Classics

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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Terry Teachout on How to Stage Greek Tragedy Today

December 20, 2007
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Terry Teachout on How to Stage Greek Tragedy Today

In a book we published a few years back, British classicist Simon Goldhill explained the Greek and Roman roots of everything in contemporary Western culture, from our political systems to the quest for the perfect body. Still, we have traveled some ways from those classic roots, which perhaps accounts for why the works of Greek dramatists can seem so ancient and foreign when performed on a modern stage. Most of the action takes place offstage, the characters do more speechifying than dialogue, and a chorus shuffles on and off. Goldhill’s latest book, How to Stage Greek Tragedy Today, tackles this problem. Writing in a Commentary magazine blog, the Horizon, drama critic Terry Teachout discussed the book last week. Teachout noted that “most contemporary productions of Greek tragedy are exercises in theatrical futility” and summed up Goldhill’s contribution: His approach is at once deeply informed by the best academic scholarship and no less deeply rooted in a commonsense understanding of what works on stage. The result is one of the most instructive and lucidly written books about theater to have been published in recent years. No one whose interest in drama is more than merely casual should pass it by. . . .

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Review: Goldhill, How to Stage Greek Tragedy Today

November 16, 2007
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Review: Goldhill, How to Stage Greek Tragedy Today

The Literary Review is currently running a piece on Simon Goldhill’s new book, How to Stage Greek Tragedy Today. As the Review‘s Fiona Macintosh notes, with new productions of Greek drama flooding the world of theater, Goldhill’s book makes a timely effort to address the challenges involved in updating these ancient masterpieces for the modern stage. Macintosh writes: Since the 1960s there has been an explosion in the number of performances of ancient plays not just in Europe, but increasingly across the globe—in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. In many ways, Goldhill’s new book is a response to this phenomenon. As he explains, directors or actors who are about to work with a Greek play regularly turn to scholars of ancient tragedy for assistance; and one frequent question concerns what they should read. Goldhill says his book grew out of one such query from Vanessa Redgrave, when she was having a difficult time in West End as the eponymous heroine of Euripides’ Hecuba, with a director she couldn’t abide and in a part which had just been played superlatively by Claire Higgins at the Donmar Warehouse… The review continues: As one would expect from Goldhill, author of a number of . . .

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Press Release: Goldhill, How to Stage Greek Tragedy Today

November 15, 2007
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Press Release: Goldhill, How to Stage Greek Tragedy Today

The Sacramento Theatre Company reimagines Euripides’ Electra as Electricidad, while off-Broadway’s Signature Theatre puts on Iphigenia 2.0 and an Indian director stages Raja Oedipus, an adaptation of the famous Sophocles play featuring Karbi gods and goddesses in place of the original Greek deities: if you’ve seen any of these recent performances—or one of their countless counterparts on stages across the globe—you’ve experienced the timelessness, renewed popularity, and ever-broadening reach of Greek tragedy. But how are today’s productions different from their ancient peers? What are the best strategies for interpreting these dramas on contemporary stages? In this follow-up to his acclaimed Love, Sex & Tragedy: How the Ancient World Shapes our Lives, renowned classicist Simon Goldhill responds to these questions (and many others) with his long-awaited guide How to Stage Greek Tragedy Today. Read the press release. . . .

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Review: Grene, Of Farming and Classics

July 23, 2007
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Review: Grene, Of Farming and Classics

Last Saturday’s Chicago Tribune ran a great piece on David Grene’s recently published memoir Of Farming and Classics—a wonderfully original account of the author’s double life as a preeminent professor of classics at the University of Chicago and hard-working, old-fashioned farmer in rural Illinois and Ireland. Staff reporter Ron Grossman writes for the Tribune’s Books section: David Grene could easily be described with the cliché “last of a breed,” but he was also the first of his kind. Or, at least, the first in a long time. In 1937 he came to the University of Chicago to teach classics and, a few years later, bought a farm near Lemont. It wasn’t a hobby farm. Working the land himself, Grene disdained tractors in favor of horses, often coming to class with manure-caked boots. He later farmed in his native Ireland. His personal style reincarnated that of the Roman aristocrats, with their love of the soil and taste for good books. Greek literature traces to Hesiod’s Works and Days, with its anticipation of The Old Farmer’s Almanac, a poetic tour of the agricultural year. Plantation owners in the antebellum South could often conjugate Latin verbs, but in the 20th Century, the study . . .

