Book Chapter
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Classics and the Victorians
The Victorians have been ridiculed for romantically construing ancient Greece as the sunny childhood of humanity, but doing so made sense to them.
Book Title
Greek Epigram in Reception: J. A. Symonds, Oscar Wilde, and the Invention of Desire, 1805–1929
Book Author(s)
Gideon Nisbet
Press and Year
Oxford University Press, 2013
Number of Pages


“We are never free from the consciousness of a long past”

—John Addington Symonds, Studies of the Greek Poets, Second Series (1876), p.352; the phrase is underlined in the copy owned by his attentive contemporary reader, the young Oscar Wilde.



1. Greece and the Victorians: Heritage, Memory, Trauma

“What you call vice … is not vice … It is as good to me as it was to Caesar, Alexander, Michelangelo, and Shakespeare. It was first of all made sin by monasticism … It may be a malady, but, if so, it appears only to attack the highest natures.”

—Oscar in court, 1895 [1]

“Which is the more effective in keeping the peace: blunt censorship of ‘dangerous’ texts, or safe interpretations of supposedly ‘respectable’ ones?” [2]

The one thing we can say with certainty about the past is that it isn’t there any more. For the postmodern historian, the past is ontologically absent. To believe that we can know its reality from the present, let alone that hindsight grants epistemological privilege, is wishful fantasy, no matter how ingeniously argued. [3]

Paradoxically, however, the past only exists in the present—the one place we can experience it, feel its presence (it is “here” for us by being “now”), and make it work for us. We might say: the past exists for, and is a function of, the present. Like Oedipus—the lifelong obsession of that eminent Victorian, Freud—we look to what lies beyond our own conscious memories to dig out the truth of ourselves. [4] History is our Sphinx, and the riddle it poses has the same solution Oedipus puzzled out: ourselves. What is the truth of human nature, made evident through history and its patterns? What is our own particular identity, as the current generation of a family, tribe, city, or nation? How did we get here (and why “us” in particular)? These are the questions that keep the past perpetually in the present.

This book takes as its theme the perception, representation, and occasional outright invention of the classical Greek past in one peculiarly revealing aspect. It follows a single and ostensibly “minor” ancient literary genre, epigram, through a connected sequence of historically recent moments in Anglophone literary culture and the British public sphere—moments in which the shadow of Greece loomed larger than ever before or since. [5] In order to establish context for this reception history, its narrative necessarily casts both backwards and forwards in time from the notional span of 120-odd years marked out in its title (1805–1929); but the heart of its action is Victorian and Edwardian, a phase of classical reception which is now attracting intense critical scrutiny in specialist aspects. [6]

The Victorians have been ridiculed for romantically construing ancient Greece as the sunny childhood of humanity, but to do so made compelling sense to them. [7] This was their past, their collective early childhood, which merged imperceptibly and by way of a succession of other, complementary invented traditions (Anglo-Saxonism, Merrie England, mock-Tudor and Good Queen Bess, with a side order of Celtic Twilight) into the past they could remember—their collective “adulthood” as a modern, technocratic, forward- and outward-looking Power in the world. They looked for the truth of themselves in the fragmented memories of their own collective infancy. [8]

Rome’s military-cum-civil engineers and hard-headed provincial administrators played a clearly defined role in this stirring parade of ancestor-masks, dignifying Britain’s present exercise of military force as the patrimonially bequeathed work of civilization. Simultaneously, curating the archaeological record of the Romans as Britain’s own conquerors (under “bad” emperors, no less) emphatically declared “their” ethical distance from “us,” delivering a woad-drenched parallel origin-story which underwrote Britain’s moral high ground in perpetuity as a nation of plucky underdogs. [9] Augustus’s stable of on-message poets and historians—Vergil, Horace, Livy, et al., all of them fixtures of the Victorian classroom—supplied the obvious soundtrack to the new imperium sine fine alongside the assertively nativist (yet sneakily also classicizing) Rule Britannia. Yet it was the supposed Hellenic spirit of fearless rational enquiry which tied it all together as an ethically and philosophically acceptable package for the polite classes, turning the whole colonial enterprise into more than just law-courts, garrisons, and railroads.

Greece also handily explained the new superpower’s industrial, technological, and consequent economic edge. A scientified vision of Greek philosophy was semi-explicitly construed as the seed from which Britain’s own modern Empire had grown:

It was Ionia that gave birth to an idea, which was foreign to the East, but has become the starting-point of modern science,—the idea that Nature works by fixed laws. A fragment of Euripides speaks of him as “happy who has learned to search for causes” ... and the Greek precocity of mind in this direction, unlike that of the Orientals, had in it the promise of uninterrupted advance in the future—of great discoveries in mathematics, geometry, experimental physics, in medicine also and physiology. [10]

This “Greek precocity of mind” in the direction of technological progress is but one of many mid- to late Victorian formulations based squarely on the famous opposition drawn by Matthew Arnold’s Culture and Anarchy (1869) between fearlessly rational “Hellenism” and religiously obedient “Hebraism.” It is fairly obvious that neither Arnold’s Hellenism nor his Hebraism had much if anything to do with the social practice and cultural production of ancient Greece or Israel, insofar as we can reconstruct those cultures from the textual and material sources available to us; they were never really supposed to. [11] Where modern critics may err is in presuming that the Victorians were somehow collectively fooled by Arnold into taking this fantastic caricature of a schema, packaged as it was within an entertainingly quirky and digressive tractarian diatribe, as a sober historiographic proposition. Arnold was having fun with his material, and declared himself in two minds as to whether there was any real opposition there at all.

In the wake of Culture and Anarchy, however, and with less consistent self-aware good humour and irony, the Hellenism-Hebraism binary was expropriated and exaggerated as a useful rhetorical tool for talking through social questions and concerns—thinking and more particularly feeling them through. With melodrama as its predominant aesthetic, Victorian popular culture was already in the habit of taxonomizing its world into polar opposites—good and evil, purity and danger; rote Arnoldianism slotted seamlessly into this affective structure. Antiquity became a stage on which the emotionally loaded moral questions of the day could be played out in heightened form.[12]

Hellenism-Hebraism established a synergy with related binaries which shared with it melodrama’s powerful emotive appeal to an emblematic scenario of confrontation between opposing or incompatible principles—Greece–Rome, pagan–Christian, East–West (a peculiarly toxic combination of Classics and Orientalism by supporters of the classical status quo will be addressed in Ch. 5). These buzzword-binaries were already circulating in the public sphere as common coin, and their culturally loaded evocation of the key moments in the Bildungsroman of Western Civilization made them ideal for bypassing skepticism and bluffing hecklers. By flipping or juggling these coins, or simply by switching one for another at the right moment, the astute participant in discourse could re-parse a contentious proposition into temporary and qualified acceptability, and potentially thus alter by tiny degrees the tone of the culture’s conversation about itself and its relation to its past(s). Or— and inevitably this was the more usual recourse—the familiar tropes could be strengthened through minor variation and near-endless iteration.

Either way, these skilled participants in public discourse knew exactly what they were about, and knew that contemporary readers with the “right” social background would be on their wavelength. A shared education and social base brought these readers into community with present and past authors whose complex relation to antiquity, at the same time passionate and ironic, was also their own. [13] Generations of schoolboys had groaned through the “gerund grind” only to mine their shared ordeal for billiard-room witticisms and campaign-tent mots justes in later life; one new irony which became available post-Culture and Anarchy was that Arnold’s gospel of the instinctive antipathy of the Hellenic genius to dogma and cliché was now itself being peddled as dogma and cliché. [14] Readers who had not yet established a “right” relation with classical culture—the young, and the aspiring working and lower-middle classes to whom in the later part of the century Classics was marketed as a gateway to social mobility and self-betterment—were perceived as needing some extra and markedly un-ironic coaching in how to put Greece to work for (and on) themselves in the present moment. Interpretation and use were equated with what may now seem startling frankness:

No one can now be a pure Hellene, nor, if he could, would it be desirable … [but] The Greek influence has acted upon modern life and literature even more widely as a pervading and quickening spirit than as an exemplar of form … by its spirit, it supplies a medicine for diseases of the modern mind, a correction for aberrations of modern taste, a discipline, no less than a delight, for the modern imagination … [15]

The author of these remarks, Sir Richard Claverhouse Jebb, was one of the leading lights of the several generations of British Victorian and Edwardian classicists of whom it has been dismissively remarked that “the literary men set the tone, and the professional scholars followed tamely behind them,” but his commentaries on Sophocles still command respect, whereas scholars hailed as “originals” by a discipline’s self-appointed talent-spotters not infrequently turn out to have been one-hit wonders. [16] What the ancient world of the Victorians needed was team players, both to put their shoulders to the subject’s uniquely debilitating teaching load (intellectually as well as physically—Oxbridge Classics was as much a grind as school Classics, indeed it was effectively the same grind in grown-up clothes), and to promote and defend a coherent, Humanistic vision of the role of the ancient world in addressing modern social challenges. Authors such as Jebb, here as elsewhere writing for the largest possible general audience, are actively and above all collaboratively engaged in the mass-manufacture of cultural memory. Whatever we may now think of the ancient Greece of the Victorians—and here as in other aspects of their imaginaire, it is all too easy (and intrinsically “not very interesting”) to play to the crowd, projecting our own maps of social reality backwards in order to find our forebears wanting—it was a fantasy of the past made powerful in the present by active consensus.[17] While we can never know the exact extent to which these readerships internalized exhortations such as Jebb’s and took his judgements on trust, we can say with confidence of this didactic discourse that, through frequent iteration by authoritative cultural figureheads, its coherence and cumulative rhetorical force lent serious momentum to its consistent core message of a Hellas defined by untroubled serenity and marble-white purity.[18]

“Serenity”—the facility to rise calm and untroubled above the storms of life—cut Greece off from the modern politics of protest; purity made implicit statements about mutual compatibility of racial heritage (“Genius”) and about British cultural ownership of Hellas as a key enabler of national destiny, as well as the obvious lessons to be drawn in sexual propriety. These implicit truth-claims were all of a piece, because sex and the nation-state were discursively closely linked. Regulating continence was as much an issue of public hygiene as of private morality, and late nineteenth century writers on medical and social issues foresaw dire consequences for Britain’s global position if its racial stock were to be weakened or contaminated as a consequence of improperly directed and inadequately disciplined sexual desires. Running alongside this public discourse of civic hygiene, a predilection for viewing disease as an outward sign of character or as a concretization (we might almost say a personification) of social issues made it hard to keep figurative and literal diseases separate in one’s head. [19] Applied to a heretofore little-known backwater of ancient Greek literature, this toxic association between sex, disease, and empire was to nastily inflect the backlash against dissident Hellas in the 1890s (Ch. 5) and into the twentieth century (Ch. 6).

