E R Dodds, Remembered

Women at the Altar

E R Dodds, Remembered

Rediscovering E R Dodds, Scholarship, Education, Poetry and the Paranormal, edited by C. Stray, C. Pelling and S. Harrison, Pp. 341, OUP, 2019, reviewed by Darrell Sutton

“This book originated in a conference on E.R. Dodds held at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, on 1 March 2014, under the aegis of the Corpus Christi College Centre for the study of Greek and Roman antiquity” [Preface].

Greek scholarship in England in the last 70 years has been represented by persons with formidable skill. These papers characterize one of them, a man of exceptional talents. However, these investigations inspire mixed emotions, not because of overt flaws in the research but because readers still may come away with a feeling that they were not brought into close contact with Dodds’ writings in the several articles where the author’s main task was to acquaint the readers with them.

E.R. Dodds (1893-1979) issued critical editions whose value is long-lasting. His intellectual achievements were considerable. He gained the respect of his peers the old-fashioned way, by producing work that was noteworthy. The volume supplies surprises in abundance. The fourteen chapters of this book – with a bibliography of his publications – provide insightful glimpses into his life and its contexts.

Readers have a book in hand whose Introduction (pp.1-9) is not a mere survey of what will be encountered in the volume. Two of the three editors. C. Pelling and C. Stray, trace Dodd’s role as a historian of ideas in his Greek studies, and they clarify how Dodd’s autobiographical book, Missing Persons, ultimately came to be so named. The comparisons and contrasts between Murray, Dodds and K. Dover are apt (pp.6-7). Each of them, in their own way and through their autobiographical texts, expressed themselves on sexual matters in a manner that was unprecedented for Greek scholars .

Stray’s opening chapter examines aspects of Dodds’ life and career as an Irishman moving in academic circles of Great Britain. He touches on Dodds’ upbringing, his socialist ideals, and his appointment to the Regis Chair of Greek at Oxford among other things. I had no inkling that Dodds was a supporter of Sinn Fein. The detective work Stray performs is enlightening. Fresh air blows in on what could have become an otherwise unexciting subject of study. R. Gagne’s chapter on the context of Greek religion studies, 1920-1950, is suffused with material. Several of the earlier pages (pp.36-38) needed closer editing, as the sentence structures are convoluted in places, plagued by too many adjectives in selected sentences. But Gagne knows his stuff, and his acquaintance with scholarship on the history of religions will make his chapter a mandatory starting point for some students of the period.

It is unusual to read extensively of any scholar’s private religious beliefs. In his autobiography, Missing Persons, Dodds repudiated the tenets of orthodox Christian but was fascinated by telepathy, efforts to communicate with deceased persons, hypnotic experiments, dream psychology etc. In this book we are introduced to the “paranormal” which is the professionalized term for the occult. N.J. Lowe goes into detail about Dodd’s psychic researches. Occultism, with seances, spirit guides and crystal balls, is not what one typically associates with classical scholars and their scholarship. Dodds involvement in psychic observations extended over 6 decades. Without saying it explicitly, Lowe proves that Dodds’ great ancient-studies book, The Greeks and the Irrational, was simply the public notice of private interactions he was having with modern psychic phenomena.

R.T. Parker’s submission on The Greeks and the Irrational left me craving more information. Only a few pages tackle issues in Dodds’ book of that title; and very little of the paper wrestles with matter pertaining to the ancient Greeks. There are plenty of adjuvant citations and quotes of what others said of Dodds’ arguments, but too little examination of specifics in the Sather lectures themselves.

In ‘Dodd’s on Plato: The Gorgias edition’, R.B. Rutherford treats us to glimpses into Dodds’ prized commentary. He tells readers of Dodds’ lectures on Plato’s writings, even including comments about Dodds’ avoidance of the use of arts of rhetoric in forming his assumptions, claiming Dodds’ shared an antagonism towards them (p.164). Numerous writers’ comments about Dodd’s edition are cited. One writer, Robert Todd, suggests – as cited by Rutherford – that Dodd’s Gorgias is “a conventional treatment of this dialogue, aimed at audiences interested in close study of the text. Dodds himself regretted this outcome.” The first two sentences are true. I find that Todd’s third assertion (p.161) about Dodds’ ‘regret’ is questionable. Anne Sheppard’s paper on Dodds’ Influence on the Neo-Platonic Tradition is a judicious survey of his influence within Neo-Platonic studies over the last century.

