classical reception

Institutions and Fragments: “A Portrait of Antinous, In Two Parts” at the AIC

By guest contributor Luke A. Fidler

The postwar art museum has increasingly served as a site of artistic intervention, whether through sanctioned forms of institutional critique (Fred Wilson’s pointed rearrangements of the collections at the Maryland Historical Society and the Seattle Art Museum, for example) or unsanctioned action. Museums like the Kolumba (the former Cologne Diözesanmuseum) have taken note, juxtaposing their medieval and modern collections in an attempt to lend older art a frisson of novelty and to speak to the postmodern mal d’archive. In a similar vein, this small show at the Art Institute of Chicago (running through August 28, 2016) frames the museological archive as an archaeological site, ripe with potential finds.

The find in question is a fragment of a mid-second century marble portrait head of Antinous, Hadrian’s teenage companion whose untimely end in 130 CE sparked an unprecedented wave of memorialization (below). Controversially deified after his death, he was repeatedly rendered in a distinctively individuated style. The Art Institute’s fragment, comprising most of his face and his distinctive curls, typifies this wave of production. It entered the museum’s collection in 1922 after being removed from its original bust and remounted as a quasi-bas-relief. A fine example of imperial carving, it compares favorably to a slightly earlier bust of Antinous as Osiris presented here as comparison.

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Fragment of a portrait head of Antinous (mid-2nd century A.D. Roman. Gift of Mrs. Charles L. Hutchinson; Art Institute of Chicago)

About a decade ago, scholars noted the fragment’s similarity to a heavily-restored bust of Antinous in the collection of the Palazzo Altemps (below). The Altemps work features an eighteenth-century face stuck awkwardly to a second-century head, the join between old and new sculpture clearly articulated by a line running down the cheek, under the jaw, and across the tousled locks. A battery of tests, supplemented by the wizardry of 3-D printing and laser-scanning, determined that the Art Institute’s fragment had, indeed, been lopped off the Altemps bust at some past point. The museum is not wrong to claim this as a significant discovery. In a rare turn, we can examine the particularities of a story too often told in generalities, for the long life of a Roman sculptural object, ravaged by time, taste, and restoration, gets some real specificity. Although it’s unclear exactly when the bust and fragment parted company, their rich modern biographies are telling.

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Monica Cola, Roberto Bonavenia, Francesco Borgogni, Franco Trasatti, Studio M.C.M. srl., Rome. Bust of Antinous, 2015–16. © The Art Institute of Chicago

They show us, for example, how early modern collectors broke apart ancient objects and recontextualized them according to their tastes. They show us how one statue could multiply into two, how a bust could beget a bas-relief which could turn into a more explicitly orphaned fragment. How an English (probably) sculptor could sculpt a facsimile of Antinous’ visage in the eighteenth century (probably) for a faceless bust thanks, no doubt, to the obsessive antiquarian collection of Roman medals and statues. The stories of the sculptures’ early modern afterlife—not to mention their susceptibility to contemporary analysis—are bound up with Hadrian’s relentless imaging of his dead companion in a recognizable, replicable form.

The curators have smartly used the show to reflect on the conditions that enabled the objects’ reunification. (Unfortunately, however, they eschew any critical reflection on those conditions’ limits or negative consequences. To my mind, this is a missed opportunity to engage thorny questions of method, collecting, institutional practice, and display, to name but a few issues occluded by the show’s occasionally triumphalist tone.) The captions, wall text, and object selection frame the fragments in a story of connoisseurial sleuthing and trans-Atlantic technological gumption. A large portion of the exhibition space is given over to a long video replete with interviews. Differently-scaled models and prints of the Art Institute fragment and the Altemps bust surround the objects. One model, marked by the glossy sheen of contemporary facture, recombines them in a spectral approximation of how Antinous would have appeared before its dismemberment. A selection of ancillary objects—including a portrait of Charles L. Hutchison, the Art Institute’s first president who also purchased the fragment—attempt to place the fragment with respect to the taste of fin-de-siècle American collectors, while other ancient and early modern comparanda help contextualize other key moments when the objects were altered.

