Thursday, December 10, 2015


The Alien and the Unfamiliar

T.P. Wiseman, Catullus and His World: A Reappraisal (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985; rpt. 1998), p. 4 (footnote omitted):
Because we find some parts of the late-Republican scene immediately intelligible and accessible (notably Cicero in his letters, Catullus in his love poems), it is easy to treat their world as if it were in general familiar to us, and to assume that their vĂ lues were essentially similar to our own. I think we shall get closer to understanding the ancient world if we make the opposite assumption, always looking for, and trying to come to terms with, the alien and the unfamiliar.


Studying ancient Rome should be like visiting some teeming capital in a dangerous and ill-governed foreign country; nothing can be relied on, most of what you see is squalid, sinister, or unintelligible, and you are disproportionately grateful when you find something you can recognise as familiar.
Id., p. 244:
We owe it to the dead not to use their world just as a mirror for our own preoccupations.

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