This is not a simple case of the “uses and abuses” of classical antiquity for propagandistic ends by a society’s lords and masters; the Victorians got the Greece most of them wanted. (It is tempting but, I will argue, a little too optimistic to suggest pluralistically that between them they got all the Greeces they wanted, severally and individually: as Stephen Greenblatt observes of an earlier era, individual liberty to remake and re-present the self is always constrained by the range of cultural materials and shared meanings which come to hand in a particular time and place; but certainly optimism about the possibilities of Hellenism’s many adaptive mutations was in the ascendant, right up to the moment the Wilde trials dragged it down into the journalistic gutter. [20]) “Uses and abuses,” embedded in the title of Wyke and Biddiss (eds.) 1999 and bullishly talked up in their co-authored introduction, was an early formulation of classical reception methodology and priorities, focusing on overt propaganda imposed on societies from above by history’s more colourful villains (Mussolini and his Fascists featured prominently).

The enduring tendency of modern popular discourse to caricature and trivialize the Victorians as pious hypocrites and jingoistic bunglers (bracingly debunked by Sweet 2001) encourages the too-hasty application of “uses and abuses” to anything written before the First World War (as e.g. at Jenkyns 1980: 292, in these very words); but cultural responses to classical heritage are always more complex and polyphonic than stereotypes would allow. Invariably, and in a strong sense for which the “uses” model leaves no conceptual space, they are actively and continually (re-)negotiated within historically located interpretive communities (the term is Stanley Fish’s), within which alternative and dissident perspectives may bubble under and occasionally erupt into the mainstream. The terminology of community risks confusion with the uniform and ideologically closural “world-picture” of old-school Eng. Lit., a viewpoint latterly assaulted by the 1990s critical project of Cultural Materialism, but Fish’s phrasing too apt to disregard, chiming as it does with the useful insights of Jaussian Receptionsästhetik on how interpretation is negotiated within historically located readerships. Where I would move on from both is in viewing interpretation and particularly the negotiation of “heritage” as the means by which an interpretive community is forever constituting itself as a “community”—that is to say, presenting an evolving proposition about identity in the present. [21]

Viewed in this light, Richard Jenkyns’s dismissal (loc. cit.) of an ancient Greece “used and abused to suit the convenience of the moment” by, in particular, members of a nascent urban homosexual subculture—interpretation is what an implicitly heterosexual “we” do to the text as good scholars, (ab)use is the signature behaviour of a caricatured Other—presents far too simplistic a map of the production and especially the consumption of textual culture as discourse. [22] Works such as Greek Literature or Jebb’s later Growth and Influence of Classical Greek Poetry (1893) are, as Cary Nelson writes of a rather different instance of invention of tradition, “almost impossible to think about only as discrete texts”: they make sense and achieve their powerful cumulative effect within “a kind of reflexive … cantata,” collectively sung by an indefinite but certainly very large number of harmonious voices across different genres and, not infrequently, across multiple media. [23] These were not always the only voices out there—subcultural and dissident readings of Hellas have a long pedigree, aspects of which this book will explore—but strength and depth in number could make it hard to pick up on dissonant notes in the polyphony, unless with an attuned ear.

What prompts so many voices to take up the same song-sheet and chant its socially resonant lyrics (often with minimal variation from one instance to the next) is the need to repair collective memory, to renew or re-manufacture a negotiated and communally viable vision of the past in the wake of trauma. [24] Here the terminology of cultural memory usefully complements the politically engaged readings and categories of Cultural Materialism, the 1980s–1990s bible of which was Dollimore and Sinfield’s edited volume, Political Shakespeare (1994). The ever more miscellaneous portfolio of ideological work which “Classics” has historically been required to perform, and the ever-growing weight of the residual past meanings which it must bear on its back, together entail that the culturally powerful messages it delivers always carry the potential of their own deconstruction. Construed by Marxist critics as monolithic, ideology is actually a never-ending process of containment, made necessary (but also, as Dollimore et al. reveal, fuelled) by subversion. [25] Viewed from a Cultural Materialist point of view in which ideology is a project forever in progress, Classical heritage stands revealed as the original faultline of “Western Civilization,” a place where the production of mainstream ideology through culture sometimes feels the ground shifting uncertainly beneath its feet, and insists in a voice too loud for complete credibility on its secure and confident footing.

At these moments, other meanings leak out, and the dominant ideology must hurry to contradict, exclude, marginalize, explain away, or (its best outcome) modify and subsume them into its strengthened consensus. This containment of subversion leaves semantic scars—as Thucydides long ago noted in his account of the stasis in Corcyra (3.82–4), shared meaning is the first casualty when a culture calls time on its unresolved tensions—and it generates a “long tail” of residual media noise. In an age of cheap print and rapid proliferation of factoids this may easily build into a full-blown moral panic, but for much of the period considered here the churn rate is less frantic—media storms attach only to “sensational” topics and certainly never to Classics, the public aura of which as the stolid high-culture bedrock of the Establishment is only entrenched by creeping populism. When Classics confronts trauma in the Victorian age, ranks close; the response is all the more effective for being muted, considered, discreet. Nonetheless, the strain shows.

2. Contesting Memory: The Greek Anthology and Radical Classics

One such trauma, magisterially analyzed by Christopher Stray (1992, 1997, 1998a), is the (partial, gradual, hotly contested) retooling of Classics in (fitful, grudging, belated) response to a series of dramatic social, institutional, and intellectual changes throughout the nineteenth century and into the twentieth. As Stray shows, this long, slow train-wreck elicited an ongoing defensiveness and, by the end, a siege mentality. The initially non-urgent perception of a challenge to the predominance of Classics, developing over time into a sense of existential threat not merely to the discipline’s undisturbed operation in schools and universities but to the survival of the humane values for which Greece now stood (in its proponents’ eyes at least) as the necessary and sole rallying-point—thereby spiritually underwriting Britain’s “Roman” civilizing mission of empire—is the background buzz against which play out the particular and localized traumas explored in this book. [26]

Through the medium of Greek epigram, a previously “minor” genre about which the British public initially knew very little, a dissident strand of Classics upset the apple-cart of Victorian Hellenism. The broad thrust of Greek Epigram in Reception is that these traumas fall into three clear phases: first, the transgressive appropriation of the Victorian ideal of ancient Greece within an elite epistolary network and urban subculture of male same-sex desire, enabling a new kind of homophile identity dignified by the classical past and setting off occasional and muted conservative alarm bells (1860s, subtly and compellingly unpicked by Dowling 1994); second, the dissemination of this appropriation, barely disguised, in a publicly available and durable print format (1870s); and third, the unanticipated opening-up of this key modern text of homosexual apologetics to what was by now a genuinely mass public readership, in a re-ordered format which by overwhelming narrative logic installed the work’s most passionate encomia and glowing exempla of homophile desire as the glorious telos and climax of Hellenic art, life, and thought. This final phase was by far the most publicly visible, despite coming nearly two decades on from the book’s first publication (1890s), and as such it provoked the most concerted and urgent response.

The text in question is John Addington Symonds’s Studies of the Greek Poets (first series 1873), by far the most important book on classical literature of which most professional classicists today have never heard; and it achieved this extraordinary feat of apologetics in its unprecedentedly long and bold essay on epigram. This was the first and is still in some ways the best account of the genre ever to be made available to the non-specialist reader in English, but it was packed with subtle and not so subtle apologetics for “Uranian” homosexual love. An analytic account of Symonds’s representation and enthusiastic promotion of epigram, the relation of his account to existing subculture, and its immediate reception (1870s), occupies the central part of the book (Chs. 3 and 4).

The third phase (1890s and onwards), explored through the backlash against Studies of the Greek Poets (henceforth Studies) in the years and indeed decades after its author’s death, is the subject of the book’s final movement (Chs. 5 and 6). It is here (1895) that we see Oscar Wilde, an assiduous reader of Symonds in his formative years at Oxford, holding forth in court on what by now is a slightly old-fashioned and even fogeyish Greek pederastic ideal. His encomium of Uranian love is straight out of Studies—a work which is now for the first time available to a genuinely mass reading public, in a new and dangerously improved third edition (1893). In the years running up to the Wilde trials—years in which no-one inside or outside of gay subculture seems to have anticipated a coming storm which in tragic retrospect historians of the gay community experience as inevitable—the moral threat of Studies in its new guise as a standard literary-historical handbook is met and countered by a Leonidean phalanx of the great and good of Classics, Jebb among them. This was not merely a conservative reaction in defence of conventional sexual politics (although Jebb himself was as Establishment as they came). As declared progressives within the mainstream, Liberals had if anything an even larger stake in disassociating ancient Greece from modern Decadent contagion and social disease, so as to keep it in play as a rhetorical ploy in arguing for political reform. [27]

The distinctiveness of Symonds’s intervention, and the profound threat it was seen to pose, can only be properly understood in the context of the interpretative tradition against which he writes. The first part of the book (Chs. 1–2) therefore establishes the underlying trends in the gradual emergence of Greek epigram into the periphery of the public sphere in the early and mid-nineteenth century. Before this can begin, it is necessary to lay some groundwork regarding the ancient genre of epigram and the transmission and publication histories of its text. Readers familiar with epigram may wish to skip ahead, at the small risk of missing some particular emphases which set the scene in readiness for the six main chapters.

3. The Ancient Genre, Its Transmission and Publication

Semantically, the Greek epigramma is straightforwardly a text or other meaningful mark written or incised upon (epi) the surface of an object. The obvious rendition of the root meaning, and its usual sense in Greek literary sources of the “classical” fifth and fourth centuries, is thus “inscription”; specialist meanings include a written tally or “mark-up” of costs (LSJ epigramma 4) and the brand on the forehead that identified a slave (LSJ epigramma 5). Within the field of inscriptionality, epigramma came to carry the specialized meaning of an inscriptional text composed in verse, a feature uncommon enough to be worth singling out for comment. The presumption would be that most such texts were short—as were inscriptional prose texts when their content allowed, given the labour and expense of precision stonecutting.

