Monday, August 23, 2021
People Who Find Homer Boring
K.J. Dover, "What are the 'Two Cultures'?", The Greeks and their Legacy: Collected Papers, Vol. II (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1988), pp. 314-326 (at 314):Newer› ‹Older
Not long ago I was taking part in a conversation with some colleagues about students who come up to the University to read Classics and then, after their halfway degree examination, switch over to read for a degree in Law; not an uncommon pattern at Oxford. Someone expressed the opinion that these students readily take to the rather abstract and theoretical study of the principles of Law, but may find, when they get down to the business of earning a living in a solicitor's office, that a good deal of the practical work with which they are concerned is rather tedious and boring by comparison. One of the participants in this conversation was a College Bursar who had himself followed precisely that pattern — Classics up to his fifth term, then Law, and then a career which began in the legal department of a bank. He said that nothing that came into a solicitor's office could ever possibly be boring by comparison with the unspeakable, unbearable boredom of reading Homer.
As you may imagine, since my own subject is Greek, and I had never even considered the possibility that anyone could be bored by Homer, this judgement rather startled me. Indeed, I felt that it touched me with the chill finger of death. This, of course, for personal rather than objective reasons. I first made the acquaintance of the Greek language when I was twelve, and I fell in love with it. By the time I was sixteen I was pretty sure that my firm ambition in life was to become a Professor of Greek. In pursuance of this ambition I went up to Oxford in 1938. I was called up into the army in 1940, and did not return to Oxford to complete my degree until five years later. During those years of war service I had plenty of time to reconsider my ambition, many times over, but reconsideration only confirmed it. I have in fact spent my life on the Greek language, Greek literature, Greek history — integrated, of course, with a good deal of administrative work, as Dean of a Faculty, as President of the British Academy, as President of a College — but teaching and research in Greek have been the continuing thread in my working life, and they have never for a moment bored me; nor do I expect them to, for the rest of my life. You can see why someone like me feels threatened, insecure, anxious, even aggressive, when he is forced to acknowledge that there are people who find Homer boring.