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CJ-ONLINE  September 2009

CJ-ONLINE September 2009

Subject:

CJ Online 2009.09.01 BOWERSOCK, Essays on the Classical Tradition

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From Gibbon to Auden: Essays on the Classical Tradition. By G.W. BOWERSOCK. 
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. Pp. ix + 240. Cloth, $45.00. ISBN 
978–0–19–537667–8.

Order this text for $36.00 from Amazon.com using this link and benefit 
CAMWS and the Classical Journal:

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/redirect-home/classjourn-20

Previously published CJ Online reviews are at 
http://classicaljournal.org/reviews.php


CJ Online 2009.09.01

There must be very few classicists who do not know the name of Glen 
Bowersock (hereafter B.), who has, over a half century, become one of the 
preeminent figures of our profession. A product of Harvard and Oxford, his 
first books, benefiting from the influence of Sir Ronald Syme, were devoted 
to the relations of Rome and its Greek-speaking peoples. [[1]] From Harvard 
B. moved in 1980 to the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton as 
Professor of Ancient History, where he became emeritus a few years ago.

B.’s interests expanded widely over the years; I remember stories he told 
when he was preparing his book on Roman Arabia, which appeared in 1983. 
What is of interest in the present discussion is his concern for the 
classical tradition, the impact and survival of antiquity in later eras. 
This book contains seventeen essays, which originally appeared in a great 
variety of publications over a span of more than thirty years. They are 
presented in three parts. The first (with six essays) deals with the 18th 
Century, the second (with four) the 19th, and the last (with seven) the 
20th. There is thus something likely to appeal to every reader’s taste.

The book has been elegantly, almost impeccably produced, although some may 
lament the rather small typeface. I noted only four typos. [[2]] None 
affects meaning, and there are very few places where one might wish to 
disagree with B. or expand his discussion.

The first part begins with four essays on Gibbon and The Decline and Fall. 
On p. 5, B. remarks that Theodor Mommsen “won the Nobel Prize for 
literature in 1902, just a few months before his death.” One may debate 
“a few months,” since Mommsen died on November 1, 1903; “about a 
year” would perhaps give a better sense. I wish that B. had included the 
lecture on Gibbon which he presented at Stanford University in 1987, on the 
occasion of the 250th anniversary of Gibbon’s birth (Gibbon’s 
Historical Imagination). The remaining two essays deal with “Suetonius in 
the Eighteenth Century” and “The Rediscovery of Herculaneum and 
Pompeii.”

Part II is extremely varied: “Sign Language,” “Berlioz, Virgil, and 
Rome,” “Edward Lear in Petra,” and “Burckhardt on Late Antiquity 
from the Constantin to the Griechische Kulturgeschichte.” I found the 
Berlioz paper, which was presented at a symposium at the Metropolitan Opera 
in February 2003, when Les Troyens were being performed, the most 
interesting. B. writes (p. 90) that “By the 1820s Rome had nearly 
disappeared as an operatic subject.” The theme of Arminius, Thusnelda, 
and Varus, which had been extremely popular for far more than a century 
(including an opera by Händel in 1737), retained its popularity until well 
into the 19th century, with a roster over the years of more than seventy 
operas.

The discussion of Burckhardt is informative and sensitive. He was a great 
scholar, but prided himself on being unlike Mommsen and other German 
historians. He was also Swiss, and in this regard as well an outsider to 
the German historical scene.

Part III begins with a review of Caroline Winterer’s The Culture of 
Classicism: Ancient Greece and Rome in American Intellectual Life. B. 
basically argues that the impact of the classics remained steady throughout 
the 19th century, although emphasis shifted from Rome to Greece. Not every 
scholar has been so sanguine; I think of Meyer Reinhold and his essay on 
“the silver age.” [[3]] Polybius, a Greek historian, merits a place 
among the Latin authors, such as Cicero and Tacitus, who had great impact 
upon the Founding Fathers.

The next three essays deal with Cavafy, followed by an appreciation of 
Momigliano and a discussion of “A Modern Aesop,” Ryszard 
Kapuscinski’s description of himself in his Travels with Herodotus. 
Kapuscinski was a Polish international reporter who grew up under the 
Communist regime. The final contribution, “Auden on the Fall of Rome,” 
offers an introduction to and text of an essay on Rome that Auden wrote for 
Life magazine in 1966, but which the editors rejected. B. presented it to 
the public for the first time in 1995. This is the longest essay in the 
book.

Satis superque. Bowersock has brought forth another splendid volume, which 
enlightens and informs in many different ways. We may all be grateful to 
him.

HERBERT W. BENARIO
Emory University

[[1]] Augustus and the Greek World and Greek Sophists in the Roman Empire, 
both published by Oxford University Press (1965 and 1969).

[[2]] P. 80, line 2, “This” for “Thus”; p. 121, second line of the 
Biographical Note, “Gesamtausgabe”; p. 128, “Briggs’” for 
“Brigg’s”; and p. 222, “Keeley” for “Keely.”

[[3]] “The Silver Age of Classical Studies in America, 1790-1830,” in 
Classica Americana (Detroit 1984) 174–203.


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