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Martin Classical Lectures

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Aesopic Conversations

Popular Tradition, Cultural Dialogue, and the Invention of Greek Prose

Leslie Kurke

Examining the figure of Aesop and the traditions surrounding him, Aesopic Conversations offers a portrait of what Greek popular culture might have looked like in the ancient world. What has survived from the literary record of antiquity is almost entirely the product of an elite of birth, wealth, and education, limiting our access to a fuller range of voices from the ancient past. This book, however, explores the anonymous Life of Aesop and offers a different set of perspectives. Leslie Kurke argues that the traditions surrounding this strange text, when read with and against the works of Greek high culture, allow us to reconstruct an ongoing conversation of "great" and "little" traditions spanning centuries.

Evidence going back to the fifth century BCE suggests that Aesop participated in the practices of nonphilosophical wisdom (sophia) while challenging it from below, and Kurke traces Aesop's double relation to this wisdom tradition. She also looks at the hidden influence of Aesop in early Greek mimetic or narrative prose writings, focusing particularly on the Socratic dialogues of Plato and the Histories of Herodotus. Challenging conventional accounts of the invention of Greek prose and recognizing the problematic sociopolitics of humble prose fable, Kurke provides a new approach to the beginnings of prose narrative and what would ultimately become the novel.

Delving into Aesop, his adventures, and his crafting of fables, Aesopic Conversations shows how this low, noncanonical figure was--unexpectedly--central to the construction of ancient Greek literature.

Some images inside the book are unavailable due to digital copyright restrictions.

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Economy of the Unlost

(Reading Simonides of Keos with Paul Celan)

Anne Carson

The ancient Greek lyric poet Simonides of Keos was the first poet in the Western tradition to take money for poetic composition. From this starting point, Anne Carson launches an exploration, poetic in its own right, of the idea of poetic economy. She offers a reading of certain of Simonides' texts and aligns these with writings of the modern Romanian poet Paul Celan, a Jew and survivor of the Holocaust, whose "economies" of language are notorious. Asking such questions as, What is lost when words are wasted? and Who profits when words are saved? Carson reveals the two poets' striking commonalities.

In Carson's view Simonides and Celan share a similar mentality or disposition toward the world, language and the work of the poet. Economy of the Unlost begins by showing how each of the two poets stands in a state of alienation between two worlds. In Simonides' case, the gift economy of fifth-century b.c. Greece was giving way to one based on money and commodities, while Celan's life spanned pre- and post-Holocaust worlds, and he himself, writing in German, became estranged from his native language. Carson goes on to consider various aspects of the two poets' techniques for coming to grips with the invisible through the visible world. A focus on the genre of the epitaph grants insights into the kinds of exchange the poets envision between the living and the dead. Assessing the impact on Simonidean composition of the material fact of inscription on stone, Carson suggests that a need for brevity influenced the exactitude and clarity of Simonides' style, and proposes a comparison with Celan's interest in the "negative design" of printmaking: both poets, though in different ways, employ a kind of negative image making, cutting away all that is superfluous. This book's juxtaposition of the two poets illuminates their differences--Simonides' fundamental faith in the power of the word, Celan's ultimate despair--as well as their similarities; it provides fertile ground for the virtuosic interplay of Carson's scholarship and her poetic sensibility.

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Euripides and the Politics of Form

Victoria Wohl

How can we make sense of the innovative structure of Euripidean drama? And what political role did tragedy play in the democracy of classical Athens? These questions are usually considered to be mutually exclusive, but this book shows that they can only be properly answered together. Providing a new approach to the aesthetics and politics of Greek tragedy, Victoria Wohl argues that the poetic form of Euripides' drama constitutes a mode of political thought. Through readings of select plays, she explores the politics of Euripides' radical aesthetics, showing how formal innovation generates political passions with real-world consequences.

Euripides' plays have long perplexed readers. With their disjointed plots, comic touches, and frequent happy endings, they seem to stretch the boundaries of tragedy. But the plays' formal traits—from their exorbitantly beautiful lyrics to their arousal and resolution of suspense—shape the audience's political sensibilities and ideological attachments. Engendering civic passions, the plays enact as well as express political ideas. Wohl draws out the political implications of Euripidean aesthetics by exploring such topics as narrative and ideological desire, the politics of pathos, realism and its utopian possibilities, the logic of political allegory, and tragedy's relation to its historical moment.

Breaking through the impasse between formalist and historicist interpretations of Greek tragedy, Euripides and the Politics of Form demonstrates that aesthetic structure and political meaning are mutually implicated—and that to read the plays poetically is necessarily to read them politically.