By extension and drift in meaning, epigramma in the Hellenistic age shifted to include short literary texts that resembled verse inscriptions in their formal characteristics and choice of topics. The bivalency of the Greek epi, a word/prefix equally at home being applied figuratively (composed “on” a topic) as literally (incised “on” a monument), will have made this an easy and natural expansion of sense. The thematic range of literary epigram then broadened from obvious (pseudo- or meta-) inscriptional topics—dedications of offerings, the erection of a statue to a successful athlete, or commemoration of the departed—to topics associated with the symposium: wine and love, whether of courtesans or handsome boys. Here too, an inscriptional aura may have lingered, since for a lover to declare his passion by carving it into a tree had already become a cliché of ancient erotics, but the discovery in the 1990s of a papyrus book-roll of epigrams by the famous Posidippus points to a rapid diversification and proliferation of topics during the Hellenistic period.[28]

Genuinely inscriptional epigrams from the old Greek heartland had themselves become the subject of antiquarian connoisseurship and collection into organized handbooks, a practice which may well have inspired the Hellenistic poets who authored the first books of literary epigram. [29] Building on this, and towards the close of the Hellenistic era if not before—the evidence is shaky—scholars and poets began to select individual poems by diverse authors on grounds of thematic interest and quality, and to arrange their gleanings into edited anthologies. [30] Like the authored books that preceded them—and here the discovery of the Milan papyrus usefully confirms the scholarly consensus—these were almost invariably organized by thematic category. The first such anthology of which we have secure knowledge, compiled by the poet Meleager of Gadara (first century BCE) and including many poems of his own, was divided into four categories which (with Tarán 1979, an early classic of the field) we may reasonably surmise to have been the firm favourites of the Hellenistic epigrammatic tradition up until his day: anathematic (offerings), sepulchral (tombs), epideictic (objects), and erotic.

Meleager’s title, Garland (Greek Stephanos), aligns epigrams with flowers, influentially defining the anthologist (literally “flower-gatherer”) as a skilled weaver of blooms from many different species. His substantial verse preface, preserved in book 4 of the Anthology, rhetorically amplifies an essentially metasympotic flower-discourse already at home within the genre into a full-blown literary connoisseurship in which the poetic voice of each author is wittily matched to its appropriate bloom: lilies for Anyte and Nossis, roses for Sappho, and so on. That Meleager has fun weaving non-floral plants into his garland as well, making it playfully multi-textured, not to mention an unlikely headpiece for the ancient party-goer—Leonidas is swarming ivy, Mnasalcas spiky pine—strongly suggests that in his day the figurative equation was already well established, a topos on which the inventive poet and collector of poets could ring the changes.

Varieties of flower supplied one of the two figurative languages available within ancient and late antique epigram for reflexive comment on poetics; the other is types of precious stone. We know that the latter was deployed metapoetically at least as early as Posidippus (early third century BCE). Each of these typologies is suggested by the small scale of the epigram as a discrete text, and dignifies what might be taken as a shortcoming by emphasizing the beauty of the finished poem—for gems, a combination of inherent brilliance and artful polish, cutting, and setting; for flowers, the delicacy and unstudied perfection of a freshly plucked bloom. The nature of each class of comparison also advertised the enhanced aesthetic effect which could be achieved by the artful arranger of epigrams in antiquity, whether original author or later anthologist. Only when the garland was woven, or the stone set harmoniously with others in a ring or diadem, did the latent beauty of the individual epigram fully reveal itself.

Of the two, and perhaps in large part due to the success of Meleager’s collection, the language of flowers was much the more popular and influential, as the ubiquity of the term “anthology” attests. Through their association with declarations of love at the symposium, these flowers of metapoetic flourish additionally accrued a strong homoerotic shading, prominent in the Anthology’s Stratonian twelfth book. Poems could be flowers, but so could pretty boys, and the poet might choose to make it difficult to draw a firm line between the two.[31] These figurative registers of gemstones and flora will turn out to have significant afterlives in the sophisticated and ever-shifting discourse of epigram reception in the nineteenth century and after, when the roses and lilies of purity and health could be hard to tell apart from Decadent fleurs du mal (Chs. 3, 5–6; an Appendix probes Symonds’s use of precious stones to convey figurative meanings).

Leaving aside occasional individual practitioners (foremost among them Piso’s friend Philodemus [second century BCE] but also including the Archias defended by Cicero), Meleager’s Garland was where Roman literary culture first encountered epigram, a genre which it never fully made its own despite the best efforts of key individuals (notably Catullus and Martial, the latter of whom belatedly inspired a minor third- and fourth-century boom in Latin epigram). Instead epigram continued to prosper through the Second Sophistic and beyond as a characteristically Greek authorial exercise, with Roman admirers of Greek culture often composing in the senior language.[32] The practice of epigram-composition in Greek continued without serious interruption into the Byzantine era and was thus a living tradition to the genre’s great compiler, Constantine Cephalas (tenth century CE); indeed, it continued well beyond his day. [33]

Cephalas’s gigantic anthology is our one great source for the Greek literary epigram tradition in all its breadth and depth. It built on the practice of its several predecessors, none of which survive except as more or less faint traces in its arrangement, and particularly on the large anthology of Diogenianus (fourth century CE), the basic scheme of which (scaled up from Meleager’s so that each thematic category occupied one whole book) it took over along with its content. [34] To these were prefaced Christian epigrams and miscellanea, and the collection closed with books of puzzles and other miscellaneous material. Erotic epigram was now divided into two separate books, 5 and 12, declaring desire for women and boys respectively, where Meleager’s Garland had drawn no typological or ethical distinction. The latter book, AP 12, was built around the armature of a collection of pederastic verse by a single major author, Strato of Sardis (second century CE).

The Greek Anthology we read today is founded on Cephalas. Its intermediary source is the so-called Anthologia PalatinaAP for short. A manuscript with an exciting history well worth exploring (Symonds tells it very well), this sizable parchment quarto is an essentially faithful version of Cephalas’s work, made near the original date of composition, but with some lacunae, almost certainly including one entire book on works of art. [35] We are aware that these lacunae exist because some of the missing material is preserved in an inferior later redaction and rearrangement of Cephalas’s work by a fourteenth-century monk, Maximus Planudes. For completeness’ sake, all modern editions end with a “Planudean Appendix” incorporating all the poems found in Planudes but not in the Palatine MS.

While Planudes’s abridgement established a strong manuscript tradition, the Cephalan anthology lay forgotten: its sole known exemplar, the Palatine MS, was not rediscovered until 1606, long after the coming of print. Until then, no-one had even known that Planudes’s version was an abridgement. Even then, more than a century was to pass before the Palatine Anthology was edited and published, at first only through an imperfect intermediary copy (Brunck 1772–6), and a version which respected the structure and ordering of the MS did not appear until well into the nineteenth century (Jacobs 1813–17).[36] In the meantime, the censored, reordered, and abridged anthology of Planudes had established itself as the Greek Anthology in the world of Greek letters.

4. Chunking the Archive: Epigram between Readerships

No critic has ever had a good word to say for Planudes’s acumen as an editor; in the nineteenth century, his assiduity as a censor only seriously became an issue when Symonds made one of it (1873), and (as we will see) could be a cause for either regret or celebration depending on point of view. The enduring popularity of editions of his redaction well into the nineteenth century, however, when the near-complete and far superior text of his source author was finally available (and soon relatively affordable in a new Teubner), suggests that few readers were feeling short-changed by not getting all the available poems. This was perfectly understandable: the Palatine Anthology is huge. Commercially this will have made it a difficult proposition for the non-specialist market, especially while the Planudean version remained a steady seller and could be economically re-issued using printer’s plates already in hand.[37]

Even setting aside considerations of length, the Anthology made very little sense as a reading experience. A leading light of the 1890s backlash (Ch. 5), the prolific literary critic and classical popularizer John William Mackail, declares:

There is no doubt a certain charm in the very confusion of the order, which gives great variety and unexpectedness; but for practical purposes a more accurate classification is desirable … some sort of arrangement by subject is plainly demanded … [but the arrangement of the AP] is not a natural division, and is not satisfactory in its results.[38]

As we will come to see, Mackail’s agenda is close to the surface here: he is downplaying the value of Symonds’s account of the Anthology, which (with one significant lie-by-omission) had taken the Cephalan scheme as its roadmap, and he is building up to the moment when he will declare his own editorial authority through the unveiling of his preferred thematic categories—categories which in turn perform ideological containment and which repurpose the Anthology as a tool of empire (Ch. 5). All the same, from a readerly perspective his point cannot be denied. Whether in its Planudean or (even more so) its more authentic Palatine form, the Anthology is decidedly not a page-turner. Its individual books display no editorial personality or intelligence in their ordering of poems, except on rare occasions where traces of the poems’ pre-Byzantine sequencing are preserved; even printed in a small typeface, the physical bulk of the text must make any edition heavy and awkward in use; and its chronologically disturbed and thematically disconnected sequence of categories refuses any attempt to read the total work as narrative. These last two points are even more true of the heftier and more miscellaneous Palatine than of the then familiar and accepted Planudean version.

Perhaps worst of all for readerships raised in the wake of Romanticism to expect originality of feeling and expression in their poets, ancient epigram is predicated on imitation and “capping” of predecessors’ efforts. Creative variation is a virtue within the genre, and this makes the content of the Anthology highly repetitive, based as it is on a limited repertoire of viewpoints and tropes. Inscriptional epigram had always been formulaic because it responded to a limited and ritually bounded spectrum of occasions and material contexts: victory, dedication, and burial.[39] Hellenistic literary epigram then built this archaic and classical inscriptional heritage into its working methods alongside the “capping” behaviour of symposiasts at play, again within a rule-bounded context in which only a limited range of sentiments could be expressed. The result is numerous “families” of epigrams which ring the changes (albeit often playfully and with a metapoetic edge) on a limited set of themes; Mackail’s declaration of “great variety” applies only in the long view, not as one turns the pages.[40] We should be glad the Greek Anthology is there, but it is simply too big and too full of clutter for any single reader. Not even specialists read it from cover to cover.

To “use and abuse” the Anthology (using the formulation with all due irony) was thus a natural and reasonable recourse for all but the driest scholar, and nineteenth-century scholarship was on the whole not dry. Even in the 1870s and 1880s, the era of Symonds, there was no hard and fast divide in Classics between professional academics and interested enthusiasts. Disciplinary specialization was a work in progress, and progress was at best intermittent, because the status quo ante had clear advantages for individuals already in the system. Scholars could range freely between authors and fields of study, and the new German model of secular and scientific Altertumswissenschaft was making very little headway against the monastic collegiality of the ancient universities and a sporting partiality for the gentleman amateur. Oxford and Cambridge saw every reason to encourage this amateur spirit, and indeed vigorously defended it on occasions when it was called into question—occasions which appear as moves towards professionalization only in hindsight. [41] Individuals might move repeatedly towards and away from full-time classical pedagogy as they progressed through an academic-ecclesiastical cursus honorum, not discriminating overmuch between Oxford and public school common-rooms as they did so—the personnel of each were interchangeable, both in social standing and in the kind of classical curriculum they made it their business to deliver. Oxford’s Fellowships retained their monastic aura, and Literae Humaniores its historic remit of educating churchmen. In the course of a successful career a Greek scholar might hop strategically between College post, country living, and the headmastership of a public school, finally landing the cherished plum of a bishopric. Meanwhile, his ex-pupils would form a growing network of influence and mutual advantage in the interconnecting worlds of politics, commerce, diplomacy, and the civil and colonial services. [42]

What in the early twenty-first century appears a fixed and “natural” opposition between academic writing and writing to be read by the public (and/or by society’s influential movers and shakers) was only beginning to firm up. There was still space (although admittedly it was narrowing) for individuals to define their research and public roles as they went along. The emergence of learned societies and discipline-specific journals was a sign of change that again only appears clearly as such in retrospect: their early members aimed at “something of a cross between a club and a special-interest pressure group rather than a professional testing and licensing body,” and they were often politically engaged in the public sphere rather than purely academic. Indeed, the use of “academic” to mean something not intended for application in the world of affairs was itself new in these years. [43] One consequence for a writer such as Symonds is that communication and argument about antiquity is either through intimate networks (face-to-face and epistolary) or in the full light of the public sphere. Without an academic press in the modern sense, there was no available half-way house, no middle ground.[44] What we would term a subcultural writerly perspective could be expressed either publicly; intimately in correspondence, with the creeping fear that a shared secret might at any time be made public or semi-public knowledge (Ch. 3), whether through ill will or simple mischance; purely privately, in a diary intended never to meet other eyes in the author’s lifetime; or not at all.

