BMCR 1990.02.03

Classical Scholarship: A Biographical Encyclopedia

, , Classical Scholarship: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Garland Reference Library of the Humanities 928. New York: Garland Pub, 1990. xxiv, 534 pages. ISBN 0824084489 $75.00.

In a controversial article in Classical World of 1981 (“Research Opportunities in the Modern History of Classical Scholarship,” vol. 74 , pp. 241-51), W. M. Calder III suggested that classical scholars turn their attention away from the hackneyed subjects of the past 200 years to a critical history of their own discipline, and offered a list of topics. His own subsequent writings have pursued the argument, and this book represents its most practical incarnation: fifty essays on selected scholars, mostly of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, complete with portraits and select bibliography. It forms one of the most useful (though expensive) books the student of ancient Greece and Rome could consult. It is not only a guide to previous scholarship (nearly every article explains its subject’s importance, and summarizes critically the major work), but also immensely readable to those of us who are curious about our predecessors: despite their achievements they are, generally speaking, no collection of heroes, but human beings whose disappointments match their accomplishments, full of petty jealousies and self-doubt, often outcasts or exiles. Some may call this academic gossip, but it seems to me better to have such essays appear in print, where the sort of biographical half-truths we are accustomed to pass around about big names often evaporate when exposed to scrutiny. Even more important, the study of literature is, as we now realize (and as is argued in the introduction), extremely subjective. It is good to ask in what ways its most influential interpreters were themselves influenced.

Not all the articles accomplish this equally. Some (on Gilbert Highet, Erwin Rohde, Wolfgang Schadewaldt, and Lily Ross Taylor) are respectful tributes drained of life; others (Francis Cornford, Hermann Usener, 14 and 17 pp. respectively) are too verbose. Yet even these are of value—only the eccentricities of R. D. Dawe on Porson and Jebb, which have no relationship to biography, can be denied that much—and the rest are often fascinating and highly readable. The influence of K. O. Mueller and Friedrich Ritschl, a mystery to scholars on this side of the Atlantic, is well explained. Articles by R. L. Fowler on Wilamowitz and Luciano Canfora on Giorgio Pasquali condense an immense amount of biographical research by others into a balanced and readable account. Briggs’ authoritative essay on Gildersleeve, on the other hand, is based on his own extensive studies. Finally, David Traill gives a foretaste of his devastating inquiries into Heinrich Schliemann’s reliability, and Calder himself elaborates the story of his teacher Werner Jaeger into a tragedy, mixing harsh condemnation and deepest sympathy. All the essays are well-documented—of course, in biography there are more than facts to reckon with, and others may be able to paint a very different picture of, for example, Jaeger, Housman, or Schadewaldt.

But the main danger of such a collection is that it might become too authoritative, elevating some of those included beyond their merits (do Otto Jahn and Felix Jacoby really belong in this company?) or, even worse, preventing us from asking who else deserves to be admitted. French (and most Italian) scholars have been ignored, and the preface explains that this is intentional, since the German model dominated American classical studies since the 1880’s. That is a weak justification. One wonders what might still be accomplished with contributors who would have remembered to add (to take the most obvious names) Tadeusz Zielinski, George Thomson, Louis Gernet, Louis Robert (noted already p. ix as a regrettable omission), or Moses Finley. Perhaps this useful volume will stimulate others to interpret for American readers the lives and work of still more great scholars—fortunately, we have plenty.