BMCR 2005.02.05

Response: Alcock on Conybeare on Goldhill

Response to 2005.01.25

Response by

A Latin tag frequently quoted by lawyers seeking a motive for a crime is “cui bono?”. The same tag, in modified form, could be asked about Goldhill’s book, Love, Sex, and Tragedy. How the Ancient World Shapes Our Lives, reviewed here in gushing style by Ms Conybeare: “cui?” The book is apparently intended as yet another apologia for the study of the classics. One can easily imagine professsionally employed academics coming into contact with this volume in their local university bookshop or university library. But who else reads books published by Chicago U.P.? To her credit, Ms Conybeare seems to be dimly aware that there is something wrong here: “This is in many ways not a suitable book to review in a scholarly journal for a professional audience.” But she doesn’t go the extra few inches and ask why it has appeared under the imprint of an academic publisher. Did Goldhill write the book off his own bat or was he put up to it by some publisher? Can we expect a TV series in the near future?

Ms Conybeare, at the end of her review, touches briefly on what she portrays as the lack of understanding on the part of a non-classicist who, when confronted by a book called Antigone’s Claim in a course they were teaching together, evidently asked some question such as “What’s this got to do with anything?”. It is a question that has its origins in what Ms Conybeare calls “Fremdheit”, but not simply the alienness that modern westerners should (rightly) feel about the classical cultures of their heritage, but the alienness or complete indifference that the non-western world actually does feel about the westerners’ heritage and which has definitely and definitively shaped our lives, for better or for worse.