Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2000.06.10

Busch on Kennell on Busch.   Response to 2000.04.15



Response by Stephan Busch, Institut für Altertumskunde, Cologne University (Stephan.Busch@uni-koeln.de)

"B(usch) repeatedly demonstrates his technical competence in the context of individual poems, with analyses of philological and epigraphical details and elucidations of references to sundry Realien of the Imperial period." This is Ms Kennell's last sentence of the first short paragraph of her review of my book in BMCR (00.04.15), but she obviously did not mean what she wrote. The statement can only be a grudging attempt to place a veil of impartiality over the remaining ca. 3000 words of a rhetorically-laden trashing of my work. Just a bit further on she styles it as "engrossed with ill-digested chunks of poetry and their exposition...(a) concatenation of texts..." in keeping with the hackneyed tone and ill-willed tenor of the entire review. In the following I wish to defend my work briefly. Ms Kennell makes this an easy task, for she discredits herself throughout the review.

After the pro-forma compliment, she turns immediately to her real business: "A thousand tiny points of detail, however, do not make for easy reading." In the next sentence, she herself leaps to the most insignificant of details: "The principles of typographical hierarchy are less than transparent: some small-font sections are philological, other prosopographical ..." What prompted Ms Kennell to say this? And why is she unable or unwilling to make the simple deduction that small font was used to set digressions on details aside from the main body of the text? Let the reader not familiar with my book not be rolled over by Ms Kennell's high-flown "principles of typographical hierarchy".

The very same sentence continues with a self-revelation: " ... and bibliographical entries are devoid of italics." A person familiar with German books and articles would not have made this remark. Bibliographical entries devoid of italics are part of the German typographical tradition, standard, to take only a few examples from our field, in Pauly-Wissowa's Realencyclopaedie, the Neue Pauly, most or all of what has been published by the firms Walter de Gruyter and Teubner, and most periodicals. Apparently, Ms Kennell has forgotten that the bibliographical entries in her own article in the German periodical Klio 73 (1991) 526-536 are printed without italics. If she did not forget this and is willfully turning a blind eye to German typographical convention, we are dealing with a very nasty problem.

Ms Kennell salts and peppers her own prose with snippets of German (e.g., "typographical Versehen appear throughout" and "a really gründlich review"), but this does not convince me that she is truly familiar with books written in German. In the case of my book, at any rate, Ms Kennell apparently did not read it carefully before writing her review. Directly after the sentence devoted to typography, she turns to the title of the book: "The title itself raises questions. The Latin formulation Versus balnearum, which seems to be B's own invention, suggests an ancient generic terminus technicus, but what does it mean, anyway? 'Verses of baths'? Versus balnearii would be more idiomatic." Ms Kennell would not have written this, had she read pp. 258-262, where I present and discuss a poem that the Latin Anthology transmits under the title Versus balnearum. I translated it as "Verse auf ein Bad", though it could also mean "verses of the baths". I found the short title fitting for my work because its ambiguity reflects different facets of ancient bath poetry.

Having missed an important detail, Ms Kennell turns to typographical mistakes. She lists 12 examples in a book of over 600 pages, not finding it below her level to point out that "Vorl äufer" is interrupted by a blank space, and not able to resist styling the error "Estherausgeber" as "diverting". A reviewer possessed of an everyday sense of decency might have turned the observation around, stating that in such a long work, a total of some 12 detected typos (they might also be 20 or 30) suggest meticulous editorial control. Today our manuscripts seldom pass over the desk of a professional proofreader. Ms Kennell must be aware of this. So the problem seems to be that concepts such as constructive criticism and fair play are more foreign to Ms Kennell than the German language itself.

Well, that was the second paragraph of Ms Kennell's review, and she has just begun to warm up. As she continues she intensifies her rhetoric of rage and relies increasingly on insinuation and misrepresentation. I will spare the reader most of this and now turn only to a few isolated matters. An important one has to do with the general nature of my book. It is summed up in my introduction under the heading "Epigramme über Bäder: Sammlung und Begrenzung". I translate the principal two sentences on p. 10:

"To date, there is no comprehensive collection of bath epigrams, both Greek and Latin, that includes both those transmitted by literary sources as well those known from inscriptions ... The present book takes up ALL EPIGRAMS that are connected with the Roman baths and, more specifically, with baths of the Imperial period within the confines of the Roman Empire."
Ms Kennell either did not read or did not understand these sentences, or she has carefully chosen to ignore them. First she attacks "the series of expeditions to practically every aspect of the ancient world that chances to be connected to the poems B(usch) has chosen to survey". What in civilized discourse would be termed a "thorough commentary" Kennell transforms into a "series of expeditions ...", and at the same time she insinuates that the book has no principles of selection. Then comes her key sentence: "This concatenation of texts and commentaries might be justified HAD B(usch) MEANT TO PRODUCE A COMPREHENSIVE ANNOTATED CORPUS of poetry pertaining to baths and bathing, BUT THIS IS NO CORPUS..." The formal objection has no substance behind it, for there is no point in quibbling about the difference between a comprehensive collection and a corpus. I would be grateful to any scholar who could point to any gap in the material that I assembled. Ms Kennell did not. Rather as she completes the sentence she displays the talent of being able to accept two contradictory expressions at the same time as true: "but this is no corpus, nor are B.'s principles of selection ... strongly evident." But what does Ms Kennell mean by "principles of selection"? Selection into what? Well, she means selection into a corpus that she has just proclaimed "is no corpus". This is almost Orwellian doublethink. Ms Kennell seems to place great trust in her readers not having read my book before they read her review. That the principles of selection are not "strongly evident" makes it strongly evident, to repeat Ms Kennell's words, that she did not read or intentionally ignored the part of the introduction cited above together with the ensuing discussion of what I did not include in the collection ("Begrenzung"). There I stated that I do not take up epigrams that deal with bathing, swimming, springs or founts in a purely natural setting and that I refer to such material for comparative purposes only. Of course, if Ms Kennell did not read this or refuses to acknowledge it, it cannot be "strongly evident" to her or she cannot admit it. Hence she is able to criticize that I did not devote my "undivided attention" to Claudian's 100-verse praise of fount Aponus (Carm. min. 26). But this poem deals with Aponus as a purely natural spring. As it happens, furthermore, I treat her cherished Claudian (pp. 96, 263, 346 note 4), but for comparative purposes and hence only in passing -- in perfect accordance with the principles just summarized.

The reviewer turns to the indices in her usual tone: "Given the book's length, indices need no apology" (what would Ms Kennell advise for shorter works?). To what does Ms Kennell object specifically? She outdoes herself with the following: "B.'s plurality of headings, however, betrays an inability to make real distinctions." The sentence has something in common with an attaché-case in a James Bond movie: it self-destructs. To bolster the non-statement, Ms Kennell instructs the reader to "consider the idiosyncrasies built into" the following categories in the indices: (1) epigrams treated, (2) passages cited, (3) personal names, (4) gods and mythological figures, (5) geographical names, (6) names of baths and hot springs, (7) res balneariae, (8) literary and epigraphical style and form, (9) matters pertaining to intellectual and cultural history. Where are the idiosyncrasies? How are they "built into" the categories? Categories 1-7 are standard, and I thought the reader would find 8-9 useful since I deal frequently with such matters in commentaries.

At the end of her review, Ms Kennell blames me for not painting "the big picture" (as if there were only one) and at the same time for "stating the obvious". Well, I did indeed state the obvious at times. It is occasionally necessary or helpful to do so. Even if this were not the case, stating the obvious is far preferable to Ms Kennell's overlooking the obvious: namely that my book is a comprehensive collection of epigrams on baths and bathing and that those epigrams, coupled with material adduced in the commentaries, are themselves the big picture. If I may be allowed to say so myself, the result is a broad, rich and detailed canvas that scholars interested in the literary and cultural history of the Roman period may treat in a nearly endless number of ways. (Not to mention that I was the first to collect this wide-spread material so that it can be studied at all.)

Ms Kennell apparently views things much as she expresses them: in extremes. For her there seems to be no middle ground between a corpus (in the strictest sense of the word) and a work in which an author places his interpretation and, with it, his person in the foreground. My collection of material is virtually identical with the former, although it is presented in a form that is hopefully more easily read by the general public.

When it comes to providing examples of my "stating the obvious" Ms Kennell distorts what I wrote in her usual underhanded way. In two places (in the introduction and the conclusion) I mentioned in passing that epigrams on baths and bathing are contemporary with the baths of the Imperial period -- just for the reader's general historical orientation. See how Ms Kennell deals with this: "What, finally, of the big picture? Early on (5), B states that the literary phenomenon of verse about baths blossomed at the same time as the popularity of facilities for public bathing in the Roman world. The conclusion reprises this remarkably innocuous insight (576)." What I mentioned in passing was not a conclusion, but Ms Kennell transforms it into an "insight" and slams it with "remarkably innocuous". A few lines further on, she writes: "Hundreds of pages' worth of detailed analysis produces the unremarkable conclusion, 'dass kein Vers dem anderen gleicht'..." Well, that is not my only conclusion, but it is worth pointing out even if it is not the "overarching vision" that Ms Kennell is looking for. Is she not familiar with the fact that formulaic use of language and repetition is characteristic of Greek and Latin epigraphic poetry, and that they are especially prominent in sepulchral epigrams? Is it, then, so "unremarkable" that they are absent in the epigraphic bath epigrams? That, on the contrary, these verses were shaped and formulated anew from case to case? Non-specialists could not realize this, and it is only this non-specialist audience that might believe Ms Kennell's dismissive, but unfounded "unremarkable".

Finally, still dealing with my concluding remarks, Ms Kennell censures my advisers and the publisher Teubner for there not being "a fitting end to the book promised by the title". It should be clear by now, however, that Ms Kennell did not understand much of the book, beginning with its very title.

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