Teresa Morgan’s chapter, Pagans and Christians, on Dodds interaction with Patristic Fathers, was informative overall. Apparently he did not like them; Dodds gave mixed signals about whether he was an atheist or agnostic (p.185,fn.12). Morgan’s knowledge of the field is substantial, although I do not think that Dodds’ book, Pagan and Christian in an Age of Anxiety, was as influential in historical studies (among classicists and patristic scholars) as she claims. She concludes, while outlining Dodds’ lack of appreciation for the Fathers, that “while (outside Germany, at least) the Church Fathers had been, since their rediscovery in the early nineteenth century, mainly the preserve of Catholics and Anglo-Catholics” (ibid.). That contention is not true. Puritans (in England) and Greek Orthodox Church members – long before the time averted to by her – as well as near Eastern Communions, wrote extensively on Patristic literature. Those texts have been available for hundreds of years for those able to control the original languages.

Using extracts from letters, J. Dillon provides the background information necessary for students to understand how various publishers sought out Dodds’ assistance when they wanted to publish a text/translation of Plotinus. Dodds did not want to replicate the critical work already being done by Fr. Paul Henry; and he considered Stephen Mackennon’s translation to be too deficient to overhaul it all according to the publishing standards at Loeb. A.H. Armstrong, Dodd’s protégé, ultimately brought out a 7 volume Loeb edition of Plotinus (1966-1988) for Harvard University Press.

Two chapters analyze his relations with various poets. Dodds had warmer relations with MacNiece than with Yeats, becoming the former’s literary executor upon his death. Yet more time should have been spent examining Dodd’s own poetry rather than merely his connections to Yeats and MacNiece. The endeavor to describe ‘the metaphysical poetry of Dodd’s scholarship’ seemed to me to be beneficial only to the writer who made the discoveries but is not particularly helpful to students, as Dodds did not consciously consider himself to be improving an academic genre of poetical metaphysics through his classical publications. The supposed links between ‘metaphysical poetry’ and his scholarly work are tenuous, and it is nowhere shown in the paper how his scholarship on ancient Greece or on necromancy is profoundly poetic. However, both writers, Tom Walker who wrote The Lonely Mind and Peter Mcdonald, author of The Deaths of Tragedy, provide original ideas and some solid engagements with Yeats and MacNiece’s verse. Some of their explanatory statements are spot on.

David Phillips states that Dodds read German language texts (p.247) and “was better informed than anyone else on the historical development of the German University and on the issues that would need to be resolved if it was to regain its previous standing” (p.263). The personal memories of friends in the final chapter shine light on a great scholar’s attitudes, each individual recalling with affection the grand influence that Dodds had upon each of them. Helen Ganly’s pencil portrait of Dodds (fig. 14.1,p.273) is beautiful.

More than one writer refers to Dodds’ attachment to Freudian psychology. Whether or not those accessories enhanced his interpretations or diminished them, I will leave for others to decide. One person did make an informed decision: S. Scullion described “Dodds’ application of psychology to the understanding of tragedy as among the most fruitful innovations of twentieth century classical scholarship” (p.133). Maybe, but I believe that to be an overstatement. The content of his published work on tragedy strikes me in a different way. And here I offer no endorsement of ancient character psycho-analysis because the controlled analytical skill exhibited by Dodds long ago disappeared. Newer post-modern tools have produced some far fetched arguments and conclusions about ancient literature and its writers’ character-formation.

Several papers lack a deep analytical approach to Dodds’ work. In more ways than one his occult enthusiasms delimited the range of his studies. And since spiritualism is a system of  belief, which affected the parallel agenda of his life, the contours of his psychic career place him well within the scope of the history of religion framework; even still, why could not a chapter or session have been devoted to his text-critical judgements, to measuring the worth of his translation of Proclus’ Greek text or even a testing of his linguistic data in the notes of his commentaries?

These appraisal-volumes now form a cottage industry. One reassessment of Dodds’ mentor Gilbert Murray appeared years ago. Others on A.H.M. Jones, Arnaldo Momigliano etc., have come into the marketplace bolstering and informing the history of scholarship. All in all, they are useful, and lead us to further [re]considerations of a man or woman’s researches. If it is possible to learn anything from the trajectory of Dodd’s life it is that he chose to remain with subjects that brought him immense joy. A curious nature reassured him of the rightness of his course of life.