A privately commissioned and strictly limited edition, run up by a discreet printer and circulated within a closed network of known individuals, was the only conceivable middle ground between personal communication and the public sphere, and this ran a yet greater risk that incautiously phrased personal views might be publicly exposed, albeit perhaps far enough away that scandal at home might be deferred. The United States market was a byword for indiscriminate breach of copyright. Publishers such as Thomas Bird Mosher piratically expropriated hundreds of British small-press works associated with the fashionable and newsworthy Aesthetic movement. Various works by Symonds quickly fell prey to these unlicensed presses, thankfully far enough away that they created no ripples at home. The two sexological treatises (1883 and 1891) for which he is now famous were intended to observe strict information hygiene. A Problem in Greek Ethics was limited in its original run to ten copies, each of which Symonds did his best to track as they circulated among his correspondents years after the fact; the later A Problem in Modern Ethics, to 100. Despite his precautions, they enjoyed only a few years’ grace before they too began to circulate as unauthorized cash-ins.[45]

For a writer such as Symonds, committed as he was (on our best estimation) to making a socially provocative statement by going back to the key sources for Hellenism and already a confirmed devotee of reading against the grain to dig out the truth of a writer’s sexual being (Ch. 3), it might well appear actually safer to pitch his wares in the full light of the public gaze, under the cover of keywords which flagged up subcultural perspectives for those in the know while enabling a wider readership to enjoy an engaging and illuminative surface narrative; and of course there were huge potential benefits in taking the word to the largest possible readership. Experiencing Hellenic sweetness and light through a sexually dissident subtextual filter—deniable, easy to miss, but always subtly there—might in time relax the preconceptions of this wider reading public, clearing the way for eventual legislative reform. Indeed, in later life, and with the Labouchère amendment of 1885 specifically in mind—“a disgrace to legislation, because of its vague terminology & plain incitement to false allegations”—Symonds felt able to prioritize making the case for legal reform above influencing public opinion, precisely because he thought this shift was already under way. Asking around among his contacts, he had come round to the view that decriminalization would not now create a public outcry and that in fact the public would be indifferent and perhaps even sympathetic, provided only that a media circus could be avoided.[46] Two years after his death, alas, the Wilde trials would turn that optimistic prospect on its head.

5. Fragmentary Lives: Domesticating the Anthology

The social uses and readerly habits relating to Greek epigram in the nineteenth century, which subsequent chapters will unpack, need to be understood against the context of a general tendency in the reception of the ancient world in nineteenth-century Britain. We have seen that the Anthology was invariably dealt with in part rather than as a whole, for sensible reasons. Already at the start of the nineteenth century (Ch. 1) epigram’s social uses tended toward the piecemeal; in print, radical excerption and re-ordering were as much the rule at the century’s end as at its beginning. One might imagine that the Anthology’s gappy and ramshackle character would have made it it an increasingly obvious if inexact synecdoche for the parlous state of the classical literary canon, and therefore inspired heroic attempts at conservation and reconstruction—but no; the new science of papyrology had yet to give the lie to the providentialist presumption that all the great books of lasting value had made it safely through to the modern age.

What we will instead see promoted in the post-Symonds backlash (Chs. 5–6), again aggressively reversing the rhetorical strategies of Studies, is a point of view in which the bulk of the Anthology in its transmitted state (the Palatine MS) is written off as valueless and weed-infested rubble—a ruin from which, against the odds, a handful of pretty flowers struggle to bloom. (Often these green shoots of recovery centre on a rediscovered “Meleager” whose career and work are so heavily rewritten as in effect to turn him into a fictional character.) But this conception of the Anthology as a mess of detritus in turn reacts against a crowd-pleasing formulation by Symonds himself, who sold the tattered Anthology as a unique experiential window into the real lives of ordinary ancient people—not the heroes of history or the giants of literature, but people just like “us” (Ch. 3).

The emergent mass reading public of the later nineteenth century wanted to know its classical heritage, up close and personal, but their window on it was frustratingly narrow. The classical literary canon might have had a stranglehold on pedagogy, but it had disappointingly little to say about the ancient world as it was lived from day to day by anyone other than a Cicero or a Seneca. The incompleteness and disorder of the material culture, meanwhile, told no one clear story; only by being read off against canon text could it furnish classical lessons for modern life, but canon text was not playing along.

The rest was speculation: the inherited eighteenth-century Romantic cult of the fragment, filtering the heritage industry of the Grand Tour through a Piranesian aesthetic which made a fetish of ivy-smothered ruin, was an open invitation to try one’s hand at filling in the gaps in contemporary understanding of the lived past through sympathetic dialogue with the genius of long-dead authors who had instinctively distilled the intrinsic and historically unique “Genius” of the vanished culture. This national character was in turn construed with increasing directness and emphasis as racial, rooted in blood (shared descent, which could be more or less “pure”) and soil (the landscape and climate of the motherland, a physical rootedness in the past, the savour of the air the ancients breathed).

In the later nineteenth century we see a shift in this reconstructive urge towards what we may term the bourgeois domestic scene. The dilettanti had hacked across the Levant to adore heroic marbles and ivy-clad pediments; their grandchildren preferred the cult of the domestic fragment. While grand sculpture filled out the national collections, the heroic age of archaeology (and of tomb-robbing) fed a thriving market in more modestly scaled antiquities—statuettes, lamps, amulets, and so on. These accessorized the home interiors of those many nineteenth-century consumers who possessed (or wished to possess) the social distinction conferred by intimate familiarity with classical culture. Through imaginative sympathy, these domestic collectibles promised access to an ancient daily life of families who were very much like the Victorians’ own, united by the bonds of affection and a shared love of shopping for knick-knacks. The tendency to imagine life-stories for them was very strong.[47] The classical genre paintings of Symonds’s older contemporary Lawrence Alma-Tadema were famously criticized for presenting “Victorians in togas,” but were loved for that very reason. Meticulously stocked with ancient household objets from the artist’s own extensive photographic reference library, these tasteful Roman interiors invited contemporaries to dip into an ancient world which flatteringly mirrored the contemporary ideal of harmonious family life, comfortingly everyday but also aspirational in its foregrounding of leisure and materialism.[48]

This, then, is the well of desire which Symonds tapped when he announced the Anthology as the forgotten key which alone could unlock the cipher-text of the material record of everyday Greek life, unpacking the buried memories and emotions which lay encoded in the silent stones.

6. Sex, Art, and Death: Greek Epigram in and out of Pompeii

Alma-Tadema’s tableaux of Roman interiors also, of course, teased with sex. Pale female flesh allured through flimsy gauze, bath-time ripples, or the fronds of an ostrich feather. This escape into a playground of sensual experimentation came pre-loaded with unimpeachable moral closure on at least two fronts. First, Pagan Rome was pre-ordained to be brought low by its sins as a necessary step in ushering in the new religious dispensation—a scenario more or less literal-mindedly enacted in the artist’s most famous work, The Roses of Heliogabalus (1888), in which pagan vice unwittingly faces extinction under the suffocating press of its own excesses. Second, the masterworks of the Greek sculptural canon—at least as sampled and imitated by the Rome of the Alma-Tadema universe—made it clear that nudity had engendered no sense of sin within a culture born too early to know God’s will as revealed by Christ and the Gospels (Good News which the depraved Rome of the Emperors had then chosen to ignore). Dipping one’s toe into the Rome of Victorian popular culture thus became a popular mode of virtual sex tourism. [49]

In print, Symonds’s subculturally informed commentary on sex and sexuality would necessarily be much less blatant than this. We will see that, like the comparatively few Greek genre paintings of Alma-Tadema, his textual tableaux de-sexualize the nude body—or at least, make its sexual availability conveniently deniable—by abstracting it into the Edenic “innocence” of a pastoral scene of semi-wild Mediterranean nature. In this symbolically rich countryside, the desirable Greek physique can be glossed as pure Art. Symonds’s peer-directed subtext may have played on the shared homosexual rite of passage of getting one’s classically-themed sex tourism for real, on the Bay of Naples (on which theme see Aldrich 1993), but the message on the surface of his epigram-narrative—a message which later writers would exaggerate and inflate to the point of rupture—aimed at careful decorum in its evocation of private life. In Ch. 3 we will see him treading carefully to keep his preferred model of “Greek” homosexual identity at a safe distance from “Rome” in its popular aspect as a fantasy-world of uninhibited sensuality, and thus from the teleologically inevitable pay-off once the orgy winds down.

This task was further complicated by Alma-Tadema’s incessant resort to floral motifs. Meleager had established flowers as the fundamental critical and metapoetic language of his genre, but during Symonds’s active writing career popular art was turning them into an iconographic shorthand for a classical antiquity specifically coded as Roman, flagging up feminine refinement but also an Empire choking on Bacchanalian excess (again encapsulated in The Roses of Heliogabalus). We may have here one motive for Symonds’s penchant for an alternate language of epigram connoisseurship, based on gemstones (Ch. 3 and Appendix).

