BMCR 2013.10.08

Expurgating the Classics: Editing Out in Greek and Latin

, , Expurgating the Classics: Editing Out in Greek and Latin. London: Bristol Classical Press, 2012. vii, 224. ISBN 9781849668927. $120.00.

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

The cumulative impact of reading this book is to make the reader far more aware than he or she might have been of the decisions and impulses that go into producing texts, translations, and commentaries of Greek and Latin literature. For this, the editors and contributors are to be commended. While at times the volume explicitly or implicitly valorizes the “opposite” of expurgation without always arguing for that position, it fortunately opens up analysis of what expurgation actually is and sees it as a far more complicated operation than, for example, just getting rid of sexually explicit language. Expurgation is given historical and social contexts, as well as pedagogical ones.

The volume consists of an Introduction, eleven chapters, an Afterword, and an Index. It covers the topic of expurgation of the classics primarily from the seventeenth to twentieth centuries and includes four chapters on the Greek side, five on the Latin, and one each on the Loeb Classical Library and the Penguin translations. The Introduction, written by the editors, Stephen Harrison and Christopher Stray, both of whom are well-recognized scholars in the area of classical reception, of which expurgation is a part, is a brief but useful overview of some of the issues involved in expurgation. They define expurgation for the purposes of the volume as “the deliberate removal (purging) of offensive matter from texts; it thus has to do with absences and presences” (p. 1). In fact, the book at times ranges even more widely to address any sort of selection of material, whether offensive or not. The editors locate expurgation in the larger framework of the transmission of classical texts, objections to texts based on religious and/or moral grounds, the fashioning of the “right” version of a particular author for a particular audience, and pedagogical priorities. They quote Byron’s “Don Juan” (also discussed in the chapter by Morwood) as “the best-known literary reference to expurgation in school editions” with its description of the relocation of expurgated material “from out the schoolboy’s vision” to the end of the book, where it could be excised, if desired (pp. 3-4). The Afterword by Deborah Roberts, “Concealment Concealed,” weaves issues from the various chapters into a larger discussion of the extent to which expurgation practices are revealed or concealed by their practitioners. The four-page Index is uneven: for example, “phallus” is included, but “penis” is not, although both terms appear in the volume. The most successful chapters are those that keep the theorizing of expurgation at the fore and use examples as supporting evidence, although on occasion an example alone may be enlightening, such as an expurgated Catullus 16 presented as a “fragment” in the 1913 Loeb by Cornish (p. 183)!

The Greek section begins with Ewen Bowie’s chapter, “Unnatural selection: expurgation of Greek melic, elegiac and iambic poetry.” Bowie discusses the treatment of this poetry by ancient authors, such as Plutarch and Stobaeus, for their own particular purposes, as well as how the practice of selection by modern editors can misrepresent an author, as in the exclusion of the more sexually explicit iambic fragments of Archilochus by Campbell in Greek Lyric Poetry (1967). Ian Ruffell’s “ ‘Seeing the meat for what it is’: Aristophanic expurgation and its phallacies” includes an interesting juxtaposition of the scholarly dispute over the costume of Aristophanic comedy with concerns about expurgating the literary text, and focuses on bodily, sexual, and scatological textual excision, as well as interventions to suppress female sexuality.

Daniel Orrells’s contribution, “Headlam’s Herodas: the art of suggestion,” looks in particular at Headlam’s commentary on Mimiamb 6, in which two women have a conversation about a much valued and lost dildo. Orrells argues that just as the writer Herodas uses sexual suggestiveness and double entendres that place women’s sexual desire in plain view, while simultaneously deferring it, so the commentator Headlam employs the same suggestiveness in his commentary. For example, Headlam gives the standard Greek word for dildo ( olisbos), but does not translate it, and by referencing other relevant scholarly work he thus employs a kind of academic indirection and deferral. Orrells situates the commentary in the historical context of the New Woman (her recent entrance into Cambridge and Oxford as student) to show how Headlam’s work grows out of and reflects contemporary anxieties about the nature of (women’s) desire present in England at the end of the nineteenth century.

Gideon Nisbet rounds out the Greek side by tackling the ways in which the presentation of the Greek Anthology was mediated by differing visions of what the Greeks were supposed to mean to an English audience. Through selection, organization, and categorization of material, editors presented widely differing perspectives. From Symonds (1873), with his valorizing of Greek male homosexuality, to Mackail (1890) with his focus on “regular” affections and pious, familial values, the Anthology becomes the embodiment of whatever values one chooses.

The chapters on the Roman side begin with David Butterfield’s “ Contempta relinquas : anxiety and expurgation in the publication of Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura ”, a lucid discussion, especially of the Christian response to Lucretius as anti-religious, anti-afterlife, and sexually explicit (at the end of Book 4). Butterfield is particularly deft at explaining how a classical text’s presence (as opposed to its expurgation) can be used by a commentator to argue against its content. In addition, he shows commentators shifting the blame for offensive content away from themselves and back to the author, or away from the author back to the source (in this case, Epicurus).

Stephen Harrison’s chapter “Expurgating Horace, 1660-1900” concludes that it is Horace’s status as a central school text that has driven much of the history of his expurgation, as have prevailing societal trends. Concerns about sex, obscenity, and gender produce responses that range from excision, to euphemism, to excusing the content as immature or distancing it as Greek (as, for example, in Fraenkel’s treatment of Epodes 8 and 12).

