Very occasionally a book comes along that reminds us in a new way of the foundations of our discipline, and that brings alive the historical processes by which we retain a connection with the books once written by the Greeks and Romans. The book which we acknowledge with this year’s Goodwin Award of Merit is one that makes us look at the process of the transmission of texts with open, fresh, and excited eyes; it is a triumph of the historical imagination, which achieves its ambitious goals by combining precise and meticulous erudition with elegant and forceful writing. We all know what a stemma looks like, with its array of Roman and Greek letters, but this book brings to life the human beings behind those ciphers, taking us into the studies and libraries of the people who handled the books that are the ancestors of our own texts. This book also brings to life the books themselves, with sensitive discussions of the illustrations in illuminated manuscripts, and with imaginative recreation of the numinous power that a rare manuscript could command.
The winner of this year’s award, Julia Haig Gaisser, brings a lifetime’s experience of philology in its fullest sense to the task of leading us through The Fortunes of Apuleius and the Golden Ass, demonstrating at every turn her command of textual and literary criticism, intellectual and cultural history, and even art history. She has taken a spectacular test case and used it to demonstrate the fate of a classical text, making its journey—as she puts it—“from roll to codex, into a medieval library, into the hands of humanists, into print, and finally into translation”, and “providing a window into each of the main points in the transmission and reception of ancient authors”. In his own writings, Apuleius was already busily programming his reception, and he was as lucky in his transmission as he was in his life. Fingered by St. Augustine as “a famous Platonist in both Greek and Latin”, he became only the second classical author to be printed in Italy thanks to hot debates between Florentine Platonists and their conservative opponents, and his scurrilous novel was dragged along by the more respectable coat-tails of the Apologia and the De Deo Socratis. As this example demonstrates, Julia Gaisser makes every stage in the reception and transmission of Apuleius a new chapter in the intellectual history of its time, and not just an unmotivated point in a row of dates, as she shows his text moving through the hands and minds of commentators, artists, philosophers and creative writers. Her sensitivity to the cultural context of reading and writing makes us reconsider the implications of even the most apparently banal statements of fact. We can casually say that “Boccaccio read Apuleius”, but Julia Gaisser’s historical imagination brings that statement alive. Where did Boccaccio get his text of Apuleius? What did it look like? We learn that Boccaccio transcribed his own manuscript of Apuleius, a “careless and inattentive” one maybe, but still testimony to the work required at that time to master and assimilate an ancient author.
For her original vindication of the core concerns of the American Philological Association, we are proud to present the 2009 Goodwin Award of Merit to Julia Haig Gaisser.
Denis Feeney, Chair
T. Peter Wiseman