Oswyn Murray believed Dodds to have been “indeed the greatest living scholar of ancient Greece” (p.274). Dodds’ eminence in his sphere of studies certainly cannot be denied. And originators of the conference on Dodds must be commended, along with the presenters of papers. This book should be on the shelf of everyone who is interested in the various facets of Dodds’ career. His bibliography, stretching from 1916 unto 1977, shows him to have been a very concentrated and busy man. All his reviews were perceptive, despite their narrow foci. Humane scholar that he was, E.R. Dodds will be introduced to a new generation of specialist readers in these pages, and he is well worth remembering.

A final quibble – in this book the constant use of the terms “Irrational” and “Paranormal” might lead an impressionable reader to believe that devotees of mysticism in all its varied forms are neither reasonable nor normal. I cannot believe that the Oxford University Press meant to imply such a thing.

Four Caryatids, Erechtheum, Acropolis, Athens

Darrell Sutton publishes papers on ancient texts and reviews biblical and classical literature

Posted in Book Reviews, Cultural Matters, QR Home | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Neocons and the Permanent State (Part 2)

US Marines at the 2nd battle of Fallujah

Neocons and the Permanent State (Part 2)

by Ilana Mercer

“How does America change if our intelligence agencies were more accurate in their assessment of Saddam Hussein’s chemical and nuclear weapons programs?” The question was posed, just the other day, in “Make America Competent Again,” by David French, at the Dispatch, a neoconservative website. The tract is an agony aunt’s meander that calls for shoring-up competency in state and civil society.

But first: dissecting, deconstructing and exposing the neoconservative mindset and machinations matters. The reason is this: thanks to President Trump, neoconservatives are not exactly having a moment—they’re down in the doldrums. But they’ll be back. For neocons and liberal interventionists make up the Permanent State. The ideology the likes of which David French, formerly of National Review, and his ilk promote—foreign-policy bellicosity, endless immigration, mindless consumerism, racial shaming, “canceling” of deviationists and conformity to an American identity that’s been melted away in vats of multiculturalism—is in our country’s bone marrow, by now.

Therefore, the fighting words in response to French’s framing of the invasion of Iraq as a mere glitch in intelligence are these: no creedal neoconservative should be able to get away with the claim that a problem of criminality is really just a problem of competency. Continue reading

Posted in Current Affairs and Comment, QR Home | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Neocons and the Permanent State (Part1)

David French, by Gage Skidmore

Neocons and the Permanent State (Part 1)

by Ilana Mercer

Following the show of incompetence at the Democratic Iowa caucus, columns on competence proliferated. One stood out for its ineptness: “Make America Competent Again” by David French at the Dispatch. Mr. French is an attorney and decorated Iraq War veteran, who was prominent among National Review’s “Against Trump” writers.

Back in June of 2016, when the anti-Trump cabal was engaged in a political blood sport as degrading as dwarf tossing—Mr. French came into focus as the object of neoconservative Bill Kristol’s fantasies. To wit, never Trumpsters like Kristol imagined that from the ashes of the Republican primaries would rise a man to stand for president against the victor, Donald J. Trump. This Sisyphean task had been attempted and failed by 17 other worthies. One of the political dwarfs tossed at Donald Trump by the aforementioned Mr. Kristol was Mr. French, who espouses an aggressive, expansionist foreign policy and is a tool of democratic internationalism.

The first sign of incompetence in “Make America Competent Again” is that the column is hopelessly littered with the Imperial “I”:

“I THOUGHT—after federal officials let Jeffrey Epstein kill himself in prison—that I COULD no longer be shocked by incompetence. Yet, HERE I AM, the day after the Iowa caucuses, shocked again. … If you follow MY WRITING at all, you know that I THINK that …  As I TYPE this newsletter …”

This amounts to a big fat epistolary selfie. Continue reading

Posted in Current Affairs and Comment, QR Home | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

What the Ancients did for Us

Claude Lorrain, Apollo Muses

What the Ancients did for Us

Michael McManus, on our pagan heritage

The pre-Socratic pagan philosopher Anaxagoras took two pots of paint, one black and one white. He took a drop of white and added it to the black, then a drop of black and added it to the white. There, said he, mixing them. We know that both pots have changed colour – that is a fact – but we cannot tell the difference with our senses. If our senses are unreliable on such a basic detail in front of our eyes, then how can we be forever certain of anything else – especially how states should be organised or people ruled?

