Classics

Jonathan M. Hall’s Artifact and Artifice

January 16, 2014
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Jonathan M. Hall’s Artifact and Artifice

In Artifact and Artifice: Classic Archaeology and the Ancient Historian, Jonathan M. Hall considers the case for archaeological history as a form of living forensics, in which the relationship between text and material—dirt and words—allows us to understand the possibilities (and limits) of using archaeological evidence to write about the past. By focusing on methodology—and its relationship to pedagogy, the construction of the archaeological imaginary, and how it determines historical approaches to antiquity—Hall helps to cast the present and future of the field. At the same time, he makes use of nine case studies, or “cautionary tales,” which explore how previous scholars, themselves knowledgeable agents, correlated textual and physical evidence, “artfully” creating both material objects and written discourse as products that need to be interpreted with art and skill.

From the book’s opening pages:

Can the geology and geochemistry of the Delphi region offer clues to why the oracle of Apollo was so highly regarded in the ancient world? Should the proposed redating of a single temple cause us to revise the chronology we assign to Classical art? Why did the Athenians wait so long before repairing their temples after the Persian invasion of 480–479 BCE? Can . . .

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Terrence Malick on Margaret Doody

October 8, 2013
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Terrence Malick on Margaret Doody

A piece on Terrence Malick’s latest film To the Wonder appeared shortly after its release this April at New York Magazine‘s online site Vulture. Nothing about the title of the piece need grab you at first engagement—though “Radiant Zigzag Becoming: How Terrence Malick and His Team Constructed To the Wonder” is elegiac and ponderous and a bit of a mouthful, not unlike the reputation of Malick’s oeuvre. What ends up fascinating in this article—besides lines we like such as, “the film has struck some as a particularly Malick-y Terrence Malick film”—is the breakdown of that radiant zigzag becoming, which the writer traces to a scholarly introduction penned for an edition of Samuel Richardson’s Pamela; or Virtue Rewarded, a tawdry Stockholm Syndrome-done-good epistolary novel that shocked and awed its eighteenth-century readers. The Intro was written by our own Margaret A. Doody, the John and Barbara Glynn Family Professor of Literature at Notre Dame and a specialist in Restoration and eighteenth-century British literature.

The relevant connection to Doody’s work?

One odd but telling reference point Malick gave his editors was Margaret A. Doody’s introduction to the Penguin Books edition of Samuel Richardson’s revolutionary . . .

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Euripides’ Iphigenia among the Taurians, translated by Anne Carson

April 19, 2013
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Euripides’ Iphigenia among the Taurians, translated by Anne Carson

Iphigenia among the Taurians by Euripides (newly translated by Anne Carson)

From the Introduction:

The date of this play is uncertain, but approximately 414 BCE is a fairly safe guess.

The story involves two important variants on the legend of the House of Atreus: the transportation of Iphigenia to the Tauric Chersonese on the northern coast of the Black Sea to serve as a priestess of Artemis; and the last wanderings of Orestes, which unite him with his lost sister. These variants are clearly explained in the text, at lines 1–41 and 940–78, respectively.

Iphigenia among the Taurians is technically a tragedy, that is, a serious play in elevated poetical language presented on the occasion when tragedies were produced. But in the modern sense of the term it is not “tragic.” It has often been called “romantic comedy,” of a type also exemplified in Euripides’ Helen, his Ion, and many lost plays by various Greek dramatists. It is not merely a matter of the happy ending. Other tragedies have that. But here the emphasis is, even more than usually, on plot, on the how rather than the why . . .

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On the Nature of (Our) Things

August 15, 2011
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On the Nature of (Our) Things

In a recent issue of the New Yorker, UCP author Stephen Greenblatt reminds us of the “strikingly modern” outlook of De rerum natura, Roman philosopher Lucretius’s epic, 7400-line poem On the Nature of Things, and its Epicurean atomic mindblow. Amid the celestial provenance of fortuna—fate, not divine intervention—Lucretius mixed up explanations of the material world (lightning, earthquakes, and heat) with a primer on disease and a pestilent description of a plagued Athens.

As Greenblatt notes:

Every page reflected a core scientific vision—a vision of atoms randomly moving in an infinite universe—imbued with a poet’s sense of wonder. Wonder did not depend on the dream of an afterlife; in Lucretius, it welled up out of a recognition that we are made of the same matter as the stars and the oceans and all things else. And this recognition was the basis for the way he thought we should live—not in fear of the gods but in pursuit of pleasure, in avoidance of pain. As it turned out, there was a line from this work to modernity, though not a direct one.

Should we follow that path? In The Lucretian Renaissance: Philology and the Afterlife of Tradition, Gerard Passannante takes us along . . .

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Free e-book of the month

November 5, 2009
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Free e-book of the month

Beginning this month we will offer a free e-book each month. If you’d like to give our Chicago Digital Editions a try, or if you just want to score some good reads, check in regularly for the free e-book of the month. And for all our currently available e-books, see our list of e-books by subject.

This month’s selection is The Birthday Book by the Roman writer Censorinus.

