Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 1999.04.25

Calder III, William M., Men in Their Books: Studies in the Modern History of Classical Scholarship. Spudasmata Band 67. Edited by John P. Harris and R. Scott Smith.   Hildesheim:  Georg Olms Verlag, 1998.  Pp. xlvi + 324.  ISBN 3-487-10686-8.  DM 88.  

Reviewed by Robert Todd, University of British Columbia (
Word count: 1277 words

"For the growing discipline of Wissenschaftsgeschichte sources are of first importance. Only so much can be learned from scholarly publications. To isolate the subjective and thereby more accurately assess the permanent contribution we must learn as much as we can about the scholar's Sitz im Leben." This credo, expressed in a recent review by William Calder,1 informs the bulk of the present collection of slightly revised reprints of twenty-one of his articles published between 1985 and 1996, just as it did his earlier collection, Studies in the Modern History of Classical Scholarship, Antiqua 27, Naples, 1984. Men in Their Books (hereafter MITB) is similarly dominated, though not to quite the same degree, by numerous Vorstudien for a long-awaited biography of Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff. Thus eight articles on this towering figure (about forty per cent of the text)2 join single studies of Sir James Frazer, Jane Harrison, and Friedrich Nietzsche (chs. 13, 9, and 17), pairs of studies on Werner Jaeger (chs. 8 and 14) and Heinrich Schliemann (chs. 7 and 20), and six on the modern history of Classics in the United States.3 Of the latter, four are brief obituary notices (Moses Hadas, Morton Smith, A.D. Nock and Sterling Dow), but two (chs. 18 and 19) are more substantial analyses of Classics departments: William Abbott Oldfather's of Columbia in 1937-1938, and Calder's own of Harvard in the period 1950-1956. Again, like Studies, MITB is preceded by a bibliography of the author's publications, and complemented by an Index Personarum (lacking, however, Bundy E., who appears only in the paronymously derogatory form "Bundyism" on p. 52, and M. Reinhold at p. 140.) Unlike its predecessor, this volume, unfortunately to my mind, has its contents arranged chronologically rather than by subject. But this minor quibble aside, MITB, with its very welcome avoidance of offset reprinting, is a fine, if slightly belated, sixty-fifth birthday tribute to the author (Preface xi).

Anyone unfamiliar with the history of modern classical scholarship in Germany and the United States, will find these essays, to put it mildly, extremely instructive. True to the credo cited above, several are marked by exceptional archival research (reflected elsewhere in Calder's numerous collaborative publications of letters by major modern scholars, a practice vigorously defended at BMCR 03.03.22), and most (an exception being the memoirs of Harvard Classics)4 exhibit microscopic attention to bibliographical and biographical detail. The role of personality in scholarship (the "men", and one woman, "in" the books) constantly emerges, as much in studies of the autobiographical element in Wilamowitz' scholarly writings (ch. 2) as in the strongly personal element present in Calder's own record of encounters with major figures, such as Sterling Dow and Arthur Darby Nock, or again in the attention given the role of principle and prejudice in academic appointments (the subject of four of the papers in the present volume).5

An overriding theme in this collection is that scholarship (or, at least, worthwhile scholarship) is not the work of those impersonal ghosts who appear to author monographs. Blood can be restored to them (as Wilamowitz said of ancient authors) if enough research is done, and if enough imagination used in reconstructing the evidence. Scholars whose lives cannot be detectably linked with their scholarship earn the label "dilettante," a type Calder has frequently located within English scholarship (cf. 289),6 but also finds among Americans who, allegedly, "do not believe what they read in ancient authors" (23; cf. 141), being victims of a tradition in classical philology that reduced "humanism" to "the higher crossword" of Wortphilologie (173).7 But for Calder "in the end" it is "the great figures [who] alone matter" (56), for only with them does the notion of a Sitz im Leben make sense. They were able to link classical teaching and scholarship with the contemporary world -- a connection that one decidedly non-dilettantish (and non-English!) scholar E.R. Dodds memorably identified in rationalizing his master-work The Greeks and the Irrational as follows: "in trying to understand the ancient Greek world I was also trying, as I had always done, to understand a little better the world I lived in."8 Hence Calder's admiration for scholar-teachers like J.H. Finley (though with qualifications at 286 and 289) and Gilbert Highet, both of whom he sees (142) as Americanizing the legacy of Jaeger's Third Humanism by pioneering the teaching of classics in translation to large audiences.9 So within these studies, whose austere titles might suggest rather dry biobibliographical ventures (and some, such as chs. 5, 13 and 20, are quite pardonably so), we also find strongly held beliefs about the nature of Classics that carry implications for its contemporary practice.

In fact, Calder's whole approach raises the question of how we can create scholarly standards from the record of the past. The fact that such standards often represent the practice of an individual scholar in large part justifies Calder's exhaustive biographical explorations, but it also explains how conflicting standards can coexist. Thus Wilamowitz may have imbibed Welcker's Totalitätsideal, but in his lifetime the United States acquired a more crabbed paradigm of problem solving from Friedrich Ritschl (173). Or in Calder's own youth the Harvard Classics department (cf. 287-288) could be divided between devotees of philological-historical research and practitioners of literary criticism (a negative term for this author, where it covers non-biographical and non-historical approaches; e.g., 52 and 309-310). But on occasion classical scholarship orients itself around impersonal paradigms, rather than heroes (or occasionally heroines), as we are reminded by the recently published collection of essays, Pedagogy and Power.10 This work "looks to other less obvious texts and structures for classical pedagogy in order to supplement the existing narratives of classical education," and so with reference to Germany (and hence with relevance to Calder's main area of interest), "classical learning" is seen as "not just that of Wilamowitz or Nietzsche but schooling as regards the exclusion of women." Such an approach, we are told, will allow for "an optimistic argument for the possibility of revising the position of classics in the modern academy" whereby it "can be displaced from its position as an 'elite' subject that excludes many groups (women, minorities, older students) and reinstated as a more democratic and plural subject which may help authorize less empowered groups." Or, as the author of the collection's keynote essay (Paul Cartledge) puts it, Classics in the next millennium might "confer on its practitioners and consumers a plural, democratized form of kudos, which would of course depend on its not being identified pedagogically with a particular social milieu."