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Female Acts in Greek Tragedy

Helene P. Foley

Although Classical Athenian ideology did not permit women to exercise legal, economic, and social autonomy, the tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides often represent them as influential social and moral forces in their own right. Scholars have struggled to explain this seeming contradiction. Helene Foley shows how Greek tragedy uses gender relations to explore specific issues in the development of the social, political, and intellectual life in the polis. She investigates three central and problematic areas in which tragic heroines act independently of men: death ritual and lamentation, marriage, and the making of significant ethical choices. Her anthropological approach, together with her literary analysis, allows for an unusually rich context in which to understand gender relations in ancient Greece.

This book examines, for example, the tragic response to legislation regulating family life that may have begun as early as the sixth century. It also draws upon contemporary studies of virtue ethics and upon feminist reconsiderations of the Western ethical tradition. Foley maintains that by viewing public issues through the lens of the family, tragedy asks whether public and private morality can operate on the same terms. Moreover, the plays use women to represent significant moral alternatives. Tragedy thus exploits, reinforces, and questions cultural clichés about women and gender in a fashion that resonates with contemporary Athenian social and political issues.

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Poetic Interplay

Catullus and Horace

Michael C.J. Putnam

The lives of Catullus and Horace overlap by a dozen years in the first century BC. Yet, though they are the undisputed masters of the lyric voice in Roman poetry, Horace directly mentions his great predecessor, Catullus, only once, and this reference has often been taken as mocking. In fact, Horace's allusion, far from disparaging Catullus, pays him a discreet compliment by suggesting the challenge that his accomplishment presented to his successors, including Horace himself. In Poetic Interplay, the first book-length study of Catullus's influence on Horace, Michael Putnam shows that the earlier poet was probably the single most important source of inspiration for Horace's Odes, the later author's magnum opus.

Except in some half-dozen poems, Catullus is not, technically, writing lyric because his favored meters do not fall into that category. Nonetheless, however disparate their preferred genres and their stylistic usage, Horace found in the poetry of Catullus, whatever its mode of presentation, a constant stimulus for his imagination. And, despite the differences between the two poets, Putnam's close readings reveal that many of Horace's poems echo Catullus verbally, thematically, or both. By illustrating how Horace often found his own voice even as he acknowledged Catullus's genius, Putnam guides us to a deeper appreciation of the earlier poet as well.

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Political Dissent in Democratic Athens

Intellectual Critics of Popular Rule

Josiah Ober

How and why did the Western tradition of political theorizing arise in Athens during the late fifth and fourth centuries B.C.? By interweaving intellectual history with political philosophy and literary analysis, Josiah Ober argues that the tradition originated in a high-stakes debate about democracy. Since elite Greek intellectuals tended to assume that ordinary men were incapable of ruling themselves, the longevity and resilience of Athenian popular rule presented a problem: how to explain the apparent success of a regime "irrationally" based on the inherent wisdom and practical efficacy of decisions made by non-elite citizens? The problem became acute after two oligarchic coups d' tat in the late fifth century B.C. The generosity and statesmanship that democrats showed after regaining political power contrasted starkly with the oligarchs' violence and corruption. Since it was no longer self-evident that "better men" meant "better government," critics of democracy sought new arguments to explain the relationship among politics, ethics, and morality.

Ober offers fresh readings of the political works of Thucydides, Plato, and Aristotle, among others, by placing them in the context of a competitive community of dissident writers. These thinkers struggled against both democratic ideology and intellectual rivals to articulate the best and most influential criticism of popular rule. The competitive Athenian environment stimulated a century of brilliant literary and conceptual innovation. Through Ober's re-creation of an ancient intellectual milieu, early Western political thought emerges not just as a "footnote to Plato," but as a dissident commentary on the first Western democracy.

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Recognizing Persius

Kenneth J. Reckford

Recognizing Persius is a passionate and in-depth exploration of the libellus--or little book--of six Latin satires left by the Roman satirical writer Persius when he died in AD 62 at the age of twenty-seven. In this comprehensive and reflectively personal book, Kenneth Reckford fleshes out the primary importance of this mysterious and idiosyncratic writer. Reckford emphasizes the dramatic power and excitement of Persius's satires--works that normally would have been recited before a reclining, feasting audience. In highlighting the satires' remarkable honesty, Reckford shows how Persius converted Roman satire into a vehicle of self-exploration and self-challenge that remains relevant to readers today.

