Sunday, March 06, 2011


Advice to the Young

David West, in Proceedings of the Classical Association 92 (1995) 12-23 (at 23):
I am still convinced that a fair amount of modern work with a theoretical basis has not helped us in any way to understand the texts. Reception theory, for instance, is concerned with the theory of reading, a theory which leads nowhere, or with the history of the reception of texts in later periods. As distinct from general interest, which may be intense, the classical scholar's only duty towards, say the medieval reception of Virgil's Aeneid, is to peruse it for surviving evidence and for medieval insights which help our understanding of the ancient text in its historical context. Medieval history is for medievalists. Or take intertextuality. In the study of Latin literature this has not produced any new knowledge, but new terms to describe old practices, and with these terms nothing except obscurity and banality, pretentious writing and penitential reading. My advice to the young would be to cast out theory, and get down to real work on the texts, the monuments, the surviving objects, the evidence.
West's presidential address to the Classical Association was also printed separately as Cast Out Theory: Horace Odes 1.4 and 4.7 (London: Classical Association, 1995). I don't have access to either of these publications, but I've pieced together the quotation above from various snippets on the Internet.

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