Wednesday, November 24, 2010

CAG etc

Lots of the CAG volumes are available in digital format but often you can't get them via Google books in the UK.  But here is a site where you can download the (often enormous) files.  Hooray.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The B Club - the early years

I've made a modest start on archiving the minutes of the B Club.  You can find the minutes for the years before the Second World War here.  I'll add to them as and when I get the time.

There are also plans to produce a database of papers, speakers and the like.  It would be, if nothing else, an interesting record of part of the history of ancient philosophical scholarship since the 1930s.

Some highlights:

The 44th meeting, in 1937, usefully notes that they had to wait to start because their guest had to go home to get his specs.

The 57th meeting, in 1938, recalls Skemp's discussion of Dies' interpretation of Plato's nuptial number which 'was illustrated on the blackboard'.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Movember spawned a monster...

Here (by not really popular demand) is the state of the 'tache on day 19.

If this picture has made you laugh them please donate here.

Art and that

I’m enjoying our Thursday seminars reading Laws II. Yesterday we got to this bit: 668c4–8

Δεῖ δὴ καθ' ἕκαστόν γε, ὡς ἔοικε, γιγνώσκειν τῶν ποιημάτων ὅτι ποτ' ἐστὶν τὸν μέλλοντα ἐν αὐτῷ μὴ ἁμαρτήσεσθαι· μὴ γὰρ γιγνώσκων τὴν οὐσίαν, τί ποτε βούλεται καὶ ὅτου ποτ' ἐστὶν εἰκὼν ὄντως, σχολῇ τήν γε ὀρθότητα τῆς βουλήσεως ἢ καὶ ἁμαρτίαν αὐτοῦ διαγνώσεται.

Saunders translates:
So it looks as if a man who is not to go wrong about a given composition must appreciate what it is, because failure to understand its nature–what it is trying to do and what in fact it is a representation of–will mean that he gets virtually no conception of whether the author has achieved his aim correctly or not.
This is supposed to help us to understand the correct way to judge the creations of mousikē and who the good judge of those creations would be. My question is about what the metaphysical commitments of this comment are. In particular, I want to know about the ousia of 668c6. This seems to be the ousia of the artistic product and the Athenian has in mind here products of imitative (eikastikai) arts. So it will be a painting (of something), or a statue (of something), or a dramatic performance (of something)...

First question: is the phrase ... τί ποτε βούλεται καὶ ὅτου ποτ' ἐστὶν εἰκὼν ὄντως (‘what it is trying to do and what in fact it is a representation of’) supposed to be a gloss on this ousia? If so, then the ousia of this painting will be what the painting is ‘trying to do and what in fact it is a representation of...'

Second question: if so, then:

Is the Athenian saying the following the ousia of this is ‘human’ or ‘Lisa del Giocondo’? Is either really plausible?  I suppose if someone pointed to it and asked me 'What is this?' I might say 'A woman' or 'Lisa'.  But I might also say 'a painting'.  Yes, I might agree that it is a painting of someone but I see no reason not to think that its ousia is 'painting'.

And is the ousia of this ‘a lark’ or ‘a lark’s song’?

Add to this the Platonic idea that even things that are not the product of human eikastic crafts are also, in a sense, imitations of some perfect, intelligible, spooky sort of thing and  things get really weird... Boy, no wonder Aristotle got so stroppy and started Cat. 1 as he did.  He even says that the figure in the picture (to gegrammenon [sc. zōōn])is only homonymously a human, not just that we would be a bit batty to say that the ousia of the picture itself is 'human'.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


It's my turn this year to do the introductory lectures to our 1A (mostly first year) Classics students on 'Socrates and Plato'.  We all have to distribute feedback forms to our audience and then take note of what is said.  This year, one reply complained that I spent the lectures talking about particular dialogues in turn, sometimes just bits of a particular dialogue (e.g. I did a lecture on Socrates and Polus in Gorgias) rather than giving an introduction to what Plato thought.

Now, this is a reasonably easy complaint to explain away and I can give a good defence of why I do things the way I do.  (There's one exception: for today's lecture I will talk generally about the various jobs that 'Forms' do in the dialogues and highlight some difficulties; but I do that only after I've spent a couple of weeks on e.g. the Phaedo and shown the way in which these ideas are in fact introduced in the dialogues themselves.)  But I wonder what is the best way to get students interested in ancient philosophy.  We used to start them off with Thales and co.  But I remember a number of students finding this all just too weird ('Everything comes from water, huh?  Idiot.') and the source critical stuff you really have to do is a bit challenging for an introductory course. So we start with Socrates, well Plato's Socrates...

I could do it by theme, I suppose, but jumping from work to work like that would get confusing.  So I do what I do in part because I want to encourage the students to look at an argument, react to that argument sensitively with regard to its context and the role it plays within the work as a whole.  We can then move off to more general questions (e.g. we had a talk about akrasia and whether cases like Leonteus in Republic do indeed occur).

And if that's no good we could always learn this dance routine:

Monday, November 15, 2010

Being a philosopher

There are a few of these going round the interwebs.  I like this one.

e.g. "Won't it be hard for someone who has no frakking contact with anything resembling a worthwhile life to figure out what constitutes a worthwhile life?"

Thursday, November 11, 2010


My grandfathers hardly ever talked about their service during the war.  But it affected them deeply.

Most war poetry has been dulled by GCSE syllabus drudgery , but some of it is still very powerful.  Here is a poem written by Flt Lt Rupert 'Tiny' Cooling, which he recited during an excellent BBC documentary on Wellington Bombers (sadly, I think, not still on the iplayer).  He cried as he read it.  So did I.

This muster of names,
This directory of faceless, formless beings
Suffocates the mind.

Is it solely a tabulation as on
pages of Smith's in volume S to Z?
Or a company of friends
Awaiting recognition
Amidst a legion of Strangers?

In the quest, shadows emerge,
Forgotten faces relive
Brief moments of shared experience
And call upon yet others to be identified …

Now what became of him? And him?
And their names too are
carved in the roster.

I dare not look for my own,
it should be there.

Our Flight Commander, Hinks,
Quiet Ronnie Frost (he joined with me),
Young Naylor who was lost in the North Sea …
Was he twenty when he came into my room
and cried like a baby the night Bob Hewitt died,
leaving a pregnant wife?

Three weeks later
I helped to clear his room,
And found his Bible by his bed.

And, to cheer you up after that:

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Ever since the XP-38 came out...

...they're just not in demand any more.  I know I should be doing other things, but I've worked hard on revisions to an article this morning so I built the last of my birthday presents.

Monday, November 01, 2010

The B Club

When I have more time, I plan to go through the minutes of the Cambridge B Club (a society that meets around 8 times a year to hear papers on topics in ancient philosophy) and create a digital archive of the--mostly hand-written--minute books.  Here is a taster: the entries for the very first meeting on 21 November 1931 and the first meeting after the war on 21 January 1946.  The Club will celebrate its 500th meeting in Cambridge in May 2011.

This is the inscription on the first page of the first minute book, presumably by H. C. Baldry, who was elected the first secretary of the club: