Anthony Grafton, Glenn W. Most, Salvatore Settis (edd.), The Classical Tradition. Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2010. Pp. xvii + 1067. ISBN 978-0674-035720. UK£36.95.
Foreign Languages, University of KwaZulu- Natal, Durban, South Africa
In their preface, the editors insist that their book should not be seen 'as a Lexicon or Dictionary or Encyclopedia, but rather as a Guide' (p. viii). They explain (ibid.): 'As a guide, it does not pretend to exhaustiveness. Rather, it hopes to provide, for the general reader, a first place to turn in order to satisfy doubts and curiosity and to suggest further reading and, for the scholar, a work of reference indicating the current state of research in a number of disciplines as well as productive avenues of further work.' They conclude: 'For both kind of readers, our Guide hopes to be both authoritative and accessible, learned and entertaining, reliable and surprising.' On the same page, they also give a characterization of their material: It is intended to 'conceive the Classical Tradition broadly to include not only the texts, but also the images and objects, the ideas and institutions, the monuments and cultural artifacts, the rituals and practices that have so profoundly influenced the Western Tradition and some non-Western ones.' Finally (p. x), they make an interesting remark concerning their book's title and profile: 'Ideally, this Guide would have been entitled not The Classical Tradition but rather A Classical Tradition, for one of the things we nave all learned from our recent history is that Europe is only one part of a complex and interlocking world.' As a result of this condition, the European or Western Cultural Tradition should be seen in the context of all the other canons, of India and the Islam as well as the Jewish and Chinese ones.
Looking at the book itself, it creates, I find, before everything else, a strong physical impression: it weighs one and a half kilos, its dimensions are substantial, and as a result it is certainly unwieldy, but also certainly worthwhile to explore. It contains, from 'Academy' to 'Zoology' about 240 lemmata of various lengths, covering texts from one short column to half a dozen full pages. The phenomena described and analyzed range from influential personalities (ancient, medieval, modern, including rulers, thinkers, artists, scholars), to places, styles, schools of thought, as well as technical achievements and their influence on games, cinema, and television.
In order that the reader might not get lost, everything in this volume is organized alphabetically: from the list (in front) of the 12 members of the Editorial Board and the list of the 3 editors (next page) to the 'List of Articles' (pp. xiii- xvii) and the lemmata themselves (pp. 1- 1067) and from the 'List of Contributors' (pp. 1003-1010) to the 'Index' (pp. 1011-1067) which takes the user from 'Aalto' and 'Abano' to 'Zwierlein' and 'Zwingli'. Enough alphabetic lists? Maybe not. There is still another, somehow hidden, list, squeezed in in three parts, after pp. 172, 524, and 844, of 'Illustration Credits' -- all in all 165 items. This is where I see the centre of gravity of this book: Around 300 well chosen images breathe some fresh air into the more 'bookish' approach of these texts; they give splendid colours and clear contours to the whole -- somehow abstract - - enterprise. However, I would have liked these most welcome pictures to have been arranged chronologically, or otherwise perhaps systematically, according to their subject categories, because the alphabetical order, as it is used here, is not helpful at all. That we see 'Ulysses' (= Odysseus) and 'Oedipus' face to face with each other on one page, does not reveal much. To make matters worse, the printed alphabetical order is quite erratic; we find Picasso's 'Faun' under 'P',Mchelangelo's 'Phaeton', however, also under 'P', the 'Tabula Peutingeriana' alias 'Peutinger Map' under 'Roads, Roman', and John William Waterhouse's painting 'Thisbe' under 'P' (like 'Pyramus and Thisbe'). I am afraid my earlier words ('We find') are definitely much too optimistic; there is unfortunately so much the reader does not find, at least not in his first attempt to locate something, that he will be able to unearth only after many a distant association.
