Thursday, April 27, 2023


Loving Life

K.J. Dover, "On Writing for the General Reader," The Greeks and their Legacy: Collected Papers, Vol. II: Prose Literature, History, Society, Transmission, Influence (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1988), pp. 304-313 (at 311):
First acquaintance with the aspects of the Russian verb made Jane Harrison, in her own words, ‘weep for joy’. A Classicist is unlikely to be surprised at that; he is more likely to exclaim τοῦτ᾽ ἐκεῖνο; but how can Jane Harrison’s tears of joy be made intelligible to the general reader? To value linguistic phenomena not for their utility as means to a non-linguistic end, but precisely for their self-sufficient particularity, as one might value a tropical beetle or the movements of a bear, is one way of loving life (and a way taken for granted, incidentally, by Jane Harrison, to whom I am indebted, in a different context, for the bear), but it is not most people’s way, and there is no good reason why it should be; a collector, no matter how great his joy over rare and colourful specimens, is not in a position to say more to other people than, ‘This is what I like. Take it or leave it.’ Jane Harrison in fact believed that understanding a grammatical system affords a unique and direct insight into the characteristic thought-processes of the nation which speaks that language. I confess that I have never experienced the slightest temptation to share her belief, for it does not seem to me at all consonant with the evidence, but I have a great deal of sympathy with the predilections which induced her to hold it. If I ask myself whence, in forty-three years of studying Greek (years in which I have not undergone so much as thirty seconds of boredom), I have derived the most powerful excitement, stimulus and — well, let us make good use of the word ‘joy’ before it starts to travel the same road as ‘gay’ — the answer which comes into my head is: syntax, textual criticism, palaeography, dialectology and lyric metre.
Related post: People Who Find Homer Boring.

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