BMCR 2007.01.16

Response: Rimell on Habash on K. Freudenburg, Cambridge Companion to Roman Satire

Response to 2006.08.48

Response by

In her review of K. Freudenburg’s Companion to Roman Satire, Dr Habash criticizes my chapter on Juvenal, claiming that the piece is marred by ‘numerous typos and awkward wording’ which detract readers from its content. One is always grateful for diligent readers who uncover little errors that inevitably do get missed in the editorial process, but I was very surprised at the implied extent of this. I asked Dr Habash to let me know what these multiple errors consisted of, and she kindly replied attaching a long list, together with her examples of my ‘poor wording’. However, it quickly became clear that these ‘errors’ were mostly intentional decisions, on the part of myself, my editor and multiple readers, to punctuate in a way that Dr Habash considers insufficiently conventional.

For example, she inserts commas between adjectives where they were intentionally left out, often to achieve a certain effect (Persius’ ‘short sharp shock therapy’ p. 81; ‘fervent conservative moralist’ p. 82; ‘single scabby sheep’ p. 89), and removes them when she dislikes the rhythm of a sentence (where I have written ‘the monster … who bought a huge red mullet for sixty gold pieces, to eat by himself.’ p. 87). She is keen to slow down the pace of the chapter by inserting ‘ands’ where I have separated ideas and images with commas and run them together, again to highlight the critical points I am making (e.g. ‘the satirist shames his audience into tasting the bile that spurs his verse, [and] talks down from his lofty pulpit to taint readers with his own humiliation as social outcast’ pp. 81-2). Missing ‘ands’ account for six ‘typos’. Similarly, she finds errors in what seem to be quite acceptable ellipses (‘on the one hand … on the other’ — Habash would insert a second ‘hand’; I am wrong not to insert ‘to’ before a second infinitive, p. 90; a string of questions run together need separate question marks, p. 88; I must put an article before ‘literary culture’ p. 85). In another case Dr Habash is mistaken in finding a grammatical error (p. 86, she corrects ‘constitutes’ to ‘constitute’ where the verb refers back to a singular noun), and wrongly assumes that I have forgotten to insert a reference at the beginning of a new section when I talk generally about ‘this satire’ (p. 85). She also corrects colloquialisms which she feels do not belong in an academic essay, (e.g. I have used ‘outsize’ as an adjective at p. 87 — this is already an alternative to ‘outsized’ in Chambers 1998!). Finally, it is a further ‘error’ that I have chosen to not translate tantum literally in the phrase semper ego auditor tantum, ‘Must I always be in the audience?’ Many published translations of Juvenal agree with me.

It does not seem to me, therefore, that Dr Habash’s statement that this chapter is marred by multiple typos is backed up by much evidence at all. It is disappointing that a rather personal reaction to what might be perceived as an idiosyncratic writing style has led Dr Habash to make some unfair and potentially damaging comments.