One further fragmentary complication merits identification at the outset. Impatient of the slow pace and complex causality of Gibbonian decline and fall, the Victorian melodramatic imagination boiled down this general Roman doom into what could be played as a classic wrath-of-God moment (as well as boilerplate melodramatic closure on a “bad” character): the fiery immolation of that secular Sodom of the Vesuvian plain, Pompeii. [50] Visiting the disappointingly tame (because thoroughly bowdlerized) archaeological site as part of the standard itinerary overseas and primed by Bulwer Lytton’s The Last Days of Pompeii (1834), sensation-hungry Anglophone culture-pilgrims experienced the ruins through the filter of a shared fantasy of doomed sexual licence; if they craved more, a peek behind the curtain of the discreetly renowned Museo Segreto promised to reveal a mind-blowing sexual reality utterly unlike and outperforming their own. [51]

As a wealthy mercantile seaport of Magna Graecia and subsequently a Roman colony, Pompeii was additionally and influentially construed as a melting-pot where the pure Greek lifeblood came under threat from two directions at once — a Rome of rapacious consumers, and a sensual and villainous Orient which pandered to the worst urges of the new Western superpower.[52] Following Symonds through his essay on epigram and watching him subtextually unpack his meticulous schema of “good” and “bad” sexual identities, we will see this nationally popular lieu de mémoire invoked in these several aspects as a grisly stalking-horse, with rhetorically startling implications (Ch. 3). [53]

7. Epigram as Social Practice and Political Statement

As explained in part 3 of this Introduction, the Palatine MS is our most faithful version of Cephalas, and Cephalas stands in retrospect as our most comprehensive repository of the ancient epigram tradition; but retrospective archival curation and antiquarian fidelity were no more the principal driving forces of Greek epigram in the nineteenth century than they had been in the tenth. Epigram-composition in Greek was once again a living tradition, just as it had been for Cephalas and his garland-weaving predecessors all the way back to Meleager. Until at least the mid-century Greek epigram was as much written as read, by an upper class whose advanced education in Greek—an education in which epigram occupied an important niche—signalled and underwrote their socially privileged status. It enlivened epistolary exchanges within friendship networks, and filled figurative and literal gaps in the periodical journals which circulated cultural capital and extended the reach of polite values. Authentically ancient Greek epigrams, too, were versatile in their literary-social applications (Ch. 1). [54]

As the century progressed, to detect and approve a national taste for Greek over Latin epigram became an expression of the speaker’s sound taste, in contemporary politics as well as in literary classics—indeed, like sex and racial vigour, taste and politics became inseparable partners in an elite discourse of the distinctive rightness of the British nation-state. For the readers of certain periodicals, a systemic failure to “get” Greek epigram became emblematic of how Britain’s constant enemies, the French, had become aberrant in their relation to the common European heritage of the ancient world. Revolutionary and Imperial France had created difficulties for the British not merely on the world stage, but also by compromising their formerly secure hotline to the classical past. A sense of spiritual continuity with a genially conceived Roman Republicanism had formerly confirmed Britain’s eighteenth-century elite in the constitutionality and “liberty” of squirearchical rule-by-consent, but the French had put this affirming self-identification beyond use by becoming Republicans for real in the here and now.[55] Their Republic (1792–) flaunted the antique trappings of Rome’s magistracies, and quickly enacted the fate of its antique predecessor by imploding politically, to be reconstituted as an Empire which pursued Roman paradigms every bit as thoroughly (1804–). Within a few years (1811) tens of millions of Continental Europeans lived under the Eagles of a terrifying new Caesar, Napoleon Bonaparte, a history which would later (and after a turbulent intervening period) be replayed as farce under his nephew, Napoleon III (1852–70). [56]

France’s supposed predilection for Martial’s pungent and frequently obscene satirical punch-lines, and its near-proverbial impatience with the simplicity of “épigramme à la Grecque,” were now held up as the signs of an unhealthy national hunger for sensation and novelty. The ancient author whom they were held to have adopted as their main model was thus damned by association. [57] For correlation of this national character, one needed look no further than their recent and continuing history, for what were revolution, regicide, the Terror, and its shabby aftermath, if not the natural and obvious consequences of a hunger for political novelty and sensation? Again, Ch. 1 will show this astounding rhetorical association in action. Nineteenth-century Britain remembered that eighteenth-century Britain had been fond of Martial in its way, [58] but the two national versions of the Roman poet were chalk and cheese. (Again—and this will be a recurring theme, perhaps the recurring theme, of this book—the power of selectivity from an over-large corpus of opuscula asserts itself in massaging away an inconvenient self-inconsistency. [59]) The Martial the French loved was a Martial who was trying too hard, straining to deliver a showy rhetorical effect which betrayed its own artificiality and pandered to the jaded palate of a politically servile readership. No wonder the enemy across the Channel found him so congenial; but Greek epigram was spontaneous, unforced, organic, and above all, serene.

A Britain in sympathy with the genre’s ancient Greek spirit could therefore claim a politics that shared those qualities. As part of a much broader, politically inspired shift from Roman to Greek authors, the choice of an idealized Meleager over a Martial condemned for his servile flattery of the tyrant Domitian made a very specific statement of Britain’s instinctive antipathy to generalissimos and despots. [60]

8. Controversy and Discipline: A Statement of Method

Disciplines are defined not only by their shared methods, theories, and objects of study, but by their controversies.[61]

These censorious voices of a bygone era may seem silly now, but they “must remain significant precisely because they once seemed obviously right and sensible.” [62] We would do well not to become complicit in an ever-renewing culture of critical self-congratulation. In retrospect, we see male chauvinism and homophobia, heavy-handed censorship and crude nationalism, antisemitism and Orientalist fantasy; but in telling ourselves we view the errors of our predecessors from a position of enlightenment and objectivity, we assume a superiority which they too felt in their moment. [63] Yes, the classical antiquity of the nineteenth century was (in the words of a scholar of German intellectual history) “a fantasy world of their own devising, a world less true to the past than it was a utopian sublimation of classicist desire—classicists who were themselves entirely unsatisfied with the ‘modern’ world in which they lived”; [64] but in long retrospect it may become equally obvious that our ancient world(s) respond to our desires too, the desires which got us collectively and individually into Classics to begin with, and which will perhaps offer up to a future reader every bit as blatant a subtext, in work which, if read at all, may (like the Victorians’ today) be valued mainly as a historical curiosity.

As classicists and ancient historians of the twenty-first century, we would doubtless like to think and may well have good grounds for arguing that “our” ancient world is less crudely and absolutely a mirror of our society’s concerns; that what we have gained procedurally in technical specialisms, and are now gaining in our ability to reflect critically on our disciplinary heritage through reception studies, makes for a supple and diverse ancient world which can bend with the times. [65] But there have been losses as well as gains, including a schooled facility in switching between the languages, and not least in our collective capacity to speak meaningfully to and be heard by society and its leaders. It is a long while since Greek epigram has beguiled the leisure of prime ministers and the governors of provinces, as for a while it seemed natural that it should.

I therefore propose to take these historic voices seriously, not as objective scholarship (if indeed such a thing exists; the reader must make up his or her own mind on that score) but as primary texts, and thus as part of a privileged cultural domain which produces, contests, and reaffirms the ideology of their place(s) and time(s). Even the most “purely” aesthetic declarations about classical heritage are inescapably political, if only with a small “p” (and in the nineteenth century the “p” is often very large)—there is nothing timeless about “timeless” aesthetic ideals, or indeed about asserting that such ideals even exist. [66] The book will explore the rich rhetorical culture of epigram-discourse through a series of close readings which will unpack the ideological strategies underlying the genre’s representation in public print.

My underlying approach places comparatively little weight on biography and personal anecdote. The life of the author does not explain his text. (Or her text; but in reception of epigram in the nineteenth century and thereafter, preponderantly “his.” Ch. 1 should leave the reader with a sense of why this was.) [67] Academically at least, I am not particularly interested in, for instance, who slept with whom, when, and how. Some tidbits are too juicy not to share, and I am unabashedly an heir to Symonds’s urge to use epigram to tell good stories. On the whole, though, and to the extent to which it is knowable, the truth tends in any case to underwhelm—when Symonds wrote his great paeans of Uranian desire in Studies his homosexual experience amounted to not much more than heavy petting. Following the author’s experiences through diaries and correspondence does not deliver the last word on the meaning of the published text by revealing his secret self as a hidden whole, mere aspects of which were ever seen by the public at large—rashly presuming of course that such a concept of selfhood could be taken as read: as subjects we are formed within culture and wear its masks; this is a fairly standard Cultural Materialist position but also, when phrased a little differently, one of the basic presumptions of postmodernism.

However, I am deeply concerned with how these authors present themselves to their public(s), and in how others represent them. Consequently, I am interested in how these writers explained their life experiences and perspectives to themselves and to their intimate correspondents—through letters, dedications, private poetry—insofar as this lays groundwork for their strategies of public utterance or helps constitute (whether through public journalism or elite network gossip) the authorial personae which contemporary and/or subsequent audiences subsequently read into these public utterances. It is above all in the persuasive force of what was put before that public—in the long conversation that played out within its hearing—that my interest lies. By picking apart how the rhetoric works, I want to reconstruct how the initial intended readership(s), and in some cases (especially that of Symonds) also subsequent and unintended readerships, experienced the ancient Greece that was being mediated to them by these authors, and also how changing social and political contexts must have added new layers to these mediations. [68] I aim to develop a sense of how Symonds and the rest came across as characters at different points in the long-running and increasingly popular serial drama that was epigram’s reception history in the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

A recurring concern of Greek Epigram in Reception is to trace how public voices interact and reinforce each other to construct a discourse of inevitability about how the past should be read in, and for, a present with which it is represented as being virtually interchangeable. The construction of an ideological edifice on the scale of that studied in this book represents a truly impressive effort in sustained rhetorical collaboration, and this brings us full circle to the concerns of heritage, memory, and trauma with which this Introduction opened, and to Cary Nelson’s notion of the “reflexive cantata.” The context he has in mind is the collective and inevitably socially engaged role of poets in negotiating in retrospect an agreed cultural memory of the internationally contentious Spanish Civil War:

The poems, prose poems, and statements that make up this extended international wake are almost impossible to think about only as discrete texts, for they make up a kind of reflexive Lorca cantata … [characterized by] distinctive and sometimes uncanny continuities. [69]

These “uncanny continuities” are, for a cultural materialist critic, precisely the points of pressure at which ideological tension is breaking through, provoking panicked efforts to stem the leak; we will see numerous examples in the backlash against Studies (Chs. 5–6), in the form of too-insistent repetitions, endorsements, and circles of citation. In Nelson’s account, Lorca’s crucial poetic account swiftly became the inescapable intertext against which all subsequent writers on the War needed to situate their own perspectives, and again, the later chapters of this book will make it clear that the same is true in the epigram-discourse of those who wrote after, around, and against Symonds’s Studies. Indeed, one of the main objectives of this explanatory cabal was to dethrone Symonds from his position of foundational influence and to install a substitute “Lorca” in his place. Also congenial is Nelson’s emphasis on reading “the poems themselves” as part of a continuity of explanatory discourse: in the case of epigram (as for other ancient genres in the nineteenth century) this includes commentary, editorializing, and journalistic and educational exegesis.[70]

Engagement with these notionally more peripheral sources will throw light on the key role of explanatory paratext in setting up the non-expert’s reading experience in advance, shutting down ambiguities and tensions both within the text and (often) in how it relates to its initial and subsequent reception contexts. Paratext of this kind often efficiently delivers an ideology of the obvious by asserting the existence of disciplinary consensus within a community of scholarly experts.[71] Healthily for the project as a whole, taking this range of sources into account also entails that we assign due importance to the material form of the text, and how it interacts with economic forces and with the social and physical environment in which it circulates. From cradle (or at least schoolroom) to grave (the genre was swiftly repurposed to deliver decorous memento mori), during times of peace and war, and—a particular rhetorical point of emphasis—in country at least as much as in town (Ch. 6), epigram was “there” for readers in numerous formats and applications. It was sold to them as their most user-friendly but also their most comprehensive point of access to the spirit of Hellenic antiquity, now available in a material format convenient for consumption on the go: ancient Greece in a can. This made it all the more crucial to ensure that the formula was right.