Still, the splendid thesaurus of these various optic impressions offered here is certainly 'eye-opening', and rich in nuances. We see modern architecture (I. M. Pei's 'Pyramid' and Adolf Hitler's Olympic 'Stadium'); we see traditional architecture, such as the Indian Taj Mahal and China's Great Wall (illustrating the 'Seven Wonders of the World'); we see Orson Welles hiding in the sewers of Vienna (under 'Sewers'); we see Maria Callas as 'Medea' and Elizabeth Taylor as 'Cleopatra' and 'Heinrich Schliemann's wife Sophia wearing ornaments excavated in Mycenae 1877' (under 'Mycenae'); we see four scenes by Correggio (Danaë, Leda, Ganymede,Io, under 'Correggio'); we see Blake's 'The Ancient of Days' from 1794 (under 'Demiurge') and Goya's 'Saturn Devouring One of His Sons' of 1819-1823 (under Hesiod). But all in all, the visual 'Classical Tradition' is brilliantly documented here, in opulent colours, but in a somehow all too labyrinthine order: not easy to find, but worthwhile searching for.
The articles -- the book's main bulk -- are similarly rich. From the field of politics we encounter a host of entries, like 'Political Theory', 'Constitution, Mixed', 'Aristocracy', 'Democracy', 'Despotism', 'Dictatorship', 'Fascism', 'Marxism', 'Slavery', 'Barbarians', and 'Empire'. 'Monarchy', however, and 'Royals' are excluded. And so is 'Utopia'. But at least 'Dream Interpretation' is granted some space. Also, quite a few '-isms' show up: 'Humanism', 'Platonism', 'Aristotelianism', 'Epicureanism', 'Hermeticism', 'Historicism', 'Stoicism', 'Scepticism', 'Ciceronianism', 'Cynicism', 'Pythagoreanism', 'Atomism', and 'Atticism'. And finally: 'Modernism in Art' and, last, and least, 'Tourism and Travel'.
There are two items which enjoy the privilege of no less than three lemmata: one is 'Caesar' (1. 'as political title'; 2. 'Julius': 3. 'Caesars, Twelve'); the other one is 'book' ('libraries' got only one!). Of these three, two present the manuscript: (a) its development and transmission: (b) its production; the third one (c) discusses the 'Book, Printed'. To this entry, there are also some supporting articles, for instance 'Writing' and 'Palimpsest' and 'Hieroglyphs'. Some lemmata enjoy another privilege: that of an epithet, such as 'Apollo Belvedere', or 'Elgin marbles', or 'Delphin classics'.
This last title leads us to a qroup of modern publishing companies, such as 'Teubner' or 'Loeb Classical Library': each of them is given an individual entry, recognising their importance for the Classical Tradition by providing reliable handy editions for a vast number of ancient texts -- it is through such companies that these cultural documents of long ago are present in today's world. The winner, however, is 'Greek': it has no less than five entries, namely: 'Ancient', 'Modern', 'Modern Use of Ancient', 'Anthology', and 'Revival'. By way of contrast, 'Latin' is given only two entries: 'Latin and the Professions' and 'Latin Language', rounded out, however, by 'Neo-Latin'.
An additional bonus is hidden within these thousand pages -- an almost complete History of Classical Scholarship in smallish fragments -- dozens of leading scholars are portrayed in adequately short articles, from Petrarch and Melanchthon to Niebuhr and Nietzsche, to Budaeus and Bentley, to Erasmus and Ulrich von Wilamowitz- Moellendorff. In connection with a few descriptions of greater works, such as 'Inscriptions, Greek and Latin', and some fundamental essays, as 'Renaissance', 'Humanismus', 'Translation', the interested reader can observe the development and functioning of the discipline.
The volume is produced with great care, but, as we all know, nobody is perfect. There are here and there some minor glitches, such as the incorrect Mozart title 'II Clemenzo di Tito' (it is 'La Clemenza') in the 'Deus ex Machina' article (p. 2631 -- a triple sin against Mozart, against Music and Opera, and against the Genius of the Italian Language). Obviously such errors are negligible, once seen in the context of this vast work. I am sure it will function as a corner-stone in Classical Tradition Studies.