Book Review: "A Most Dangerous Book"? Depends who's reading it.

"No woman, according to New York Mayor Jimmy Walker, was ever ruined by a book. But Christopher B. Krebs, a classics professor at Harvard, makes a strong case that an early ethnological monograph, written in the first century in Latin by the Roman historian Tacitus, may have warped the cultural identity of an entire nation. In my old Penguin translation, 'Germania'—'On Germany'— runs fewer than 40 pages, but, like other comparably short documents, such as the Declaration of Independence and 'The Communist Manifesto,' its influence has been earthshaking. As the Penguin translator, H. Mattingly, frankly writes in his 1947 introduction, the book is 'a detailed account of a great people that had already begun to be a European problem in the first century of our era.'"

Read more of the review of A Most Dangerous Book at The Washington Post online.

 

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In September 2012, Joseph Epstein published an essay in the Weekly Standard called Who Killed the Liberal Arts? The piece provoked lively response on the Classics List and at least one rapid, articulate response, by Katie Billotte in Salon.

Epstein’s argument is of more than passing concern to academics, scholars, students, and members of the general public interested in current debates about the value and vitality of the humanities and humanistic education, not only because he claims that the so-called liberal arts are dead, but also because he accuses humanists themselves of the murder. Moreover, it is important not to let his ideas go unchallenged, both because they are so often flawed, and also because they are part of a broader pattern of similar laments that collectively seek to push back against what is really not a death of humanism, but an inevitable, and not at all undesirable, historic evolution.

Amphora invited Michael Broder and Daniel Tompkins to collaborate on a response to Epstein. In consultation with the editors, Broder and Tompkins decided on a dialogic approach. The following is the result.

View full article. | Posted in on Sat, 08/02/2014 - 3:00pm by Ellen Bauerle.

The Oresteia demands a large canvas.  Its trajectory, from the end of the Trojan War to Athena's creation of the first trial by jury, is huge. It is the story of the movement from a tribal cry for blood revenge to a system of justice designed by a god but carried out by men. It addresses the struggle between male and female, chthonic and Olympian gods, tribe and polis, law and tradition, justice and revenge. When we first contemplated the notion of staging the Oresteia at Carleton College we were of course aware of the scale of this undertaking. But even so, the full magnitude of the production that resulted, and its impact on our campus and community, ended up taking us by surprise.

View full article. | Posted in on Sat, 08/02/2014 - 12:00pm by Ellen Bauerle.

At the entrance of the maximum security prison where I taught Greek tragedy was a wooden plaque in the shape of a shield. It was emblazoned with a motto: Non sum qualis eram. Apart from its incongruity in this place of no Latin and less Greek, the motto struck me as equally a declaration of failure and of hope. The men inside were not what they once were. What were they now?

I knew very little about my students at Cheshire Correctional Institute. I’d been told that over 100 inmates had applied to take classes through Wesleyan University’s Center for Prison Education (CPE).* Only eighteen had been accepted after tests and interviews with Wesleyan faculty members, CPE staff, and prison administrators. The men had widely differing educational backgrounds, but had proved that they could succeed at Wesleyan course work: biochemistry, essay writing, sociology, and philosophy. By the second year of the pilot program, 2011, when I taught, the cohort had lost only two. Of the remaining sixteen, thirteen were African-American.  

I’d been told that most of the men were serving long sentences for violent crimes. I didn’t ask for the particulars of who had done what. I would learn some details later, but for now that was enough. I wanted to think of them as students first and prisoners second.

View full article. | Posted in on Sat, 08/02/2014 - 11:00am by Wells Hansen.

In this issue of Amphora we are fortunate to have our Executive Director Adam Blistein’s account of his introduction to classics through a particularly gifted high school teacher and coach, Alfred Morro, and Adam’s comments on what that experience has meant to him. It was serendipity that Adam proposed his article to your Amphora staff for this issue, but his essay also fits nicely with another topic that has been under discussion among the APA’s Outreach division:  thinking about our origins, about our path to classical studies, and what that tells us.

As I was getting to know social media a while back, and mindful of the colorful situations that people sometimes get themselves into with unfamiliar technology, I was looking for some safe, mild topics of discussion and posting. I got to talking with the smallish group of social media friends I had at the time about how they happened to reach the positions they held as adults—most but not all were college or university professors, and most of them were in North America. Was it a decisive college major? an accident of circumstance? a beloved teacher?

View full article. | Posted in on Sat, 08/02/2014 - 10:00am by Ellen Bauerle.

“Zero to Hero, in no time flat … Zero to Hero, just like that!” The Muses’ song from the Disney film Hercules could apply equally well to the sudden, spectacular rise of Hercules in pop entertainment of the late 1990s. Those proved lively years for the hero in American film and TV, spearheaded by the 1997 Disney animated movie and by television’s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, starring Kevin Sorbo (1995-99). The two quickly spun off more TV series: Disney’s Hercules: The Animated Series (1998-99, 65 episodes of 30 minutes each) and Young Hercules (1998-99, 50 episodes also of 30 minutes each) starring Ryan Gosling.* Both spinoffs reimagined the mythological hero specifically for younger viewers and gave him unprecedented exposure in children’s weekday TV.†

View full article. | Posted in on Sat, 08/02/2014 - 9:00am by Ellen Bauerle.