The work of ideological closure, and the faultlines towards which it points even as it endeavours to paper them over, are not set aside as one enters the cultural domain of academe—a domain to which the nineteenth century assigns privilege but not, as we have seen, clear boundaries. Academic disciplines are formed and reformed through contestations in which the personal quickly becomes academic-political. Individual players get burned, and their personal legacies fall into neglect, but the dialectic between outlying personal and interest-group agendas and established power-bases is what powers the dynamic of adaptation which enables collective professional survival and disciplinary renewal. Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in Classics. Shanyn Fiske suggests that we might well not be here as a discipline, doing what we do, without the biases, passions, and compulsions of numerous nineteenth-century individuals who fought tenaciously to promote the several and peculiar versions of antiquity in which they were personally invested, and I suggest that reappraisal of Symonds as a paradigmatic case in classical studies is long overdue. [72]

At the level of macrocosm, Greek Epigram in Reception respects Stefan Collini’s call to interrogate past and current controversies in discipline-formation for social subtext. In debates over the meaning and remit of Classics, ownership of a particular kind of cultural capital was being contested; redrawn positions or reframed terminology in what was notionally a purely “academic” controversy can lay bare significant faultlines with the public sphere.[73] Discipline-formation is always about cultural forgetting as well as cultural memory: it entails exclusion of viewpoints, materials, and whole eras and canons that do not fit the needs of the moment at which the discipline is talking and writing itself into being, through public articulation of its core interests and values. [74] This in turn helps explain how Classics has chosen to forget Symonds (and, largely, Pater), very much as did English Literature—very emphatically, if not for all of the same reasons—in the early twentieth century. [75] However, these disavowed interpretative formations do not simply vanish into thin air. As the example of Symonds and the backlash will show, they leave behind traces which continue to inflect the disciplinary subconscious (Ch. 6 and Conclusion).

As a site where Romantic author-cult meets para-scientific rigour, Classics has long been particularly rich in controversies—controversies which, in the discipline’s old capacity as guardians of high-culture capital, it has attempted to downplay, and from which it has done its best to distract the attention of outsiders. Its conservative collegialism favours a slow-food model of intellectual work, and views with disfavour the outsiders, chancers, and disrespecters of convention who are the likeliest short-term winners in a culture of argument by sound-bite and public stunts. [76] What we see in Studies and its aftermath is a special case. For once, the discipline breaks cover and, on behalf of (its conception of) the humane culture it serves, puts a deviant view of antiquity on what amounts to trial in the court of public opinion. It does not specify the charges (it dares not speak their name, because to do so might help make them real in the world of discourse) but there is never any doubt as to the identity of the defendant—Symonds, on epigram.

That this figurative trial falls into a close temporal orbit around the late nineteenth century’s most sensational trial-by-media (and lost somewhere in the middle of it, the actual courtroom appearances of a modestly successful Irish playwright) suggests that our close attention to the speeches of the defence and prosecution will be rewarded, as we trace the impact of their rhetoric on the crowd in court. [77] For epigram and Symonds, this meant everyone who cared about classical Greek heritage and its value as a roadmap of present realities. With a new version of the map open on the table, we needed to be told whether North was still “up,” which was the same as knowing—since we all knew that classical Greece made us what we were—whether we were still going to be the same people from now on.

The publicly staged contestation of the values of Hellenism which coalesced around epigram in the wake of Studies is thus, in the formulation of Robert Hariman (my emphases),

a form of social knowing in that it is the means by which we hold what we know. It is a symbolic container allowing symbolic material to be collected and affirmed as social goods—that is, as substantive knowledge. It is a means by which we create, disseminate, judge, and ratify as facts those assumptions about the world and those values of the community that together are supposed to be informing the laws. … [popular trials are typically] staging knowledge that is explicitly or implicitly implicated in social control.[78]

It is an in-house settling of scores which also increasingly attempts to tamp down an elite-subcultural counter-discourse of Hellenic self-knowledge and -actualization in the public sphere. In an age which took it as axiomatic that reading formed character, dissident reading of classical literary heritage gave particular cause for concern. [79] Countercultural Hellenism was hydra-headed, assuming many intermingling forms which it could be hard for the outsider to tell apart, [80] but its crystallization around the nexus formed by Symonds’s encomium of epigram and Wilde’s trial-by-media seemed not only to make it dangerously public but also to offer an opportunity to cauterize many of its stumps. Chapters 5 and 6 chart the methods tried out by successive champions of decency in this collective and public act of monster-slaying.

9. Survival of the Fittest: How the Anthology Was Framed

Why are we being asked to sample so many poets of little or no lasting value? Anthologists may now be extending a too general welcome. Selectivity has been condemned as “elitism,” and a hundred flowers are invited to bloom.[81]

Just like discipline-formation, a process from which it is increasingly inseparable in modern Humanities pedagogy, anthologization is an act of cultural memorialization which is predicated upon exclusion and forgetting—a damnatio memoriae as powerful in its consequences as it is (seemingly) passive in its method and objective in its necessity. Since every inclusion is simultaneously an exclusion, the making of an anthology is inescapably an act of would-be canon-formation. Indeed, the prospect of forming future minds within a preferred version of the discipline’s core literature is the lure which, whether through personal vanity or a sense of duty, attracts the ambitious scholar or critic to undertake what can be strenuous intellectual work. [82] Excerpting the highlights of a literary tradition both helps to create that tradition for a new generation by asserting its coherence, and excludes the non-expert reader from those parts of the corpus which now become invisible through their failure to make the cut. Real-world pressures of time, energy, access to texts, and individual reading expertise typically combine to discourage independent and open-ended exploration of the corpus as a whole, shutting readers off from a larger corpus which can only be made visible again through tools requiring specialist expertise.[83]

The Greek Anthology stands as a mise-en-abîme within Classics, a canon within (although simultaneously outside) the Canon, and puts at centre stage the role of the translator and anthologist as a mediator of value within as well as between national cultures.[84] In the Anthology’s particular case as in no other, attempts at canon-formation are inseparable from translation history. Throughout almost all of the period under consideration, non-specialist access to the whole text was in most cases an impossibility. For the minority who knew Greek, editions of the Palatine exemplar did gradually emerge around the start of the nineteenth century, and became more useable and affordable as time went on. For the common reader dependent on translations, no possibility existed of reading independently in the Anthology in order to reach a personal view of the genre of epigram (and thus, they kept getting told, of Greek identity in the round).

That this changed in the years of the First World War is entirely due to the facing-text edition of W. R. Paton (1916–18) for the Loeb Classical Library, in the service of that estimable series’ mission of complete coverage of the extant Greek and Latin authors (the Loeb is still the only complete translation, albeit not always into English).[85] A shrewd editor and sensitive translator, Paton inherits the concerns of the 1890s backlash critics and sees danger in unrestricted public access to the whole text, going so far in his preface as to “beg any possible, but improbable, reader who desires to peruse the Anthology as a whole” to do no such thing, but instead to be guided by him in reading only the “best” epigrams by the earliest and purest authors. Only by putting on Paton’s blinders will the modern reader arrive safely at the “right” view of Hellenism’s essence, uncontaminated by later misunderstandings and misrepresentations.[86]

Although its narrative will only revisit this extraordinary moment—a translator going down on his knees to entreat his public not to read the majority of what he has so painstakingly produced, for the good of their souls—in passing (Afterword), my hope is that my own readers will come away from Greek Epigram in Reception equipped to make sense of it; to ascertain the shape of the deep structure that underlies it. We will tease out the lingering and contradictory agendas which inform the rhetoric of an early twentieth-century writer such as Paton, seeing between the lines the after-effects of a moment of crisis in the continuing emergence of a modern Western Self produced through sexual self-knowledge as (in the first instance) gay or straight. Why did these writers take such pains to draw a line between “Greek epigram” on the one hand, and mere actual epigrams by ancient Greeks on the other? Identity politics starts here.[87]



[1] Quoted from Hyde 1972: 312–13.

[2] Dollimore 2001: 95.

[3] K. Jenkins 1995: 10 (e.g.): “The pretence that they can engage in a ‘real’ dialogue with the ‘reality’ of a (somehow) non-historiographically-constituted-past-as-history … modernist renditions are now naive: their historical moment has passed. What are therefore required today are guides who, accepting not so much the ‘end of history’ per se but the ‘end of modernist renditions of history,’ can face this with equanimity and even optimism.”

[4] Armstrong 2005 digs into how Freud grappled with ancient myth to produce his new psychiatric paradigm. He was also a keen but not atypical bourgeois collector of small antiquities, which now seem numinous in the light cast back on them by his famous theories; on his collecting habits see, inter alia, Forrester 1994 and the several contributors to Barker (ed.) 1996.

[5] I use the latter term in the sense defined by Collini’s important monograph of 1991. Vance 1997: 17 cautions his reader against being misled by Pater et al. into thinking the Victorians were fixated on Greece and forgot about Rome (“The Hellenists have misled us for too long”), but no-one is suggesting they did; these two visions of the ancient world were complementary, and addressed different social uses and reception contexts.

[6] Notable recent instances include Barrow 2007 (classical literary allusion in art); Hurst 2006 and Fiske 2008 (women writers and the classics); Evangelista 2009 (the Aesthetic movement); Dowling 1994, Blanshard 2010, and Orrells 2011 (“Greek” sexuality, on which Dowling is deservedly influential); and the prodigious output of Christopher Stray, most famously 1998a (education). Bradley (ed.) 2010 is invaluable on the uses of classics in the British Empire; Vandiver 2010 brings the curtain down on Edwardian classical reception with her fine study of classical motifs in the poets of the First World War. Goldhill 2011 blends diverse enthusiasms, some carried over from Goldhill 2002; older works by, among others, Liversidge and Edwards (eds.) 1996 (art) and Hingley 2000 (imperialism, and cf. Smiles 1994) are still valuable.

[7] Jenkyns 1980: 172 (e.g.), with characteristic impatience.