Nearly 2,000 years ago, the Roman scholar Censorinus bestowed upon his best friend a charming birthday present: The Birthday Book, which appears here in its long-awaited first English translation. Laying out everything he knew about birthdays, the book starts simply, but by the conclusion of this brief yet brilliant gem, Censorinus has sketched a glorious vision of a universe ruled by harmony and order, where the microcosm of the child in the womb corresponds to the macrocosm of the planets. Alternately serious and playful, Censorinus touches on music, history, astronomy, astrology, and every aspect of time as it was understood in third-century Rome. He also provides ancient answers to perennial questions: Why does the day begin at midnight? Where did Leap Year come from? Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

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A Caesar for our own time

August 25, 2008
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A Caesar for our own time

An interesting review of Maria Wyke’s new book Caesar: A Life in Western Culture appeared in the August 18 edition of the Wall Street Journal. In the review, Peter Stothard praises the book for its insightful exploration of the various ways in which modern culture has invoked and appropriated Caesar and his legacy—from Mussolini, seeking a Caesarian mandate for this own grand ambitions, to Caesars Palace, Las Vegas:

Ms. Wyke’s concern is how we have created and adapted Caesar’s image and historical importance over the past 2,000 years… The principle behind this kind of study is known as “reception theory.” Its typical proponent is skeptical of how much we can know of what someone like Caesar and his contemporaries did and thought; a reception theorist is much more confident of how we have come to use and think about them ourselves. A comic book can thus be as important as a commander’s campsite. A bust loudly but unconvincingly proclaimed by its discoverer to be authentic is as significant as a newly interpreted paragraph from “De Bello Gallico.” The skill of a reception theorist such as Ms. Wyke lies in what she chooses to include and what she chooses to . . .

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The garden as a cultural institution

June 25, 2008
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The garden as a cultural institution

Last week in the June 16 New York Times cultural critic Edward Rothstein had an interesting commentary on the New York Botanical Garden drawing on Robert Pogue Harrison’s new book, Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition, to help him place the concept of the garden in the wider context of western history and demonstrate its enduring cultural and historical importance. Rothstein writes:

From medieval cloisters, botanical gardens made their way into universities, beginning with the University of Pisa in 1544. Later the garden’s terrain expanded with botanical expeditions, oceanic trade and imperial adventures. Victorian botanical gardens could be encyclopedic in scope, arranging their displays according to Latin classifications of species by the Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus.

Now, in our humid, dry, cooled or heated greenhouses, we shun such systematic display. Instead we replicate ecological niches, miniature worlds that supposedly show nature at work: the desert, the rainforest, the tropical pool. But peel back the environmental stagecraft, and the scientific cultivation continues with even greater passion…

There is something moving about the entire enterprise. In a remarkable new book, Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition, Robert Pogue Harrison (who wrote similar meditations on cemeteries and on forests) elicits . . .

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“The pocket-worlds of childhood”

June 18, 2008
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“The pocket-worlds of childhood”

In today’s edition of the New York Sun Eric Ormsby reviews two new histories of children’s literature including Seth Lerer’s new book, Children’s Literature: A Reader’s History from Aesop to Harry Potter. In the review Ormsby praises Lerer for his ability to capture the special role the iconic books of childhood play in the lives of young readers. Ormsby writes:

In Children’s Literature: A Reader’s History from Aesop to Harry Potter Seth Lerer notes that the history of children’s books is a study “of books as valued things, crafted and held, lived with and loved.” This fundamental insight gives a human touch to what might otherwise have been a dusty foray into long forgotten hornbooks and primers. But Mr. Lerer, a philologist by training — and professor of English at Stanford — loves words, as well as the books made from them, and he is an impassioned reader. Whether he’s discussing the grim New England Primer of 1727 or the decisive impact of Darwinism on late-19th-century children’s fiction, he has a keen sense of what he nicely calls “the pocket-worlds of childhood.…” As Mr. Lerer says, “the adventures of the child go on in secret spaces: in the purses, . . .

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Press Release: Harrison, Gardens

June 2, 2008
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Press Release: Harrison, Gardens

Nothing banishes winter’s lethargy more quickly than that first sight of the green of spring, as trees bud and our gardens, once again, burst into glorious bloom. For Robert Pogue Harrison, it’s not just the depths of winter that gardens help us escape: throughout human history, gardens—both real and imagined—have been essential places of refuge and comfort in the face of a harsh, often violent world.

Employing the richly learned and allusive approach that he brought to his classics, Forests and The Dominion of the Dead, Harrison explores here the central importance of the human urge to nurture and cultivate gardens. Beginning with ancient conceptions of the garden as a place for the quiet work of self-improvement that is crucial to serenity and enlightenment, Harrison then travels widely through the history of Western culture. Enlisting such varied thinkers and writers as Voltaire and Calvino, Boccaccio and Arendt, Harrison profoundly demonstrates the role the garden has long played as a necessary, humanizing check against the degradation and losses of history.

Read the press release.

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Press Release: Lerer, Children’s Literature

June 2, 2008
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Press Release: Lerer, Children’s Literature

In Children’s Literature: A Reader’s History from Aesop to Harry Potter, Seth Lerer tells us the bedtime story of Western culture’s obsession with books for the young. He traces the transformative power of literature across centuries, from the moralizing allegories of antiquity to the swashbuckling epics of the nineteenth century and the acerbic self-awareness of Judy Blume and Weetzie Bat.

Written with the panoramic scope of a distinguished scholar and the affection of a parent and avid reader, Children’s Literature reminds us of the sublime power of books in an era when videogames, MySpace, and text messaging compete for the free time of our youth.

Read the press release.

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