T.J. Leary’s “Modifying Martial in nineteenth-century Britain” focuses on school editions of Martial, in particular that of Sellar and Ramsay (1884), which contained an introduction along with the text, but no notes. He concludes that, if not for some kind of censorship, the edition could not have been published at all, and that the social climate demanded that editors condemn Martial as well as praise him. Leary further notes that the corpus of Martial is too large for complete reading and therefore selection of some kind for a school text was a necessity.

Gail Trimble’s chapter, “Catullus and ‘comment in English’: the tradition of the expurgated commentary before Fordyce,” is noteworthy for the clarity of its overarching argument. Trimble approaches the topic of expurgation without any apparent bias against it, looking for the reasons it is practiced (or not). She concludes that Fordyce’s expurgated Catullus is preceded by a tradition that includes not only elimination of material deemed inappropriate, but selection of material that will “best” represent the author. Thus expurgators may be just as interested in the image of their authors as the anti-expurgators (who see expurgation as a kind of destruction), for they want to foreground what they believe are the poems that endow the poet with real greatness. Trimble usefully outlines the various kinds of editions that appeared and the audiences at which they were targeted, such as other scholars, students, and adult amateurs. She uncovers a variety of expurgation practices in translations and commentaries, including non-translation (for example, leaving Mentula in Latin), coinages (like “paedicate”), euphemism (references to sex become “love” or “kiss”), sanitizing word substitution (the vocative Iuventi in the homosexual poem 48 becomes puella), or switching from English to Latin. She problematizes the whole notion of what it means to write an unexpurgated commentary, explaining that commentaries function automatically as a kind of “addition” to the text.

James Morwood’s chapter, “‘From out the schoolboy’s vision’: expurgation and the young reader,” starts with a lively discussion of the Delphin Classics (covering the Apuleius edition as well as the Catullus), the series to which Byron likely refers when mentioning the expurgation and banishment of “from out the schoolboy’s vision, / The grosser parts” (p. 163). Byron himself, while a student at Harrow School, may have used these texts, written in Latin for the use of the Dauphin, heir to the crown of France. The 1685 edition of Catullus by Philippe Dubois banishes obscene material to the end of the book and there provides fulsome commentary! Thus, a copy that had not had the offending material chopped out at the back provided the students with a handy text with helpful explanatory notes for the obscene Catullus. No complete poems are excised, just selections ranging from single words to six lines, providing a much more complete Catullus than the much-discussed Fordyce Oxford edition of 1961. Morwood also discusses Kenneth Dover’s 1968 edition of Aristophanes’ Clouds, including his explanation for his explicitness in sexual matters, and the hostile reaction with which it was met. The chapter concludes with critical comments on some continuing gestures towards expurgation and a call for embracing “the full range of experience” encountered in classical texts (p. 170).

The volume fittingly concludes with two chapters on classical collections, Philip Lawton’s “For the gentleman and the scholar: sexual and scatological references in the Loeb Classical Library” and Robert Crowe’s “How to fillet a Penguin.” Lawton provides an overview of the aims of and intended audience for the Loeb series of facing-page translations of Greek and Latin texts, as well as a discussion of translation strategies for offensive material that worked against making the text accessible (obfuscation, excision and non-translation, and retranslation or inserting a translation in a language other than English). He concludes that these strategies, used in the first third of the twentieth century, made portions of translations less than accessible to all but the classically educated (male). Crowe’s topic is Paul Turner’s translation of Longus’ Daphnis and Chloe, published in the Penguin Classics series in 1956, and in a revised, unexpurgated, version in 1968, under the successive editorships of E.V. Rieu and Betty Radice, before and after Penguin’s success in the 1960 Lady Chatterley’s Lover obscenity trial. Crowe does an excellent job of discussing how the legal and social climate can influence translation of texts involving homosexuality or explicit sex.

This volume makes an original and valuable contribution to our knowledge about expurgation and the field of classics. Its various chapters present a host of fascinating examples, as well as enlightened theorizing on the topic.

Table of Contents

Introduction / Stephen Harrison and Christopher Stray
Unnatural selection: expurgation of Greek melic, elegiac and iambic poetry / Ewin Bowie
‘Seeing the meat for what it is’: Aristophanic expurgation and its phallacies / Ian Ruffell
Headlam’s Herodas: the art of suggestion / Daniel Orrells
Flowers in the wilderness: Greek epigram in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries / Gideon Nisbet
Contempta relinquas ’: anxiety and expurgation in the publication of Lucretius’ De rerum natura / David Butterfield
Expurgating Horace, 1600-1900 / Stephen Harrison
Modifying Martial in nineteenth-century Britain / T. J. Leary
Catullus and ‘comment in English’: the tradition of the expurgated commentary before Fordyce / Gail Trimble
‘From out the schoolboy’s vision’: expurgation and the young reader / James Morwood
For the gentleman and the scholar: sexual and scatological references in the Loeb Classical Library / Philip Lawton
How to fillet a Penguin / Robert Crowe
Afterword: Concealment Concealed / Deborah H. Roberts