Bryn Mawr Classical Review 02.05.18


Frederick William Danker, A Century of Greco-Roman Philology: Featuring the American Philological Association and the Society of Biblical Literature. Society of Biblical Literature: Centennial Publications, Atlanta, 1988. ISBN 0-89130-985-3. Pp. xviii, 299.

La Filologia greca e latina nel secolo xx. Atti del Congresso Internazionale, Pisa, 1989. 3 volumes, 1180 pages text in the first two volumes (third volume is index). No detectable ISBN.


Reviewed by James J. O'Donnell, University of Pennsylvania.

The history of classical scholarship, of course, is customarily treated as a trivial pursuit, a sport for amateurs and gossip-mongers, and is the sort of thing we read in our easy chairs or under the trees as a diversion from more serious activities. This is deeply unfortunate, and for all the books and articles, there is still usually more to be learned from one volume of Momigliano's Contributi than from a shelf of well-intentioned contributions from the biography-obsessed sporting set.

These volumes fell into my hands in the vicinity of PA 65 or so in the stacks one afternoon, and I whiled away some time that would have been better spent worrying about Augustine's attitude towards Cyprian of Carthage, but there you are. The first is more interesting because more serious: there has been an attempt to apply thought to the subject, and a refreshing mixture of the history of classical and scriptural scholarship. The reach is fairly wide, the touch is light and sometimes uncertain (one who refers to the author of The Greek City as 'Arnold Jones' is at least there on unfamiliar ground, and there is food for thought in having as epigraphs to the book 'In the beginning was the Word' attributed to St. John and 'crescat scientia, vita excolatur' attributed to Paul Shorey). Several odd chapters are the most amusing, catalogues of vices of scholarship: 'philological voodoo, 'pseudorthodoxy', etc., and a nice treatment of the ills to which book-reviewing is liable. The bibliography runs to 74 pages.

The Italian volumes are the cadaver of a grand convegno of 1984, which must have been a very pleasant gathering as long as you didn't go to hear any of the papers. Assorted and sundry heavy hitters gathered to report on the state of Greek and Latin philology in their home countries in this century. Some countries required two reporters (one for Greek, one for Latin), and the USA was granted three (Georg Luck writing in Italian on textual criticism, Diskin Clay on Greek studies, and David Ross on Latin). The volumes make ponderous reading, only intermittently holding the attention of the Unterbaumleser. The coverage is broad, so one may read of scholarship in places like Bulgaria and Czechoslovakia, pieces which tend to be of greater interest simply because the state of affairs in the less-favored nations tend to be less well-known. (That such histories in smaller countries can be very interesting is well attested by another chance acquaintance: Pentti Aalto, Classical studies in Finland, 1828-1918 [Helsinki, 1980], paying healthy attention to the way individual scholars made careers by going abroad and to the institutional settings of their work.) I learned much about the difficulties Japanese scholars have with transliteration: the author of that essay once translated Thucydides into Japanese and sent a complimentary copy to the Hellenic Center in Washington. The librarian, wishing to catalogue it correctly, took it around to the Japanese embassy for re-transliteration and was assured that he had in his hands a copy of the 'History of Tokyo D-Days'.

But most of the articles are wearying catalogues of publications and names, with little assessment or explanation. Luck's piece is particularly dreary this way, but the French articles were disappointingly thin. What I found most readable were the surveys of Latin studies in Britain and the U.S. by E.J. Kenney (interesting on W.M. Lindsay and W.F. Jackson Knight especially) and by David Ross (refreshingly free of boosterism: rather Eeyore-ish in fact, a quality which may not agree with other tastes as strongly as it does with mine). There is enough in these books to make you wish that there were more historians of classical scholarship among us, and fewer biographists.