[8] On invented traditions as a symptomatic response to rapid cultural change in the modern nation-state, see the influential edited collection of Hobsbawm and Ranger 1983, invaluably complemented by Anderson 2006; specifically on the Ancient Britons, Smiles 1994; on non-English “Ancient British” traditions, Trevor-Roper 1983 and Morgan 1983. Besides Jenkyns 1980, important general treatments of Greece as nineteenth-century British “heritage” include Turner 1981, (intermittently) Lloyd-Jones 1982, and Clarke (ed.) 1989. Collectively these established the framework within and against which more focused studies have been emerging from the 1990s onwards. On Victorian reception of ancient Rome, see in particular Vance 1997 (predominantly literary) and now Sachs 2010; Malamud 2009 surveys the American scene.

[9] The dedicated monograph is Hingley 2000; Bradley 2010b is wide-ranging and thoughtful.

[10] Butcher 1893: 10, my emphases.

[11] “Arnold’s discussion of Hebraism and Hellenism was brilliantly executed and proved rhetorically convincing … Yet double meanings and an almost disingenuous concealment of purpose characterized the entire chapter,” Turner 1981: 21. As he goes on to explain (23–4), Arnold developed his so-called “Hellenism” in dialogue not with the Greek literary sources, but with the eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century German Romantic tradition which, beginning with Herder, took the Greek spirit as its theme.

[12] In the later nineteenth century, melodrama became intricately wound up in popular reception of classical antiquity through bestselling novels and the spectacular “toga plays” presented and discussed by Mayer 1994. There is a wealth of scholarship on melodrama as a theatrical mode and a habit of thought; Crosby 1991 is something of a classic.

[13] Invoking relevant theory, in Ch. 1 I bring to bear the perspective of contemporary media fandom studies on the residual, post-eighteenth-century cultural formation of Classics as a social network.

[14] On the social uses of classical learning and especially verse composition in underpinning male camaraderie and class solidarity, see of course Stray 1998: 57, 65–80.

[15] Jebb 1893: 271, 273, 279.

[16] Jenkyns 1980: 173.

[17] “[N]ot very interesting” (my emphasis) is Sinfield 1994b: vi, on reasons not to patronize the nineteenth century by assuming our own categories of sexual identity objectively unmask what was “really” going on in people’s heads or in the (sub)culture at large. These terms and the categories of experience and identity implied by them continue to meet resistance to this day in developing-world cultures, which present a fluid array of alternate sexual classifications, hierarchies, and scenarios, much as did early modern Britain (Sinfield 1994a: 13); see, soberingly, McKenna 1995. Nor should we presume that our current formulations of gay/lesbian identity (coming-out narratives; Plato, Symonds, etc. as “gay history” forefathers) will arouse any reaction beyond benign condescension a hundred years from now—if not sooner, at least within the pockets of middle-class privilege we tend to inhabit as academics and students (Abelove 1995). All the while bearing in mind these chastening caveats, I sometimes use the terms “gay” and “homosexual” in what follows as convenient shorthands. The key work on collective memory is by Maurice Halbwachs (collected in translation 1992); within collective memory, “cultural memory” distinguishes the forms of collective memory made durable through text and material culture, and is associated with the Egyptologist Jan Assmann (2006).

[18] Useful here to think with is Donoghue 1995, on the creeping ideological “colonization” of sub-elite readerships by genteel periodical publications which sold them Establishment values as the road to self-betterment; convenient for comparison is Marchand 1996: xiii–xix, outlining a prevailing nineteenth-century Germany sales package which, although differently developed in detail and tied more explicitly to the mechanisms of civil authority, similarly asserted and built on a nationally specific model of Hellenic identification as an aspirational class identifier.

[19] See usefully Mort 2000: 12–15 (on “moral environmentalism”) and 23–5, and from a literary-critical perspective Fletcher (ed.) 1979. The rhetoric of moral panic (a formulation from Cohen 1972, subsequently much used elsewhere) was even more feverish in the United States: Beisel 1997. On the pernicious effects of turning illness into metaphor, see classically Sontag 1978.

[20] “When I first conceived this book several years ago, I intended to explore the ways in which major English writers of the sixteenth century created their own performances, to analyze the choices they made in representing themselves and in fashioning characters … It seemed to me the very hallmark of the Renaissance that middle-class and aristocratic males began to feel that they possessed such shaping power over their lives … But, as my work progressed … the human subject began to seem remarkably unfree” (Greenblatt 1980: 256; his chapter of 1994 revisits the concerns of the monograph which established “self-fashioning” as a critical vogue). See evocatively Fiske 2008: 22 on “the rich, passionate heterodoxy of Victorian Hellenism … unstable [and] malleable”; the many available flavours of Hellas made for a heady blend, and even more so once the fast churn rate of mass culture is factored in.

[21] The term “interpretive community” originates with Fish 1980: 147–74. Anderson 2006 is extremely useful here, but see also Sinfield 1994a/b on how dissident reading styles help articulate sexual-minority subcultures, and the active-audience model of fan studies pioneered by H. Jenkins 1992 and subsequently Hills 2002 (Ch. 1). “World picture” has a headline role in Tillyard 1948; the locus classicus of Cultural Materialist critique is Dollimore and Sinfield (eds.) 1994, by which I am deeply influenced. Mieke Bal’s introduction to Jauss 1982 is by far the clearest and most compelling statement of the Jaussian approach. Darnton 2001 is good on both the importance and the difficulty of digging into who was reading what, when, and why.

[22] Jenkyns 1980: 292, and cf. e.g. 1980: 297. His account pigeonholes homosexuality as a social formation pure and simple—by nature a passing phase, turned into a bad habit for life by a certain kind of school, 286–7.

[23]Nelson 1996: 91, cf. 71; and cf. again the congenial approach advocated by Marchand 1996.

[24] For rounded consideration of memory in its relation to trauma and rupture, see Bal, Crewe, and Spitzer (eds.) 1999; specifically applied to Classics, Parker and Mathews (eds.) 2001.

[25] For a classic Marxist formulation of ideology as all-crushing juggernaut, see the essay “Ideology and ideological state apparatuses,” 127–88 in Althusser 1971.

[26] A cogent example recently documented by Christopher Hagerman (2009) is the integration of a benevolently construed Alexander the Great into the imaginative logic of British imperialism: Aristotle’s pupil supplied an ethical prototype for bringing the benefits of civilization to “darkest” India with whatever force necessary. The Platonic pedagogy of Benjamin Jowett, Oxford’s own Aristotle (1860s and onwards), had empire-building in every sense explicitly on its agenda: see Dowling 1994: 70. Traditionally minded dons, public-schoolmasters, and concerned parents uniformly viewed with horror the proposal to remove Greek as a compulsory entrance requirement for Oxford, seeing this as the first step in turning it into a glorified trade school; between August 1890 and January 1891 Times was crammed with letters and petitions against the selling of the pass, and the protest flared up again in October and November. Arthur Sidgwick and Richard Jebb were among the big names weighing in, on 27th and 28th October 1891 respectively.

[27] Schultz 2004: 457. On the early 1890s as an ever-widening window for homophile self-expression and -representation, see usefully Sinfield 1994b (for whom this is a principal theme), Dellamora 1990: 209.

[28] Gutzwiller (ed.) (2005) is thorough and informative on this papyrus. The latest edition of its text, which reports the recent scholarship, is Seidensticker, Staehli, and Wessels (eds.) (2012); I thank my anonymous reader for bringing it to my attention.

[29] Gutzwiller 1998: 5.

[30] Prior to Meleager’s Garland (on which see below), a “Sōros” is attested containing epigrams by Posidippus and perhaps others; summarizing the scholarship, Gutzwiller 2005: 7 advises caution. Other hints come from papyri excavated at Oxyrhynchus, but this is all inconclusive. For discussion, see Cameron 1993, whose account (3–12) reacts against earlier scholarship in emphasizing the originality and ambition of Meleager’s project.

[31] As e.g. at AP 12.4, 91, etc. (the erōmenos as a flower of desire); 12.32, 39–40, 234 (the bloom of youth is a flower that dies and falls). At AP 12.256 Meleager playfully weaves pretty boys into a garland that echoes his own literary creation; we touch on this again in Ch. 4.

[32] Livingstone and Nisbet 2010: 103–5; Bowie 1990: 55, 61–7.

[33] Livingstone and Nisbet 2010: 137–9.

[34] The tortuous manuscript tradition of epigram, from Meleager to Cephalas and beyond, is addressed with daunting confidence by Cameron 1993.

[35] Symonds 1873: 344–6 = 1920: 500–2. For ease of reference, the version of Studies most often referred to in this book is the most commonly available, viz. the 1920 repagination of the third edition of 1893.

[36] On Brunck’s reliance on the incomplete apograph of Jean Bouhier, see Hutton 1946: 8–12, with useful context.

[37] The Planudean Anthology had an extensive publication history. One of the first Greek texts to be printed (by Henricus Stephanus in 1566), it continued to be republished in new editions as well as re-issues well into the nineteenth century, decades after the Codex Palatinus finally saw print (Livingstone and Nisbet 2010: 13). Indeed, as the century turned, the error-riddled text of Stephanus’s sixteenth-century editio princeps was being republished with lavish illustrations and a facing translation into Latin verse, with copious volumes of notes to follow (de Bosch and van Lennep [eds.] 1795–1822).

[38] Mackail 1890: 28–9.

[39] These formulae were so well known that in later literary epigram they lend themselves to parody: see Robert 1968, an indispensable classic of modern epigram studies, on paradoxical meta-inscriptionality in Lucillius.

[40] Cameron 1995: 71–103, vigorously argued, places the Hellenistic epigrammatists in an elite symposiac context; the editors’ introduction to Bing and Bruss (eds.) 2007: 12–14 suggests some caveats. On the literary genre in relation to epigraphic tropes, see Fantuzzi and Hunter 2005: 291–37. On Hellenistic literary epigram’s development of tropes which reflexively simulate inscriptional identities and spaces for the reader-as-viewer, see respectively the monographs of Bruss 2005 and Tueller 2008. On thematic families the foundational study is Tarán 1979, complemented by the more sophisticated Gutzwiller 1998; for a case study (the AP 9 cycle on Myron’s Cow) see Livingstone and Nisbet 2010: 7–12, 131–4 (Ausonius).

[41] Collini 1991: 201–9, congenially invoking as a case study the research career of Symonds’s great friend and lifelong correspondent from college days, Arthur Sidgwick. On the importance of this friendship to Symonds, see Schultz 2004: 401; on Sidgwick’s conscious suppression of his own homophile urges, Schultz 2004: 415.

[42] “Positions of considerable emolument,” all more or less interchangeable: Stray 1998: 60–4. R. Symonds 1986: 27–9, 186–8 gives compelling detail on Benjamin Jowett’s string-pulling to corner the market in liberal (and in his case at least, colour-blind) imperialism for Balliol, laying groundwork which started paying off for Oxford as a whole in the 1890s (189). On Jowett, see also briefly Stray 1998: 122.

