Scholia Reviews ns 17 (2008) 33.
Christopher Stray (ed.), Remaking the Classics, Literature, Genre and Media in Britain 1800-2000. London: Duckworth, 2007. Pp. xi + 153. ISBN 978-0-7156- 3673-2. US$81.00, UK£45.
Christopher Stray (ed.), Oxford Classics. Teaching and Learning 1800-2000. London: Duckworth, 2007. Pp. x + 275. ISBN 978-0-7156-3645-9. US$81.00, UK£45.00.
Baylor University, USA
Christopher Stray’s two new volumes delve into a pair of very interesting topics with a common denominator, the development of Classical Studies in England from Victorian to modern times. Stray is a well-known author from his 1998 Oxford book on schools, Universities, and society in England from 1830 to 1960, in addition to the numerous collections he has overseen as editor. In the first volume under review, Stray has now collected eight well-conceived essays on a wealth of topics, a product of a conference on British Classics held at Hay-on-Wye, in 2005. There are some excellent pieces in this volume, and my review will focus on some of the most representative in detail, while pointing to the strengths or weaknesses of the remaining essays.
In ‘Spartacus in nineteenth-century England: Proletarian, Pole and Christ’ (pp. 1-19), Leanne Hunnings examines the exploitation of the figure of Spartacus in nineteenth-century England, as she looks at the Notes to the People, a proletariat journal published by Ernest Jones in 1851-52, where Spartacus becomes a linking figure between the British working class and the state of slavery: the Roman hero comes to symbolize the ultimate attempt at overthrowing the status quo. Next, Hunnings explores Jacob Jones’ tragedy Spartacus, or, The Roman Gladiator (London 1837), inasmuch as its author recreates Spartacus as a freedom-fighter through his own lens as a member of a class that promoted Poland’s freedom from Russia’s oppression. Finally, a third comparandum is found from the same time-period of the first half of nineteenth century England in Susannah Strickland’s novel Spartacus: A Roman Story (London 1822), in which the author re-imagines the instigator of the slave revolt as Jesus by compiling her account from the different ancient sources, as she openly promotes a Christian agenda through her work.
In a compelling essay, ‘Some Victorian Versions of Greco-Roman Epic’ (pp. 21-36) Stephen Harrison tests the waters of Victorian versions of Greco-Roman heroic poetry through the verses of Tennyson, Arnold, Clough, and William Morris. As Harrison suggests, not only is epic reconfigured as a miniature and diversified poetic genre, but it is simultaneously blended with the dominating Victorian genre of novel. Both Tennyson and Arnold decline to engage in poems of epic scale, like Homer’s, but rather resort to poems of the proportions of an idyl or an epyllion. These rich ‘epics’ deserve definitely more attention from Classicists, as they are fascinating works in their own right.
Other engaging essays in the volume include the following: Elizabeth Vandimer (‘Classics in British Poetry of the First World War’, pp. 37-55) studies the First Word War poets, who often with little background in the Classics in the original language exploit Homer and adapt the Iliad to the early twentieth century context of slaughter, death, and kleos. In ‘Decolonising the Mind? Controversial Productions of Greek Drama in Post-colonial England, Scotland and Ireland’ (pp. 89-105), Lorna Hardwick searches in the post-colonial world of England, Scotland, and Ireland for further meaning in productions of Greek drama, from David Creig’s Scottish Oedipus to Tony Harrison’s provocative but all too relevant today Hecuba. Amanda Wrigley’s ‘Stages of Imagination: Greek Plays on BBC Radio’ (pp. 57-73) is also devoted to Greek tragedy, this time on radio; Wrigley addresses this attractive subject with great insights: the listener of a radio play is at many levels ‘working’ on the text, just as a literary critic. I suppose one may compare the modern Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts in the United States and draw similar conclusions.
In ‘Reconstructed Pasts: Rome and Britain, Child and Adult in Kipling’s Puck of Pook’s Hill and Rosemary Sutcliff’s historical fiction’ (pp. 107-23), Deborah Roberts offers an interesting ‘intertextual’ analysis, in the broad meaning of the word, of Sutcliff’s Eagle of the Ninth and Kipling’s Puck of Pook’s Hill, while in ‘The memorable past: Antiquity and girlhood in the works of Mary Butts and Naomi Mitchison’ (pp. 125-39), Sheila Murnaghan elucidates the use of classical themes in historical fiction. The author reads the works of Butts and Mitchison as a reflection of the writers’ development in the context of significant movements at the time, such as, for example, the Cambridge ritualists.
