BMCR 2008.02.37

Response: Fitzpatrick on Edmunds on Fitzpatrick on Lowell Edmunds, Oedipus

Response to 2008.02.09

Response by

Lowell Edmunds’ prickly response to my generally favourable review of his Oedipus merits a reply. His prickliness is due, perhaps, to an unfortunate conflation of two distinct points: a supposed difference of opinion between us about the level of intelligence of the intended readership and my (footnoted) comments on the handling of illustrations and iconography in Oedipus.

Taking the first point, the aim of the series, as stated in the series foreward (p. xi), is “to interest the general reader”. Edmunds claims that my estimate of this intended readership is “clearly lower” than his. Such emotive observations didn’t form a part of my review. The relevant observations were that the “material is condensed to such a degree that it may not accommodate its intended readership easily” and that I think, as I’ve felt and commented about other books written by scholars for a general readership, that he took, on occasion, the general reader’s background knowledge for granted and could have made better use “of endnotes to elaborate on certain points”. Short of getting a general reader to review his Oedipus, we both appear to agree that it may be difficult to establish in an objective fashion whether or not my views are justified. And, after all, would two general readers even agree between themselves? But I am satisfied that my views in this regard were both fair and sound.

Moving on to the second point, Edmunds unnecessarily introduces the intelligence issue into his response about my comments about the illustrations. In hindsight, I admit that my phrasing in the conclusion was injudicious, but my general observation remains valid. In a book covering several millennia, the fact that six out of the seven illustrations — I exclude the tables — focused on two eras is worthy of comment. I didn’t, and don’t, dispute that the illustrations in medieval manuscripts are fascinating, but the text makes the relevant points quite clearly. So I don’t think three illustrations were required here. In discussion of modern art, Edmunds concentrates on the Sphinx and provides three illustrations, but there are other Oedipus-related themes in modern art too. My misgivings are simply that Edmunds was very selective about what he discussed and illustrated. As an author writing to a particular brief he had to make some tough decisions, but those decisions are worthy of comment and justify, I think, my view that material in Oedipus is condensed to great degree. Nor was I suggesting in relation to the ancient Greek iconography, that every Greek vase should be analysed. I was expressing an unease, which I believe many who have an interest in the images on Greek vases in their own right would share too, about Edmunds’ tendency to cite these images as back-up for a literary version of a myth.

Towards the end of his response, Edmunds declares that he makes “some original points”. If I were to adopt, momentarily, the condescension towards the general reader which Edmunds imputes to me, I wonder would the general reader identify the points in question as original ones. We’d have to consult the general reader here, but I think the declaration betrays that Edmunds had another level of readership in mind too.