And so, this show is as much about the way museums tell complex, object-centered stories to the general public as it is about the genuine historical insights afforded by the busts and their models. If material objects are uniquely positioned to make the past legible, how should museums best interpret the ways those objects register the vicissitudes of taste? The fragment and bust are exciting testimony to interdisciplinary, inter-institutional collaboration. But they are also testimony to the means by which museums and collectors have historically proved hostile to the integrity of art objects, severing illuminations from medieval codices and chiseling the faces of Roman busts. If Hadrian desired overly much to keep Antinous whole through art, perhaps it’s worth querying our own desire for unification too

Luke A. Fidler is a PhD student in the Department of Art History at the University of Chicago.

August Boeckh in the 21st Century: Methodological Questions for Globalized Classics

by guest contributor Colin Guthrie King

August Boeckh, depicted in a 1911 lithograph. (Wikimedia Commons)

August Boeckh, depicted in a 1911 lithograph. (Wikimedia Commons)

August Boeckh (1785–1867) is in a certain sense the great unknown classicist of the nineteenth century. Boeckh was professor eloquentiae et poeseos (“of rhetoric and composition”) at the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität of Berlin (today’s Humboldt-Universität) from the university’s founding in 1810/1811 until 1864. Though we find him at the bottom of many a foundational development in modern classics—he was the founder of the Inscriptiones Graecae, and an early institutionalizer of the highly productive research and teaching model of the philologisches Seminar—the success and fame of later Berlin scholars such as Lachmann, Mommsen, Diels, Wilamowitz, and Jaeger would long eclipse him, along with much else which occupied the first half of the nineteenth century. In his Sachphilologie (“material philology”), Boeckh performed a detailed reconstruction of the history of culture and science in Greece that was well before its time, ranging from a study of the public economy of Athens to a reconstruction of real ancient weights and measures and the Greek chronological use of the cycles of the moon. It embraced a cultural-historical approach, opened new landscapes in the history of ancient science, and revealed formative influences on Greece from the Near East. But Boeckh’s restrained and often highly technical publications never managed to launch a program like the one he himself embodied in the breadth and depth of his learning.

Yet there was one important exception, a book he never published, but often read: Die Encyklopädie und Methodologie der philologischen Wissenschaften (The Encyclopedia and Methodology of the Philological Sciences). This was a series of lectures which Boeckh first gave when he became professor in Heidelberg in 1809, and which he delivered a total of 26 times throughout his career. Toward the end of Boeckh’s career, a young philosopher by the name of Ernst Bratuschek heard these lectures and was enthralled, and it is to Bratuschek that we owe an edition of them, published posthumously in 1877, and again in a second edition in 1886. The influence of these lectures on their over 1,500 listeners, among whom we can count several leading scholars of the nineteenth century, has only begun to be studied. But their importance as a document of methodological self-reflection in the field of classics is clearly great. In the “formal theory of philological disciplines” which begins the lectures, Boeckh articulates a theory of interpretation and organization of knowledge with wide scope and a powerful agenda. Philology, according to Boeckh’s famous definition, is the business of “understanding knowledge” (Erkenntnis des Erkannten), and philology’s objects in this business are not only, or not primarily, texts:

The entirety of the life and activity of mind and spirit constitutes the field of the known, and philology is thus committed to showing, for each nation, the whole of its mental development and the history of its culture in all directions. In all of these directions there is a logos which in its practical tint is already the object of philology; and in the cultivated nations the logos extends itself in all directions as conscious knowledge and reflection, so that these are subject to philological inquiry in a two-fold relation. The philology of antiquity has, then, as the material or object of its understanding the whole historical phenomena of antiquity (Boeckh, ed. Bratuschek 1877, 56, my translation).

This passage, representative of many others in the Encyklopädie, implies an account, reason, or regularity (thus logos) which are implicit in the actions of certain cultural practices, and explicit in the form of self-reflection: philology seeks to understand both. It is fitting, then, that Boeckh’s Encyklopädie should be reconsidered in light of recent attempts to study the practices and self-understanding of learned guardians and interpreters of texts across history, literatures, and cultures. The extension of philological understanding of non-Western canonical texts leads us to understand forms of knowledge which have been and remain beyond the horizon of classics, but from which classicists and historians of ideas can greatly profit.