The message from this challenging project is that Classics can benefit from being seen in generic terms, with its history investigated, and its future projected, along sociological lines. The Sitz im Leben of the individual scholar (Calder's preoccupation) would presumably be replaced by analyses of the social identity of participating groups (as well, of course, it might, where phenomena such as A.D. Nock's reportedly brutal exclusion of women in the 1950s from his graduate courses [see Calder at 284] need addressing). But the comments quoted above (and particularly the odd use of "plural") also suggest a future in which scholars should shed idiosyncrasy and prejudice -- the vices perhaps of elitism, though often the source of important contributions in the humanities. If the future proffered by Pedagogy and Power can thus seem bleak, we may find relief in Men in their Books, with its clear, and trenchantly written, accounts from the recent and more distant past of personalities whose individuality did not mar their creativity. This collection is just partial testimony to its author's achievement in validating a way of studying the history of classical scholarship that can, and should, coexist with any alternative.


1.   International Journal of the Classical Tradition 2 (1995) 309 (= MITB xxxix, no. 566).
2.   These are chs. 1-6 (chapters numbered in the contents table, but regrettably not above the text of each article), "Wilamowitz' Call to Göttingen" (1985); "Ecce homo: The Autobiographical in Wilamowitz' Scholarly Writings" (1985), "F.G. Welcker's Sapphobild and its Reception in Wilamowitz" (1986), "Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, Sospitator Euripidis" (1986), "Golo Mann on Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff" (1987), and "The Members of Wilamowitz' Graeca" (1989); also chs. 10 ("How did Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff read a Text?" 1990]) and 12 ("The Role of Friedrich Althoff in the Appointments of Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff" [1991]).
3.   Calder notes (140) that the "history of Hellenism [and a fortiori Classics] in America has yet to be written." This is true, but there is an important study forthcoming by Caroline Winterer, The Fall of Humanism in America, 1780-1900: the Classics and the Transformation of Higher Education.
4.   For example, the description of J.H. Finley as "a newspaperman's son" (307) invites some qualification in light of the father's distinguished academic and journalistic career; see Dictionary of American Biography, Suppl. 2 (1958) 185-187. And if Eric Havelock was a "leftist" (291), he was also, like the late Gregory Vlastos, a courageous Christian socialist, active in Canada in the 1930s; see M. Horn, The League for Social Reconstruction (Toronto 1980) 137 and 183.
5.   See chs. 1 and 12 (cited in n.2 above), ch. 9 (on Jane Harrison's failure to be appointed at London), and ch. 14 (on Werner Jaeger's succession to Wilamowitz at Berlin). Important as it is to study such appointments, one of this quartet might well have been sacrificed for Calder's fascinating study, "The Refugee Classical Scholars in the USA: an Evaluation of their Contribution," Illinois Classical Studies 17 (1992) 153-173 (= MITB xxxi, no. 477).
6.   See, for example, the claim at Calder and W.W. Briggs, Classical Scholarship: a Biographical Encyclopedia (New York and London 1990), Preface, p. xi, that Eduard Fraenkel "made the English dilettantism of Benjamin Jowett professional by Germanizing it." This reconstruction was rejected as "preposterous" by H.D. Jocelyn at CR n.s. 42 (1992) 176. Let battle commence!
7.   In fact, the late Enoch Powell felt thus victimized. "Greek literature is to me merely words on paper to be juggled with: nothing more," he wrote in 1938 (quoted by S. Heffer, Like the Roman: the Life of Enoch Powell [London 1998] 46). But Powell had also been prey to the influence of A.E. Housman, whom Calder has elsewhere (Mnemosyne 42 [1989] 261 = MITB xxii, no. 407) stigmatized as a Wortphilolog (though see Calder on Wortphilologie in its historical context at MITB 169).
8.   Missing Persons (Oxford 1997) 181. Dodds was also a pupil of Gilbert Murray whom Calder has praised as an "engaged humanist" (Gnomon 57 [1985] 316 = MITB xv, no. 343), an epithet equally applicable to Dodds.
9.   The teaching of Classics in translation, of course, preceded Jaeger. He could only have given impetus to its practice at larger institutions, where it had not hitherto perhaps been a means of survival for Classics departments. In Canada courses in translation were serving precisely that purpose in the 1920s; see W.H. Alexander, Phoenix 4 (1950) 38-39.
10.   Y.L. Too and N. Livingstone eds., Pedaogogy and Power: Rhetorics of Classical Learning (Cambridge 1998). The first two quotations that follow are from the editors' introduction (pp. 11 and 15) , the third from the opening article by Paul Cartledge, "Classics: from Discipline in Crisis to (Multi-)cultural Capital," ch. 1 (16-28) at 27.

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