Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.05.29

John Gould, Myth, Ritual, Memory, and Exchange: Essays in Greek Literature and Culture.   Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2001.  Pp. 424.  ISBN 0-19-815299-X.  £40.00/$60.00.  

Reviewed by Tim Rood, St Hugh's College, Oxford (
Word count: 1456 words

'Vampire bats practice reciprocal altruism.' So, at least, we are informed in one of the pieces brought together in Myth, Ritual, Memory, and Exchange, a collection of essays by the late John Gould. The actual words may be those of a socio-biologist, Gerald Wilkinson (who, as Gould goes on to quote, explains that vampire bats 'regularly regurgitate blood to each other ... in a reciprocal fashion such that each partner enjoys a net benefit from the exchange'). But his readiness to make such a quotation illustrates one of the hallmarks of Gould's scholarship: his willingness to engage with broad issues, and to enrich that engagement by going beyond the writings of the classical scholarly community. The venture into the world of vampire bats is something of a one-off yet what this excellent volume does attest -- and what gives it a good deal of its overall coherence -- is what Gould himself acknowledges as his 'pervasive interest in anthropological fieldwork', an interest that was itself shaped for Gould by an encounter with the work of a classical scholar (E. R. Dodds).

Central to Gould's concerns is the attempt to make sense of rituals and literary works within the context of the culture from which they spring. Especially illuminating are his much-cited studies of supplication and of the social position of women, both reprinted in this volume. But Gould is not just concerned with how we make sense of other societies: he also explores how societies make sense of themselves, and shows how a sympathetic engagement with this question is essential for any attempt to make sense of those societies ourselves. Gould's approach to this question is familiar from his wonderful book on Herodotus, still the best introduction in English to that author. In the volume under review, Gould has fascinating discussions of Homer, Herodotus, and tragedy -- even entering into narratological discussion, and the thorny issue of the ways in which drama can be considered as narrative. Typically, he does not get enmeshed in technical issues in this narratological excursion. Rather, he broadens out his discussion by asking whether tragedy itself suggests a limit to the powers of narrative: 'Within the fictive world of Greek tragedy ... the total "meaning" of the play is not to be arrived at by a preferring of one account to another nor by a reductive combining of all the preferred narratives but by an acceptance of the irreducibly incompatible, and thus in some sense perhaps "unnarratable" nature of experience itself' (p. 334). One would have loved a longer discussion of this question.

In all, eighteen of Gould's pieces are brought together in this book, which was published a few months before his death. Some are familiar, much-cited classics; others appear here for the first time. It will perhaps be helpful to list the contents:

1. Ancient Poetry and Modern Readers (Inaugural Lecture, University College of Swansea, 11 March 1969)

2. Hiketeia (JHS 93 (1973), 74-103)

3. Dramatic Character and 'Human Intelligibility' in Greek Tragedy (PCPS 24 (1978) 43-67)

4. Law, Custom, and Myth: Aspects of the Social Position of Women in Classical Athens (JHS 100 (1980), 38-59)

5. Homeric Epic and the Tragic Moment (T. Winnifrith, P. Murray, and K. W. Gransden (eds.), Aspects of the Epic (London, 1983), 32-45)

6. Tragedy in Performance (P. E. Easterling and B. M. W. Knox (eds.), The Cambridge History of Classical Literature: Greek Literature (Cambridge, 1985), 263-81)

7. On Making Sense of Greek Religion (P. E. Easterling and J. V. Muir (eds.), Greek Religion and Society (Cambridge, 1985), 1-33, 219-21)

8. Mothers' Day: A Note on Euripides' Bacchae (Papers given at a Colloquium on Greek Drama in Honour of R. P. Winnington Ingram (Hellenic Society Supplementary Papers, 15, London, 1987), 32-9)

9. The Language of Oedipus (H. Bloom (ed.), Sophocles' Oedipus Rex (New Haven, 1988), 143-60)

10. Oedipus and Antigone at Thebes (unpublished lecture)

11. Dionysus and the Hippy Convoy: Ritual, Myth, and Metaphor in the Cult of Dionysus (Jackson Knight Memorial Lecture, Exeter, 1989)

12. Give and Take in Herodotus (Fifteenth J. L. Myres Memorial Lecture, Oxford, 1991)

13. Plato and Performance (A. Barker and M. Warner (eds.), The Language of the Cave = Apeiron 25/4 (1992), 13-25)

14. '... And Tell Sad Stories of the Deaths of Kings': Greek Tragic Drama as Narrative (Corbett Lecture, Cambridge, 1991)

15. The Idea of Society in the Iliad (unpublished lecture)

16. Herodotus and Religion (S. Hornblower (ed.), Greek Historiography (Oxford, 1994), 91-106)

17. Tragedy and Collective Experience (M. S. Silk (ed.), Tragedy and the Tragic: Greek Theatre and Beyond (Oxford, 1996), 217-43)