If by ‘us’ is meant conservatives, then pre-Socratic philosophers did a lot for us. Many of them favoured the conservative, pragmatic, cautious, live-and-let-live approaches to knowledge and policy that eschew the arrogance and certainty of dogma and ideology. ‘In human affairs,’ wrote Xenophanes, ‘there is no certain truth, and all our knowledge is but a woven web of guesses.’ Empedocles cautioned against our tendency to assume that we know more than we do: ‘Having seen only our own part of life, swift to die, we fly away like smoke, certain only of what we have met ourselves.’ Heraclitus pondered on the link between time and change and famously concluded that not only can we never step into the same river twice but that we ourselves are not the same person that we were on the first occasion. Ideologues imagine that they can implement a fixed system of state rule that applies once and for all: one man, one vote, one time, as a satirist put it. Lacking such arrogance, born of a cramped knowledge of the world, conservatives remain humble in the face of changing events. Beware the person of one book, cautioned Aquinas. He might have had twentieth century communists and theocrats in mind. Continue reading

Posted in Cultural Matters, Current Affairs and Comment, QR Home | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

ENDNOTES, February 2020

Ethel Smyth and her dog Marco, 1891

Endnotes, February 2020

Ethel Smyth’s Mass in D; overture to The Wreckers;  and a recital at Middle Temple Hall, reviewed by Stuart Millson

Ever since the revival of Ethel Smyth’s opera The Wreckers in 1994 (a once-famous piece, championed by such figures as Bruno Walter and Sir Thomas Beecham) there has been a growing interest in the work of this Edwardian socialite who was also a political radical and suffragette. Recently, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chandos Records joined forces for the first recording of Dame Ethel’s Mass in D, a work of enormous power and fervour; a piece in which Smyth scales the heights alongside Parry and Elgar – and which bears witness to her associations as a student at Leipzig with figures such as Grieg, Dvorak and later Johannes Brahms.

Writing the work on the Royal Yacht of Empress Eugenie of France, Smyth dedicated the piece to a well-to-do Anglo-Irish family, the Trevelyans – in particular, to the daughter of the house, Pauline. The composition of the piece seems to have accompanied a religious crisis for its creator – a possible conversion from Anglicanism to Catholicism, but a journey that was never made. Continue reading

Posted in Cultural Matters, ENDNOTES:Music, QR Home | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

F.W. de Klerk’s Great Betrayal

F.W. de Klerk

F.W. de Klerk’s Great Betrayal

by Ilana Mercer, sometime citizen of South Africa

On February 2, 1990, 30 years ago, F.W. de Klerk, South Africa’s last white president, turned the screws on his constituents, betraying the confidence we had placed in him. I say “we,” because, prior to becoming president in 1989, Mr. de Klerk was my representative, in the greater Vereeniging region of Southern Transvaal, where I resided. (Our family subsequently moved to Cape Town.)

A constellation of circumstances had aligned to catapult de Klerk to a position of great power. In 1989, a severe stroke forced the “The Crocodile,” President P.W. Botha, from power. Nothing in the background of his successor, President F.W. de Klerk, indicated the revolutionary policies he would pursue.

In a 1992 referendum asking white voters if they favored de Klerk’s proposed reforms, we returned a resounding “yes.” Sixty-eight percent of respondents said “yes” to the proposed reforms of a man who sold his constituents out for a chance to frolic on the world stage with Nelson Mandela. For surrendering South Africa to the ANC, de Klerk shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Mandela. Continue reading

Posted in Current Affairs and Comment, QR Home | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Life on the Line

Liverpool, Lime Street Railway Station, then

Life on the Line

 by Bill Hartley

Railways are back in the news with the HS2 project under fresh scrutiny, due to the cost estimate having risen to an eye watering level. The latest figure is about three times what Britain spends annually on defence. But Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham is warning of dire political consequences should the project be curtailed at Birmingham.

Whilst moving from north to south in Britain isn’t too bad, the real area of neglect lies east to west. On a journey along the Trans Pennine route, say from Leeds to Liverpool, crumbling Victoriana carry state of the art rolling stock. How the two have merged and survived is remarkable. How much longer it can continue without substantial investment is questionable.

