Monday, March 27, 2006

Revisiting the past

In order to refresh my memory about Aristotle's theory of Natural Slavery (relevant to some work I'm doing on robots), I spent a bit of time rereading the chapter on slavery from Paul Cartledge's The Greeks, a book I reviewed for Bryn Mawr Classical Review back in 1994. This is the first time for ages I've gone back to some serious reading of Greek history, which used to be at the core of my research and teaching. It's a slightly odd experience.

And while we're on the subject, rogueclassicism brought to my attention the 2005 report from the Roman Gask Project. I worked on this project when it started, and had worked with the directors for some years before that. So it's nice to see how they're getting on.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

My fame spreads ...

The ARLT has noticed me.

(Not sure if 'recently started' is accurate for a blog that's been going for over a year now, but that's mere nitpicking.)

Friday, March 10, 2006

Claudius and Nero revision

I've done some revisions to this article, restoring the notes that were in the original publication, and adding illustrations and source passages.

Baigent & Leigh vs Random House

You may have heard that Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, two of the writers of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, are taking to court Random House, publishers of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code (and, incidentally, their own publishers), for alleged breach of copyright in Brown's work. As Ian Hislop said of the Mohamed al-Fayed vs. Neil Hamilton libel action, one rather wishes they could both lose.

I don't intend reading Brown's novel. By all accounts, it's not very well written. I'm disappointed that so many people seem to be taking it as historical fact, but not exactly surprised.

Baigent and Leigh's case, however, seems totally specious. One can protect the actual text of a piece of historical scholarship. One can, up to a point, protect the argument. If I were to write an article with new analyses and conclusions, and someone then wrote an article that followed the same train of thought, but used different words, that might be a breach of copyright.

What Baigent and Leigh are arguing, however, is that Brown appropriated the 'fruits' of their research. This, it seems to me, is not protected under law, because the fruits of Baigent and Leigh's work is what they claim actually happened, and you can't copyright historical fact. If they admitted that The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail is fiction, they would be on rather firmer grounds as far as the case is concerned - but would shred their general credibility, which is not what they want.

If they win, it will be a major change to UK copyright law, and a disaster for all writers of historical fiction, who potentially could get sued by any non-fiction writer who had published on the same subject. But I don't think they will. This piece from, better informed on the niceties of copyright law than me, thinks that they're on dubious ground. (And note the explanation of the successful case brought involving James Herbert's The Spear and Trevor Ravenscroft's The Spear of Destiny, which shows that it's not as relevant to the present case as some reports have implied.) Moreover, Baigent is not performing well on the stand under cross-examination from Random House's lawyer John Baldwin. And Mr Justice Peter Smith, who has read both books (which, as a friend with some legal training said "by all accounts will spoil his weekend nicely"), seems pretty clued up.

Thursday, March 09, 2006


Trawling Radio 4's website (actually looking for Bettany Hughes' series about the Medici), I came across the archive for Melvyn Bragg's series In Our Time. There's quite a few programmes there related to Classical antiquity.

I listened this morning to Bragg, Edith Hall, Simon Goldhill, and Tom Healy on Aeschylus' Oresteia. The most interesting bit was where they talked about the final play, the Eumenides. Hall talked about how the Furies are bought off at the end, but how the play admits that they cannot be got rid of, that victim's feelings need to be taken account of in any system of justice. Goldhill made the sensible point that the Furies' power is suborned to the interests of the state.

The confrontation between Athena and the Furies is something that has long fascinated me. Thwarted of their vengeance upon Orestes, the Furies threaten destruction upon Attica. Athena talks calmly and reasonably to them, treating them with respect, offering to ensure that they are honoured, that justice demanded Orestes' acquittal, and asking that they not visit war upon Athens. I have always seen a subtext here. Athena is trying to bribe the Furies not to resort to violence, but behind her words is a message that says, "I don't want this fight, but if you force me to it, there will only be one side standing at the end, and it won't be you." And the Furies know this - that is why they blink first. (Is Athena meant to represent Athens here? Perhaps an expression of how Athens - and every other state with pretensions to liberality ever since - wanted its foreign policy to be seen: "We do not want war, and will do everything we can to avoid it, but if you force us then we'll give you a war you won't forget.")

I must check out the programme on the fall of the Roman empire. And I'm looking forward to Lord Bragg's Presidential Address at the Classical Association this year.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Barton follow-up

Rogueclassicism has put me on to a BMCR review of John Barton's The War That Still Goes On, which I wrote about here.

