Judging the Goodwin Award is both a privilege and a pleasure, and one of the effects of reading so many excellent new books one after another is to make the reader reflect how varied the virtues of good scholarship are.
Of course the first thing you need as a scholar is a deep knowledge and understanding of your primary evidence, whether that consists of texts or artefacts or whatever else has survived from the ancient world. Equally obviously, you need to know the secondary literature as thoroughly as you can, not merely to situate yourself in a current debate but more importantly to get some sense of perspective on where your project belongs in the history of scholarship. Those two requirements may be elementary, but they are already very demanding, and they are not enough.
Scholarship is one of the creative arts. It requires imagination, to formulate new hypotheses or combine familiar material in unexpected ways. It requires a sense of proportion, and the skill to deploy complex arguments without descending into mere accumulation of data. Above all, it requires an ability to communicate, at least with clarity and preferably also with grace and eloquence. Too many of us sometimes forget that our readers don’t owe us a duty to keep turning the page.
It is my pleasure to report that this year the choice of your adjudicators is a book that splendidly fulfils these stringent criteria. It’s about some very familiar figures – the most glamorous of the Olympian gods, the most famous of the emperors of Rome, the most widely read group of poets in the whole of Latin literature – but it combines them with such mastery that the Augustan world we thought we knew so well is illuminated with fresh insights in every chapter. I’m sure you will have guessed by now that this year’s winner is Apollo, Augustus, and the Poets by John F. Miller.
Of course it’s a wonderful subject. At the end of the Roman civil wars, a god who didn’t even have a Latin name was installed on the Palatine by the young Caesar in a setting as magnificent as that of Jupiter on the Capitol, with immediate, profound, and varied effect on the poetry of Virgil, Horace, Tibullus, Propertius and Ovid. It is an astonishing cultural phenomenon, and I think it’s true to say that no-one has done justice to it till now. One of my colleagues described the book as ‘magisterial’; the other, as ‘fantastically detailed and suggestive’. I agree entirely, and would add that it is also a pleasure to read.
Here’s a pair of sentences that caught my eye: “Odes 1.2 opens with a series of prodigies that attended the recent internecine strife. Horace then turns to how the desperate Romans can deal with this exigent moment in their history, this severe rupture in the pax deorum made manifest by the terrible portents.” That could have been written in the eighteenth century, and yet John Miller’s style is also flexible enough to accommodate the verb ‘discombobulate’. He is an example to us all.
And now, with both admiration and gratitude, let us convey to Professor Miller the Association’s Goodwin Award of Merit, in an appropriate form: gaude, Virginiane, tuus iam regnat Apollo.
T. Peter Wiseman