The seminar “Methodological Questions for Globalized Classics,” now coming to a close as the first part of the Globalized Classics summer school organized by the August-Boeckh Centre for Classical Studies of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, has recently undertaken such an effort. Lead by Anthony Grafton and Constanze Güthenke, and comprising early-career scholars of diverse classical disciplines and from North and South America, South Africa and Central Europe, the seminar focused on questions and problems entailed in opening classics to learned practices from outside the modern West. The participants both studied Boeckh and his Encyklopädie in their time and place, and discussed two recent major contributions to the emerging field of globalized classics: World Philology and Antiquarianism and Intellectual Life in Europe and China.

When drawing this connection, one quickly apprehends the delicacy of appreciating other “philologies.” For some time, and certainly since the nineteenth-century age of nationalism, philologists have sometimes been at the center of projects of vital cultural and political importance: the appropriation of Greece into a set of normative cultural topoi in Germany, for example, or the project of reconstructing an original Japanese literature. Classical philologists like Nietzsche who questioned the normative ends of their colleagues could run the risk of ostracization. Recent studies such as the chapters in World Philology, which build on Momigliano’s seminal 1950 paper “Ancient History and the Antiquarian,” have shown that the forces at work in the history of the collection and study of ancient artifacts and texts are shifting and manifold across cultures and times—and perhaps much more important for contemporary scholarly practices than it might seem.

When we open our understanding of philology to include a variety of legitimate learned practices outside the classics and the Western academy—a tendency evidenced by Sheldon Pollock in his introduction to World Philology—we have to ask if we deem these practices legitimate with regard to one coherent concept of philology, or by accepting a variety of equally legitimate context-specific philologies. The title “World Philology” would seem to tend towards the former option, and one might think that Boeckh would approve. But comparative studies in fact suggest a different tale: philologists across time and space employ very different approaches which hardly resemble each other: not least because problems of interpretation vary widely with the systems of writing and conventions of the texts they study, but also on account of fundamental differences in normative cultural contexts and the demands these make upon the interpreters.

Ultimately, then, the methodological questions for Globalized Classics may well become normative and practical, and particularly institutional: whose philology and which classics should be learned and studied? A cosmopolitan but shallow curriculum which includes a bit of everything is obviously flawed, and dallying in many disciplines while mastering none cannot be recommended as philological training. On another level, it would be foolish to think that an unquestioning acceptance of all other cultures and their attendant canons and norms could serve as a basis for “dialogue” and understanding. But engagement between philological and historical disciplines with a view to their respective histories and ends can help their practitioners better understand their own knowledge in a wider, and eventually perhaps truly global, context.

The institutional framework for such work is rare and fragile still. But there are, at least, theoretical foundations for this enterprise. As a project in understanding both knowledge of antiquity and our grasp on it, Boeckh’s Encyklopädie offers considerable resources in this regard—though they are sometimes difficult to mine in the absence of a genetic and critical edition of the text (and a decent English translation). But we also have the recollections of those who heard Boeckh speak. One such testimonial comes from Heymann Steinthal, the Berlin linguist and Sinologist who co-founded the Zeitschrift für Völkerpsychologie und Sprachwissenschaft (“Journal for the Psychology of Peoples and Linguistics”) in 1860. Boeckh remarks, in his lecture manuscript, “Steinthal understood me best” (Boeckh ed. Bratuschek 1877: 68), and he refers to two passages in Steinthal’s 1847 treatise De pronomine relativo (“On the Relative Pronoun”). In one of them, we find this:

And unless I am wrong, from our demonstration it will appear with the greatest clarity that the languages of the African peoples – against whom the most cultivated Christian nations have sinned so grievously, as do all those peoples who deem themselves the most free in the whole world right up to the present day, and whom some gladly despise on account of love of system and form – the languages of these, I say, will be shown most clearly to be excellent (Steinthal 1847: 54).

If this is how Boeckh thought his theory of philology should be understood, then it is clear that he still has much to say.

Colin Guthrie King is assistant professor of philosophy at Providence College. His research concerns ancient philosophy and science, particularly Aristotle, and the history of the modern historiography of ancient philosophy.

Thucydides, Canon, and Western Civilization

by Emily Rutherford

Columbia University, where I study, is one of very few American colleges where all undergraduates are required to complete a sequence of survey courses in western civilization. Many history graduate students eventually teach in the Core sequence, and it’s impossible to avoid the thousands of eighteen-year-olds walking around with copies of the Iliad, the Bible, and the Greek tragedy of the year. As a result, I’ve become preoccupied by the pedagogical uses of these ancient texts today, what their significance is to those who don’t study the ancient world, how our reactions to them are filtered through centuries of other readers’ translations and interpretations, and what my own responsibility as someone who hopes to be a university teacher of European history is to Western-civilization narratives.

