Bryn Mawr Classical Review 03.03.25


Letter to the Editors


Dear Prof. O'Donnell:

Scholars Press sent me a copy of your review of my SBL centennial volume (Frederick William Danker, A Century of Greco-Roman Philology: Featuring the American Philological Association and the Society of Biblical Literature: see BMCR 2.5.18). Your sensitivity to some of the things that go on in this book invites me to share a bit of that which lies beneath the surface. I have a feeling that you have a sense of humor and combine a firm scholarly responsibility with warm humanitas.

In contrast to a humorless reviewer who admitted ignorance about half of the contents, namely the biblical scholarship, and then failed to gasp the rationale of the whole, you noted the mixture of classical and scriptural scholarship and did not discount the "odd" chapters.

First of all, I am a classicist, who received the doctorate at the University of Chicago, where I developed a special appreciation for Paul Shorey and his work. I am also an ordained minister, and have made the Greek New Testament my special area of interest, but always within the context of Hellenic and Greco-Roman culture. During my teaching career as a seminary professor, I spent much time on the revision of the Bauer Greek Lexicon. Much of the literature that I cite in Century lies behind data in the lexicon of 1979. While I was at work on the lexicon, I also read and reread much of Greek literature, along with epigraphs and papryi.

After agreeing to write the centennial volume for SBL, I found myself faced with an embarrassing problem. After ransacking every issue of JBL, I found that American biblical scholars had made very few contributions that could be considered significant for a history of philological scholarship relating to the Greek language. There was much recycling of German material and much rehashing of topics dear to the Teutonic mind, but beyond the work of Cadbury and a few others, there was little to suggest that biblical scholars were aware of more than a few names in the canon of Greek authors and documents. Indeed, when I delivered an essay, about thirty years ago at a meeting of SBL, on the contributions of a study of Menander to the understanding of New Testament material, it was as though I had addressed the wind. At the time, Prof. John Reumann, a classicist in his own right, noted that most of the guild did not know who Menander was. What he observed confirmed another colleague's satirical inquiry to me, thirty years late: "Do you think that you can do it in five pages or less?"

Since, like Duns Scotus, I was faced with a lack of subject matter, I resolved to take the route I did, namely to help awaken biblical scholars to the kinds of data they should have taken note of in the past in classical circles and to encourage them to be alert in the future. At the same time, I hoped to awaken some classical scholars out of a sustained ignorance concerning biblical and related Greek documents. In the course of my study, I noted that very few of my fellow classicists shared the breadth of interest displayed, for example by Prof. Renehan.

In view of the fact that this was a centennial volume for SBL, I had no intention of writing a history of classical scholarship, and, as I indicated above, it was impossible to produce one about Greco-Roman philology in Biblical circles. Therefore I resolved to emphasize those points at which biblical scholars could most benefit from the contributions of scholars outside their realm. Hence the emphasis on basic research tools: concordances, grammars, lexicons, and epigraphy and papryology. At the same time, classicists could benefit from the data in these areas. My aim was not to offer anecdotal bits of exegesis, but through references to the contributions of scholars to demonstrate the importance of communication. After all, L' Année Philologique long ago set the pace. I also endeavored to correct a trend in our time to ignore the contributions of earlier scholars. My work on the lexicon led me to the realization that there is much reinvention of the wheel going on because of ignorance of what has been done before. I had to remind graduate students repeatedly to hunt down dissertations and other forms of publications by German and French scholars before crying out "Eureka." Many of the best treatments are cited in BAGD. Recently I read a book in which the author discussed the famous Pompeian mosaic of the "Alexanderschlacht." She claimed to have discovered the real pathos of the work, Darius' concern for a fallen Persian soldier. Upon reading this, I said to myself, I have seen this before. Thereupon I took down Curtius' Die Wandmalerei Pompejis (not cited in her bibliography), and found the same insight discussed, but with much finer aesthetic sensitivity (pp. 332-33). Similarly, many who have entered the realm of literary criticism know very little of what has been done before their mothers invented them. (In this connection, if someone can show me a scholar who has taken account of Poe's importance in connection with the history of biblical literary criticism, not to speak of classical philology, I will be exceedingly grateful.) It was experiences like this that prompted me to include some of the items I presented in the "odd" chapters, and I adopted the lighter vein, so as to ease the pain involved in language of rebuke and censure. Thus much I learned from Aristophanes and Horace.

The mention of these last two authors also induces me to state that one of my aims in the book was to reflect in the tone and formal structure of its some of the features of the very literature that gave to Greek its claim on our attention. In other words, the book was designed to convey a Greek tinge in a book whose hero is the Greek language. By adopting Gildersleeve and Shorey as principal bearers of the "message," I aimed at giving the book some dramatic effect. My neologisms in the "odd" chapters are not, as one reviewer complained, 'sophomoric' expressions. Those with a sense of Greek literary history have readily recognized them as wrappings drawn from a variety of Greek literary pieces, including especially Aristophanes, inventor of outrageous verbal concantenations, and Theophrastos, that cataloguer of human eccentricities enveloped in bombastic diction. At the same time, the diction I chose is a subtle joke on myself, for later on in the volume I take a few jabs at those who make necessary a study of the sociology of language, especially as it relates to the developing interest in small limited-interest groups, each with its own dialect. Aficionados of Greek literature will have the pleasure of identifying many more points of stylistic and topical contact that I have incorporated in the book. I will say only so much, that the list of bon mots allotted to Gildersleeve reflects on the one hand the voracious Hellenic capacity for lists and on the other the great respect I have for Gildersleeve's superb ability to characterize intense moments in history.

In general, I hope that the book will encourage scholars to move toward observance of even higher standards in the practice of their craft. Of course, I am not happy about some of the glitches that entered the book. At one point I call Wilamowitz-Moellendorf William, although I have him correct with Ulrich, at the very beginning. At the U of C I read almost everything he wrote, especially on Pindar and Greek religion. This book was the first one I did with a work processor, and some of my cut-and-paste led error to impress its imprimatur. As for "Arnold Jones," I am grateful to you for calling this item to my attention, and I shall most certainly check on the full names that lie behind the initials "A.H.M." I must confess, however, that I am additionally embarrassed in not being able to quickly find my mention of The Greek City.

Frederick Danker