Monday, March 06, 2006

On being reviewed

Last year I had a piece published (which I'd actually written in 1996) in Lost Dramas of Classical Athens: Greek Tragic Fragments. I think it's not too bad a little piece, though I was a little out of my depth in writing textual criticism.

I recently got put onto a review of the volume, by Martin Cropp in Bryn Mawr Classical Review. This is what Cropp says about my chapter:

In 'Lycians in the Cares of Aeschylus', Anthony Keen reviews what has been drawn (much of it speculatively) from the sparse evidence for Aeschylus' Carians or Europa, a play featuring Sarpedon's death at Troy and the return of his body to his home for burial. (The list of fragments on pp. 81-2 hardly needed to include Aeschylus F 315, whose attribution to this play by Hartung is ignored by Radt.) The discussion includes three vase-paintings thought by some to have been influenced by the play, two of them remotely at best, the third - an early 4th C. Apulian vase (New York, Metropolitan Museum 16.140) - perhaps a little more closely. It should be noted, however, that the interpretation of this vase's second side as showing Europa visiting Zeus on Olympus to beg for her son's body is more implausible than K. suggests (the winged figure on this side is not at all like the winged figure of Hypnos on the other side; and how would the mortal Europa have reached Olympus?), and was firmly rejected by A. Kossatz-Deissmann, Dramen des Aischylos auf westgriechischen Vasen (1978), 72. K. then debates at length the question whether the play was set in Lycia (traditionally Sarpedon's homeland) or in Caria as the title Carians and the reference to Mylasa in F 101 suggest. He interprets the evidence for a mythistorical connection between Carians and Lycians as allowing the conclusion "that Aeschylus did set the action of Cares in Lycia, probably at Xanthus, and that the chorus is composed of leading local citizens, whom Aeschylus calls Carians rather than Lycians since, as far as he is concerned, the two are much the same" (78).

That I missed a piece of bibliography is regrettable, and I take the rap for that. And I've got used to the inability of people to spell my full name correctly, even though it is so done throughout the work reviewed (I spell my name without an 'h', which is the correct original anglicization of Antonius). But what bemuses me most is the remark, "The list of fragments on pp. 81-2 hardly needed to include Aeschylus F 315, whose attribution to this play by Hartung is ignored by Radt." Did Cropp perhaps miss the footnote where I say "This list aims to be comprehensive rather than critical"? My aim was to collect all the fragments that had, at one time or another, been thought to be part of the lost work. That other scholars have disregarded the attribution of some of these is irrelevant. The duty of any catalogue of this type is to assemble all possibly relevant material, and leave it to the people who use the catalogue to decide. If a catalogue of all the fragments of Aeschylus was assembled, I should want all the fragments to be there, including those some scholars considered dubious. (Though in fairness, whilst I do note that it is far from clear that the fragment belongs to the Cares, I could have indicated which collections attribute it to the play and which don't.)

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Cosmology of the Wider World

My review of Jeffrey M. Ford's The Cosmology of the Wider World, a novel where the central character is a minotaur, has appeared in Strange Horizons. The same week also saw Dan Hartland's review of the first two of Canongate's retellings of Greek myths, Jeanette Winterson's Weight and Margaret Attwood's The Penelopiad. I have to say these are books I wouldn't have minded reviewing myself, but you can't have everything.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

A feminist archaeology

A couple of weeks ago I got myself involved in a discussion on feminist archaeology over on Alun Salt's Archaeoastronomy. As March is Women's History Month, I thought it worth revisiting here.

Alun had written an article around some quotations from Paul Bahn's Archaeology: A Very Short Introduction. I'd like to repeat here the sections he quoted in that and a follow up the next day.

The explicit emphasis now being placed on gender studies is therefore welcome not only for its attempt to create a much greater awareness of the need to extend gender equality into all aspects of contemporary life, including academia, but also for the substantial contribution that it is making to our understanding of how ancient societies may have worked. However, what is called 'Gender Archaeology' is actually feminist archaeology - sisters are doing it for themselves.