The book explores the foundations of Roman satire as a performance genre: from the dinner-party recitals of Lucilius, the founder of the genre, through Horace, to Persius's more intense and inward dramatic monologues. Reckford argues that despite satire's significant public function, Persius wrote his pieces first and mainly for himself. Reckford also provides the context for Persius's life and work: his social responsibilities as a landowner; the interplay between his life, his Stoic philosophy, and his art; and finally, his incomplete struggle to become an honest and decent human being. Bringing the modern reader to a closer and more nuanced acquaintance with Persius's work, Recognizing Persius reinstates him to the ranks of the first-rate satirists, alongside Horace and Juvenal.

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Rethinking the Other in Antiquity

Erich S. Gruen

Prevalent among classicists today is the notion that Greeks, Romans, and Jews enhanced their own self-perception by contrasting themselves with the so-called Other--Egyptians, Phoenicians, Ethiopians, Gauls, and other foreigners--frequently through hostile stereotypes, distortions, and caricature. In this provocative book, Erich Gruen demonstrates how the ancients found connections rather than contrasts, how they expressed admiration for the achievements and principles of other societies, and how they discerned--and even invented--kinship relations and shared roots with diverse peoples.

Gruen shows how the ancients incorporated the traditions of foreign nations, and imagined blood ties and associations with distant cultures through myth, legend, and fictive histories. He looks at a host of creative tales, including those describing the founding of Thebes by the Phoenician Cadmus, Rome's embrace of Trojan and Arcadian origins, and Abraham as ancestor to the Spartans. Gruen gives in-depth readings of major texts by Aeschylus, Herodotus, Xenophon, Plutarch, Julius Caesar, Tacitus, and others, in addition to portions of the Hebrew Bible, revealing how they offer richly nuanced portraits of the alien that go well beyond stereotypes and caricature.

Providing extraordinary insight into the ancient world, this controversial book explores how ancient attitudes toward the Other often expressed mutuality and connection, and not simply contrast and alienation.

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Sound, Sense, and Rhythm

Listening to Greek and Latin Poetry

Mark W. Edwards

This book concerns the way we read--or rather, imagine we are listening to--ancient Greek and Latin poetry. Through clear and penetrating analysis Mark Edwards shows how an understanding of the effects of word order and meter is vital for appreciating the meaning of classical poetry, composed for listening audiences.

The first of four chapters examines Homer's emphasis of certain words by their positioning; a passage from the Iliad is analyzed, and a poem of Tennyson illustrates English parallels. The second considers Homer's techniques of disguising the break in the narrative when changing a scene's location or characters, to maintain his audience's attention. In the third we learn, partly through an English translation matching the rhythm, how Aeschylus chose and adapted meters to arouse listeners' emotions. The final chapter examines how Latin poets, particularly Propertius, infused their language with ambiguities and multiple meanings. An appendix examines the use of classical meters by twentieth-century American and English poets.

Based on the author's Martin Classical Lectures at Oberlin College in 1998, this book will enrich the appreciation of classicists and their students for the immense possibilities of the languages they read, translate, and teach. Since the Greek and Latin quotations are translated into English, it will also be welcomed by non-classicists as an aid to understanding the enormous influence of ancient Greek and Latin poetry on modern Western literature.

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Victorian Culture and Classical Antiquity

Art, Opera, Fiction, and the Proclamation of Modernity

Simon Goldhill

How did the Victorians engage with the ancient world? Victorian Culture and Classical Antiquity is a brilliant exploration of how the ancient worlds of Greece and Rome influenced Victorian culture. Through Victorian art, opera, and novels, Simon Goldhill examines how sexuality and desire, the politics of culture, and the role of religion in society were considered and debated through the Victorian obsession with antiquity.

Looking at Victorian art, Goldhill demonstrates how desire and sexuality, particularly anxieties about male desire, were represented and communicated through classical imagery. Probing into operas of the period, Goldhill addresses ideas of citizenship, nationalism, and cultural politics. And through fiction--specifically nineteenth-century novels about the Roman Empire--he discusses religion and the fierce battles over the church as Christianity began to lose dominance over the progressive stance of Victorian science and investigation. Rediscovering some great forgotten works and reframing some more familiar ones, the book offers extraordinary insights into how the Victorian sense of antiquity and our sense of the Victorians came into being.

With a wide range of examples and stories, Victorian Culture and Classical Antiquity demonstrates how interest in the classical past shaped nineteenth-century self-expression, giving antiquity a unique place in Victorian culture.

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