The line is used in some unusual ways. Outside peak periods a new kind of traveller took to the tracks. The story began many years ago at Stalybridge in Greater Manchester. The station has an independently run buffet bar free from the corporate awfulness of the standard railway franchise and they sell proper beer. Word got round and students crossing the Pennines began to stop off for a ‘quick drink’. Continue reading

Posted in Current Affairs and Comment, QR Home | Tagged , , , | 13 Comments

In a Royal Line

Ermonela Jaho, photo by Russell Duncan (c)

In a Royal Line

‘An Evening with Rosina Storchio’, recital of songs and operatic arias sung by Ermonela Jaho, accompanied by Steven Maughan at the piano, Sunday 2nd February 2020, Wigmore Hall, London, reviewed by Leslie Jones

This was soprano Ermonela Jaho’s Wigmore Hall debut, on the 50th anniversary of Opera Rara, for whom she undertook the title role in Leoncavallo’s Zazà in 2015 and the part of Anna, in Puccini’s first opera Le Willis, in 2018. A CD containing the repertoire featured in this recital, entitled Homage to Rosina Storchio, will be released later this year.

Opera has its own rich history, enhanced by the availability on the web of classic performances by its luminaries. Musicologist Ditlev Rindom reminds us in the official programme that Puccini and Toscanini were passionate admirers of Rosina Storchio, whose stellar career lasted from 1892 to 1923. She also appeared in the world premieres of Leoncavallo’s La bohème, Mascagni’s Lodoletta and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly (the latter in Milan, in 1904). How appropriate, then, that Ms. Jaho’s encore was ‘Un bel di vedremo’. Continue reading

Posted in Cultural Matters, QR Home | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Getting the Canadian Right

Carle Hessay, Abstract No. 25

Getting the Canadian Right

by Mark Wegierski

There are currently three main groups in Canada that do not understand the Canadian Right — the media, the other parties, and conservatives themselves. In the last few decades, Canadian conservatism has been hurt by its too-ready association with the U.S. Republican Party, and a lack of knowledge of its own roots and history. Actually, the bivalent term “Red Tory” can represent some of the best tendencies of Canadian conservatism (such as those articulated by Canadian traditionalist philosopher George Parkin Grant), as well as a less-salubrious, opportunistic embrace of left-liberalism. The so-called “right-wing” of the Conservative Party has been marked by an infatuation with “free market philosophy” and the reduction of all policy to tax-cuts and budget-cuts. Yet free-market fundamentalism has not traditionally been a hall-mark of conservatism in Canada.

At the same time, social conservatives who care about social and cultural issues have become bogged down in the now-fruitless debate over abortion rights and same-sex marriage. Like it or not, the latter have become an indelible part of the Canadian political landscape. Nevertheless, it is still possible to promote pro-family policies (especially through the tax-system) that can win broad acceptance in Canadian society today. For example, the tax-penalty on households with one main breadwinner in the marriage should be ended. Continue reading

Posted in Current Affairs and Comment, QR Home | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Democracy Dies in Diversity

Robert Delaunay, Windows Open Simultaneously

Democracy Dies in Diversity

by Ilana Mercer 

“Dissatisfaction with democracy within developed countries is at its highest level in almost 25 years,” say researchers at the University of Cambridge. “The UK and the United States had particularly high levels of discontent.” No wonder. Certainly, America is a severely divided country. “Severely divided societies are short on community,” and “community is a prerequisite for majority rule,” argues Donald L. Horowitz, a scholar of democracy at Duke University.

Having studied “constitutional engineering” in divided societies like South Africa, Horowitz has concluded that, “In societies severely divided by ethnicity, race, religion, language, or any other form of ascriptive affiliation, ethnic divisions make democracy difficult, because they tend to produce ethnic parties and ethnic voting. An ethnic party with a majority of votes and seats can dominate minority groups, seemingly in perpetuity.” (Journal of Democracy, April 2014.)

The Democratic Party has morphed into such a political organ. It’s responding to the fact that minorities in the U.S. will soon form a majority. This rising majority, as polling trends indicate, will speak in one political voice, for most immigrants to the United States are not from Europe and Canada, but from Latin America and Asia, south and east. And this cohort of immigrants is reliably progressive: it votes Democratic. Likewise, the poor and the un,1–more–>skilled are well-represented among our country’s immigrant intake. It’s the way we roll. Poor immigrants favor the rearranging of the income curve in their new home. Continue reading

Posted in Current Affairs and Comment, QR Home | Tagged , , | 1 Comment