The avowed aim is to focus on gender (in the sense of social and cultural, rather than biological, distinctions between the sexes) in the archaeological record. But despite assurances to the contrary it is clear that the major aim is not so much to reclaim women and men in non-sexist ways in prehistory, as to make women visible in the past. A perfectly laudable aim, and one that is highly fashionable at present, with books proliferating on Women in Prehistory, in Ancient Egypt, in the Roman period, in the Viking period, or any other era. Part of the 'feminist' approach to the past, whose goal is to shed new light on hitherto neglected aspects of the archaeological record, this phenomenon is accompanied by an ever-increasing number of conferences around the world, usually organized by or starring the same cast of characters. Although billed as concerning 'gender in archaeology', these events concentrate overwhelmingly on the female gender, and are attended by a host of female archaeologists, plus a few brave males who perhaps aspire to political correctness. The very word 'gender', therefore, is in serious danger of being hijacked, like the word 'gay' before it.


It is utterly laudable to wish to do away with the sexism inherent in much traditional archaeology, to make people more aware of the presence and importance of women in past societies, and to produce studies focusing on women in different periods. However, in swinging away from past androcentrism, the pendulum is in danger of going to the other extreme; sexism rubs both ways. As Albert Camus once wrote, 'the slave begins by demanding justice and ends by wanting to wear a crown. He must dominate in his turn.'


The proper antidote to male chauvinism about the past is an egalitarian and neutral archaeology, not a feminist archaeology. If, as the proponents claim, they are not simply trying to make women visible in the archaeological record, is a 'feminist archaeology' needed at all? There is still a long way to go, but the real way forward is a balanced, non-sexist archaeology rather than a feminist kind, which is just the flip-side of the traditional coin.

Paul Bahn, Archaeology: A Very Short Introduction, pp. 83-5, 87

As is often the case, there is a germ of truth behind what Bahn says. There is no point in eliminating male chauvinism only to replace it with a new inequality of the sexes. Unfortunately, there are some people who call themselves feminists who seem to believe that's exactly what they should be doing. Personally, I feel that they do the movement more harm than good, by antagonizing men and women who are otherwise sympathetic towards the aims of feminism. I have no more time for someone who disregards my opinion simply because I am a man than I have for someone who disregards someone's opinion simply because they are a woman.

Nevertheless, despite the existence of such people, they are not the be-all and end-all of feminism (though the more patriarchal corners of the media like to imply that this is the case, in order to discredit feminism through equation with its more extreme elements). The wider movement is about equality and freedom for women, or so I have always taken it. So, I am forced to point out, as I did in comment to Alun, that Bahn's argument depends on the acceptance of a very narrow definition of feminism, and when he says "a feminist [archaeology]... is just the flip-side of the traditional coin," the only sensible response is to say "no, it isn't". Where Bahn sees a feminist archaeology as incompatible with a "balanced, non-sexist" approach, I would argue that the former is an essential step towards the latter. After all, how can women be made visible in the archaeological record, an aim Bahn considers laudable, without a feminist archaeology that looks for them where they have not been sought before?

I also am in general agreement with Sharon Howard's comment on Alun's first post, that the idea of balance is often brought up by those whose agenda is actually to hang on to their privileges before they are wholly eroded. This is, for instance, exactly what the opponents of affirmative action do - they argue that something was necessary, but now it has gone too far, as if the careers of Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice prove that racism has been eliminated from the American workplace.

I'm not necessarily saying that Bahn is deliberately distorting in order to prop up patriarchy in archaeology (though there is something dubious about his lauding of the aims of feminist archaeology whilst disparaging feminist archaeology itself). I think it more likely that he has simply bought into common prejudices, and not examined them with enough rigour. As Alun shows in his second post, it's very easy for male academics not to see instances of sexism, and to assume that this means that such instances don't exist, rather than being invisible to them.

A few days after these posts, I was listening to the Today programme, and an item about how most men don't take the paternity leave they're entitled to (prompted by David Cameron's new child and the leave he has taken). Journalist Toby Young said that men these days are being forced to make the same choice between a family and a career that women used to have to make, as if somehow women no longer have to make those choices. As long as there are people with opinions like Young's, then there will always be a need for feminism. And as long as we need feminism, we'll need a feminist archaeology.

Friday, March 03, 2006

John Barton and Thucydides

As part of a busy weekend of culture, that included Ecclesiazusae and Medea, I went on Sunday 12 February to see John Barton's The War That Still Goes On, a synthesis of Thucydides and Plato, performed by the RSC.

