04 January 2008

APA Friday, Jan 4th — Oh, the hand-outs

Truly vast numbers of trees must meet their end due to this conference. Every single talk I attended today — all 15 minutes — had a hand-out, most about three pages, some as many as five. Several are in A4 format, which I must say satisfies the same deep, smooth part of my brain that likes symmetry. The National Research School in Classical Studies in the Netherlands appears to have an entire department devoted to conference handouts for their scholars — these have better typesetting than some classics books I own. The current owners of Teubner should chat with these people before publishing one more book.

8:30 - 11:00am

There wasn't any particular session that grabbed me for this time slot, so I wandered between sessions picking up particular talks. I started in the Greek Rhetoric session and caught Gunter Martin's talk The Interplay of Comedy and Rhetoric in Foruth-Century Athens. While I haven't yet dipped into comedy of any period, his critique of the idea that Middle Comedy was apolitical seem to me basically sound: Menander is hardly the only measure, and we need to be careful with fragmentary evidence. His mass of hand-out examples seem convincing, but this is hardly my usual area of interest. One trusts a paper will appear in some journal sooner rather than later.

T.A. van Berkel's Spoken like a Hunter: Dio of Prusa's Euboean Oration reminds me how little I still know about classics. Apparently lots of critics have things to say about this work and this author, both of which I have not previously heard of. I cannot meaningfully comment on her talk except to say that I'm tickled by the idea that Plato's Republic was early considered excessively digressive, and that this might have provided the model for an oration some consider incoherent.

I switched over to the Classical Tradition track so I could catch Anne Mahoney's talk, Pascoli's Cena in Caudiano Nervae. I see Mahoney's name frequently attached to interesting reviews and articles on Greek meter, so I figured I had to see anything she might present. I'm not currently in any position to talk about Latin, but this talk was about a late 18th early 19th century Italian author who wrote in both Italian and Latin. Of course the focus was on his Latin work. For me personally the zombie-like second life of Latin is in some ways more interesting that the Romans, so I shall have to come back to Pascoli when my Latin is in better order.

I ditched out at this point to hunt down more substantial sustenance than coffee. I learned last night that not just Unix conference attendees appreciate fine brews deep into the night, and was still catching up from a somewhat tardy awakening.

11:15an - 1:15pm: Linguistics

This session was more my speed. The room was crowded, which inspired surprised comment from the presider. Philology might be making something of a come-back.

Stéphanie Bakker's talk, On the so-called Attributive and Predicative Position in Ancient Greek has been the most important of the presentations I have seen, at least in terms of changing how I read Greek myself. The traditional terminology and explanation starts to fall over most obviously when heavier modifiers get involved (participle phrases, genitives), but hardly only then, and her fabulously typeset hand-out has good Herodotean examples. Her argument is that modifiers of a noun not preceded by the article are merely descriptive, while those with the article "modify the reference," that is, they select or clarify which referent is actually meant:

ὁ δὲ βασιλήιος πῆχυς τοῦ μετρίου ἐστὶ πήχεος μέζων τρισὶ δακτύλοισι. (Hdt. 1.178.3)
The royal measure is greater by three fingers breadth than the common measure.

καὶ αἱρέουσι ἔρημον τὸ ἄστυ καί τινας ὀλίγους εὑρίσκουσι τῶν Ἀθηναίων ἐν τῷ ἱρῷ ἐόντας ... (Hdt. 8.51.2)
When then took the town it was deserted and in the sacred precinct they found a few Athenians...

I need to hunt down her earlier work on constituent order in noun phrases.

Coulter H. George's The Historical Present in Classical Greek and the Development of Greek Aspect was pretty nifty. He starts from some of the insights of the pragmatists but tries to make that work falsifiable by noting the company verb forms (present, imperfect, aorist) keep with phrases of time (dative, genitive or accusative). He has nice charts of the behavior of verbs broken down by Aksionsart, resulting in a reasonably strong showing that punctual verbs may use the historical present but durative ones rarely do. His idea is that the historical present in Attic represents a higher degree of punctuality than the aorist. In the questions it became clear that this greater punctuality may be a pragmatic (i.e., narrative) consideration.

The other talks in this session were also interesting but take us into areas I cannot really talk about (Indo-Aryan and Latin historical linguistics). There's another linguistics session Sunday morning.

1:30pm - 4:00pm: Archaic and Classical Poetry

There were several interesting talks in this session but I find myself at a bit of a loss to talk about them. I've not really read Tyrtaeus much, so I cannot respond to Maria Noussia's talk defending him somewhat from critics (he didn't need to argue his points — his audience already embraced what he was reminding them of). Mark Alonge ("Standing" Greek Choruses) amassed citations about the collocation of χορός and ἵστημι to suggest emendations to Electra and Iphiginia in Tauris that seemed pretty solid. So often in this field we have to work with sparse data a and little sure knowledge. The rest of the papers seemed to skate pretty close to the edges of what we know.

(See the abstracts for some more details.)


I signed up for the APA meeting online. I was required to fill in an affiliation field. Since I'm not actually a student at the UW, I just put in Aoidoi.org as my affiliation. This has provoked interesting responses. One person described the name as intriguing, but one person in the elevator said, somewhat aggressively, "What is that? Who are you?"

I found one Textkit member turned graduate student.

A surprising number of people are aghast at the current publish-or-perish system. "Why do you have to have a book within two years? You don't know anything yet!" In previous generations you might easily go a decade before your first book, often longer. Many people seem to regard current publishing as a huge expense for insight that might more profitably be condensed into a good paper. My own feeling is that as Greek especially fades from most universities as a unique field classicists need to take control of scholarly publishing away from people like Brill. Peer-reviewed, online and open is the only way scholarly work will be seen by anyone but the very richest institutions. Academic publishers will eventually reach a stage where classicists no longer support them. Latin will always have a place, but I'm somewhat cynical about the future of classical Greek. I expect In a few generations a local hellenist to be about as common as a local sumeriologist. Not everyone here is quite so gloomy as I am on this.

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