Tim Whitmarsh, Beyond the Second Sophistic: Adventures in Greek Postclassicism. Berkeley; Los Angeles; and London: University of California Press, 2013.
Beyond the Second Sophistic has opened an array of new pathways for research, and demonstrated how much the field of postclassical literature stands to benefit from a sharpened toolset. While it is no longer controversial to claim that notions of syncretism, orientalism, imitation, Hellenization, and decline, have lived past their usefulness, we have been awaiting new perspectives to replace them. Whitmarsh provides these in his collection of studies, some previously published, whose cumulative force will reshape how we approach Greek literary studies in general.
The work centers on a period that for over a century has been designated the Second Sophistic, a term coined by Philostratus to indicate a rhetorical style. Questions of taste, revival, and canonicity, which have hovered around previous studies, are not so much argued against as leaped over. What emerges is a history that has been there for us to see, but mostly occluded by old habits. It is a landscape occupied by multiple languages and many genres, including epic, the novel, mime and pantomime, hymns and tragedy, as well as historiography, local history, erotic prose, epistles, a wealth of technical writing, and, yes, rhetoric. A more synthetic perspective raises the salience of new questions, about the status of prose, the relationship of poetry to poetics, and the evolution of ideas about narrative identity.
Perhaps Whitmarsh's greatest contribution is to show us that the concerns and interests that animate the production of postclassical literature are not idiosyncratic. They will be as productively asked of the works from the archaic and classical period that precede them. Thinking beyond attachments to Greek cultural border-drawing will remind us that Helicon's East face has helped shape the whole of the rich cultural history of the Mediterranean. His insights into the evolution of ideas about fictive narrative in prose and poetry will be pertinent irrespective of chronology. And the meticulous care with which he keeps teleology at bay, allows us to see the local vitality and urgency that initiates literary production in every era.
It takes a certain intellectual fearlessness, backed up by a vertiginous depth and breadth of learning, to make a case of such complexity. While we can hope that the coming decades will be populated with scholars up to the challenge, there is no question that the challenge has been set down in the changed landscape after Beyond the Second Sophistic. It is therefore with great admiration that we grant the Goodwin Award of Merit to Tim Whitmarsh.
Goodwin Award Committee
Peter T. Struck, Chair
Barbara Weiden Boyd