The Core rubs off on other corners of Columbia. We first-year PhD students began our required introductory historiography course by reading Thucydides’ history of the Peloponnesian War. The last time I read Thucydides, it was for a reading course in Victorian intellectual history, in the Greek edition edited by the great reforming headmaster of Rugby Thomas Arnold. Like many of his contemporaries, Arnold revered Thucydides as a guide to modern statecraft and also as a pagan whose theory of history was assimilable to a Christian worldview. Reading the text again, it was easy to see why Thucydides’ perspective on the imperial ambitions of a great naval power, and his commitment to tracing the processes behind that power’s political and military decision-making, might have seemed significant to early modern and modern British imperial subjects whose education and culture taught them to look to antiquity for political, philosophical, and strategic guides. It’s also comprehensible that present-day political and international-relations theorists, working within a philosophical tradition long infused with classical learning, turn to key passages from Thucydides like the “Melian Dialogue” in Book Five in order to illustrate their own claims about the negotiation of political power.

Less obvious, however, is the relationship between what Thucydides and his contemporaries saw as the practice of history and the practice into which twenty-first-century American doctoral students are socialized through institutions like the first-year historiography seminar. Today, we are often nudged away from historical accounts whose primary purpose is to elucidate strategic political and military decision-making; very different theoretical and ethical standards govern our evidence-gathering and how we make use of oral testimony; fewer professional historians see it as their job to record national history for a first audience of compatriots who took part in that history; our professional practice has a first loyalty to the written archive that was not conceivable in the late fifth century BCE. Thucydides’ method is not, practically speaking, among the menu of options from which apprentice historians are invited to choose when using their coursework to conceptualize their own approaches to the past. While a reception history of Thucydides and the Peloponnesian War‘s role in shaping the relatively young academic discipline of history would be an interesting project, there’s an alterity to this nearly 2,500-year-old text that can’t be overcome: saying that it’s of its moment and yet there are still lessons to be learned from it (one member of our class who works on recent American history and uses oral sources certainly thought so) is fundamentally different to saying, as many historiography seminars do, that a twenty-year-old work of high-theoretical linguistic-turn history is of its moment and yet there are still lessons to be learned from it.

A significant strand of public-intellectual debate holds that history has lost a position it once held as magistra vitae and as the deciding analytic of statecraft—hearkening back to a golden age imagined, perhaps, out of a sense that reading ancient historians like Thucydides was once more fundamental to the study of the past than it is today. The data don’t necessarily support a narrative of history’s decline and fall. But in the discussion around Guldi and Armitage’s History Manifesto and in other forums, historians keen to recover this statecraft side to history’s educational potential have advocated approaches that might do this—taking on big narratives and big ideas with methods old and new—and have presented them as a favorable alternative to what they see as a dominant but short-sighted mode of academic history. Those who make this argument hold that this “microhistory” or “antiquarianism,” by letting the archive (instead of concerns found in policy or the public discourse) dictate the historical narrative and claims to significance, is necessarily limited in its impact.

I have many concerns about this artificial binary, but it’s probably best not to wade into them here, except to say that the “microhistorical”/”antiquarian” form of history patently also has important lessons to teach undergraduates and the wider public, a group not limited to policymakers. Putting Thucydides in dialogue with this media discussion ably shows how a policy-, narrative-, and big-ideas-focused brand of history, and an archivally-faithful, perhaps more specialized or narrower in scope, form of history are to some extent two sides of the same coin. The Peloponnesian War‘s status as an ancient text, the specifics of its composition, the stories of early modern and modern readers who have responded to it and thus made it the canonical take on politics and warfare that it continues to be, may not always be stories of interest to those who hope that historians can tell them how to assess the consequences of a strategic decision. But the latter can’t be explained historically without the former, and it’s possible for accounts of both to emerge from a reading of Thucydides’ text itself. Moreover, these factors all feed into how we trace—and justify—large-scale narratives of European ideas and culture to undergraduates, and there’s no telling which bit might make the most difference to a given student.