The C.J. Goodwin Award of Merit Committee has selected three winners of this year's Goodwin Award. All three will be honored at the Plenary Session at the Boston Annual Meeting. You can click on the names below to read the full citations.
James I. Porter, The Sublime in Antiquity, Cambridge University Press, 2016
Amy Russell, The Politics of Public Space in Republican Rome, Cambridge University Press, 2015
Peter T. Struck, Divination and Human Nature: A Cognitive History of Intuition in Classical Antiquity, Princeton University Press, 2016
James Porter's The Sublime in Antiquity is a critical tour-de-force and at the same time a rich and open-ended source-book that will delight readers interested in how the Greeks and Romans described and analyzed the experience of being struck, captivated, even overwhelmed by an act of hearing, viewing, or reading – an experience surely familiar to all lovers of Classical literature and art.
The notion of “the sublime” and of a special category of awe-inspiring, transcendent and almost inexpressible greatness, whether encountered in the natural world (mountains, oceans, storms, a divine presence…) or in various forms of artistic production, has been a key element in Western aesthetics at least since the 18th century. Critics such as Edmund Burke, Immanuel Kant, and G. W. F. Hegel have been followed by innumerable philosophers and historians of aesthetics, almost all of whom have traced the origin of this notion back to the unknown author (traditionally referred to as “Longinus”) who composed a remarkable rhetorical treatise entitled Peri Hypsous (or in Latin, De Sublimitate), some time between ca. 50 and 300 CE. Longinus’ treatise is thus almost universally regarded as constituting a major break-through in aesthetic thought that really stands alone in Classical antiquity. (M. H. Abrams, for example, in The Mirror and the Lamp, famously zeroed-in on the contrast between “Classical” poetics, as represented by Aristotle and the mainstream, and “Romantic” sensibilities, as adumbrated by Longinus.) James Porter, in his immensely erudite and wide-ranging new book, overturns this standardized history of criticism and offers a new and fascinating account of the multiple ways in which “sublime, wonderful, stupendous” experiences and compositions were recognized and described by a wide range of authors before and after Longinus – from Homer and Pindar, to Empedocles and Lucretius, and even such drily analytical critics as Aristotle and Dionysius of Halicarnassus. Porter’s extensively documented study, exploring numerous poetical and philosophical passages in close detail, makes it clear that Longinus’ treatise in fact comes in the middle, not at the beginning, of such discussions, distinguished more by its style and choice of particular examples than by its conceptual originality. As Porter observes, “The sublime pervades much of antiquity; it has simply been hiding in the light.”
Porter’s book is not simply a negative achievement, however, in its re-positioning of Longinus within literary and aesthetic history. Along with its stimulating and important argument about the “tradition of the sublime” as a concept and an affective experience, the book provides a wonderful assemblage of particular close readings and analyses of individual texts, making new connections both within antiquity itself and between ancient and modern authors. Porter explores such stylistic strategies and dichotomies as simplicity vs variety, the power of the kairos and of ekplêxis, and the “logic of excess,” showing how all of these techniques involve an “art of the emotions” in which, as both rhetoricians and philosophers implicitly agreed, artistic skill and organizational power, whether human or divine, lie at the heart of the sublime effect. This book will immediately become required reading for anyone seriously studying ancient stylistics, rhetorical theory, and the history of aesthetics.
The semantic range of public and private in Latin, and the degree to which it overlaps with and challenges our own concepts, has been a fruitful topic in recent research. In terms of the built environment, stimulating scholarship has shown how public concerns such as aristocratic display infuse the private sphere of Rome down to the layout of the Roman house. In The Politics of Public Space in Republican Rome (Cambridge 2016), Amy Russell flips our perspective by revealing the complexity of Republican Rome’s public sphere, tracing the fraught, entangled relationship between private and public in the variegated histories of the Forum Romanum, the Capitoline, and Pompey’s temple, theater and portico complex on the Campus Martius. In doing so, she tells an entirely fresh, 3D story of the contradictions and paradoxes of later Roman Republican political history through competing efforts to control, delineate, frame, or co-opt public space and through different groups’ diverse experiences and interpretations of public space. Russell allows us to see fully how incomprehensible the Romans would have found modern presuppositions about institutional agency.
Russell delves into textual sources with fine-tuned interpretive skills, into the archaeological record with a sharp eye for detail, and with discerning judgement into theoretical literature on the spatial turn, behavioral methodology, and hotly debated questions of the shape of Roman Republican politics; she highlights the peculiarity of Roman Republican configurations of the public not just in theory, but in everyday experience: on the streets, in temples, and in the staged environment of the Forum Romanum. The spatial configurations of the later Republican Forum Romanum, for example, tell multiple, competing stories of differentiated roles and perspectives, and of efforts to control and their limits. Speakers on the Rostra towered over the Comitium, the monumentalized assembly-place of citizens, while the Curia constrained it. But tight choreography invites disruption, so that a tribune standing on the Rostra could turn his back on the Comitium and Curia and invoke a new vision of the Roman populus occupying the open space of the Forum proper.
It was the “ideology of publicity” (in Fergus Millar’s words), the necessity for Republican political actors and actions to have public witnesses and endorsers, that ramped up aspirations to control, claim and corner the Roman people and the public sphere itself. Russell’s compelling tableaux “show the consequent interpenetration of private and public and illuminate their confrontations.” Basilicas built with public funds nevertheless monumentalized their patrons, and actively shaped the experience of the public that enjoyed them, their architecture and very name invoking the palaces of Hellenistic kings. Temple complexes might incorporate individual family tombs, or their decoration might speak the quintessentially private, even regal language of leisure. If, for us, “the personal is political,” Russell argues convincingly that the political and the public become ever more personal in the last decades of the Republic until, once Augustus eclipses the state, it becomes impossible to see any light between them.
Ancient divination is regularly dismissed by moderns as a species of fake knowledge. Some of the rhetorical moves in that dismissal are borrowed from Cicero and other ancients, but the dismissal itself is peremptory, often smug. Peter Struck’s subtle and ambitious exploration of the subject begins with the recognition that for those who used and respected mantic practices, divination successfully offered a means of acquiring knowledge that was real and functional. For the practitioner or observer, the critiques of a few were immaterial and irrelevant.
With a careful exploration of the history of thinking about divination among the philosophers, Struck mediates between ancient and contemporary observers to create a way of interpreting divination that escapes both credulity and dismissiveness. In Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics he traces a history of argument that is serious and credible and respectful of the real experience of their contemporaries. Faced with knowledge of evident usefulness, knowledge that did not differentiate itself clearly in their eyes from that acquired by what we would regard as true scientific means, the subtlest ancient thinkers provided a rationale that did justice to experience. Struck traces his story then to the neo-Platonists and in particular Iamblichus who, working in and faithful to the traditions he inherited, nevertheless introduced distinctions that would begin to define and harden the lines separating real from fake, human (and eventually scientific) from divine.
Struck’s theoretical exposition of ‘surplus knowledge’ and the analogy to modern understandings of intuition familiarize the unfamiliar and make divination more accessible. As a result, Struck shows we know more than the ancients did … and less. His erudition, patient argument, and lucid explanation enrich our sense of the ancient past as indeed a foreign country, but one that we can imagine inhabiting.
Citations by the Goodwin Award Committee members, Mark Griffith, Sheila Murnaghan, Emma Dench, Michele Lowrie, and James J. O'Donnell.