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Garrett Fagan recently posed an interesting question in his very useful discussion of the crisis in the humanities: “should we embrace the competition for students in a marketplace of majors?” That my answer is “yes” is probably evident from my last post, in which I urged classicists to participate in public discourse in order to insure that the public image of Classics is both attractive to our students and acceptable to their parents. Not everyone shares this view. Many scholars cringe at the economic and corporate metaphors that often cluster around this issue (“competition,” “marketplace”) and worry about the dilution of rigor and intellectualism they connote. But in my view we do not need to choose between “giving the students what they want” and our core values as humanists. We do, however, need to give ourselves permission to reconnect in our classes with the reasons most people are drawn to the humanities in the first place.
During the New Year’s Day edition of National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, writer Frank Deford will report on a discussion he had recently with Professor Sarah Culpepper Stroup of the University of Washington about her 'War Games' course. A University publication gives details of her course here. After the broadcast, Mr. Deford's report will also be posted on the section of the NPR web site that archives his presentations.
Last week I saw something that I never thought I’d see: a new Greek tragedy. I don’t mean an adaptation of a Greek play or a modern drama inspired by a Greek myth. This was a new play, with no direct overlap with any ancient drama, but which was structured and written exactly like a fifth-century Athenian tragedy. The staging itself was in many ways very modern, but when you stripped that away and looked at the script itself, it was stylistically almost perfect. Okay, one could quibble: I’m not sure they could have staged it with just three actors; the choral odes were split across episodes (though they were composed in strophes and antistrophes). But everything else was pretty much spot on. We got formal features such as prologue, agôn scenes, stichomythia, messenger speeches, and sung monody. Even on the level of language and metaphor, there was little that would feel out of place if you tried to pass it off as a translation of an ancient text.
Why has the Titanomachy been so fascinating a subject for movies, TV, and video games in recent years?
In Greek myth, the Titans were the gods who ruled the cosmos in the generation before the ascent of the Olympians (Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Hades, and the like). The king of the Titans, Kronos, came to power by castrating his father Ouranos and held onto that power — in view of a prophecy that his son would overthrow him — by swallowing each of his children at birth. But his wife, Rhea, replaced baby Zeus with a rock and hid him on the island of Crete until he grew strong enough to force Kronos to regurgitate his siblings, whom he then led in battle against Kronos and kin. This battle, the war of the Olympians against the Titans, is called the Titanomachy, and can be considered the first war of Greek myth. It takes up a full fifth of (what survives of) Hesiod’s Theogony, a poem about the birth of the gods (old-timey translation here), with a vivid description of the effects of Zeus’ prodigious use of the thunderbolt:
The land boiled, and every stream of Ocean, and the uncultivated sea. The hot blast surrounded the earthborn Titans, unspeakable fire approached the bright sky, and the gleaming bright light of the thunderbolt and lightning blinded their eyes, though they were strong. [Theogony lines 695–699, translation mine]
The Titanomachy ends with a victory for Zeus and the Olympians, thanks to the strongarm help of the hundred-handed monster-children of Mother Earth, who imprison the Titans in Tartarus, the deepest part of the underworld.
So much for the myth. There are a number of treatments of the Titans in modern popular media. And in almost every single one, the story is not the Titanomachy itself, but rather the reawakening or escape of the Titans from their prison, and the commencement or threat of a second war between Titans and Olympians. It seems to me that this basic storyline, and the set of other plot elements that seem intrinsically associated with it, touch on a number of social/political anxieties in America today, as I’ll talk about in next month's column. [Mega spoilers starting in the next paragraph!]
There has been much ink spilt recently about a “crisis” in the humanities. In the New York Times alone there have been articles and a “Room for Debate” discussion of the “crisis.” Steven Pinker has weighed into the debate in The New Republic, generating ripostes from Leon Wieseltier in the same publication and Gary Gutting in the New York Times. Heated debate among readers can be charted in the comment boards attached to all of these publications.
If you use Twitter and intend to share comments about the upcoming joint annual meeting in Chicago, please use the hashtag
We have consulted with our colleagues at the AIA, and they have agreed to recommend its use to their members as well. This hashtag has been in use for at least the last two joint meetings, and we hope that Twitter users will adopt it this year as well.
Read a review of Jürgen Leonhardt's Latin: Story of a World Language (Harvard University Press) in this week's Chronicle of Higher Education.
The American Philological Association (APA) will present the following awards at the Plenary Session of its 145th Annual Meeting in Chicago. Click on the name of each award winner to read the citation for his or her award.
President's Award (honors an individual, group, or organization outside of the Classics profession that has made significant contributions to advancing public appreciation and awareness of Classical antiquity)
Distinguished Service Awards (awarded occasionally for extraordinary service to the profession of classics and the American Philological Association)
Charles J. Goodwin Award of Merit (for an outstanding contribution to classical scholarship published by a member of the Association within the preceding three years)
Princeton University Press has created an app of the Barrington Atlas of the Ancient World sponsored by the APA and edited by Richard J. A. Talbert. The app is compatible with the iPad 2 and above and is available from iTunes at a price of $19.99. The app contains all the content of the print edition of the Atlas and thus makes this valuable reference work more portable and affordable. Visit the Press' web site for a full description of the app and a link to the iTunes store.
The APA's hard-working Local Arrangements Committee, chaired by Board member Jonathan Mark Hall, has produced a wonderful guide (PDF) to Chicago for members planning to attend the upcoming annual meeting there.