The Crux

I am reaching the acme of my thesis, the point of it all, the grand crux of my argument and I’m terrified.

Its a long way down if I can’t make myself understood, and right now I have to confess it all feels a little wishy-washy and not very pointy at all. Is this a crisis of confidence brought on my the fact that I am actually for the first time putting down my actual hypothesis or is it in fact a real weak point in my writing? This is where supervisor feedback would be useful.

In the absence of that I am fishing for thoughts on the internet….Am I waffling or Am I expressing?

If you are interested I have attached a snippet (less than 1/9 of a single chapter!) Below:

Any use of a classical text is a complex issue. The act of choosing a text as reference assigns a (cultural) value to it1 but necessarily attempts to bring it within the comprehensibility of a new readership. Historians not only present the material to their readers within a particular framework, such as a positivistic political pattern2, they are involved in the creation of such tropes, albeit restricted to frameworks that render the material ‘believable’ to their contemporaries. Furthermore modern authors do not merely reproduce ancient texts they also select the words used by choosing editions and often offer translation which render the words of the text literally in the terms appropriate for the historical discussion. Thus the author both relates it within analogous terms to his contemporary situation and offers an interpretation of its relevance. Hence the text is temporally and geographically as well as linguistically (in the case of Greek and Latin material) translated3. Therefore investigating patterns of usage of classical material is also the investigation of the contextual trends that influence selection and presentation and of the scholarly analysis and understanding of the material.

Early approaches to the classical material in this thesis demonstrate the importance of the use of the ancient texts themselves within the educated society of renaissance Europe. It is well known that there was an emphasis on Greek and Roman history and the study of their literature amongst the elite until comparatively recently and seen as an essential stepping-stone to a greater understanding of the world4. A large number of scholars have commented on the classical influence5, especially on the British education system, its effects and its ‘decline’, however a few key points should be reiterated. Firstly, while Latin and Greek language and literature form an important part of the elite education system (i.e. until the early twentieth century), engagement with the classical authors was a pre-requisite for ‘serious history’ and antiquarianism alike. The inclusion of classical references was a proof of the education of the author and therefore a gauge of respectability and trustworthiness. Hence we see that Carew peppers his text with allusions to Pliny and Ptolemy and that the authors of general and parochial history such as Polwhele and Hitchins include sections with this type of reference as introductory material to their works.

Secondly, and possibly a necessary corollary to the first point, there was a related expectation about shared comprehension within readership groups. For example a comprehensive knowledge of Caesar’s De Bello Gallico is assumed by most of the authors in chapter 3. Certain Classical texts were learnt and memorised and thus formed a shared knowledge base without the need for explanation. However there was a hierarchy amongst texts and others were referred to more generally – naturally the relative statuses were influenced by fashions and available editions and translations as well as the relevance to the topics and altered over the course of the periods investigated here. Furthermore there was a complicated presumption of linguistic understanding amongst writers and we notice that different types of text assume Latin comprehension but not Greek to those which expect not just understanding but also familiarity with relevant texts. For example there is a clear difference in the intended audience of Holland’s translation of Camden to the original Latin text which preserves the original language of the quotations. Similarly Hawkins and Edmonds tend to offer their readers translations of ancient texts only referring to language where philological analysis is central to their arguments but Whitaker’s Supplement to Polwhele contains regular citations in Greek and Latin to support assertions, simultaneously neatly illustrating a new academic trend and also demonstrating an expectation of scholarship and critique from the readership.

Finally, the classical world offered respected models and lessons for political and social life for those who subscribed to a cyclical view of history and an important heritage to those who were interested in a progressive model. This means that classical references could either be seen as a means of explaining the present through the past – for example demonstrating the tendency of the Cornish to carry on a tin trade – and/or as important antecedents, that is as a rich heritage that has passed on cultural civilisation. That is, a connection between the classical world and Cornwall assigns an extra value to the Cornish activities. In terms of the production of historical narrative we thus see that the inclusion of classical material has a distinct cultural value, however this value is not static but is mutually dependent with the meaning assigned to it6 so framing Roman occupation as a benefit for Cornwall assigns a value to the Roman occupation as well as suggesting Cornish progression.

In utilising ancient texts the Cornish authors were making specific statements about the type and standards of their work; they were imbuing it with the status afforded by the classical text and setting it within the body of critical work. Additionally they were reacting to the relative status of the classical material simultaneously reinforcing the canonical impact of the ancient texts by emphasising their relevance and reflexivity as well as being influenced by their perceptions of the classical material. Framing discussion of historical time-periods in ancient Cornwall as pre- and post- (Claudian) Roman Invasion demonstrates the scale of importance attached to the ability to relate British history to written classical record in the formation of narratives of British historiography. Potential references to Cornwall that pre-date Tacitean (or even Caesarian) narrative offer a tantalising opportunity to both extend the historical period and ….

1Lianeri & Zajko (2008), Martindale (2006) etc
2White (1973) etc
3Venuti (2008) p27ff
4 This idea has its roots in the Renaissance and later humanist movements cf M.L. Clarke. Classical Education in Britain: 1500-1900 Cambridge University Press (Cambridge. 1959)
5E.g. Highet (1949) Bolgar (1977) Stray (1993) Greenhalgh (1990) Hallett & Stray (1998) Hardwick & Stray (2010),
6Venuti (2008) p.29

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