I was familiar with the work from a 1991 version, entitled The War That Never Ends, broadcast by the BBC in the immediate run-up to the first Gulf War, and somewhat misleadingly reported in Simon Goldhill's Love, Sex and Tragedy, but the work was apparently originally written and produced in the late 1960s. Thucydides narrates the history of the Great Peloponnesian War of 431-404 BC, and other characters act out certain key scenes. Scenery and staging are at a minimum - in 1991 actors spoke their lines in a bare studio, in 2006 they sit around a stage and workshop the play.

It's an interesting work, and I have used it in the past to help bring Thucydides alive to students, though one has to be careful with it. The adaptation is very free. Barton can sometimes be a bit indifferent to chronology, presenting events in an order that seems to him dramatically right, rather than the order in which they actually happened. For instance, the Mytilene debate is placed after Brasidas' expedition to the Thracian Chersonese. And I have always suspected that Thucydides' opening lines, "I doubt this war will be finished in my lifetime ...", indicate a belief on Barton's part that because Thucydides did not complete his history, he did not survive the war (in fact, there are clear references to the end of the war in Thucydides' work, even though his main narrative does not get to the end).

This version differed from that I had seen before in being longer. The 1991 version breaks off after the destruction of the Sicilian expedition. The 2006 performance contains a more complete end, including the trial and execution of Socrates (something Thucydides may well not have lived to see). My suspicion is that this is something restored from the original 1960s version. Also of note is that sections previously narrated by Thucydides have now been give to others in the cast to act out - this may be the result of Barton rethinking. There was a good cast, including Timothy West as Socrates, and Clive Francis as Thucydides - but it could, of course, not match the stellar cast assembled in 1991, which included Ben Kingsley, David Calder, Don Henderson, Andrew Keir, Jonathan Hyde - the cream of the classical theatre of the early 1990s.

And the work remains relevant; indeed, when the Athenian ambassadors speak to the Melians about how Melos should capitulate because Athens has the power to do what she wants, it seems more relevant to 2006 than to 1991. Many other characters articulate issues with contemporary relevance. The Spartan King Archidamus has a speech near the beginning about how war is not a good thing, not to be entered into lightly, and the consequences are often unforeseen - and as I watched it again I wished that George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld had been exposed to this.

After the performance, there was a debate chaired by John Snow, with Paul Cartledge, Germaine Greer, Helena Kennedy and Haleh Afshar. A few points were raised that I thought interesting.

Germaine Greer had just come back from Bangladesh, where she had been researching the war of 1971. She had discovered that, though stories were spread that many women in Bangladesh who had survived being raped by Pakistani soldiers, the truth was that the vast majority of raped women were murdered. Her point was that the suffering of women is often played down in comparison with what happens to men. Her implication was that, when Thucydides talks of men in a city being killed, and women and children sold into slavery, he is doing the same, and the true fate of those women would be death. Whilst acknowledging some of Greer's point, she overlooks the economic factor. Women in Bangladesh were of no economic value to Pakistani troops - but women in Melos were of economic value to Athenian troops, as they could be sold into slavery. People tend not to destroy what they can make money from.

Paul Cartledge made the point about the Peloponnesian War being shaped by Thucydides, that it was the historian who decided that the conflicts between Athens and Sparta between 431 and 404 were a single war, not two wars broken by a period of uneasy peace. Again, there's some force to that, but I think it overprivileges Thucydides to say that this was entirely his creation - I have always felt that the Lysistrata of Aristophanes, produced in 411 BC, makes more sense if the common perception was of a war that had lasted twenty years rather than one which had lasted less than five.

Haleh Afshar made a point about disinterest in voting, and how in some places people had voted enthusiastically the first time they got the opportunity, but less so on subsequent occasions. This, of course, is something that the Athenians had to contend with - until generous assembly pay was introduced, the democracy had difficulty getting enough people to form a quorum to come to the Assembly. Afshar's point that people often would prefer to get on with their own lives, farming, or doing whatever made them money, than vote, though contested by Helena Kennedy, is recognized in ancient Athens.

The panel ended by saying that the message of Barton's play was that of Socrates, to 'Think straight'. But if the fate of Socrates tells us anything, it's that people don't like to be told to think straight. Socrates, if Plato's dialogues are any indication, went around pointing out to people that believing certain notions necessarily led to accepting other ideas they might find rather less palatable. And in the end, the Athenian people got so fed up of this that they killed him for it.