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Review: Gross, The Secret History of Emotion

May 30, 2007
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Review: Gross, The Secret History of Emotion

In his new book, The Secret History of Emotion: From Aristotle’s Rhetoric to Modern Brain Science author Daniel Gross embarks on an intellectual voyage to examine the history of emotions in western culture. Writing for the Times Literary Supplement reviewer Stephen Pender praises Gross’s newest work for delivering a fascinating counterpoint to the way we generally understand emotions today. Pender writes: One way to prise open the emotional sphere is to situate the passions socially, to investigate their exigencies with an eye on the polis. And we have a fine guide in Daniel Gross, the author of The Secret History of Emotion. To recognize the social in the passionate, Gross urges a turn to Aristotelian traditions, and in particular to the Rhetoric, which offers “a pragmatic phenomenology of the passions.” In opposition to “current platitudes of emotion,” Gross offers a bold, compelling and occasionally rebarbative argument about the turn from seventeenth- and eighteenth-century political rhetoric, which articulated the social and the particular in the passionate, to a hopelessly insular psychology, marked by disingenuous universalizing and specious materialism.… Gross’s deft and remarkable book should be required reading for neurobiologists and, of course, for humanists of every school. . . .

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Review: Grene, Of Farming and Classics

May 21, 2007
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Review: Grene, Of Farming and Classics

Last week, the Times Literary Supplement ran a review of David Grene’s posthumous memoir, Of Farming and Classics. Weaving together Grene’s life as a professor of classics at the University of Chicago with his alter ego as a farmer in Ireland and in Illinois, Of Farming and Classics delivers a refreshing and intelligent take on classical scholarship in the twentieth century. TLS reviewer Edith Hall seems to agree when she writes: David Grene’s experience of Irish, British, Austrian and American Classics across the whole period from the 1920s until 2002 makes this slim, deftly written, posthumously published volume an illuminating read for every classical scholar engaged with the current quest for the subject’s roots, and the excavation of the way that it has evolved over the past century and a half. But Grene’s memoir is made really memorable by his “other”, bucolic voice; for his account of twentieth-century Classics runs in tandem with his memories of his other profession, as a dairy farmer in Illinois and subsequently in Wicklow and Cavan in Ireland.… Belonging to two social worlds gives him an unusually keen eye for the precise nuances of social class and the ways in which they are defined and . . .

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Review: Censorinus, The Birthday Book

April 17, 2007
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Review: Censorinus, The Birthday Book

The April 6 Times Literary Supplement carried an appreciative review of Holt N. Parker’s translation of The Birthday Book—an entertaining third-century treatise on all aspects of the birthday. Roman grammarian and writer Censorinus originally wrote the book as a birthday gift for a friend, and TLS reviewer Karl Galinsky notes that Parker’s translation qualifies as “the perfect present for someone who has everything.” Galinsky writes: The range of topics and their constellation offers something for everybody, whether in quaint “Ripley’s Believe or Not” fashion or truly useful information that is not simply esoteric. Parker and the University of Chicago Press have entered into the spirit of this enterprise nicely. The book is produced handsomely in small format, and the text is interspersed with some helpful diagrams and illustrations. In addition, there is a useful glossary and notes that do not smother. We previously posted an excerpt from the book: Censorinus’s meditation on the puzzle of the chicken or the egg. . . .

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Happy Birthday, Thomas Jones

February 23, 2007
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Happy Birthday, Thomas Jones

It was his birthday, so it’s fitting that Thomas Jones had a piece in the London Review of Books yesterday on The Birthday Book, Holt N. Parker’s translation of the third century Roman scholar Censorinus’ meditations on that most personal of holidays. Expanding the concept of the birthday to comment on everything from music and history, to astronomy and astrology, Censorinus’ book is a sublime picture of the universe as it was conceived by the Romans. But, as Jones notes, though the work has had significant influence on western culture, until now it has only been accessible to those who read Latin: Though this is its first translation into English, The Birthday Book enjoyed many centuries of popularity. “It has come down to us through a large number of manuscripts from as early as the beginning of the eighth century AD,” Parker says, and “was among the earliest books printed in Europe, with a first edition in 1497, and new editions in 1498 and 1500, with eight more in the 16th century alone.” Copernicus and Kepler were both familiar with it. And even if the book itself has since fallen into obscurity, its form is recognizable in such modern assemblages . . .

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An excerpt from The Birthday Book by Censorinus

February 9, 2007
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An excerpt from The Birthday Book by Censorinus

In the year AD 238, in the capital of the Roman Empire, the scholar Censorinus gave a present to his best friend, the noble Quintus Caerellius. The gift was this charming work, which he called The Birthday Book (De die natali liber). In its few dozen pages, Censorinus sets down everything related to the idea of birthdays. He begins simply, with the right way to sacrifice to one’s birthday spirit. By the time he has finished he has sketched a glorious vision of the universe ruled by harmony and order, where the microcosm of the child in the womb corresponds to the macrocosm of the planets.—From Holt N. Parker’s Preface to The Birthday Book by Censorinus Part 4, "Seed and Conception" 1. Your lifetime starts on your birthday, but there are also many things before that day which pertain to the origin of humankind. It seems relevant, therefore, to say something first about the things which are themselves first in the order of nature. So I shall briefly set out some of the opinions which the ancients held about the origins of mankind. 2. The first and general question treated by the men of old who were learned in wisdom . . .

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