To Read

In an effort to stave off the real world and its terrors (e.g. research, jobs, emotions that kind of thing) and in between my refound joy in fiction I’ve been reading book reviews again.
So I thought  I’d make a bit of a record of some of the books I want to make an effort to read. This is extremely dull for non-classicists so is under the cut.. Continue reading

So near and yet so far…

I can almost see the end.. and yet its not quite there.

I could scream.

I think I have the number of footnotes I need to sort don to single figures… I think I am at the stage of very seriously sorting my internal page refs… I think I could consider having this bound next week…
But I am waiting on refs from small independent libraries for obscure archival holdings, I trust my own ability to footnote and cross reference like I trust a salmon to swim across the sahara and I don’t know if I have the guts to let it go.

Bloody thesis

Heirarchy of Historians

When researching Classical ‘factual’ prose it becomes painfully obvious how varied our attitudes are to the individual writers. There are marked differences in how much we write about them and how much we teach them as well as our attitudes to the literary skills or historical accuracy. Thus it is easier to write a bibliography for Herodotus than it is for Strabo; there is far more commentary on Polybius than Pliny the Elder and there are only a handful of experts on any of the fragmentary authors.

As a phd student comparing and contrasting different works this is incredibly frustrating – I can talk about the arguments scholars have had on Herodotus’ attitudes to non-greeks but there is no overall study of the same group in Diodorus (presumably because of the opinion that his work represents the attitudes of several sources and is therefore inconsistent – but surely that is interesting too?). I am not confident enough in my own ability to make too many assertions where I must go against other scholarship, and whilst this is in theory less ridiculous if there is only one authority on a topic it is more daunting and more complex to defend. But mostly it makes writing a literature review look really unbalanced or out of date!

As a reception enthusiast, on the other hand, the way that our attitudes have changed fascinates me. Why do some topics keep grabbing our attention? How have our publications changed as less people access texts in original languages? When is political history more important and when is the cultural material more prevalent?
I don’t know the answers to these questions – in fact I haven’t even begun to compile data on what is published when (has anyone ever created stats from L’Année philologique?) – but I know I want to find out.

[On a related topic: Has anyone ever created a digital, cross-referenceable Sandys? And how long do you think it would take to create a table of every critical edition and translation since Gutenberg?]

Chapter 2: the rewrite

So in lieu of ever finishing the godsforsaken first chapter I have commenced my 2nd chapter edits.
Having been driven completely crazy by trying to make a methodology section sound less than idiotic I have decided to give it a break. I sent L a copy of my current draft and switched to rewriting no 2. My second chapter is the most straightforwardly classics based one and therefore simultaneously the easiest to do and to research and the one I am most concerned people will notice I am crap – after all it is the area I am technically trained in.
Nonetheless redoing my introduction to the chapter has been easier than I thought it would be. I have both found consolidating references straightforward but actually have a clear plan of what does and doesn’t need to be in the overview (which of course I stand ready to be corrected on). … So, in case you might think I was sounding optimistic, I am nearly ready to move on to my substantive analysis. It is nearly complete – and I think the text doesn’t require much reworking except.. I have barely written the Strabo section and my original plan was to include Caesar but I have nothing on his work at all. Eeek.

I need to make sure my work is up-to-date and make those notes into actual text. maybe 2 weeks isn’t quite enough time!!!!

Contextualisation and Classical Scholarship

In my thesis I am currently looking at ways to set the patterns I have illustrated over the course of chapters 2 & 3 into wider socio-political contexts.

