Thursday, March 13, 2008

Gildersleeve and Classics in America

Gildersleeve is credited with introducing the German seminar into Classical studies in America. He was influential as an educator, and, from reading his letters, he often gives the impression that precisely this would be his legacy. In a letter of February 6th, 1884, to Daniel Gilman, he gives some brief ideas about what graduate study should entail. He discusses the nature of research by students: "The thesis must show an ability to investigate if not on the higher lines that lead to new results at least on the lines that lead to sharp, clear, systematic presentation of what is known. Original work is a much abused phrase, few men after all are capable of doing more than getting material together for the thinker who is to come."

On the importance of Latin for the Hellenist, he says: "Of every candidate for the degree of Dr. of Philosophy in the department of Greek, a knowledge of Latin is required. If Latin is the minor subject the examination is entrusted to the Latin department. If it is not, the candidate must show his knowledge of the language by translating a piece of prose Greek into Latin."

He describes a typical method of examination for students:

1. Translation from Greek into English of selections from the different departments and different ages of Greek literature. The selections are of average difficulty and are taken from less familiar authors, so that in the majority of cases this exercise shows the ability of the student to read Greek at sight.

2. A classic passage is given (with the critical apparatus)--or a selection of passages--on which the student is to write a commentary giving his views of the various readings with substantiations of that same.

3. As a test of grammatical and lexical familiarity with Greek the candidate is required to write without grammar or dictionary a Greek thesis, based on some familiar passage of Greek history or literature.

4. An examination on the history of Greek literature covering the Classical period, the portions studied in the university being treated with more details.

5. The examination before the Board, as has been agreed on is considered a test of general bearing, facility of expression, readiness of resource rather than a test of special knowledge.

It resembles the type of examinations typical in American universities today, with the exception of numbers two and three, which deal with textual criticism and composition, respectively. At the risk of being attacked as too conservative, I think it is unfortunate that these things aren't stressed for doctoral students. Textual criticism is perhaps the most important aspect of Classical studies, since it is by this discipline that we are given the texts from which all other work is ultimately done; with more accurate texts, the results of other studies can achieve greater accuracy. Besides that very practical point, I believe that the most enlightened approach to any study of literature is through stylistics and structure, and the textual critic, contrary to the common notion, is more than simply a master of handwriting, but also a master of his author's style. Composition in the ancient languages is often spurned, especially in America, but it provides a unique method of language learning, since the student is called upon to produce forms and phrases, rather than simply recognizing them passively. I will be required to do only a minimal amount of composition, but, luckily, I have professors who can offer more intensive practice in independent study. Of textual criticism, however, there is very little chance of serious study, partly because of the location of manuscripts around the world.

I have been labeled as a "linguist" by many people in my department (which is rich in archaeologists), sometimes jokingly and sometimes respectfully, because I am seeking from my professors as deep a knowledge of the languages as possible. In my years at university, I am more interested in tapping expertise in syntax and stylistics than in hearing personal impressions and responses to literary works. It is a matter of practicality: I think my time is better spent on things which are more difficult for an autodidact. This is often misconstrued as an end itself, rather than a means. As interested as I am in phonetics, inflection, and syntax, I am not a linguist in the pure sense: I wish to study stylistics, which cannot be accomplished without a thorough understanding the structure of language and its usage by artists.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

In the Shadow of Herodotos

In addition to my required lectures, since returning to a university setting, I have been attending as many extra-departmental lectures as I can manage. I have been to most events at the music department as well. In most instances the talks are rewarding and interesting, and some have been fascinating and inspiring. At the beginning of the last semester, I heard a graduate student in comparative literature talk about his work, who opened: "Today I want to talk to you about corpses." He was a captivating orator. In addition to interesting information, I am constantly learning about oratory style and skill. Some speakers have interesting topics and important points to make, but are dreadfully dull or disorganized. Others could speak about anything and draw the audience to hang on their every word. Occasionally, there are speakers who ramble, perhaps out of nervousness, when they could have stated something sharply and succinctly. Apparently, according to John Myers, in his book Herodotus, Father of History, Herodotus was remembered in Olympia for "lecturing overlong", as evidenced by the proverb ἐς τὴν Ἡροδότου σκιάν.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Oedipus Tyrannos 370-371

Lines 370 and 371 of the OT of Sophocles are a beautiful couplet in several respects. We are in the middle of a heated exchange between Oedipus and Teiresias, when Oedipus threatens (368): ἦ καὶ γεγηθὼς ταῦτ᾽ ἀεὶ λέξειν δοκεῖς; This translates very loosely: "Do you really think you can speak like that and get away with it?" Teiresias responds:
εἴπερ τί γ᾽ ἐστὶ τῆς ἀληθείας σθένος

Then Oedipus shoots back with these lines:
ἀλλ᾽ ἔστι, πλὴν σοί· σοὶ δὲ τοῦτ᾽ οὐκ ἔστ᾽, ἐπεὶ
τυφλὸς ττ᾽ ὦτα τόν τε νοῦν ττ᾽ ὄμματ᾽ εἶ

Perhaps the most striking element is the string of "t" sounds in the second line. Along with "p" sounds, the alliterative use of "t" seems to be a particular favorite in Greek literature, as least from what I've encountered in my reading to date. I've come across it in Homer, but it seems more prevalent in later poets. Compare the Ajax of Sophocles (687-688):
ὑμεῖς θ᾽ ἑταῖροι ταὐττῇδε μοι τάδε
τιμᾶτε Τεύκρῳ τ᾽ ἢν μόλῃ σημήνατε

For alliterative "p" sounds, consider these examples:
πέντ᾽ ἐππεντήκοντα πόδας πήδησε Φάϋλλος
[Page FGE 1496]

πίμπλησι πεδίον πᾶσαν αἰκίζων φόβην

ποίνιμα πάθεα παθεῖν πόροι

τὰ τοῦδε πενθεῖν πήματ᾽ ἐς πλεῖστον πόλεως

Not too much further in the OT (425) we come across "sigmatism", as Dawe calls it:
σ᾽ ἐξισσει σοί τε καὶ τοῖς σοῖς τέκνοις

Sometimes the effect is enhanced by other repetitions, such as Ms or Ts, and with the repetition of the "t" sound, there are often additional dental "d" sounds. For an interesting example of repetition with both "t" and "p" sounds, see Aesch.Cho.363-371; for more on the general subject, see Opelt, Glotta 37 (1958) 205-232, and for more on this passage, see the commentaries of Dawe and Kamerbeek.

In addition to the playful sound, the accusatives of respect with this figurative use of the word τυφλὸς, blind, are striking. Oedipus accuses Teiresias of being "blind" in the ear (οὖς), in the mind (νοῦς), and, finally, in the eye (ὄμμα), which conclusion gives us the literal organ of blindness. There is, of course, irony here, since it is Oedipus who is "blind" to the nature of his situation, and he will wish for "blindness" of ears, mind, and eyes later (1384ff.), and actually blind himself in the end.

But look at this couplet again:
ἀλλ᾽ ἔστι, πλὴν σοί· σοὶ δὲ τοῦτ᾽ οὐκ ἔστ᾽, ἐπεὶ
τυφλὸς τά τ᾽ ὦτα τόν τε νοῦν τά τ᾽ ὄμματ᾽ εἶ

There is also a neat chiasmus here with the words ἔστι and σοί which adds to the effect of the lines. It is quite a powerful response by Oedipus in his anger.