[43] Collini 1991: 213.

[44] Stray 1997: 366.

[45] An 1896 pirated edition of Greek Ethics is obscurely attested; better known is the unauthorized edition of 100 copies printed in 1901 by Leonard Smithers, publisher of the Savoy; but in any case Greek Ethics had already appeared as part of Havelock Ellis’s Sexual Inversion, which was pirated hot off the press on its first appearance (1883, in German translation). On Mosher, his methods and milieu, see Bishop 1998.

[46] Grosskurth 1964: 282–3; Symonds 1967–9: 3.554, 792.

[47] For a slightly different emphasis see Jenkyns 1980: 81 on “Boswellism.”

[48] On Alma-Tadema as an enthusiastic and purposeful collector of antiquity through photographs commissioned on-site, see Barrow 2003: 28–31; this was an artist who even painted his own studios in “Pompeian” shades to get him in the mood, 72.

[49] As e.g. in A Sculptor’s Model (1877), and In the Tepidarium (1881); Judith Harris 2007: 203–5 is stimulating and enjoyable.

[50] This pop-culture presumption has proved extraordinary durable, as evidenced by the anecdote which gave Arthur Pomeroy (2008) the title for his book on the ancient world in film, Then It Was Destroyed by the Volcano (London: Duckworth).

[51] Bridges 2011 is excellent on Bulwer-Lytton’s novel. Hales and Paul 2011b read the “secrecy” of the Museo Secreto as more strip-tease than genuine prohibition.

[52] Taking as his focus the rhetorical inscription of Greco-Egyptian mummy-portraits into Hellenic and Orientalist stereotypes in nineteenth-century reception, Montserrat 1998 is both a page-turner and a valuable analytic tool. Pompeii and its reception are now the subject of an excellent edited volume, Hales and Paul (eds.) 2011; on Pompeii as cultural crossroads see in passing their Introduction, Hales and Paul 2011a: 2. Like Pompeii, the Eastern villains of the melodramatic historical novel (and the youthful subjects of Montserrat’s “Eastern” mummy-portraits) must of course meet wretched ends so that the audience can experience the catharsis and sentimental re-affirmation of values so intrinsic to the melodramatic mode (and subsequently, film noir).

[53] The term is Pierre Nora’s (1984–92).

[54] On this breadth of use of Greek epigram in nineteenth-century reception see briefly Haynes 2007: 566.

[55] Dowling 1994: 16: “All the familiar civic categories and expressive language, British writers antagonistic to the French Revolution were to find, had been hideously usurped and contaminated by the Jacobins.”

[56] On French Republican receptions of Roman antiquity and the British reaction see Vance 1997: 24–38; on Napoleonic Augustanism, Huet 1999.

[57] Yes, this is crazily circular, but it really did play out like this; for a close and pointed parallel see Nisbet 2012a: 497–8, on how nineteenth-century educational and translation discourse rhetorically constructed a French-British polarity between “bad” Persius and “good” Juvenal. On the ubiquity of “à la Grecque” (often cited within an anecdote of French high society which explicitly reveals national character) in discussion of epigram by British authors of the earlier nineteenth century, see usefully Haynes 2007: 571–2.

[58] As e.g. at Jebb 1870: vii.

[59] “When dealing with collections of epigrams, selection (or deselection) is the most obvious method of censorship.” Leary 2012: 130, specifically on school editions of Martial.

[60] Greek over Latin: Jenkyns 1980: 155–63, and for context Turner 1989; Martial unstintingly condemned as Domitian’s toady at e.g. Westcott 1894: vi and Post 1908: 11–13, two late examples (both incidentally published in America) which usefully illustrate just how long the residual afterlives of these rhetorical polarities can be in the slow-moving schoolbook market; on this point see Nisbet 2012a: 491, 493–4, and this book’s Conclusion.

[61] Graff 1997: 389.

[62] Dollimore 2001: 96, and see entertainingly Sweet 2001: 210, a fine polemicist: “There are some British academics who have made entire careers out of reading aloud misogynist passages from Victorian medical texts in a sarcastic voice.”

[63] Antisemitism: Flaig 2003; elitist homophobia: DeJean 1989, both regarding the nineteenth century’s Sappho.

[64] Ruprecht 1996: 30.

[65] On the personal voice and auto-critique in classics, see Hallett and Van Nortwick (eds.) (1997), with critical review by Nisbet 1997. On the ability of Classics to take on board external criticism and generate its own, see Kaster 1997, reflecting on a disciplinary history of productive controversy; less optimistically, DuBois 2001: 4–5.

[66] Mukarovsky 1979: 62; cf. 64, aesthetic value “is a process and not a state.”

[67] On the underlying issues in studying the masculinization of nineteenth-century Classics see concisely Bristow 1995: 9, Fiske 2008: 16–17.

[68] Julia Gaisser (2002: 387) formulates this wonderfully: texts are “pliable and sticky artifacts gripped, molded, and stamped with new meaning by every generation of readers and they come to us irreversibly altered by their experience.” Her discussion is of classical literature, but why not apply it to modern exegesis as well?

[69] Nelson 1996: 91, and cf. 70–1.

[70] The irony-quotes around “the poems themselves” are mine, and reflect my skepticism regarding any critical account which treats these socially (hyper-)interactive texts as unitary and self-sufficient works of literary art; cf. on slightly different grounds Nisbet 2006: 85, 88, 113, deconstructing “the film itself.” For a model of scholarship which integrates these diverse forms as the basis of a joined-up, ideologically aware reading of Latin satire in nineteenth-century translation, see Nisbet 2012a.

[71] Leitch 2004: 377–8, reflecting on his own practice as editor of a major teaching anthology, notes the “monumentalizing” character of the editorial headnote to an anthologized text and teases out its implications.

[72] Fiske 2008: 22.

[73] Collini 1991: 217–20, 223–4.

[74] I am indebted here to Nelson 1996: 96.

[75] On the Eng. Lit. side, see Booth 2000.

[76] See Kaster 1997: 345–6 and Most 1997: 361, thoughtful participants in a complementary dialogue which also draws in (inter alia) Stray 1997; a recent noteworthy example of the closing of academic ranks in a good cause is supplied by the Black Athena controversy of the 1990s, ongoing at the time Kaster et al. were writing.

[77] Helpful in conceptualizing the “popular trial” is Hariman 1990: 19–20.

[78] Hariman 1990: 21–2.

[79] “Beginnings and endings hang or fall together,” Ruprecht 1996: 31. On the Victorian conception of character-formation through reading see Mays 1995: 180; a modern parallel is the panic over “media effect” in young people’s access to internet pornography or violent content in videogames, on which see invaluably H. Jenkins 2006: 208–21.

[80] Livesey 2007: 6; and cf. again Fiske’s “rich, passionate heterodoxy” (2008: 22).

[81] Helen Vendler, “Are These the Poems to Remember?” NYRB, 24 Nov 2011: 19, reviewing Rita Dove (ed.) (2011), The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Poetry (New York: Penguin).

[82] Johnson 2004: 385.

[83] See Leitch 2004: 380 and Shrift 2004: 192, the latter reflecting from personal experience on the contradictory pedagogic priorities of anthology-editing for college students and the temptations of editorial fiat.

[84] Nelson 1996: 72–4.

[85] Paton translates some sexually explicit epigrams in AP5 into Latin, a move not without parallel in the early years of the Loeb series, notably the old Martial of Walter Ker (1920), which transposed the naughty bits into Italian; we pick up on this briefly in Ch. 5, Green 1998: 243 serves up a delicious anecdote.

[86] Paton 1916: viii.

[87] “I have a suspicion that the quest for the moment at which the modern homosexual subject is constituted is misguided … that what we call gay identity has for a long time been in the process of getting constituted,” Sinfield 1994a: 14 (my emphases); gay identity continues to be a work in progress, now as part of an open-ended portfolio of queer identities, and straight identity has evolved right alongside it, originally as its byproduct.

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The Classics Which Is (Not) Ours

We have framed this collection of writing about ancient Greek and Roman literature around the contrary idea of the "Greece which is (not) ours" in an attempt to capture the dynamic and creative tensions that arise when doing classical scholarship in full awareness of the different ways in which successive generations of readers and scholars have constructed ancient Greece and Rome in their own image.


This entails full consciousness that the "classical" in classical scholarship is itself a prepossessing move that leapfrogs the classics of other literatures and civilizations, as Harish Trivedi reminds us. Our title echoes José Martí's clarion formula that "the Greece which is ours must replace the Greece which is not ours" ("Nuestra Grecia es preferible a la Grecia que no es nuestra," 1891). Written in the context of anti-colonial independence movements in Cuba and Latin America, Martí's elegant antithesis recognized the role that ideological appropriations of classical antiquity have played in the fashioning of different imagined communities, from literary salons to empires. In turn, Martí proposed a counter-ideological, regional, Latin American cultural and historical narrative that would supplant the symbolic power of "Greece."

We have chosen a selection of works that pose these questions individually and collectively. We hope that the conversations that readers will have around these works will provoke fresh discussions about what it means to study ancient Greek and Roman classics in the still awakening wake of history; or, to put it more prosaically, what it means to do classical scholarship in the countercurrents of contested identities, ideologies, and theories. We combine scholarship on the ancient world with reception studies, in recognition that scholarship is a kind of making and that later responses to ancient Greek and Roman literature and mythology continue to extend the horizons of these texts. Both modes of engagement speak to the complex fascination produced by the worlds of the ancient Greeks and Romans. We are drawn not only to the study of these worlds and to the creation of new art by means of them but increasingly to the difficult work of deconstructing their ideologies, their receptions, and the discipline dedicated to them by channeling aspects of our own lived identities.

Such tasks require us to take on the difficult legacies of Classics as we attempt to reconcile its attendant histories with our own hopes, visions, and values. In effect, we have an ethical responsibility for the way in which we construct and "do" Classics, whether or not Classics can ever really be "ours." The works gathered in this colloquy explore the entanglements inherent in entering the worlds of ancient Greeks and Romans both because of a classicizing ideology and at the same time in spite of that ideology and its encumbrances. All of the scholarship that we have selected analyzes the historical and cultural situatedness of interpretation. Variously, the extracts bring ancient debates into dialogue with debates in the present (Kasimis); consider the politics of going to Classics (Bond, Stead and Hall, Padilla Peralta, Rankine); explore the uses of Classics in fashioning counter-cultural historical identities (Nisbet), and offer imaginative interpretations to seemingly familiar works (Devecka, Quint, Underwood). Finally, three pieces offer meta-reflections on the state of Anglophone classical scholarship in current political climates (Harloe, Güthenke and Holmes, and Padilla Peralta's blog post). The majority of works included in this colloquy are broadly contemporary (published in the last five years). We have included a few works outside of this time frame to show the longer arc of this conversation.

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