Posted by Dennis » 5 Comments »
I’m reading J.P Postgate’s classic essay ‘Flaws in Classical Research’ (Proceedings of the British Academy, 1908, 161-211), which, by the way, should be tempered with Paul Shorey’s review (Classical Philology 5.2 225-228) which attempts to ‘guard against the impression which it will make upon the student or the hostile layman.’ Shorey notes Postgate’s ‘impatience of human frailty,’ which puts one in mind of A.E. Housman. Incidentally, Housman (cited approvingly in the essay) beat out Postgate for the Latin chair at Cambridge.
Currently what’s interesting me is Postgate’s criticsm of modern ‘lineal’ thinking which is prone to misunderstand the ‘circular’ thought behind utterances in classical languages.
I was reminded of a recent article in the Guardian (linked by ALDaily) that dealt with the difficulties caused by syntax in the translation of humor from English to German. This difficulty has led some Brits to the conclusion that Germans are humorless, and in the same way the divide betwee ‘lineal’ and ‘circular’ habits of mind has led modern readers of the Classics to mistranslation, misleading commentary, and the attribution to the ancients of convoluted metaphorical expression alien to their native sensibility:
One main principle which it takes some trouble to grasp, and still more to apply with precision, is that, within certain wide limits, order in modern sentences is syntactically essential and in ancient sentences syntactically indifferent. The modern sentence, to put it roughly, is an arrangement in line, the ancient one within a circle. Now the lineal habit of mind, if I may call it so, is often at a loss when it has to understand the circular; it is devoid of the sense of grouping; it has not been trained to the necessary attention. If the groups are small, the trouble thus caused is small; but it is not absent altogether.
Now comes a great but simple example, the kind I’ve seen belabored by would-be critical theorists in their first semesters seeking out the foul stench of patriarchy and cultural imperialism at every turn:
In the second half of the pentameter Tibullus writes vir mulierque (ii. 2. 2), Ovid femina virque. The difference of order is absolutely without significance. But the lineal mind is apt to imagine that some subtle distinction between the places of man and woman is intended, as though Ovid were a sort of pro- and Tibullus an anti-suffragette.
Come to think of it, I’ve probably seen that in some of our leading journals.
From here he recalls the views of T.E. Page (note: Page’s commentary on the Eclogues and Georgics of Vergil is still a classic — go get it!) who ‘called attention to the irrationality of current views of the figure called hysteron proteron‘:
To the lineal mind these ‘inversions’ are nonsense; to the circular but legitmate variations. … The real character of such arrangements is seen in passages like Ter. Ad. 917 ‘tu illas abi et traduce; and Lucan, viii. 342 sq. ‘quem captos ducere reges | vidit ab Hyrcanis Indoque a litore siluis‘, which almost shriek at us the warning respice finem.
There’s more, and I recommend that you seek it out (taking Shorey’s reservations into consideration). This kind of criticism, taken properly, keeps critics alert.
Posted by Eric » Add Comment »
We are often told that late antique sermons are geared toward an audience with a lower level of education (sermo humilis and all that) than the audience for written works of erudite theology and exegesis. And it is certainly true that one often finds an easier, simpler Latin in sermons. While reading one of Augustine’s Dolbeau sermons (Sermo Beati Augustini Super Verbis Apostoli Ad Galatas, Ubi Paulus Reprehendit Petrum, Ubi Primo Docet Qaulis Esse Debeat Episcopus, preached in 397), however, I came across a couple of lines that imply at least some level of literacy in his congretation. At the point in the sermon in which we are interested, Augustine is discussing the decisions of the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15, in which a solution was developed as to how Jewish Law should (and should not) be construed in relation to Gentile converts. Here are lines 183-4:
Hoc in Actibus apostolorum scriptum esse multi recolunt; legant qui non recolunt.
‘Many recall that this was written in the Acts of the Apostles. Let those who do not recall it read it.’
Posted by Eric » Add Comment »
‘An unrestricted concept of philology had to be established in order to get rid of all arbitrary distinctions and to discover its actual reality. But the more unrestricted the concept, the more necessary becomes limitation in developing it. It can accordingly be given an arbitrary limitation for the area in which any scholar works it out. The concept is absolute, the area relative. One can then set up limitations by disciplines, e.g., philology of language, of literature. One can also restrict the scope by time or space, as when one considers a specific period or some particular people. Thus we can have ancient and modern, oriental and occidental, Greek, Roman, Indian, Hebrew, and other philologies. Such division is quite in keeping with the nature of philology. Reichardt says justly with reference to ancient times: “Knowledge of antiquity is not the history of literature, of art, nor of religion–such histories exist without philology–but a history of the life of a people, which consists in the intermingling and cooperation of all these.” Every special branch of knowledge historically presented proceeds in one line of development; philology collects all these into noe bundle, and from a focal point, the mind of a people, spreads them out as radii of a circle.’
–August Boeck, from On Interpretation and Criticism (tr. John Paul Pritchard)