Sunday, July 09, 2017


Dispassionate Scientific Inquiry

J.P. Postgate (1853-1926), "Flaws in Classical Research," Proceedings of the British Academy 3 (1907-1908) 161-211 (at 183):
It is no business of the scientific inquirer after truth to sit in judgement on the tastes and morals of antiquity. Sympathy with his author is of some use to a student, but of none to a savant. Dispassionateness and insight are all that he requires. The admiration stirred in us by the greatness and splendour of an ancient monument of genius is prone to pass into a sentiment which dresses the figure of its worship in fictitious and anachronistic excellences, and resents as profanation any fact or hypothesis that would fasten upon the idol deeds, thoughts, or expressions of which the idolater personally disapproves. How strong and prevalent the sentiment is among us it is difficult to say, since its expression is generally confined to protests in unsigned reviews and private 'letters to the editor'. When the evidence opposed to it is overwhelming and admitted, it shuts its eyes or runs away; though it is up in arms on every fresh occasion. My own experience is that it is very strong indeed, and that there are but few who can be trusted to decide with equanimity certain questions affecting the private life, say, of a Sappho or a Tibullus. To the others my advice, if I might presume to offer it, would be this. If a scholar finds that one of two necessarily alternative conclusions is from its character repugnant to his feelings, this is a hint from his personality that he should leave the matter alone.

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