18. Myth, Memory, and the Chorus: 'Tragic Rationality' (R. Buxton (ed.), From Myth to Reason? Studies in the Development of Greek Thought (Oxford, 1999), 107-16)

Many of these are classic pieces, as I have already noted, and they are re-printed here -- unchanged except for the correction of a few errors, a limited amount of bibliographical updating, and, in the case of the article 'Hiketeia', a short addendum dealing with Walter Burkert. It is a great pity that Gould was unable to offer other such addenda. He does, it is true, offer one for chapter 15 -- a previously unpublished lecture -- in which he discusses M. Finkelberg's views of Homeric morality. But it would have been even more fascinating to read his response to scholars who have directly reacted to his own work -- e.g. to later treatments of the concept of dramatic character.

So how helpful is the collection as a whole? Several of the pieces are from periodicals that are fairly easily accessible (2, 3, 4: JHS, PCPhS). Others are from books that are fairly easily accessible (e.g. 6, 7, 16, 17, 18: all CUP or OUP books that are available in paperback). So many scholars may already have these pieces available in their personal libraries, or at least in libraries near them. Other pieces, however, have been rather less easy to find (notably, the lectures that were published as pamphlets: 1, 12), and still others are lectures published here for the first time, two of which are of particular interest (14, 15). The printing of these lectures does, however, introduce a small amount of repetition (two or three pages from the unpublished paper on 'Greek Tragic Drama as Narrative', for instance, repeat the argument of two or three pages from the published paper on 'Plato and Performance'). Overall, though, it is a great benefit to have these pieces gathered together in one volume.

That said, there is certainly some unevenness in the level of the pieces. The article on hiketeia is an extremely rich, but necessarily detailed, discussion of the ancient texts dealing with supplication: it seems a pity that the opportunity to translate the Greek quotations in this chapter (and in some others) was not taken. Other pieces retain the form of lectures, with little documentation. The pieces on 'Tragedy in Performance' and 'On Making Sense of Greek Religion' (6, 7) are from books that offer introductions for (but not exclusively for) undergraduates, and the piece on 'Tragedy in Performance', in particular, contains a certain amount of technical handbook material. Yet even here Gould shows his interest in aspects such as tragedy as social experience. And the piece on Greek religion remains perhaps the best short introduction to the subject.

The volume is very attractively produced. But Gould was himself unable to do the proofreading -- and it shows. In the preface, in the same paragraph as he thanks two of the staff at OUP correcting the proofs with 'eagle-eyed vigilance', we read that he is 'indented' to Hilary O'Shea for commissioning the book. And there follows a catalogue of (admittedly minor) errors that one does not (or at least, should not) expect from a publisher such as the Oxford University Press; not just that, but also some surprisingly amateurish use of Greek font.1 Another complaint: the 'Index of Passages Discussed' is regrettably (almost laughably) brief. Readers should be reassured that Gould does indeed discuss far more than the twenty-nine passages listed in this index.

Almost all of the papers, Gould writes, 'arose out of the experience of teaching, above all undergraduate teaching'. Many scholars have made similar claims. It is not the least part of the excellence of this book that, in Gould it is easy to believe him. Though the piece where Gould is most explicitly concerned with modern education (his inaugural lecture at Swansea, from 1969) is inevitably in some ways rather dated, Gould's work should serve as a model not just of how to interpret the past, but also of how to communicate the excitement of intellectual enquiry to students. Myth, Ritual, Memory, and Exchange is itself a fitting memorial to Gould's humane scholarship.


1.   Here are some that I, rather pedantically, noted down (not (just) for pleasure, but for utility, in case OUP get round to bringing out a corrected paperback): 23 n. 8: Hikseie] Hikesie. 93: imagin-ation] imagination (cf. 297, pres-ent; 331 methodo-logical, ex-istence within a couple of lines of each other). 282: Ahprodite] Aphrodite. 289 n. 22: Abused] abused. 294 n. 33: his] this. 315: leger de main] legerdemain (the spelling Gould uses elsewhere: 'leger de main' is obsolete, according to the OED; or should the words have been italicized [as 'legerdemain' is on p. 264, but not elsewhere] and accented?). 335: other wise] otherwise. thought] though. Greek: 39: θεπρόποι] θεοπρόποι. 49 n. 78: ἀγώνοι] ἀγώνιοι. 91 n. 29: μά τηρ] μάτηρ. 95: στρων]στρων. (Cf. also problems with the spacing of the Greek at e.g. 128 n. 55, 136 n. 82, 155 n. 160.) 139: ἀρρηφσόροι] ἀρρηφόροι. 210: δερεῖς] ἱερεῖς. 296: ἀποδεχοεντα] ἀποδεχθέντα. 303: δἱκαιον] δίκαιον. 338: ἁγαθός] ἀγαθός. 407 n. 3: ἐνέαουσι] ἐνέπουσι. 408: γενεὰ.] γενεαὶ.

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