Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 1999.11.19

Todd on Hankey on Blank.   Response to 1999.10.33

Response by Robert B. Todd, University of British Columbia (

Wayne Hankey is fully justified in trying to set Blank's contribution to later Greek philosophy into the perspective of the modern history of scholarship by noting how only very recently have scholars in the English speaking world studied intensively either Hellenistic philosophy or the philosophical works of the first five centuries A.D. However, the specific example in his opening paragraph may not be altogether well chosen. E.R. Dodds's edition of Proclus' Elements of Theology appeared in 1933, while its author was still Professor of Greek at the University of Birmingham. He did not become Regius Professor of Greek at Oxford until 1936, and one of the objections against his controversial appointment was the very fact that he had specialized in Neoplatonism rather than in the standard curriculum of the classical period followed at Oxford. I have, for example, seen a letter of reference to Gilbert Murray (Dodds's predecessor in the Regius Chair, and the main force behind his appointment) which, although supportive, stresses that "Dodds' Neoplatonism is his own side-show" (Murray Papers, Bodleian Library, 76/245-6). Moreover, a few months after becoming Regius Professor, Dodds accepted an invitation to edit Euripides' Bacchae instead of one to collaborate with Paul Henry on a new edition of Plotinus; the evidence is in correspondence in the Oxford University Press file on Dodds's edition of the Bacchae, published in 1944. So Oxford in effect turned Dodds away from Neoplatonism, and the study of late antiquity generally, whatever wider influence his edition of Proclus may have had on Neoplatonic studies and however much that influence may, as Hankey suggests, have owed to Dodds's position at Oxford. For while he conducted occasional seminars at Oxford on Neoplatonism and published some articles in this area, it was not until after his retirement that he published any major work on a topic outside the classical period. Even his most famous book, The Greeks and the Irrational (1951), largely confined itself to the classical period, despite original plans to go as late as Augustine; see my "A Note on The Genesis of E.R. Dodds's The Greeks and the Irrational," Classical News and Views n.s. 17:3 (1998) 663-676. Had Dodds held a position at Oxford instead of at British provincial universities between 1919 and 1936, it is unlikely that he would have undertaken an edition of the Elements of Theology. In fact, a provincial location almost certainly facilitated work in this unpopular area, as it did in the next generation for a series of scholars located at the University of Liverpool (A.H. Armstrong, A.C. Lloyd, and Henry Blumenthal). Hankey need not be surprised that "Dodds's Neoplatonic researches have not found a continuation at Oxbridge." Dodds himself, after his initial reception at Oxford, would surely have been the last person to expect his accession to the Regius Chair to initiate a lasting revival in the area of study in which he had first established his scholarly reputation.

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