The field of ancient cookery, as a scholarly and popular publication topic, has a long and proud tradition. Study of the subject works like field archaeology, in so far as the scholar must dig up (literally or figuratively) what information there is, recognize its usually egregious gaps, and fill them in as best he or she can. The latter is commonly achieved via comparison with better preserved examples from related fields or sites, with a lot of (usually) logical ratiocination to sew it all together. In this regard, the field archaeologist has a slightly easier row to hoe, in that irremediable gaps in the information can simply be left as unanswerable questions. Scholars of ancient cookery, in contrast, usually hope to recreate the cuisine of antiquity. Here a gap in the information can be disastrous, resulting in concrete, sludge, or flavors so abominable that not even the Romans could figure out a way to enjoy them. This powerful caveat must be kept in mind, since it explains why so much speculation, substitution, and invention are both justified and necessary. If we adhere strictly to available information, we would end up only with translations of terse ancient texts, few of which provide enough information to allow anything appealing to be cooked today.Andrew Dalby and Sally Grainger, The Classical Cookbook, rev.</body></html>

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 08/01/2014 - 1:00pm by Wells Hansen.

Vera Lachmann was born in Berlin in 1904 into a family of the German-Jewish aristocracy. She attended a private school for girls, following which she studied philology at the Universities of Berlin and Basel and received her Ph.D. from the University of Berlin in 1931. Although she expected to teach at a German university, the bias against women led her to take the examinations that qualified her to teach at the Gymnasium level. In April 1933, with Hitler in power, she established a private school that was held on the grounds of relatives. The Nazis closed the school shortly after Kristallnacht. With the aid of friends in Germany and the United States she was able to leave Germany in November 1939. On arriving in the United States. she taught first at Vassar. Soon after, she taught for two years at Salem College in North Carolina, one academic year at Bryn Mawr, and two years at Yale. Her most substantial employment was at Brooklyn College, where she taught large courses in classical civilization and Greek drama in translation, and smaller courses in Greek:  Antigone, Oedipus at Colonus, and the Iliad. Castrum Peregrini Press of Amsterdam published three books of her poetry, German and English on facing pages. A considerable number of her poems are on themes from ancient Greece. She died in 1985. In 2004 I edited Homer’s Sun Still Shines:  Ancient Greece in Essays, Poems and Translations by Vera Lachmann.                

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 08/01/2014 - 12:00pm by Ellen Bauerle.

That sinking feeling when you realize you’ve completely underestimated the scope of a project? I’m far more familiar with it than I’d like to admit.

It was what I felt when I began analyzing the data I gathered in the library and vaults of the American Numismatic Society on provincial coinage minted under the Severan dynasty. I’d received a grant from my home institution to place the images and legends on provincial coinage in conversation with that of imperial coinage. I thought by doing so, I could bring to life the negotiations of ideology between local concerns and imperial propaganda.

It was a good idea, an exciting new methodology. What I failed to realize is the quantity of data I had to consider in analyzing provincial and imperial coinage. My philologically focused graduate school training had not prepared me for this—in order to analyze the relationships in any systematic way I would need to keep an impossibly large body of data in my head.

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 08/01/2014 - 11:00am by Ellen Bauerle.

I became a Classicist because of Alfred V. Morro (1920-2005, photo below left).

Almost everyone in the state of Rhode Island above a certain age would (a) recognize Al’s name, and (b) be surprised by my statement because he was almost exclusively known as a football and track coach of great success and rare ferocity at Providence Classical High School. If you can remember what college football fans outside of Ohio State thought about the late Woody Hayes, or, more recently, what college basketball fans outside of Indiana University thought about Bobby Knight in his chair-throwing days, you have some idea of Al’s reputation in Rhode Island.

In the background of the photo below right you can see him haranguing his troops in a pose that was familiar to all who knew him. In fact, that photo shows me becoming familiar with that pose because I was an assistant manager on the football team, and I am the young man in the gray sweatshirt with his back to the camera.

View full article. | Posted in on Fri, 08/01/2014 - 10:00am by Wells Hansen.

Kellan Lutz and Dwayne Johnson as HerculesThis year’s been a productive one for big-budget hack-and-slash films set in the ancient world.  Besides a disastrous (so to speak) Pompeii and the 300 sequel focused on Themistocles and Artemisia, theatergoers have had the opportunity (some might say the misfortune) to see two movies about Hercules: The Legendary Hercules, starring Kellan Lutz, released in January, and Hercules, starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, released this month.  (For convenience, and for love of portmanteaux, I’ll refer to the latter as Rockules and the former as Herculutz.  Also for convenience, I’m ignoring the mockbuster Hercules Reborn, also released this year.)  I watched and enjoyed them both — your mileage may vary — and noticed overlapping themes in the way each movie characterizes its protagonist as grappling not only with his foes but also with his destiny as a mythic hero.

Needless to say, spoiler alert for both movies, and for the comic book on which Rockules is based (on which, see Gellar-Goad & Bedingham, forthcoming in Electra volume 3).

View full article. | Posted in on Thu, 07/31/2014 - 9:14am by .

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