It seems evident to me that Classical text has a special place in the formation of historical narrative of place. Not only does the ubiquity of classical allusion within the learned sphere create a sense of expectation that authors will touch on common points of ‘understanding’ but it also suggests a referential framework with which to compare and contrast places and peoples outside of the central Greco-Roman tradition. I am however struggling to find scholarly commentary on the use of Classics in historiography (literature easy but..).
Out of this general truism I specifically think that the creation/emphasis of a classical heritage is used to connect places to particular cultural values and to confer status both on the place and on the writing (ie not only does the place seem better for being part of the dominant cultural civilisation but the inclusion of classical material immediately allows the writing to appear more scholarly)
This is then related to the appropriation of classical material by groups outside of the dominant hegemony in order to create a direct and unmediated link and simultaneously re-evaluate the nature of the cultural values assigned to classical material by the dominant group. This is most clearly seen in post-colonial re-interpretations of greco-roman literary material (eg African Re-writings of Antigone) but is also seen in eg French emphasis on Roman Provincial Culture and Emperors in contrast to Italian dominance of Imperial iconography.  Again I would really like to find scholarship to back me up on these points…

Ok Back to the actual chapter writing now.


This is a post about an obscure Ancient Greek Historian and the conference I have just been to focussed on various aspects of criticism of his work so if Classics, Classicists, history, literary theory or Scotland bore you go ahead and skip it now.

Poor old Diodorus: after spending 30 years (he tells us) on his magnus opus of 40 odd books much is lost or saved for posterity only in encyclopedia style snippets and quotes and for a while he is plundered by historians mercilessly for information about Alexander and whole swathes of Hellenistic history, then worse the scholars who read him claimed that he was a mindless compiler no better than his lamented lost sources and proceeded to tear his work apart looking for the traces of what went before and now he has been handed to our tender mercies.

I have just spent 3 days immersed in contemporary criticism of his work in Glasgow. I am not going to give you a run down of all the papers – there is a conference website and hopefully there will be proceedings to follow – but there have been a few areas that are worth highlighting in terms of my thesis.
One of the key issues, even now after the rehabilitation of the idea of Diodorus’ personal style and contribution, when addressing his work is the issue of source material. The questions are in some respects no different from those we must pose to any historian:- where did he get his facts from, and how reliable was that information? In terms of a hellenistic writer we must consider what sections of the work represent autopsy, what are based on archival and epigraphical material and what are representations of earlier historians. It is important to look not just at named sources but at the places where sources are not specified and consider why they are suppressed [is it because it breaks the narrative flow/rhetorical styling; is it because there is reason to distrust the source and the point is not made if the ‘facts’ are in doubt or because the historian has previously criticised his source and doesn’t want to detract from that]. Furthermore we must consider the manner in which the sources are named – are they put forward as direct quotation, is this in line (collaborating) with the main historical argument or offered as an alternative view point, showing the studious research of the historian; are the sources named as part of a sequence of generic authors; are specific facts attributed to the source or the outline or idea – might the original source material in fact have held a different view of the causation of events or moral outcome?
I learned a lot about how modern scholars are investigating the problem of the ancient historian’s research methods. From statistical analysis of word frequency and its ability to show differences between historians to the problems of dating the composition of a piece and the way we can use terms and events to hypothesise about possible intervals.

In a more specific sense the conference encouraged me to consider how the wider intellectual environment of the text impacts on the section I am addressing. If I consider that the first 6 (5 extant) books for a general survey what principles hold that section together?  The key ideas that I have come away with today are:

  • that there is a strong sense of the importance of conquest on the knowledge of the oikoumene and that this ties into the foreshadowing patterns relating to the (unwritten/not surviving) conquests of Caesar.
  •  That even in this geographical discussion, the moral didacticism is important and the notion of civilising community which is linked to universal humanity and koinos bios (ala stoicism)
  • Following from that- there is a first century ‘mentality’ within which diodorus is crafting the notion of universal history. There is both an understanding of and use of Polybian Pragmatika but also a movement towards the incorporating pervasive stoic ideas and to be something other than historia of something but offering something accessible  (and yet still clearly different from the genres of Breveraria & Memorabilia – ie with more interpretation and theory, not just collection of key points/topics/dates/quotes)
  • That Diodorus shows a clear pro-greek bias (linguistically and ethnically) and an even more pronounced (perhaps obviously) Sicilian bias but does not shy away from offering positive points to ‘others’

Finally I discovered that the west-end of Glasgow is not a cheap place to eat or drink!