- Blood for the Ghosts: Classical Influences in the 19th and 20th Centuries by Hugh Lloyd-Jones
Duckworth, 312 pp, £24.00, May 1982, ISBN 0 7156 1500 9
- Classical Survivals: The Classics in the Modern World by Hugh Lloyd-Jones
Duckworth, 184 pp, £18.00, May 1982, ISBN 0 7156 1517 3
- History of Classical Scholarship by U. von Wilamowitz-Moellendorf, edited by Hugh Lloyd-Jones, translated by Alan Harris
Duckworth, 189 pp, £18.00, February 1982, ISBN 0 7156 0976 9
Of the 53 short essays, book reviews, lectures and obituaries assembled in Hugh Lloyd-Jones’s two volumes, two were published in the year before he assumed the Regius Professorship of Greek in the University of Oxford, one was his Inaugural Lecture of 1960, and the remainder were written subsequently. I say this not as a prelude to yet another bad joke about ‘the other place’ but because it is impossible to appreciate the two volumes without some understanding of the course of Classical studies in 20th-century Britain and of the author’s role in them.
The full text of this book review is only available to subscribers of the London Review of Books.
Vol. 5 No. 2 · 3 February 1983
SIR: I yield to none in admiration for the great contribution to the social and economic history of the ancient world made by Sir Moses Finley, which, as he himself acknowledges, I have more than once praised in print: so that when I saw the titles of two books of mine and that of a third in which I had some part prefaced to an essay of his printed in your columns (LRB, 2 December 1982), I was gratified by the expectation that he would turn out to have reviewed them. But instead of a review, I found a sketch of my own development, followed by a complaint that I had not adequately discussed the question as to how we may be able to understand the ancient world without importing prejudices of our own. Since I do not feel that a person unacquainted with my aims and methods would get an adequate account of them from the picture drawn by Sir Moses, and since I feel that his reproach is undeserved, I have a word or two to say about his essay.
First, I hope that readers unaware of the nature or the importance of textual criticism in the study of Classical texts will not too readily accept the account of it given by Sir Moses, who would not, I think, deny that he is more at home in the world of sociology and economics than in that of language or literature. Sir Moses deprecates the value of attempts made to purge the texts of their corruptions, citing the opinion of two well-known papyrologists, expressed just after the First World War, that the discovery of many papyri from Egypt earlier than the Byzantine manuscripts on which our knowledge of the Classical texts that have come down to us principally depends has, on the whole, confirmed the reliability of the Byzantine manuscripts we have. The scholars in question were undoubtedly correct, and their judgment is endorsed in a good modern discussion of the question by E.G. Turner, Greek Papyri: An Introduction (1968): but Turner draws attention to many instances in which the papyri have shown the manuscript tradition to be wrong.
Even if texts were less liable to corruption than they are, however, there would be a far better case for the kind of detailed scrutiny of a text which an editor must carry out than Sir Moses seems to realise. The modern editor of a text is not, or should not be, allured by the hope of perpetuating his name as the author of brilliant emendations. After centuries of effort, the law of diminishing returns has naturally set in: so far as the main Classical texts preserved in Byzantine manuscripts are concerned, almost every possible alteration, as well as many that are not possible, has already been proposed. The editor of such texts must study the conjectures of innumerable predecessors; much of his editorial activity will consist in a dialogue with them; and he will also be able to utilise new material and new research. But the chief reward of his efforts will lie not so much in the correction of the text as in the improved understanding of it which will accrue to himself and others from the intensive study which the editorial task will have demanded. The first duty of scholarship is to explain the texts, and textual criticism is a difficult but rewarding part of the task of explanation. We no longer need to purge the most obvious corruptions from the chief Classical texts: but we do need scholars who would be capable of doing so if we did need to, and we would need them even if new material which requires critical attention were not constantly being discovered.
Housman was a very great scholar, and I revere him: but when Sir Moses says that he was my model during the early part of my career he is mistaken. Housman chose authors in which striking emendations could still be made, and restricted himself to the work necessary for the establishment of the correct text of the authors whom he edited; his knowledge of their subject-matter was consummate, but was used only for this purpose. Wilamowitz thought that the explanation of a Classical text ideally required some knowledge of all the various disciplines that together made up the study of Classical Antiquity. In Oxford as an undergraduate, I came into contact with more than one pupil of Wilamowitz.
Sir Moses tells us that I was ‘converted’ from my youthful Housmania by the influence of Nietzsche, whom he believes me to have discovered during the Sixties. At Oxford during the Forties I had encountered E.R. Dodds, whose work, like that of Erwin Rohde much earlier, owes an obvious debt to Nietzsche. When Sir Moses complains that the evidence I have given for the claim that Nietzsche’s work ‘began a new era in the understanding of Greek thought’ is ‘thin and insufficient’, persons able to understand the allusions in Blood for the Ghosts will not echo his complaint, even if, like Sir Moses, they find my own remarks inadequate.
Sir Moses reproaches me with not having discussed, with reference to Dilthey and Collingwood, the question as to how far we can understand the ancient world without importing into it prejudices of our own. Anyone who, unlike Sir Moses, will pay attention to the contents of my books will form a better notion of how I would set about dealing with this problem than I could have furnished by attempting the philosophical mode of discourse, complete with references to Dilthey and to Collingwood.
Wilamowitz’s History of Classical Scholarship, which first appeared in 1927 and not as I carelessly implied in 1921, has certain deficiencies, as readers of my introduction will have seen that I am aware of. But it also displays the great qualities of its author; and since, because of his unrivalled knowledge of scholars and their work, it is still the best concise account of the subject in any language, it seems to me that any scholar who petulantly dismisses it, as Sir Moses does, as being of interest only to professional scholars thereby convicts himself of a certain narrowness of range. The reader who may look into it will find that I have furnished the new translation with notes containing chronological and other data that I hope may help him.
When Sir Moses and I were young, we both used to enjoy ragging some of our respected elders, whom we suspected of a tendency to pontificate, not always about things that they completely understood; it was more fun if they were knights, and it still is. I prefer the blandness of the old pontiffs, irritating though it sometimes was, to the sour and disagreeable note which so often spoils my enjoyment of Sir Moses Finley’s brilliant writing.