discovering what one has misremembered about Finley’s main asseverations. Robin Osborne’s “somewhat dim and selective memories” (58) of The World of Odysseus (New York 1954) dissipated upon revisiting the actual book (which he had first encountered at sixteen), and his sentiment is echoed in Jonathan Prag’s gloomy assessment of the “disappointing” nature of A History of Sicily: Ancient Sicily to the Arab Conquest (London 1968) upon his own rereading, which matched the opinion of “one eminent scholar of ancient Sicily” (125 and 120). When he conducted his own rereading of Democracy Ancient and Modern (New Brunswick 1973, rev. 1985), Paul Cartledge “kept getting an uncomfortable feeling that what I had thought were my own original views were actually Finley’s—and not always those that he published in DAM . . . but those that he’d spun more conjecturally in his ‘History of Political Thought’ lectures” (211).
Cartledge’s choice of words is particularly apt here, since the force majeure of Finley’s “impact” seems to have emanated from those Cambridge lecture halls, where the tales of a master raconteur swept over waves of soon-to-be-prominent ancient historians. This sort of impact can best be appreciated by considering what Finley wrote—or, as Kostas Vlassopoulos fully demonstrates (chapter 5), what Finley is believed to have written—about slavery, especially when contrasted with Dorothy J. Thompson’s delightful collection of the recollections of Finley’s more prominent pupils (chapter 7). While John Dunn, quoted in Thompson’s appendix of the “testimony of selected individuals,” recalled Finley’s lectures on slavery as “his deepest engagement and the one which the world failed to see (i.e., he never really published what went into those lectures),” Thompson herself reproduces the first page of an 18-page handout—in untranslated Greek—accompanying a 1961 lecture on Greek and Roman enslavement (146 and 132). As these examples of “the remembered Finley” (a quotation [End Page 271] Thompson borrows from Nicholas Purcell, 127) suggest, Finley’s impact seems to have been more attributable to his “charisma” than to his publications (11). Thompson’s collection underscores the conclusion that a significant portion of Finley’s “political glitz” (Michael Cook’s phrase, 146) derived simply from his being an American (and specifically an “exotic” New Yorker), in exile from his own native country after 1954 (see especially 130, 133, and 146).
Nevertheless, this collection of papers could profit from even more careful analysis of Finley’s connections to the “refugee” experience, in both the American and the British phases of his career. Paul Millett’s painstaking investigation of the impact of Studies in Land and Credit (New Brunswick 1954)—Finley’s most “scholarly” publication but the one that Walter Scheidel demonstrates has had the least measurable impact in citation indices (291)—is replete with examples of Finley’s engagement with refugee scholars. It is well known that Fritz Heichelheim’s encouragement helped sustain Finley, especially between 1948 and 1951, when his Columbia advisor W. L. Westermann was considerably less supportive, but Finley also acknowledged the “helpful” Adolf Berger, a refugee from Nazism and historian of Roman law in New York, who would later publish one of the book’s (few) favorable reviews (36–37 and 45). In this light, it is a really remarkable fact—though buried in one of Millett’s footnotes (47 n.29)—that Finley sent a...