Though Ruth Hazel’s topic (‘Sparagmos and Female Power on the Late Twentieth-century British Stage’ pp. 75-87) is promising, I think there should be further, more convincing presentation of and reflection upon the role of modern Maenadism on stage.
The second volume comprises fifteen essays, most of which originate in a conference held at Corpus Christi in 2006, co-organized by the editor and Stephen Harrison. The book opens with Christopher Stray’s essay, ‘Non-identical Twins: Classics in Nineteenth-century Oxford and Cambridge’ (pp. 1-13), a study of the differences, in both style and method, between the two premier schools in the United Kingdom.
Isobel Hurst (‘”A fleet of . . . inexperienced Argonauts”: Oxford Women and the Classics, 1873-1920’ pp. 14-27) looks at the status of women at Oxford in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, concluding that women rarely chose to undertake philological research but rather opted to study archaeology, a phenomenon that is worth investigating further into the twentieth century and the trends formed in the twenty-first century also.
Anne Rogerson (‘Conington’s ‘Roman Homer’’ pp. 94-106) sheds more light on John Conington’s monumental commentary of the Aeneid, as a product of its time and not as a mere censure of the Roman poet, compared to his Greek model. This piece fits well together with its companion article on Henry Nettleship by Stephen Harrison, which illuminates Nettleship’s progressive personality as the third Corpus Christi Chair of Latin at Oxford (‘Henry Nettleship and the beginning of modern Latin studies at Oxford’ pp. 107- 116).
In ‘Liddell and Scott: Precursors, Nineteenth-century Editions and the American Contributions’ (pp. 117-34), August Imholtz Jr. takes us into a journey in Greek lexicography and gives a great account of the Liddell and Scott project, with an insightful history of its precursors in England. Imholtz travels through the eight editions of the lexicon (1843-1897) during Henry George Liddell’s lifetime, and the importance of people such as Henry Drisler, who compiled and augmented the work for the first American edition (1846).
I wholeheartedly recommend the following perceptive studies also: Edmund Richardson’s keen analysis on the little impact an Oxford degree in classical education bore on the students’ further advancement in terms of social mobility (‘Jude the Obscure: Oxford’s Classical Outcasts’ pp. 28-45); Heather Ellis’ article on two prominent figures of ninenteenth century Oxford, such as Newman and Arnold, who become entangled in a conflict concerning Christian morality and classical education, in the context of the debate between vita activa vs. vita contemplativa (‘Newman and Arnold: Classics, Christianity and Manliness in Tractarian Oxford’ pp. 46- 63); Christopher Collard’s tribute to Arthur Sidgwick (‘Schoolmaster, Don, Educator: Arthur Sidgwick Moves to Corpus in 1879’ pp. 78-93); Stefano Evangelista’s portrait of Walter Pater’s scholarly aestheticism, looking at how his sexual preferences had concomitant repercussions for his career in traditionalist Oxford (‘Walter Pater’s Teaching in Oxford: Classics and Aestheticism’ pp. 64-77); Richard Hingley’s study on ‘Francis John Haverfield (1860-1919): Oxford, Roman Archaeology and Edwardian Imperialism’ (pp. 135-53); Paul Millett’s portrait of Alfred Zimmern (‘Alfred Zimmern’s The Greek Commonwealth Revisited’ pp. 168- 202); Stephanie West’s piece on Eduard Fraenkel as an extraordinarily gifted teacher and scholar (‘Eduard Fraenkel Recalled’ pp. 203-18).
Last, I should say that I thoroughly enjoyed Graham Whitaker’s essay on ‘What You Didn’t Read: The Unpublished Oxford Classical Texts’ (pp. 154-67), an insightful study on the politics of publishing in such an esteemed and revered series, as the famed OCTs. James Morwood’s piece on language acquisition at Oxford (‘Small Latin and Less Greek: Oxford Adjusts to Changing Circumstances’ pp. 239-49) also sheds light on the varying trends in the language curriculum at Oxford with an optimistic outlook for the future.
Of great value are also the reprints of Robin Nisbet’s and Donald Russell’s presentations on the study of classical literature at Oxford from 1936 to 1988 (‘The Study of Classical Literature at Oxford, 1936-1988’ pp. 219-38).
Both these volumes constitute fascinating studies, especially from my perspective in the American University system, but also for all Classicists interested in the wider classical tradition and reception studies, and are therefore warmly recommended.